Forty years, it is hard to believe. Wooden skis, knickers, gators…………… groomed trails were a thing of the future, skating was a thing of the future, racing suits were a thing of the future; when you think about it……..there is hardly a comparison between then and now.
It is exciting for me to know that of our 200+ volunteers that annually assist on race day, perhaps 75% will be returning for their 30th or more year of helping out. This event has been about two villages joining together, on the first Saturday of February, each year to provide a day of enjoyment in the out of doors, for our guests.
The dream of founder Gus Konopnicki was to conduct a cross country event available to skiers of all abilities. He continually reminded me that cross country skiing was the method of going to the store in his days in Poland and this is what he wanted.
The first race was a 50 kilometer event only, starting in Frederic and finishing in Mancelona. Of the 91 entrants, 40 finished the winning time of 4:59.20 was posted by Bob Kemp of Prudenville, Mi, closely followed by Jan Stuhlman of Mancelona,MI in 5:04.00. This race was held in some of the worst weather ever in the 40 years of the event. Research has indicated the average temperature the week of February 5, 1977 was a high of 10 degrees and low of 4 degrees. During the hours of the race the wind speed ranged in the 20 MPH area with gusts reaching 38 MPH from the WNW to the NW. However, there was a full moon that night
Pre Registration for the race was a yellow legal pad on the counter of my office. It was an exciting day when Kathy brought in the morning mail and it contained an entry.
Race day registration was held above the Antrim County State Bank, now PNC Bank. The 91 competitors were bussed to the start, which as I recall, was scheduled for 9:00 AM. This was a first time adventure for all involved; there had been no event of this nature ever, inNorthern Michigan, before this day. The many volunteers along the trail, most of whom were from Grayling or Mancelona, had no expectations of what the day would bring, although there had been several rehearsals over the previous month or so. There was, however, no way to practice for the massive frost bite encountered that day.
The excursion through the White Pines of Hartwick Pines State Park was dotted with pockets of snowmobilers, some of whom did not look kindly on the skiers. It became obvious that this mix of the two was going to be a problem in future years. The trail was minimal, criscrosssed with snowmobile tracks making finding ones way a difficult task…… It was a day to remember.
This year we will be honoring the, “Class of 1977,” a group that without their involvement we would not be having a fortieth year. The enthusiasm expressed by the entrants at the dinner, following the race, gave all of us the desire to continue to grow the White Pine Stampede.
In particular special honors are extended to Dick Thompson who will be entered this year as the only participant for all forty years. He will be joined by Dave Wiltse who is the only Grayling volunteer still standing out in the cold; he has also not missed a year.
I say annually that I look forward to meeting new friends and saying hello to old friends but when the year ends in a zero the weekend takes on a special glow for me, please do not hesitate to say hello to all of the volunteers and committee members who wish a wonderful time be had by all.