PRESQUE ISLE — Many of the athletes in this weekend’s World Cup Biathlon at the Nordic Heritage Center have come from halfway around the world to compete in Aroostook County.
But few had a more perilous journey than Zach Hall.
Hall, who resides in Lake Placid, N.Y., was called upon by Team U.S.A. to compete this weekend with teammate Tim Burke unable to start due to illness.
Hall is the U.S. squad’s first alternate.
Hall traversed more than 500 miles and cut across Canada to make it to Presque Isle, getting in at 3 o’clock Thursday morning after driving in a snowstorm.
“Five-hundred miles and it took me 12 hours,” Hall said Saturday. “I think I saw both ends of the storm.”
Hall was wise to head north from Lake Placid, through Montreal and eventually into New Brunswick and crossing the border again in Madawaska, as opposed to trailblazing through Vermont and New Hampshire.
“Going that direction, it’s over 600 miles,” he said.
While facing Mother Nature’s wrath on his way to the County, Hall was certainly aware of the wildlife that tends to meander around the area’s highways.
“I grew up in Alaska so I know what a moose can do,” said Hall, who admitted to seeing no critters on the way up.
Hall had very little time to rest, getting a few hours of sleep Thursday with some practice time in between, and he competed in Friday’s 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) sprint event, placing 70th in 29 minutes, 44.3 seconds.
Even though the trip to the County was certainly a grind, Hall was able to maintain his focus once he was out on the trails.
“You try not to think about it but it’s always a factor,” he said, “you have things in the back of your mind that are always there. For me, it wasn’t an issue.”
The biggest thing on Hall’s mind was stepping up and representing his country well in Burke’s absence.
“Mentally, for myself, I try to put myself in a position where I can step up,” he said.
Hall has competed in the County before, racing in Presque Isle three years ago at a North American cup event, while competing at the national championships in Fort Kent last winter.
“John Marden did an excellent job designing these trails, I’ve raced on several of his courses around the country,” Hall said. “I think this one has one of the toughest continuous climbs.”
Hall typically excels in the sprint races.
“That one works well in my favor, it’s fast, you can shoot quickly,” he said. “Any race like that gets me stoked.”
Hall plans to stay in the area throughout the week and cheer on his teammates at next weekend’s Cup races in Fort Kent, whlie he is gearing up for the national championships in Minnesota in March.
He was happy with the way teammates Sara Studebaker, Haley Johnson, Jay Hakkinen and Jeremy Teela performed in Saturday’s mixed relay, as the U.S. quartet placed seventh among 12 teams.
“Jay did a really great job (shooting), of course Sara and Haley started it off with really solid legs,” said Hall. “Jeremy, he’s been our closer for a while now.”
Hall also enjoyed the support of the crowd, which included three area teens who braved the chilly temperatures and had “USA” spelled out across their chests.