Mainers do not spend the long winters at shopping malls. This is partly because there is little disposable income in Maine; but mostly, it’s because there are maybe two shopping malls in the entire state. Nor do Mainers mope, immobilized and catatonic, around their woodstoves, waiting for Spring’s arrival. The newspapers are full of activities that celebrate the cold.
Children playing at a park, 6 degrees F. The yellow sign says "Freezin for a Reason!" (click to enlarge)
The other day I drove by a church whose billboard announced their “Ice Skating Rink Now Open!”
My synagogue back home doesn’t even have a social hall! (Though it’s standing room only, even without a skating rink.)
This past Thursday thru Saturday in Rangeley, Maine there was the Snodeo. As the name suggests, this is a snowmobile rodeo, with a great variety of events, including trick riding, obstacle courses, daring gymnastics and races (top speed last year was 130.4 mph!) – all on snowmobiles.
Snowmobilers (click to enlarge)
Site of the Musher's Bowl: Beautiful, frozen Highland Lake in Bridgton, ME, with tracks from snowmobiles and dogsleds (click to enlarge)
We decided to attend an event a bit closer to home. This weekend was the 16th annual Musher’s Bowl. There is no such thing as “weather permitting.” The temperature hovered between 6 to 11 degrees F, but we weren’t going to let anything stop us from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity . . . to go dog sledding!
We gathered at Highland Lake in Bridgton Maine, where our musher/sled guide, Andy Chakoumakos of Lovell, ME, awaited us with his 6 Alaskan Husky mixes. The dogs howled, bayed, barked and leapt into the air in anticipation of the upcoming ride. They were very excited and obviously love to shlep their human cargo, even fatties such as moi. (Each dog can pull about 180 lbs, and we had 6 dogs for us 3 riders.)
That's me sitting in the sled just before the start of the ride. The restless dogs are anxious to get going! (click to enlarge)
There were two ways to ride: seated in comfort, or balancing precariously on a sled runner (a ski) in the back of the sled alongside Andy. My spouse and I traded positions halfway into the ride so we’d each have a chance to fully experience the joys of dog sledding from two different vantage points.
As we round the corner over frozen Highland Lake, you can see other sledders in front of us (click to enlarge)
It was a blast (of cold air)!
Now I'm standing and my husband is sitting - you can see his boots in the foreground as the dogs dash over frozen Highland Lake (click to enlarge)
enjoying the ride (click to enlarge)
We learned there are many types of sleds and different competitions, as well as different breeds of dogs developed for the various types of rides. Siberian huskies are known for their endurance, but they are slow, so they typically are not used for short, sprint-type races.
No, pullng the likes of me did not cause this dog to collapse! (He was giving himself a back massage)
Alaskan huskies are mostly a blend of huskies, malamutes, and hounds, whose combined traits of endurance, speed, drive and cold-weather tolerance make them a winning mutt combination.
the site of the "freezin' for a reason" polar plunge, a fundraiser for a local animal shelter. They had to chip away several inches of ice in order to reach water. (click to enlarge)
After our ride we passed a “swimming pool” that had been chipped out of the 5″ thick ice. The previous day, fundraisers for the local animal shelter had participated in a “polar plunge” in their bathing suits (!) in 10 degree weather.
This beautiful apple orchard with the million dollar view was the site of the dog sled races. You can see a sled racing behind the small shack in the distance (click to enlarge)
We drove a short distance to a beautiful apple orchard, which was the site of dog sled races, as well as skijoring races. Skijoring is a relatively new winter sport, consisting of a single skier who wears a belt that is tied to a long leash, at the end of which are 1 or 2 dogs. The dogs pull the skier along a cross-country race course; it is a timed event.
Sled racing (click to enlarge)
pushing for the finish line (click to enlarge)
Skijoring (click to enlarge)
Skijoring (click to enlarge)
The races were attended by dozens of spectators who stood for hours in the extreme cold. One guy commented to me, “I can’t believe you’re wearing a skirt in this weather!” I answered, “Always the lady!” and he laughed, but the truth is, I was probably dressed warmer than he was. Besides heavy wool socks and neoprene and rubber waterproof, knee-length boots, I was wearing long johns and sweat pants under the polartec fleece skirt; and a thermal undershirt, a polartec fleece top, an arctic-weight fur hooded winter parka, plus a wool hat, ski goggles to protect my face against icy winds, and fleece gloves. It was so cold that several times I missed some good shots when my camera froze! However, I personally never once felt cold and even my toes were toasty!
with all this clothing, it's hard to move (but at least it's tznius!)
(click to enlarge)
Every so often a very cool-looking ATV (all-terrain vehicle) with tracks would groom (smooth) the trail. I wish I could afford one of these with a snow-blower attachment to plow our steep driveway!
at least my dog was concerned...
When we arrived home we decided to try walking on the frozen pond across from our house. Now we can truly say we’ve “walked on water.” However, the pond’s edge turned out to be not as frozen as we thought (it was covered with about a foot of snow so we couldn’t see it so well). I fell deep into a drift, the bottom of which turned out to be the not-completely-frozen pond! My spouse seemed to find amusement in my sinking through the ice and hitting freezing cold water! My loyal dog (more concerned than my spouse, I might add) was busy trying to rescue me. My husband, on the other hand, was busy laughing and taking pictures as I flailed my arms and hoisted myself back to solid frozen ground like a beached whale (or make that “wail”). (It sounds more dangerous than it actually was. The water was only about 6″ deep, and I was wearing waterproof boots, but because I was stuck in a snowdrift it was difficult to extract myself. Honestly, my husband isn’t the sadist I’m making him out to be.)
(click to enlarge)
We returned to the house just as the sun was setting behind the mountains. We heard that a serious cold snap would be hitting our area this evening, so my spouse quickly refilled the wood cart and brought it inside the house so we’d have plenty of fuel. We love the challenges of winter weather in Maine, but in -25 degrees F (without windchill!) it’s just downright dangerous to be outside, and that is the forecast for this evening, so we want to make sure we have plenty of fuel within easy reach.
We ended the day with a bowl of homemade spicy chili – yum! It really hit the spot.
We really do love it here and are constantly grateful, amazed and in awe of the number of once-in-a-lifetime experiences we’ve had so far!
(P.S. According to our thermometer, it only got down to -13 F last night, not the -25 F that was predicted)