At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to read Beyond Birkie Fever. After all, I’m not the most athletically minded person around so would I really find a book written about an extremely difficult cross country skiing event even remotely interesting? But since I had already read and thoroughly enjoyed Walter Rhein’s most recent memoir, the fantastic book Reckless Traveler, I decided to give it a go. Turns out that was a very wise decision to say the least.
Beyond Birkie Fever is more than just a sports book. It does more than tell the history of the Birkiebiner, which as it turns out is the largest cross country ski marathon in North America. Indeed, it does both of those things quite well. The thing that drew me in though, besides Rhein’s writing style, was the story of how he became a reckless traveler. How he grew from a young child not caring at all for skiing and then suddenly gets completely consumed by it. From reading his two memoirs the path of his “all or nothing” approach to life is clearly delineated.
You have to be reckless (as well as in the thralls of youthful stupidity) to just decide to enter a cross country skiing race with basically no preparation but from that Rhein learned to persevere. After all, out on those hills and mountains you can’t depend on help coming, you have to have the willpower to finish what you started. . He also learned the value of training which he took up in earnest. It wasn’t about beating somebody else but to see how far he could push himself and how much he could improve. Still, he continued to jump into marathons and bike races with little advance notice and learned as he went.
With his knowledge and passion he improved, he met people from other countries and then traveled outside of his comfort zone to other countries where he met further challenges. Through all of this Rhein developed a desire to experience life by attacking it even if that meant just jumping into something without a plan. After reading both Beyond Birkie and Reckless Traveler I feel safe in saying that his approach has served him well. He’s had a life full of enough adventures to fill two books and probably more.
Beyond Birkie Fever is so good it almost convinced me that even at my advanced age of fifty I could whip myself in something that resembles decent shape and go out and challenge myself to start and finish the Birkiebiner. Almost. Let’s not get carried away. After all, I am who I am. At least with Walter Rhein I can read about it and you should too. I can’t wait to see what his next memoir will be like in a few years.
Written and Published by Don Leach. May not be used without permission from the author.