CAMDEN, Maine — In the world of toboggan racing, there’s a fine line between “very, very fast” and “call a doctor.”
Jay McCrum knows exactly where that line is. And as competition revved up during the 23rd annual U.S. National Toboggan Championships on Sunday, he explained with a wry smile.
“We got a first place and a second place [last year],” the Mars Hill man said. “We would have had the best overall time, but we crashed at the end. We were going 42 miles an hour, they said, when we crashed. A few bruises [all around]. A few broken ribs [for me].”
On Sunday, after a blizzard scrapped the first day of the scheduled two-day event, McCrum and his growing “Spudrunner” toboggan empire — 23 family members showed up to compete or cheer others on — were on-hand for their fifth straight year of racing.
“It’s a great family event here, and just the notion of what it all is is [great],” McCrum said.
McCrum’s son-in-law, Fred Whited of Bridgewater, not only races, but has been enlisted to craft the Spudrunner toboggans. Like in racing, sometimes the process goes well. Other times … well, it doesn’t.
“I’ve made five. I’ve broke three or four others, curling them,” Whited said with a chuckle.
And with a full flock of younger members of the McCrum family waiting to get into the tobogganing game, Whited said he can see a day when he can celebrate his own retirement from racing.
“Soon I won’t be walking to the top of that hill,” Whited said with a chuckle, gesturing at the top of the 400-foot ramp. “I’ll just be waxing toboggans.”
Tom Cox, who teaches adult education in Camden, is the chief toboggan inspector at the event, which seems to have equal numbers of teams that are trying to win, trying to make a fashion statement, or trying to come up with the most suggestive team name they can without being thrown off the Camden Snow Bowl property.
Cox is among those who have learned the craft of toboggan-making, and he shares that skill with others each year.
“Each year, I take 10 students and each year we make a sled,” Cox said. “It takes eight weeks, one night a week, three hours a night, and everybody walks home with a sled [at the end of the class] … so I’ve probably built 60.”
With names such as “Throbbin Boggins,” “Chute, I’m Out of Beer,” and “Rocky Balboggan,” most teams — even the speediest — approach the championships with a healthy sense of humor.
Among those was a Mayan Aztec-themed three-person team that went by the name “Armasleddin.”
Deirdre Rynne, an art teacher who works near Boston, said she has competed in Camden four times under different team names. Once her team was called “Besledded,” and featured famous women who had been decapitated. Another time, they were the Grateful Dead Bears. On her first ill-fated trip, the team’s name was “Swan Lake,” and the riders wore tutus on the coldest day Rynne can remember.
“Ever since then we’ve been trying to do costumes that I can wear my Carhartts to,” she said.
On Sunday, “Armasleddin” — Rynne, Nicanor Garrido of Burlington, Vt., and Andrew McCabe of Alston, Mass. — looked sharp with elaborate headdresses and Mayan attire.
“Nic looks pretty amazing,” Rynne said. “He’s the chief, so you’ll see that he has way more plumage.”
And attaching that plumage to the headdresses turned out to be the perfect activity Saturday, when the day’s races were canceled and a massive winter storm dropped a couple feet of snow on the area.
“We were doing this yesterday on our forced snow day,” Rynne said, modeling her own headdress. “Our poor hotel. There’s fur and feathers everywhere. It looks like we did something really bad in there.”
In all, 425 teams participated in Sunday’s events. Riders from at least 19 states and several Canadian provinces participated.
The top finishers and category winners at the 2013 U.S. National Toboggan Championships at Camden Snowbowl:
Two-person: 1. Fat Bloated Idiots, Turner, 17.72 seconds (two runs); 2. Throbbin Boggins 2, Camden, 17.81; 3. Beer Coasters, Lincolnville, 17.83.
Three-person: 1. Absolute Zeros, Turner, 17.67; 2. Splittin Adams, Belfast, 17.72; 3. (tie) Flying Beer Boys, Lincolnville and Spudrunner 3, Blaine, 17.75.
Four-person: 1. Bull Hoss Fusiliers, Turner, 17.66; 2. Spudrunner 4, Blaine, 17.69; 3. Southern Comfort, Medway, Mass., 17.69.
Experimental: 1. Section 8, Thomaston, 17.59; Fastest females: Three Hot Women on Wood, Union, 8.99 (one run); Kids: Rockport Rockettes, Rockport, 9.06; High school: Arctic Kitties, Camden, 9.00; College: Southern Comfort, Virginia Wesleyan College, Medway, Mass., 8.91; Best crafted toboggan: Pennsylvania State Champions, Calfont, Penn.; Best costume: Royal Dutch National Toboggan Team, Camden