It took an early start to make it to the Outdoor Center at Sugarloaf by 8:30. Up at 3:45 to make time for coffee, stretching, and a good breakfast of eggs and potatoes. Out the door by 6:00 – hightailing it from near Ellsworth – I made good time until I got behind a Québecois tractor trailer and worried I was lost. Not true – I struggled to keep up all along Routes 16 and 27 and made it with enough time to get my number and pin it on. Then back on a School Bus for the long ride around the mountains to Flagstaff Lake and the start of the race. I knew I was in Maine when somewhere in the middle of nowhere the buses stopped and the driver announced the start of the 20k race. Thirty or forty skiers scrambled out and into the woods to take advantage of the not-so-steep terrain.
I had ironed on some klister the night before, but it was a bit cold and a top coat of hard wax was necessary. “Does anyone know the temperature?” No one knew, so I guessed and, as it turned out, picked right. (In fact, one fellow I skied alongside for awhile used his no-wax performance skis and reported excellent purchase the whole time.) Within 10 minutes the first wave of 20k skiers – with me among them – was off and flying. And what a great time! The snow was perfect: it was obvious that one honkin’ big groomer had combed a wide trail with a toothed trowel, along with setting a perfect pair of grooves for the skis. Conditions were consistent everywhere – no ice – and the glide was excellent. I was gliding up the hills like you’re supposed to! The trail cuts through beautiful scenery: some hardwoods, some softwoods, over frozen streams on wooden bridges, with lots of dappled sunlight lighting the way.
By the time we reached the Poplar Stream Falls Hut I was ready for some refreshments. I skipped the hot blueberry soup but made up for it with energy drinks and granola bars. The rest stop was a great place to check in with other skiers – this was one friendly group of folks. Everyone was out to enjoy themselves on skis in the woods. I was impressed with the hut, too – this could be the place to stay this summer when family visits. But soon enough the rest was over and the skiing resumed. This time down several kilometers of long, winding trail that satisfied my need for downhill excitement. The good news, though, was that there was plenty of room for turning and plenty of snow for the ski to grab – no worries of being out of control. One fellow on the bus suggested switching skis after the long downhill as the wax gets rubbed off the inside of each ski. I didn’t do it, but after the race I looked at my wax – on only one side of the groove – and realized he was right!
The last leg came after the second feed area: the Narrow Gauge railbed from the Carrabassett Valley town office to the Sugarloaf Outdoor Center – about 7 kilometers of gradual uphill. The conditions continued to be excellent for kick and glide. I could taste the end when I took off my skis to cross Route 27. I struggled with the last bit of uphill to the OC (as the locals affectionately call it) and arrived with not an ounce of get-up-and-go left. I tucked into the incredible food choices – I chose the Broccoli and Roasted Red Pepper au Gratin soup and a Turkey and Romaine wrap. I was reviving pretty well and then the 40k skiers started to filter into the center, still looking in great shape! I talked it over with some of these inveterate diehards and I think I’ll be back next year to double my tour!