I looked up at the figure in front of me. He towered, motionless, at least 20 feet above my head. He held an ax, as long as I am tall, in both his hands. I raised my camera for a picture, my left eye squinting through the viewfinder.
“Folks in Bangor aren’t going to like this,” I said out loud to nobody. “Nope, not one bit.”
My right index finger squeezed off three photos in quick succession. Lowering the camera, I glanced back up at the bearded visage.
“Thanks for holding still,” I said, patting his enormous boot with my flattened hand in a friendly gesture.
I heard hollow reverberations telling me he was an empty shell of a man.
Residents of Bangor are rightly proud of their Paul Bunyan statue. However, Rumford has one, too. It’s not as tall, but it includes Babe the Blue Ox at his side.
I jumped back on my Russian motorcycle, called a Ural, and stuffed the camera into the sidecar. I slid my helmet on, buckled the chin strap and away I rode — on a mission.
It was the fifth annual Ural National Rally Day. It’s a holiday of sorts for those of us intrepid enough to own one of these odd, old-fashioned motorcycles. The Soviet Union started making them during World War II. They pumped out millions, upon millions of them until the end of the USSR, changing their design very little over the decades.
Now, a private company, based in Redmond, Washington, makes less than 2,000 a year in the same old Siberian factory where they’ve been born since the 1940s. These days, they’re slowly updating the design, but not so much as to lose its essential character. My bike was manufactured in 2010, but is routinely mistaken for an antique.
The National Rally is an informal race against the clock. Participants log as many kilometers on the road from sunup to sundown as they can, collecting bonus points, in scavenger hunt fashion, along the way.
Rumford’s Paul Bunyan was my first “roadside attraction” for the day. He was worth 50 points.
This is my fourth year competing in the rally. Two years ago I finished in 13th place. Last year I cracked the top 10, landing in the 9th spot. This year, I’m shooting for the top five. We’ll see how that goes. Riders have until this weekend to get their honor-system points turned in to the website.
I started the day camping on Crocker Pond in Albany Township. From there, my route took me to Bethel, Rumford, Oquossoc, Stetson Township, Eustis, T3R4, North New Portland, Phillips, Township E, Andover and back to Bethel.
I rode 454 kilometers (272 miles) in just under 12 hours. The Ural rolled over 173 kilometers (103 miles) of dirt roads, which were worth five points per click.
My bonus point sites included three “roadside attractions.”
- Rumford’s Paul Bunyan
- The B-17 crash site in Parkertown Township
- North New Portland’s wire bridge
“Scenic wonders” were also a destinations for points.
- Crocker Pond in Albany Township
- Coos Canyon in Byron
- The Height of Land in Township D
“Superlatives” (oldest, highest, tallest, smallest, etc.) were worth points, too.
- Rumford Falls, tallest waterfall east of Niagara
- Bigelow Mountain’s West Peak, the tallest summit in Somerset County
- Flagstaff Lake, Maine’s largest manmade lake
At the end of the day, I finished with 2,616 points. Not too shabby. I’ll know how I stacked up in just a few days. Win or lose, at least I met the “other” Mr. Bunyan.
UPDATE: I finished in 6th place. If there’s another rally next year, I’ll shoot for the top five again. Till then, see you out there on three wheels.