A fat biker races over snow at the Essex Woods Fat Bike Race, which is being moved to the Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland for 2020. The Orland event, called the Wildlands Winter Wilderness Challenge, will also include snowshoe races. Credit: Courtesy of Craig MacDonald

Combining fat biking and snowshoe running, the new Wildlands Winter Wilderness Challenge will be held on March 1, at Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland. The competition will feature races for each sport, plus a duathlon that combines the two activities.

The first-time event was born out of a growing relationship between the local mountain biking community and Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust, a land trust that owns and manages the 4,500-acre Great Pond Mountain Wildlands in Orland, and a few other properties in the region.

“We’ve been working with them now for three years,” said Craig MacDonald, president of the Penobscot Region chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association. “The event is really going to highlight what could be possibly done [in the Wildlands].”

In 2019, the Penobscot Region chapter of the New England Mountain Bike Association received grants and donations amounting to about $25,000 to build mountain bike trails in the Wildlands. Working with Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust, professional trail builders and volunteers, the mountain biking group constructed a 1.4-mile trail on the property that spring and summer.

The trail — named the Capstone Trail — climbs Great Pond Mountain and is designed for experienced riders.

This summer, the group plans to extend the trail to a total length of 3.7 miles, MacDonald said, and there are plans underway for additional trails to be constructed that are less challenging.

“To me, it’s one of the major things we have going on in the mountain biking community,” MacDonald said. “There’s an opportunity to build a trail system there, and the board of Great Pond Mountain [Conservation Trust], they want this but they want to take time and they want high-quality mountain bike trails. They want it to be the best in Maine.”

At the upcoming Wildlands Winter Wilderness Challenge, the fat bike races and duathlon will follow a route that includes the new Capstone Trail, as well as multi-use trails that have existed in the Wildlands for many years. The snowshoe races will follow multi-use trails and hiking trails. All of these intersecting trails explore the slopes of Great Pond Mountain and offer views of the nearby Dead River.

[Check out many of these trails in this video]

“We feel that the Wildlands, right now, don’t see a lot of high user traffic for the location that it is,” event organizer Sarah Vickers said. “We thought it would be a good venue for races.”

As is often the case with first-time events, organizers are working hard to get the word out about it and ramp up participation. Racers of all skill levels are welcome, though the fat biking route may be too challenging for some beginner riders.

The event is sponsored by Eastern Maine Cycling Club and Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust. Event parking, registration and a post-race meal and award ceremony will be held at Craig Brook National Fish Hatchery, which offered its building and parking lot for the event. The hatchery is located at the edge of the Wildlands at 306 Hatchery Road in Orland.

On the day of the event, registration will be from 7 to 8:30 a.m.

A 5.2-mile fat bike race will start at 9 a.m. Those participating in the duathlon will start at the same time, beginning with the 5.2-mile fat bike portion and following with a 3.5-mile snowshoe portion. Racers can complete the duathlon solo or in two-person teams.

A longer fat bike race, measuring 9 miles long, will start at 9:15 a.m. And the 3.5-mile snowshoe race (for those not participating in the duathlon) will start at 9:30 a.m.

Chili provided by volunteers will be available for racers, race volunteers and spectators after the race, and an award ceremony will be held at 11:30 a.m. At that time, the winners of first, second and third places will be announced for men, women and youth participating in the races. In addition, the winners of first, second and third places will be announced for the duathlon for men and women solo racers, as well as male, female and co-ed teams.

Furthermore, the male and female racers who finish first in the duathlon as solo athletes will be crowned “Wildlands Frozen Man” and “Wildlands Frozen Woman.”

“We don’t have anyone signed up for the duathlon yet,” Vickers said Monday. “But we’ll have fun crowns for them.”

Winners of first, second and third places will all receive small prizes, and there will be a drawing for gift cards to local businesses, including Alpenglow Adventure Sports, Cadillac Mountain Sports, Renys and Finelli Pizzeria.

Racers can register on the day of the event or online. To register for the snowshoe race or duathlon, visit runreg.com/wildlands-winter-wilderness-challenge, and to register for the fat bike races, visit bikereg.com/essexwoods.

This year, the fat bike races at the Wildlands Winter Wilderness Challenge are replacing the Essex Woods Fat Bike Race, which has been held in Bangor in the city-owned Essex Woods for several years. The Orland races are a part of the Maine Winter Fat Bike Series, which this year includes fat bike races in Rangeley, Bethel, Carrabassett Valley, Farmington and Cumberland.

Event organizers hope the Wildlands Winter Wilderness Challenge will draw enough participation to become an annual event.

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Aislinn Sarnacki

Aislinn is a Bangor Daily News reporter for the Outdoors pages, focusing on outdoor recreation and Maine wildlife. Visit her main blog at actoutwithaislinn.bangordailynews.com.