We all support the team
It was nigh impossible trying to explain the Toboggan Nationals to my now-husband Ryan in our early days of dating.
We were living in Los Angeles at the time, where “winter” means two straight weeks of rain and several car commercials’ worth of hydroplaning Audis. Trying to explain the pageantry and hilarity of a weekend of tobogganing came off — I’m sure — as something akin to “Toddlers & Tiaras” by way of Tim Burton’s worst acid-induced nightmare.
“But they wore a giant golden squid on their heads,” I remember screeching at one point, making tentacular gesticulations to illustrate my point, “and it squirted ink as they crossed the finish line!”
Ryan nodded and smiled appropriately, but I knew he didn’t quite understand.
Three years, two more cats, a wedding, a cross-country move, and an awesome job upgrade later, we rolled out of bed at 5:30 a.m., prepared to stomp off into the aftermath of the blizzard. I’d been assigned to take photos during the now one-day event, and instead of feeling excited, I was ridiculously nervous.
I was worried about precipitation wrecking my camera. I was worried about the lithium ion batteries losing their charge — and how I’d replenish them if they did. I was terrified that we didn’t have clothing that was warm enough to withstand a full day outside.
Our car was doing a rather excellent imitation of a snowbank, so we hoofed it to Camden Town Office and caught the bus. As we bumped along roads I knew from a childhood in the Midcoast, I started feeling even queasier.
If I screwed up while photographing this once-a-year event, that was it. This year, there was no second day. No second chance. A lot of people were going to be disappointed, and it was going to be all my fault.
It wasn’t until we were in the heart of Tobogganville that a sense of familiarity started to come sneaking back. Here were the Big Kahoonas, the Slab City Sliders — teams I remembered from back in the day. There was the weighing station, the cheery volunteers, the hilariously costumed teams (I’m looking at you, Aristocracks).
And yes. That freaking cowbell.
For the first time in a decade, I looked out over that giant chute and its frozen base, and heard the thrilled screams of people plummeting down to vanish in a puff of snow. That was what got me thinking.
In Los Angeles, it was easy to slip between the cracks of various subgroups. I drifted along in an undifferentiated haze, seasons and years sliding away unnoticed.
But here in the Midcoast, October through April is a period of time that often seems far too long and is bitterly cold. Even the light is harsher — during the few hours that the sun is even visible.
We who choose to live here are an intrepid band of outliers, existing on a knife’s edge between land and sea. I’m an atheist, but even I feel comfortable saying that in the Midcoast, we’re all cogs in the great wheel. We all necessarily depend on each other.
In the same way, I realized, we depend on events like the Festival of Lights, Christmas by the Sea, Pies on Parade, New Year’s By the Bay — and the Toboggan Nationals. These are the celebrations that bring us out of our huddling and hibernation. These are the lights that guide us through the darkness.
In his novel “Under the Dome,” Stephen King wrote that in Maine, “We all support the team.” On Sunday, that phrase really came home, and so did I. Suddenly I was 10 years old again, ready once again to scream my lungs out for everyone who took that icy ride, proud of everyone for banding together — just because that’s what we do here. We all support the team.
That’s when I picked up my camera, took off my lens cap and pressed the shutter.