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The Great Caribou Bog 2023 & 1983

2023: Cipperly Good - 35 hearty souls signed up for the 2023 Great Caribou Bog Race in Orono, Maine, with untold day-of-racers. Disappointingly, the Orono Bog did not have enough snow this year, so the racers were denied the opportunity to ski across a landscape more reminiscent of Iceland or Scandinavia with low-bush berries and larch.

Instead the options were 1 loop, 2 loops, or 3 loops of a 11.5K distance of the "hilly" section of the ski area. These were gentle hills, compared to Jackson's Wave or the corkscrew at the Flying Moose at Bethel. While gentle, the single-track narrow twists through the woods on hard pack made for excitement as my eyes watered and I tried to clear my vision to anticipate the next bend in the trail on the down hills. One particular short, steep uphill scramble left little room to herringbone.

The race started on a straight away double pole a good distance from the parking lot. Last year I misjudged the time to reach the start, and missed the starting gun as I skied into the pack streaming towards me and then had to ski through the back of the pack resulting in an embarrassing crash on the narrow trail. This year, I was at the start in plenty of time. I opted for the 21K or two loop race option.

It was a clean double pole start down the old rail bed and then we turned into the hilly, narrow section of the trail. I had folks hot on my skis, goading me into a quicker pace than I am accustomed but I held them off. The snow plowers ahead of me finally gave way and I stayed ahead of them for the rest of the race. As mentioned above, the narrow track uphill and downhills that wove through the forest gave some excitement, but I stayed focused and upright. The hills gave way to an out-and-back flat that let racers gauge their position in the field.

Orono High School phenom Ruth White was leading the whole pack. After another little jaunt up into the hills, where at least one skier stopped to refresh his wax and another marathoner passed me, we were back on the double-pole straightaway to the finish/lap area. The second lap was pretty lonely, with no one in sight other than on the out-and-back. One skier I met going the other way, said, "Oh good, I thought I was the only one who had taken this trail."

The only entertainment, other than the hill navigation, was finding the snack bag I had dropped on the first lap. The endorphins/runner's high I had on the second lap were so good, that I thought, I should have signed up for the whole 33K and gotten some Zak point (and club points, of course ). But, I slid into the finish and saved that thought for next year.

Race course for perspective, the blue arrows refer to the bog portion that was not used this year:

1983: Tim Cowan - I enjoyed reading Cipperly’s account of the Caribou Bog Race near Orono and it reminded me of skiing the same race, on a different course, exactly 40 years before! I was aware of the event having spent a semester doing some grad studies at UMO the previous fall. Since my girlfriend was living in Bangor at the time, my brother Jon and I made the long drive east from where we were both working at Trapp Family Lodge.

On race morning we were corking our skis in the parking lot when our Uncle Bob, a chem professor at Orono, said he’d just spied on the university’s team. Did we want to know what the good guys were waxing with? Jon and I looked at each other, then turned to him and said, in chorus, “Uncle Bob, we ARE the good guys.”

We gave my girlfriend Sarah (who’s today my wife of almost 39 years) a spare ski pole and asked her to stand near the end of the starting field. Sure enough, 2 seconds after the starting gun someone kicked my pole which snapped in two. After retrieving the spare I was able to reach the front of the pack just before the trail narrowed to a single-track about the width of a snowmobile. 1983 was one of those strange times in ski racing; we were still on kick-wax, but aware that the marathon-skate was faster and more efficient, especially on such gentle terrain.

Unfortunately, the track that day was narrow enough so that I could only sneak in a few skate steps now and then on my 215 cm Kneissls. But the bigger problem was navigating the course, which, at least that year, had many unattended road crossings, and the town’s snowplows had made at least two passes since the course was set.

I would no sooner get a good lead on the chasing pack when I would come upon a plowed road with tracks set on the other side, running parallel with the road in both directions with no guiding arrows or signs. I would then wait for the chasers to catch me and inform me whether to turn right or left. Then off we’d go again.

Finally, with one guy still close behind me we could see the finish line – on the far side of another road crossing! With the final sprint under way I flew off the snow bank. While still in mid-air I recognized THIS road was not only plowed, but heavily sanded. I had just peeled my face off the roadway when I saw my competition sort of tip-toeing across the road on his skis past me and crossing the finish line in first a few ski-lengths ahead of me. Soon my brother Jon arrived to take third.

We haven’t raced in Orono since.


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