WHEN LIFE GIVES you lemons, make lemonade. I don’t think anyone would argue that 2020 gave us almost all lemons and that so far, 2021 hasn’t been any better. That said, I do know of some very good lemonade that will be brewing just a little more than a month from now.

The American Birkebeiner ski race, a big part of my life since 1984, will go on. The Birkie, largest ski race in North America, will look different this year in many ways.

For one thing, it won’t feature racing for just one day, but will be completed over the course of five days. I will be doing it Saturday, Feb. 27. Actually, not the Birkie this year, but the shorter Kortelopet race of 26K, which I have done five times in the past.

What will be really different for me this year is that I will be skiing my race not on the famed Birkie trail, but on my own hometown Razorback Ridges trails.

Why? Well, because of COVID-19 concerns, the Birkie organization has given registered skiers the option of doing the race virtual and that is the option I have chosen.

To complete my virtual Kortelopet, I will ski my race on our officially “GPS-ed” classic loops. Since I am not technologically advanced enough to measure my results with some sort of computerized device, from which I would download said result to the Birkie office, I will use the other allowable option of having a reliable witness attest to the fact I did the race for the required number of kilometers in the actual time I report.

I guess the main reason I have chosen to do the race virtually this year has more to do with what I would be missing at the Birkie rather than worry about COVID-19.

For more than 30 years, the best part of the Birkie for me has been getting together with friends my wife and I generally see just that one time a year. A bunch of us have been sharing a condo at Lakewoods outside of Cable for a long time. That won’t happen this year.

Over the years, in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo we have had as many as 17 people staying for a long weekend. Envision if you will, bodies found sleeping on the floor in the living room, kitchen, hallways, even the furnace room.

Skis, poles and boots are scattered everywhere, and suitcases and bags are piled 6 feet high — well, almost, anyway — everywhere you look.

Over the years, I found out having a faithful wife with you for the weekend had benefits. Because almost everyone else came without spouses, we always had one of the bedrooms where we could lay our heads and I never felt one second of guilt about taking such a privilege.

The condo has always been a place of huge amounts of snacks, some healthful, some not, immense quantities of food, bottles of various energy drinks, sleeping bags, energy building foods of various choice and more important than anything else, unending laughter and stories.

There have been numerous pranks played on people and now that I think of it, most of them were on me. Why, I don’t know? The nicest and most innocent of all the people in the place, I usually suffer the most.

There was the year that I professionally waxed and prepared Tony Eichman’s skis for him when he was still in his novice skiing days. What did he do? Well, Birkie day was supposed to be quite cold, a hard wax day. When I went to wax my skis the evening before, I found red klister in a box, the stickiest, most terrible wax you could have on a cold day.

While I started cussing the manufacturer for mis-packaging the klister, snickers, giggles and downright demeaning laughter broke out amongst the co-conspirators. My cold weather waxes magically appeared. I had been had.

Over the years, mainly due to age attrition, our gang has shrunk a little. Mitch and Cindy Eichman still come, but now they volunteer at aid stations on the course. Dr. Pogo retired from the Birkie more than a decade ago. The Drews moved to Washington state.

My wife, a two-time Kortelopet finisher and otherwise the most fanatical fan of all at the finish line each and every year, still makes the trip. Two Scotts still show up each February. Our group now has some relative newcomers, all of whom can ski me into the ground. Who cares?

The way I look at it, whether you finish first or last, the award pin you get is the same and so is the dollop or dollops of Crown Royal you “rehydrate” with back at the condo. And when you finish your 20th 55K Birkie, as I did last year at the age of 70, like the Eichman brothers before me, you buy dinner at the Lakewoods restaurant for everyone in the condo.

There will be none of that this year. Our condo will be empty, as everyone has decided to forego doing the Birkie on site, especially since it won’t be a Cable to Hayward trek, but rather a loop race from start back to start, with no spectators, not even family allowed.

Look for me then Feb. 27, at Razorback Ridges. I’ll be the one wearing my Kortelopet bib as I cross my own virtual finish line. Maybe I’ll even have a virtual Birkie party at the warming building.

What else could be better on a late February day of skiing?