April 28, 2010
Margaret Hayes and Bruce Wharrie from Jindabyne, Snowy Mountains, Australia, spent the whole 2009 winter (inhabitants of the northern Hemisphere tend to be north-centric: I meant the nordic winter; for Marg and Bruce it was the summer) in Europe and participated in Worldloppet races in ten countries. When looking at the pictures, you may remember having seen them somewhere. The reporter (Hannes Larsson, FRA) met them in at least six races and appreciated their happy state of mind and their humor. At the bottom of a climb that required a couple of minutes of line-up, everybody heard Bruce’s comment: “Take your ticket”! Marg is terribly competition-minded; she seems to be telling herself at every step or pole push: faster! faster! In Finnish that is called sisu and in Italian grinta, in other languages we need a circumlocution like: combining will-power, force, energy and perseverance.
Marg’s and Bruce’s plan was to ski 14 WL races and to obtain their second and third Master titles. Let’s first present this sympathetic couple.
Bruce was born in Melbourne in 1960, Marg in Sydney in 1962. How on the earth did they become acquainted with XC skiing, since most Australians have never seen snow? They explain: “Yes, we learnt to ski only in our twenties, not at the same time as we learnt walking, like the happy skiers in Nordic countries. Maybe that is the reason that pushed us to compensate for the lost time by accelerating our skiing career. We met on the snow during the Australian Ski Touring Leadership Course in 1990. We then worked as ski tour guides and XC ski instructors. Bruce was also the Nordic Director of the Australian Professional ski instructors for five years, including the production of an instructor manual. Marg has been a course leader and assessor for many Australian Nordic Instructor courses and exams. Nowadays Marg is a school principal for children 5-12 years old. Bruce is a Town Planner assisting property developers with legal and environmental requirements.”
Participating in the Australian WL race Kangaroo Hoppet, they were exposed to the ultimate challenge, the WL Master. Commencing their overseas collection in 1997, they were both eventually awarded their first Gold Master in 2004, after three overseas trips.
For the 2009 tour, there was a big problem of obtaining a leave from work. Much negotiation was needed: “Marg’s school principal position was temporarily filled after much organizing trying to find the appropriate replacement. Bruce had to threaten his employer with resignation so he could gain some unprecedented leave without pay. Luckily it all worked out and then we could start the extensive and meticulous planning and booking of races and accommodations.”
This is Marg’s and Bruce’s description of their big tour:
“We flew out of Sydney on New Year’s Eve in a hot 36 degrees. Our first destination was Prague, during the first few days it was -10 degrees or colder. It took quite a bit of getting used to chilly conditions as we explored the wonderful old city of Prague. Off to Bedrichov for a week’s skiing. In the first event, the 50 km Jizerská Padesátka, we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day as we skied over the quite hilly course in perfect snow conditions. Our next destination was Lienz. Our challenge there was to ski the 42 km classic race in Obertilliach on Saturday, followed by the 60 km skate on Sunday. Previously we had never attempted to ski two marathons on consecutive days. It worked out perfectly, and we repeated the feat in Germany, France and Finland.”
“A short train and bus trip took us to Cavalese for the Marcialonga, where the whole valley seems to stop and crowd along the entire 70 km course, with the Dolomite mountains towering overhead. After that, in Oberammergau we had a 50 km skate race on Saturday and a 50 km classic race on Sunday. Snow conditions were tricky making the waxing difficult and skiing slow. From Oberammergau we caught 5 or 6 different trains to reach Les Rousses where we stayed in a delightful apartment. The owners really looked after us: they met us at the station in La Cure and drove us later to Morez for the bib pickup. Again we had a double event at La Transjurassienne: 50 km CT on Saturday and 54 km FT on Sunday. On Saturday it snowed most of the day with temperatures around zero, making waxing very tricky because in some areas the grip disappeared and a moment later the skis were “balling-up”, as we say in Australia. The FT race on Sunday was paradoxically slower than the CT race the day before because of fresh snow and bad glide. But we persisted and managed to complete both races. The owners of the apartment gave us the ultimate gift: the Woldloppet Jubilee Book, just as Marg was dreaming of buying one back home in Australia.”
“After a train ride, two flights and a 4-hour bus journey we arrived in Otepää for the 63 km Tartu Maraton. Conditions were perfect on a pretty course through the rolling Estonian countryside. The Estonian Prime Minister even participated in the race. A cruise across the Baltic Sea brought us to Finland for another weekend of the 50 km Finlandia CT race, followed by the 50 km FT race. The race course was through pine forested areas and across a frozen lake with the last 5 km of challenging ups and downs before finishing in the Lahti ski stadium under the towering ski jumps. An overnight cruise to Stockholm was pure luxury with huge gourmet dinner and breakfast buffets, great carbo loading for the 90 km Vasaloppet. I only knew the race had started when the skiers in front of me had begun moving forward, very slowly. After just 1 km there is a 2 km hill with a bottleneck. I looked at my watch after 1 hour and had only skied some 3 km, I still had 87 km to go! Understandably, I was absolutely ecstatic when crossing the finish line after 8 hours 13 minutes.”
“Szklarska Poreba was our next stop for the new race of WL, Bieg Piastow. Conditions were wet and the visibility poor in this 47 km CT race. A bonus was meeting the wonderful Polish people who were excited when we said we were from Australia as they all knew our highest mountain Mt Kosciuszko was named after a Polish patriot. After Poland we decided to skip the Engadin Ski Marathon that we had completed several times in previous years, and spent a wonderful week in the Norwegian high mountains. We were fortunate with the sunny conditions in the last race of our Odyssey, the 54 km Birkebeinerrennet. It was amazing to see Norwegians lining the race course and having their BBQ, music boom boxes and picnics while cheering the 14000 skiers.”
“We celebrated as we had successfully skied 14 WL races and thus completed our second and third Gold Master titles. We were happy to be home again, but our thoughts returned to the wonderful races. Our feeling was that we had achieved an incredible feat, but any enthusiastic, persistent, fit skier can do the same. It will probably take two years before we can again make such a long trip. Our next dream is a trip to Japan (we absolutely need the Sapporo Ski Marathon to become Global WL Skiers), Canada, USA and Europe. That will probably happen in 2011, and we will gain our fourth and start our fifth Master. Marg says that she wants to still be doing WL races at the age of Hannes, an inspiration to us and many others!”
In one of the attached pictures Bruce demonstrates his force in Dolomitenlauf’s Nikolsdorf climb; another picture shows the trekking in Norway.