The Story of Josef Gabriel: When Beer Served as Fuel

The beginnings of the race were guerrilla-style, I remember it very well. In 1970 I started working at the refreshments at the Jizerská race. Over the years I gradually became the economic manager and later the executive secretary of the race. But that’s over now, I finished in 1998. I was already in retirement, I was simply too old for it. I had spent 28 years helping with the race organisation. It was enough. I had never run the race, though. I regret it a little, but I used to be ill since I was young, I had an inflammation of the bone marrow, so I couldn’t really do it. Besides, I was one of the officials – you couldn’t ski doing that. Nevertheless, I actively participated in preparing all the trails.

In 1978 mountaineers invited us to Italy, the Marcia Gran Paradiso race, to see it. But one skier wasn’t there, so I filled in for him – it was fifty kilometres, just like Jizerská, and I did it.

Let’s go back, though. When Jizerská was only just starting, it was completely different. Every participant wrote in their application what refreshments they wanted. We did this for about five or six years, then the race grew bigger. Boy scouts watched a skier, then ran up to us with their number and we provided the selected food and drink. The drinks selection included tea, cocoa and juice which we diluted with warm water since it was really strong. It was sold in litre-cans we had to open. There were hundreds! We had real beef broth for refreshment, the real thing, no stock cubes. As the race grew, we made more and more of it, up to nine hundred litres.

The participants also ate sausages. Since they were wrapped in plastic foil we first had to peel them all. They were like oranges. Those who pealed them had hands in tatters. We also provided bananas which were not easy to get hold of at the time. You had to have good connections. Only Cuban oranges were available, but Václav Šatava, the doctor of the race, forbid them in the end, because they were too chewy and had too much pith. We also sliced piles of loafs – all by hand. There were no automatic slicers like the ones you get in supermarkets these days. And we had salt at the ready, to fight muscle cramps.

As time went on, some top skiers demanded their own food and special drinks. In the end around 80 people had to be part of the food and drink preparation. We also provided beer. Today everyone would be surprised, but it was popular, skiers quite often wanted it. It’s a source of energy after all. We had table beer, eight degrees. They had been closing the production, but Vratislav Brewery brewed it to order.

We had a gamekeeper helping us as a volunteer, even though he didn’t have to. Once he caused quite a stir: he was holding a beer at the refreshment point shouting it was Pilsner Urquell, the strong 12-degree beer, when it was only the 8-degree Vratislav. They wrote about this story in a German newspaper. Then there was another problem with beer: the cottage that served as a station, wasn’t heated overnight. We always just brought things in and made a fire in the morning, on the day of the race. And so it happened that all the beer froze overnight.

Then there were other issues, for example with ladles. We needed something to scoop the soup, so we had to make some ourselves. Or the race numbers. We managed to get leftovers fabric from a firm that made bed sheets and we had the numbers sawn by a lady who was willing to do it.

Jizerská was always a job for the whole year. As soon as one edition ended we started to prepare the next. It was less hectic during the summer months, but we still had to work, it was necessary to repair the tools, machinery, tents... In the past, it was all in our possession, but later on the organisers realised it’s more profitable to just rent everything.

I was 84 in spring 2017, but Jizerská is still important to me. I go and watch it every year. I simply can’t do without it.

4.8.2020 - Join Jizerska 50 in helping Petr get a new wheelchair
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