Intrepid staff writer Elizabeth McBride enters the American Birkebeiner's 23-kilometer cross-country ski race from Cable to Hayward. "A friend had warned me that the race would be more like driving in downtown Chicago during rush hour than skiing," she writes. "But I'm from New Jersey, and expressway is my middle name." Starting from the back in below-zero temperatures with winds gusting to 25 mph, McBride recalls overtaking skiers who started ahead of her. Climbing through their ranks on wooden skis and snowflake-patterned socks, McBride soon found herself "an anachronism in a world of leopard-skin spandex and $200 plastic boots." Fatigue later set in, and her pace slowed to a trudge, but McBride made it to the finish chute, and someone draped a first-timer's medal around her neck. An estimated 10,000 participants are expected for this year's 37th annual Birkie and related events, scheduled for the weekend of Feb. 27.