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The Rangeley Loppet 2024


The Rangeley Loppet was held on Saturday, March 2, 2024.  The mantra, “There’s always snow in Rangeley,” was tested this year with the ebb and flow of the winter.  Things were looking great mid-February, but the storm early in the week with the wind and rain followed by warm temperatures and then a deep freeze made things just as challenging in Rangeley as everywhere else. There was thin coverage, and the little snow accumulation that followed the rain was preserved.

I took the northern route, hoping that I would drive into winter.  It was not the case, and I was discouraged to see the snow receding from the roads and sun-exposed meadows.  It was only after I got to Dixville Notch that there was consistent coverage.  Coverage was lean there, and I am used to seeing snowbanks towering over the height of the car.  The snow base lessened as I crossed the border into Maine.

Driving to Rangeley, I contemplated my questionable decision.  On top of a lean snow year, I have shoulder issues from a couple of falls.  I have not skied half as much as I wanted, and most of that was super cautious and not going for speed in fear of the pain of another jolt to either of my shoulders could bring.  Canoe season is around the corner, and I can rehabilitate them then, but I have to make it another few weeks.  I was also bummed that Wednesday Night Worlds was canceled, and the forecast stinks for new snow.  This is race report #291(by my best count), and I wanted it to be #300 but that will have to wait until next season. I also ran on Monday, which felt like throwing in the towel on ski season. Knowing that Rangeley could possibly be the last hooray for 2024, at the last minute, I looked at the registration list and determined I had to race.

The drive was three hours, and in my half-slumber, I began to hear the commands of Perry Bland navigating the rural roads from his notepad.  We have traveled to this race many times, and it was always an adventure.   I thought about all the times I have raced Rangeley, and it seemed there were only good memories.  My first successful 50km was on the old course.  I remember Raul Siren guiding me through the race, especially in the last few kilometers.  I had taken Jessica’s RCSs we picked up at a swap, and they were a significant improvement from my mid-eighties Karhu’s.  After the race, Raul told me I “could be pretty good if I learned how to ski.”  I also remembered when Scott and I missed a turn in Errol, made some other wrong turns and got to the Canadian border on the way home.  It may have been the same trip where we ended up running on fumes at some general store that had epic Cow Tale candy.

The road to Rangeley has improved, but it is still an adventure.  I remembered the year Route 16 was so bad that Bill Farrell’s dash in his Saab shook apart, and a tape cassette ejected into his back seat.  One year, Perry took the wheel of my sport-tuned BMW and sailed it over the heaves.  Another time, the St. Lawrence team was heading back to campus into the eye of a storm.  It was dark when we got to Vermont, with traffic moving at about 25 mph in the whiteout conditions.  I felt bad as it was still a long way to Canton.

The sun rose over Dixville Notch, and I remembered my races on the new course.  There was the year of the mashed potatoes.  It had snowed over a foot, and the Pisten Bully broke down after one pass.  I think a lot of skiers cursed it as we had to ski around it stuck on the trail.  It was the only time I saw Jesus Tamez upset. Jessica won her favorite prize that year, a hand-carved bear, which was worth it. The second lap that year was much better. There was another year when Swix Marathon Wax made its prototype debut on Sabra Davison’s skis.  Halfway through the race, when everyone else was getting oxidized bases, she flew by like she had just started.  We all had to know what was on her skis!

I started to think that I should have pushed this race to the club harder.  I remembered all the times we stayed at the Country Club Inn, having beers with Hank Pfeifle, learning about Mitch’s karate sparring partner “Scorpion,” and the annual chat about the proprietor’s desire to sell.  I also believe one year, we had Tristin Leggett with us, and he wondered how we ever found the place as his head could touch the ceiling in the guestrooms.  Then, of course, there were the years at Flynn’s Camp and what can happen when you get a bunch of competitive people around a game of Boggle with a round of beers.

So, I arrived in good time and great spirits and was soon reminded of why I had overcome my registration lament.  The registration list was full of the NENSA Marathon Series regulars, the people from around New England that I belong with.  The Bethel Outing Club gang beat me to registration.  Kirk Siegel, Ian Blair, and Brad Clarke had their bibs on in the yurt, but my registration envelope said “Fast.”  There was another name crossed out, and we could not tell if it meant fast, as in speed, or fast, as in stop eating.

I had time to inspect the snow.  It looked like a fun surface of a packed icy mix.  I talked with the groomer, Beth Flynn, and she said there were a couple of icy spots, but it groomed up nicely.  The trails were narrower than she would like, but she groomed as wide as possible.  She seemed a little bummed not to have the full loop, but the shortened loop let her spend more time perfecting what was available. There was also the consideration that the track needed to last for Sunday’s races.  The organizers did a good job ensuring the course was marked, tricky areas were safe, and skiers would have a fun experience.

The course was a 9km loop x 4.  We had a compressed start at the east edge of the stadium.  The central portion of the stadium was well-suited for speed skating.  The course followed Zapolsky trail out as usual and then turned onto Anne’s Trail.  The route took a left onto Tote Road and then turned up Moose Alley to the first turn.  Skiers had a nice downhill on the Lower FIS Trail, crossing Tote Road and then coming back up to Tote Road near the feed zone at the Yurt.  Skiers then skied the Geneva Loop before returning to the stadium for the lap.

The snow started out firm and fast.  However, the warm sun caused the powder in the mix to get tacky.  The base underneath was solid.  Toward the 75-minute mark after the start, the clouds took over, and the softened top layer of snow started glazing.  Ski choice was a consideration and became apparent when the snow got tacky.

There were about 100 racers.  The compressed starting area required good self-seeding.  People were responsible, and the start was clean, aside from a show-off’s jump attempt not ending well.  People were patient, and the field settled in.  Groups of skiers linked up and began enjoying the experience. 

A fast group of collegiate skiers took the lead and held it for the race.  Usually, when the race is the full distance, some of the more experienced skiers can reel in the younger group as they run out of energy, but the 36km distance was short enough to avert major unmanageable muscle distress.  Behind them, a pack of recent graduates formed.  Eli Grossman (Wolf Pack), Will Meehan (St. Michael’s), Gaelan Boyle-Wight (NWVE), Charlie Cobb (Fort Kent) and Brook Hodgeman (NWVE) skied a lap.   The next group was more of a mix and included Ben Taska (Unattached), Dennis Page (Nansen), and Rob Riley (GNA).

Rob Riley (GNA) broke from the other Masters who initially formed a good group.  Frank Feist (Ford Sayre) led a group slightly disconnected group that included David Herr (Unattached), Bill Donahue (GNA), Kirk Seigel (BOC), Jeff Paleiko (GNA), and Wes Denering (CSU).  This group would change a bit throughout the race.  David Herr moved up during the second half of the race.  Jeff Paleiko was psyched to have one of his fastest 10ks during the first lap.  Frank stayed steady as usual but could not counter David as he pulled through.  Kirk, Wes, and Bill went to the very end of the race, with Wes having the advantage at the line.

The women had a slightly different mix.  A few got away from the main pack early.  Fransisca Feist skied with Meg Yoder and won the Junior division, scoring a new hat.  A large group from the Colby women’s team took a parade lap the first time around the course.  Then they picked it up a notch, still somewhat conversational pace for them, but cruised along with a nice rotation. 

I started back and skied conservatively, leaving a small gap after what happened in the last fast conditions skate race I was in.  My strategy was effective, and I skied comfortably with the Colby Women, keeping a group with Brad Clarke (BOC), Ian Blair (BOC), Brett Rutledge (Down East), and Breeze Keller (Unattached) in sight.  Ian was breaking in a new pair of Salomons. Once things spread out, I made a couple of moves and bridged solo to the group.   We stayed together for the second lap, but the sun was making the snow sticky, and some skis were faster than others.  While some of us could muscle it out on the climbs, the downhills changed the dynamic.  Especially when the Colby Women joined the group, upping the pace and splitting it apart.  Brett also caught a snow snake on the Geneva Loop Downhill and could not make back the time. 

Joe Holland (Putney) kept the group in sight but never connected after the first half lap.  He did ski through those who dropped off the pace, including Ian Blair and Mark Battle (Unattached).  He was closing on me in the last lap as I had fallen back, but a surge from Breeze Keller made me determined not to let another skier by.  Breeze and I pushed the last 3km of the race, with the final push up the steep climb into the stadium to my advantage.   Joe rolled in just after.

Todd Taska (NWVE) was testing his skis against his son Ben’s.  I am not sure what he went with.  Ultimately, it was an even split on which way you went. Todd, now attached, raced in a good unattached pack with Kathy Thorson, Jennifer Mahoney, and Glenn Mohler.  Glen and Kathy got away, but Todd, having completed the race, looked happy.

Mark Lena (Maine Nordic) and William Dougherty (Unattached) went back and forth over the course.  Mark’s determination propelled him ahead when it counted, and William struggled to counter up the climb to the finish line.  Mark was happy with the race and filled me in on how the Caribou Bog went.  He was disappointed with the state of the snow and the looming end to the ski season.

At the front of the race, the collegiate men kept their lead.  Gaelen Boyle-Wight (NWVE) did his best but could not make contact.  Brook Hodgeman (NWVE) was drifting back, unaware that Rob Riley (GNA) was chasing Will Meehan (St. Michaels) and closing fast.  Will and Rob ran out of course before they could catch Brook.  Dennis Page’s (Nansen) skis slowed significantly on lap three, and Ben Taska opened up a big gap working with Sam Sinkler (Frog Kid Racing Project).

The day was nice enough for many to take an extra half-lap for a cooldown.  Next races were discussed, and Kirk hoped for the Biathlon in Craftsbury to be held.  He has a new rifle!  Predictions were made on the NH weekend, the race to the cabin, and the finale in Craftsbury.  There was hope, but there was also appreciation to Rangeley for hosting a great event and choosing to attend it.

Another Rangeley Loppet is in the books with more happy memories of fantastic spring skiing.   The race was well organized, and everyone was happy with the efforts made to host the event.  The changing conditions in the race gave everyone a challenge and added some excitement to the day as people thought to be long gone came back, and there was a changing of places for some with good racing for all.  While I was feeling down about the shape I am in and the season, I was reminded that the best skiing will be where the race is, so if we have the opportunity, we should take it!



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