BDN Outdoors team heading to U.S. Toboggan Nationals

File under “The things you do for your bosses, whether those things scare you to death or not.”

This weekend, some 30 years after I thought my official sledding career had ended, I am hopping onto a thin, wooden plank and hurtling down a gutter coated with ice in hopes of winning … WINNING! … the U.S. National Toboggan Championships.

Do I want to do so? Well, we’ll get to that in a minute. Am I looking forward to doing so? We’ll get to that, too. For now, let’s just say the bosses made me an offer I didn’t feel comfortable refusing.

A three person female team prepares to launch down the ice covered chute at the 22 annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships at the Camden Snow Bowl on Saturday, feb. 11, 2012. (Bangor Daily News Photo by Kevin Bennett)

First, let’s go back to the beginning: A couple of decades ago, a bunch of thrill-seekers (spoiler alert: I am NOT a thrill seeker. Not even close) decided that it would be a cool idea — a simply GRAND idea — to ice down an oversized homemade rain gutter and invite folks to hurtle down the slope of the Camden Snow Bowl.

Since we Mainers have been known to slide down hills on such varied things as car doors, large pieces of cardboard, and our snowpants-clad rumps, you can imagine the reaction: Folks liked it. LOVED it! And the fact that everyday, plain-old Mainers got to compete for a National Darned Championship! Wicked cool!

For the past two decades, as I basked in my retirement from all things sled-related, I paid scant attention to the goings-on down there in Camden.

Well, I take that back. One year, curiosity got the best of me, and I headed to the Snow Bowl to see what the big ruckus was about. Important note: I did NOT slide. I did NOT even touch a toboggan. I simply watched. And afterward, I emerged with my eyes bugged out, shaking my head.

Those people are nuts, I told myself. Then I blocked out the entire experience. Until a couple of weeks ago.

One afternoon,  I was summoned to a meeting of my big boss, my little boss, and another manager who also probably ranks above me on the BDN food chain.

And they made their offer (if you can call it that).

“What do you think of racing a toboggan?” Big Boss asked.

“Well, I’m deathly afraid of heights, and I’m not a big fan of unfettered speed,” I think I said.

“Good,” he said. “We’ve decided that you ought to take part in the toboggan races down in Camden. A BDN Outdoors team? What do you think?”

As you might be able to guess, what I thought, and what I said are two entirely different things.

I thought, “I think I may throw up. Now. Not during the race. Right now.”

I said, “OK, Big Boss. Whatever you think.” (Have I told you yet that I don’t like confrontation, and may have flunked out of my assertiveness training classes?)

Smiling, he sent me on my way, and told me to inform (he used the word “ask,” but by this time, I knew exactly what he was really saying) my colleague, Aislinn Sarnacki, if she’d care to join me on the death sled … oops. I meant to write “perfectly safe toboggan.”

So I did. And her eyes lit up. As it turns out, Aislinn is neither deathly afraid of heights (she climbs mountains for a living, so this should not have come as a surprise) and seems to be a fan of unfettered speed.

So on Saturday morning, Aislinn and I will join the masses and queue up for a couple of runs down the Death Chute … oops. I meant to write, “perfectly safe toboggan course.”

As is custom at the U.S. National Toboggan Championships, what you wear is nearly as important as how fast you are. At least, I hope that’s the case, because I’m pretty sure that Aislinn and I won’t clock a very good time, because I’m very apt to have coated our sled with glue or peanut butter in order to fetter our unfettered speed.

We’ll be among the people wearing bright white Tyvex suits (I’ve learned this is a pretty common thing, since the big white coveralls are easy to write witty team names on).

Our “uniforms” will have the BDN logo on them. And they’ll have our team name, which, I’m proud to say, was essentially my only contribution to this hair-brained … ooops, I meant to say, “brilliant” marketing idea.

We are the BDN’s Paper-Backed Riders.

Seriously, our goals are modest. We want to find a sled to borrow. A very slow sled, if possible. If it comes with brakes, even better. We want to make it to the bottom without cracking our beans wide open. And we want to have plenty of time to talk to people about what the BDN’s up to. That, you see, is the real purpose of our journey … and the only reason I agreed to un-retire from sledding.

Come see us. Stop and say “Hi.” Let us tell you about our outdoor offerings. Let us talk about newspapers, and hunting, and hiking, and fishing. Anything to take my mind off the task at hand.

Laugh if you choose. Cry if you must. (I will). And if you want to try on my racing suit and help a brother out by pinch-riding, I might just be willing to pay you to do so.

Just don’t tell Big Boss.

See you at the races.



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John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.