Welcome to Start Line Inn's Main Cabin. Gather around the kitchen table, enjoy a meal and libations, well-deserved after a day on the trails.
Any Day, Any Time of Year—Step Up to the Start Line Inn
Logo design: Christopher Holland Brandt.
By Bruce Steinberg
Imagine as I did: Wake up Birkie morning at 7:30, relax, sip coffee. Fifteen minutes before your wave starts, you walk to your place in the race. No 4 AM alarm. No crowds in crammed, gear-tangled buses.
Need an emergency repair, a replacement pole, different gloves? Done on the spot.
This slice of silent sports heaven was named, inevitably, the Start Line Inn, in Cable, WI. Its beauty and location are known by enough silent-sporters to have caused room availability for Birkie race dates in 2021 to sell out before the 2020 start gun was fired. The good news? The Start Line Inn is an any-day, any-time-of-the-year, must-go-to destination, from the elite to the casual or non-athlete.
Owners Mike Choate and Elizabeth Holland are both retired, he working firefighting and air rescue in Chicago, she as a diagnostic radiologist. “Mike is the silent sports talent,” Holland said, “both doing it and repairing equipment.”
“I bought the property in 2003,” Choate said, “because I wanted a place for the future. Since I love cross-country skiing and biking, Cable was a perfect location. Five years ago, I was talking with Chris McGrath, then the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation Development Director. He had a map of a new start and trail for the Birkie. Looking at it, I bet Chris must have thought my eyes would pop off my face. I told Elizabeth, ‘The Birkie Trail is coming up our property.
How close is the Start Line Inn to the CAMBA and Birkie trails? This photo, of Elizabeth and Mike heading out from the Main Cabin, was taken by Kelly Randolph as he stood on the CAMBA trail, the Birkie trail 30 feet behind him, 500 meters from the Birkie start. Oh yes, THAT close.
We’re going to be the closest place to the Birkie start, plus the CAMBA trail!’”Choate and Holland declared the name—Start Line Inn—before a hammer was pounded on a nail.
An Inauspicious Start
“I discovered this wasn’t easy,” Choate said. “Neither of us had done this before. We were facing matters of licensing, zoning changes, and especially construction and repair of a near-dilapidated building. I owe plenty to Rick Johnson, who owns King Keyser [Hinsdale, IL], where I also worked my silent sports passion for 20 years. Rick took me on for the Nordic side of skiing. Stone-grinding was new back then, and Rick didn’t scrimp on the machine, which I learned and worked. I honed my equipment and repair knowledge at King Keyser. Rick gave me advice on sales and service. He also gifted products, including items for stone-grinding, to set me up to grow right away. It’s not easy setting up accounts, and there are expenses. Rick gave me guidance into all aspects of running a business.”
“The main rental space was a rescue,” Holland said.
Welcome to Start Line Inn’s Main Cabin. Gather around the kitchen table, enjoy a meal and libations, well-deserved after a day on the trails.
“A dilapidated cabin with no heat, minimal lighting, and set on log stumps ready to topple. But we saw it could be salvaged, with exceptional wood everywhere, and an overall character worth saving.”
“We had to move it thirty feet across the driveway,” Choate said. “To do this, we built the bike and ski shop, a main part of our Start Line Services business, which we also used as the foundation for the cabin. Then we gutted the cabin, extended the front, gave it modern amenities like in-floor heating, new plumbing, modern kitchen, all high end.”
Outside the Main Cabin.
“We can’t thank builder Pete Caron enough,” Holland said. “The man had a vision to add to his exceptional craftsmanship. Pete also possessed a willingness to understand our goals, and had a knack for enhancing them, creating better results. The cabin interior has a large, concrete countertop as the focal point, a gathering place for all. It’s a great place to relax after a day out on the trails. Plus, there are plenty of places to sit and look out the windows at the trails and forest, all while enjoying modern amenities such as Wi-Fi, Smart TV, and air conditioning. Depending on guest preferences, the cabin holds up to eight comfortably with the main floor and loft area.”
“Then there’s the Coach House,” Choate said. “It’s an accommodating space for large groups, fitness classes, and doubles as a lodge. It has Wi-Fi, Smart TV, AC, a meal prep area, and air mattresses. It’s an ideal space for a large family or group of friends, and the teams we often get that are watching their budgets.”
Inside the Coach House.
On the day of our interview, Holland said, “This coming weekend, we have the Wisconsin State Cross-Country Championships. Peak Nordic Team members from Lapham Peak will be staying at the Coach House. Our exercise equipment easily stores in crafted wall units and the beds can then come out. The kids have their hangout. They can watch training and technique videos, or movies. For bonding, coaching, and entertainment, the kids, the teams, and coaches love the Coach House.
“We worked hard to be kind to the environment,” Holland added. “We used remnant wood and tiles, installed all LED lighting, super-efficient windows, and built the buildings tight. Throughout the building process, we focused on energy efficiency, reusing, re-purposing, and recycling. Everything is efficient.”
It all sounded good after the hammer was put down, all nails pounded in. However—
“We opened for business with everything in place,” Holland said. “The main cabin, Coach House, wax hut yards from the trail, and our Start Line Services business, which includes our Bike and Cross-Country Ski Service and Shop, as well as prep and repair. All set. But it was winter 2017.”
“Yes, the no-snow Birkie year,” Choate said. “Ben Welnak, who runs Mountain Bike Radio and a CAMBA trail podcast, and Matt McCulley, who also does the podcast, rode their bikes to our Inn a few weeks before the Birkie, and we offered them a place to stay as our ‘test guests.’ Then the Birkie was cancelled,” Choate said with a laugh. “But you know Birkie people, making lemons into lemonade. They made a big party of it, skiing where they could. It turned out fun anyway, and not a bad week for the Inn.”
All the Way from Colorado
Who has the rental rights to the cabin for Birkie week?
Greg and Colleen Finnoff do, coming from Fraser, Colorado. Fraser itself is near two cross-country ski trails totaling over 200K, set among picturesque mountains. What’s their desire for Wisconsin and the Start Line Inn?
Colleen, careered in kinesiology, applied physiology, and surgical sales, and her husband, Greg, a family practice physician, remarked how lucky they are to have the beautiful trails nearby. “But I heard of the Birkie through a network of friends,” Colleen said, “and Greg and I both love racing. We had skied all the local races and the Birkie was our next step.”
Start Line Inn Bike and XC Ski Service Center. To keep you going no matter your need, mechanical problem, or the weather.
Greg added, “The Birkie is part of the Worldloppet, and, as avid cross-country skiers, we were therefore brought to Wisconsin by the Birkie. In 2015 and 2016, we stayed with friends in Hayward. Because we missed 2017 due to other plans, we lost our lodging and needed a new place to stay for 2018.”
“In June,” Colleen said, “I looked for places online in Cable. The Start Line Inn was first to come up. Its 2017 renters for the cancelled Birkie race didn’t come back, so I booked the cabin without looking at the Inn’s photos.”
“We didn’t know how close or how great a place the Inn was,” Greg said, “but we found out, and why it had to be called the Start Line Inn.
We also realized how great this would be for skiing any time, as well as for biking and hiking all year round.”
“The Inn and its location make this the Disneyland of cycling and cross-country skiing,” Colleen said. “Every photo on the Inn’s website proved accurate. The cabin impressed us, its craftsmanship, details, and beauty. And yes, it’s so close to the Birkie trail, the race start, and the CAMBA trail.”
Greg added, “It’s a beautiful and complete facility, a magical environment. The Coach House reminded me of places from my college days when I competed as part of a team, except this was a lot better and much more comfortable.”
“We rented the Coach House in summer 2019,” Colleen said, “racing the Borah EPIC. With kitchen amenities, two baths and a shower, and great windows with those views, we were happy, and only a ten-minute bike ride to the Borah start line in Cable.”
Choate inspecting a bike with a young customer. Bike riders of all ages are welcome at Start Line Services.
“The Inn isn’t just for winter,” Greg said, “or races or weekends. Whether to race or have fun, summer or winter, it’s all at your feet at the Start Line Inn.”
“Mike and Elizabeth are wonderful hosts,” Colleen said, “and accommodating. Mike knows bikes and skis.
If you have mechanical or clothing problems, Mike is there to take care of you. They also know the area, things to do, restaurants, that we might never have heard about.”
The Future Has Arrived
“I’m from the Chicago area,” Choate said, “but Cable is my place in the world now. It’s not just a small town because there are many events. The Chequamegon Mountain Bike Festival, Borah EPIC, Birkie Trail Run Festival, Fat Bike Birkie, Hungry Bear Gravel Race, Chequamegon 100, and more. The National Scenic Waterway is one mile from the Inn. The town itself has the Cable Natural History Museum, cafés, Forest Lodge Library, and Redbery Bookstore, as well as rivers to paddle and a well-stocked grocery. It’s a wonderful, welcoming community.”
What a privilege to have spent the morning with Choate and Holland. The Start Line Inn, with buildings, grounds, and owners making me feel as though I stood within a Norman Rockwell painting, seemed more than their business. Rather, it was their exceptional new life.
As though she had read my mind, Holland called through my car window before I departed—“It’s never too late to have a second childhood.”