New England Runner Sledding Championships
By Nick Callanan
The hardest thing about runner sledding is navigating a turn. Itís not so bad when you are going slow: just steer the wooden handle in the direction of the turn and there you go.
But, it doesnít take long to get bored of "slow."
It all begins at the top of a steep icy hill (skiers, think blue square-steep). I like to remind myself: Nick, before you pick up that runner sled, sprint ten paces, and dive onto it headfirst down the hill, remember: the only way to stop is to bail, so donít bail; and: if you do bail, keep the sled between you and the trees; and, if, while bailing, you do lose your sled, scream and flap your arms and legs and wish you were anyplace but here.
But that is me. That is my pre-slide ritual. Keep this in mind: I bail a lot. To any anonymous observer, it would appear that I enjoy taking famous wipeouts attempting to navigate icy curves on a wood and metal contraption built for propelling its rider to highest possible speed. However, I donít.
In reality, I wish I was fast. I wish I was in command. I wish my pre-slide ritual involved thoughts of more substance than naked fear: thoughts like considerations on my options for the best line, factoring in the sunís warming factor on the ice and how that would affect my speed, and willing myself to use just a little bit less toe drag in hopes of sticking that turn with a fuller head of steam.
But hey, thatís just not the case. Iím a bit yellow, because Iím still a bit green when it comes to runner sledding.
And thatís the main reason why I was not on the roster of the first annual New England Runner Sledding Championships, held February 22, 2007 on Hogback Mountain in Montville, Maine.
Fifteen men were, however. Each vying for the title of New Englandís fastest on a sled. They came from East Benton, Freedom, Vassalboro, Albion, Montville, Liberty. They brought their own runner sleds: Flexible Flyers, Speedaways, Champions - all antiques.
The competition was organized into the following format: there was a time trial round of two heats which narrowed the field down to the top 12 racers, the top four of which receive an automatic bye to the quarterfinals. The remaining eight racers were paired off in four head-to-head matches to decide the other four quarterfinal racers. Then the quarterfinals where the field of eight was cut to four. Then the semifinals. Then the finals.
In addition to the race itself, each competitor was also assured of a good old country time: spending time outdoors with friends - old ones and new ones - sharing stories, food and drink. People were showing off their toys: there was a hovercraft, a surfboard with a fold-up chair mounted on it, and all kinds of runner sleds (Dick Littlefield, alone, brought at least 20 over from East Benton). Indeed, it was a festival atmosphere. Those of us not competing sat behind the hay bales and cheered the racers and the crashes that exploded in front of our eyes. Hadley pulled out her guitar during an intermission. Someone requested "Down to the Shanty and get a good buzz on." The next round of races began. A photographer from a local newspaper was nearly killed while hiking up the road in the middle of a heat. Jason Curtis began freestyle rhyming. Hadley played her guitar louder. A beer run was made. Two p.m. passed.
By now the field of racers had weeded itself down to the top eight. Race host G.W. Martin was the top seed in the quarterfinals. The dayís festivities were held on his familyís land and it was he who had asked the town not to sand the dirt road, thereby creating and preserving the Championship venue.
In the quarters, G.W. was matched up against runner sledding legend, and fellow event organizer, Dick Littlefield. It was Dick whose energy and generosity with both his sleds and his time had gotten many of the other racers started runner sledding in the first place. Dick is an old dog full of piss and vinegar, but if you think youíve seen all of his tricks, guess again, mister. G.W. vs. Dick was definitely the marquee matchup of the quarterfinals, but the other three parings were nothing to frown at, either: two seed, Richard G. raced David MacLeod; three seed Tim Giroux faced off against Charlie Littlefield; and four seed Wayne Bubba Lawrence slid against Joel Littlefield.
John Billings fired the black powder musket to begin the first quarterfinal race and Dickís sled hit the ice first, just ahead of G.W. He was still in the lead, with cigarette blazing, as the two men rounded the one and only turn on the course. But G.W. was carrying a lot of momentum and began to pass on the outside as they hit the last straightaway. But Dick was not giving up: he hit a bump just 30 yards from the finish and his sled vaulted into the air and into G.W.ís apparent path. But G.W. had just a little too much speed, and he whizzed past the close call and advanced into the semifinals.
Bubba Wayne also won an exciting race to advance to the semis as Joel took a spill just after the turn in the midst of an awesome head-to-head race. Tim Giroux posted the fastest time of the quarters as he completed the 1800 foot course in 37.27 seconds and eliminated Charlie. And Richard rounded out the semifinals as he knocked out David MacLeod.
The semis were just as exciting, but when the round was all over, it was Richard vs. G.W. in the finals. And when the snow settled after that head-to-head matchup, G.W. Martin laid claim to the first ever title of New England Runner Sledding Champion. So what if he organized the race- in fact, it gives him more motivation to hold the event again next year: to defend his title. And who knows, maybe next year Iíll just swallow my fear and go for it.
New England Runner Sledding Championship Roster
John Reynolds Jr.
Bubba Wayne Lawrence
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