“We’re hard core, everybody out here is,” said one Luminary Loppet participant to another Saturday evening, as the -20 wind chill cut across Lake of the Isles, through hats and scarves and long underwear, and reminded all concerned of the cabin fever-usurping survivor’s spirit that kicks in this time of year in Minnesota. Temperatures hovered at or below zero throughout Saturday’s festivities, which included cross-country ski races, bike races, sled dog races, and beer drinking. One man’s timeline:
3 p.m. Accompanied by the singular sound of her skis cutting through snow and poles piercing the ice, a lone skier tests out the loppet course.
3:30 p.m. Ready for the flame: Thousands of luminaries are built and placed all over Lake of the Isles, including this pyramid, inspired by Mexico’s Pyramid of the Sun.
4 p.m. Joanne Sunderland, Minneapolis: “The luminaries are very magical, almost Celtic. How long did we live in a world lit only by fire? It’s a really special event for me because three years ago to this very day my mother died, and a week later I did the luminary and that’s what was really healing: Just being in nature and I could feel her saying, ‘Don’t grieve anymore.’ I could actually feel my mother’s arms lifting me up and saying, ‘I’m taking your grief.’ That stuff happens; I think that there are spiritual powers that we’re all capable of tuning in to, and it has nothing to do with religion.”
4:30 p.m. Jim Williams, Wayzata: “We’re part of the Wayzata High School Nordic ski team and we’re here lighting all the luminary’s candles tonight. There’s a lot of candles to light. We’ve got about 45 kids on the team, we’ve done this for years, and we’ve got kids serving cookies and cocoa later, and the guys love it. Good to give back.”
4:45 p.m. At the starting gate, champing at the bit to cut loose.
5 p.m. At the cue of the announcer’s “Hike, hike, hike!” they’re off …
5:30 p.m. Jeff Bevers, Appleton, Wisconsin: “We’re playing Kubb, it’s an old Scandinavian Viking chess game.
It’s about thousand years old. You try and knock the king down with these blocks, that’s the goal. I come every year, I’ve been doing it for eight years.”
5:45 p.m. Mike Martin, Minneapolis: “I’ve been tending this fire for five or six hours. I was in the bike race earlier, and I’ve been watching the various races going on and I’m waiting for my date, so I’ve been out the ice a lot today. This is about as Minnesota as it gets; I’m drinking a pint of Surly Furious, and I love watching young kids with good form skiing out on the ice. Amazing.”
6 p.m. The Norse god Thor, as spotted in the ice sculpture garden.
6 p.m. Saeed Alkaabi, Mohammed Alkaabi, and Obid Almansoi, Minneapolis. “We’re students, we’re from Dubai, we don’t have anything like this there. We have sand dunes,” said Mohammed Alkaabi.
6:15 p.m. Luminaries lit, main race starts.
6:30 p.m. At the registration tent, with a cold but happy Surly beer rep who wanted to remain anonymous: “Hanging out in the freezing cold, drinking beer outside, skiing – and they’re drinking one of Minnesota’s best beers, Surly Furious. It’s what we do in Minnesota in February. “
6:45 p.m. Scott Anderson, Mound: “We come here every year, we help set up the luminaries, and this is my fire. Or at least I’m keeping it going tonight. I wish more people knew about (the Loppet), because it’s really one of the best things Minnesota has to offer.’
7:15 p.m. The silence of the night is cut only by the steady sound of skis scraping the lake ice and snow.
7:30 p.m. The pyramid, now lit, draws skiers and spectators like moths to flame.
8:15 p.m. Luminaries on the lake.