Nearly 100 canoeists and kayakers raced down the St. George River Saturday in Searsmont for the 36th annual St. George River Race. With paddles in hand, the racers battled class two and three rapids along with frigid temperatures. Here is a selection of photos by Ashley L. Conti.
FORT KENT, Maine — The 2015 250-mile Can-Am Crown International dog sled race started Feb. 28 in Fort Kent. Seventeen mushers from around the United States and Canada set off with 12 dog teams on a grueling trail over frozen rivers, among tight trees and over hilly landscapes.
When I was told I was heading to The County to cover the race, I immediately asked my co-worker Gabor Degre what to expect and the best way to cover an event this large.
He gave me a few tips. Dress warm, bring extra batteries, follow or drive with someone on the logger roads to each checkpoint, and prepare not to sleep.
I laughed at that last bit of advice at first. But he was dead serious. He explained I would have a blast, but I would not be sleeping.
I decided to follow one musher throughout the race and to make sure to get the first three mushers coming into each checkpoint. The musher I picked was 30-year-old Ashley Patterson of Shirley, Maine. Three other Maine mushers were competing, but Patterson had the best odds of finishing, as she had finished four other times.
On Thursday afternoon, I packed all the warm gear I owned, my camera gear and chargers, energy bars and my insulated water bottle and headed to Aroostook County.
On Friday were veterinarian checks, where I met with the oldest and youngest mushers competing in the shorter races that weekend. I was able to get a better feel of what I was dealing with and make plans to drive to each checkpoint with a race volunteer.
But before that, I was able to take a three-dog sled team around the property of Bangor Daily News reporter Julia Bayly. It was an experience I will never forget.
I woke up at 8 a.m. Saturday, dressed in all my warm layers, packed my ruck and headed to Main Street in Fort Kent to watch the 30-mile and 60-mile races take off.
I met up with Patterson while she was getting her dogs ready for the start of her race. I did a quick interview with her and then let her go back to putting booties on her 12 dogs. At 10:30 a.m., Patterson was off into the woods of Maine on her way to the first checkpoint in Portage Lake and I was headed back to the finish line to file photos and meet with Mike Daigle, who would be taking me around for the weekend.
Like everyone else helping with the races, Daigle volunteers his time as checkpoint coordinator for the weekend. When he’s not carting me through the backwoods of the Can-Am, he’s a Maine forest ranger. He is a super nice guy, and I knew from the start he was going to make this trip fun.
Around 2:30 p.m. we loaded our gear into the back of his pickup truck and started the 45-minute drive to Portage Lake.
It was amazing how dedicated and friendly the volunteers were at all the checkpoints. The minute we got there they set up a table for me to edit and asked if I needed anything else.
Around 4 p.m., I was introduced to a gentleman who would be snowmobiling me across Portage Lake to catch the first few mushers coming into the checkpoint. This was my first time riding on a snowmobile, let alone riding on one backward and hanging off the side to get the shots I needed (the second photo in my photo gallery is from this postion), but I had a blast.
As night fell, Patterson made her way across the lake and to the checkpoint. I followed her into the dog- and musher-only area and started taking photos of her caring for her dogs.
This is when I encountered the first of many obstacles: the lack of light. I had to rely on the headlamps from the mushers and the headlamp I wore to illuminate the photos. But to me, it worked even better than if flash was used. The headlights help give sharp contrasts to the photos and portrayed the mood of what these mushers were going through better.
After the mushers left Portage Lake, around 10 p.m., Daigle and I packed up and started the two-hour trip into the deep woods of Maine. On our way I saw my first two moose running next to the truck.
The next three checkpoints are kind of a blur. Shooting. Editing. Waiting. Driving. Shooting. Editing. Waiting. Driving.
I did manage to get an hour nap at the second checkpoint but other than that I was awake, just like the mushers. The lack of sleep was another challenge I had to overcome.
In this job you are put in situations where you might be awake for long periods of time, but I have never been up for more than 72 hours with only an hour of sleep. My mind started playing tricks on me, the way I was seeing colors was getting odd.
But like any athlete, you train your body to go into an almost autopilot mode when pushed to its limits. Your muscle memory takes over and you no longer have to think about what you are doing.
This is what happened to me. My instincts took over, regardless of my inability to make coherent sentences.
Around midnight Monday I was dropped back off at the ski lodge in Fort Kent to wait for the first finishers to cross. At 2 a.m., Martin Massicotte crossed the line first. Six hours later, Patterson enthusiastically finished, coming in fourth and the first woman to cross the line.
I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep, or if it was because I had just watched animals and humans with incredible endurance complete a huge accomplishment, but I teared up while Patterson hugged her dogs and family.
These are the assignments I live for, where I not only learn something new but can discover something about myself in the process.
After seeing a New York Times post on different ice shacks in Canada, I was inspired to document some found in Maine.
I headed out to Hermon Pond, a pretty quick drive from the office, to see if I could find any.
I was pleasantly surprised to find a good amount of all different shapes and sizes spread throughout the pond. I threw on my micro-spikes and started the long walk down the plowed runway. No, I wasn’t a real Mainer and didn’t drive my Jetta on the ice.
I’ve never been on that large of a frozen body of water. To be honest, it kind of freaked me out. Every time the ice released pressure, I jumped a little, even though I knew the ice was over a foot deep.
By the time I started shooting, the sun was starting to set. Some of the shacks were illuminated by a golden light, while others were cast in a blue shadow. I played with both lighting situations and seemed to like the deep blue better. To me, it almost lets you feel the cold in the photos.
After about 30 minutes of shooting, I started my haul back to my car and was pleased with what I came away with.
Any day where I can spend most of it outside making photos is a good day.
I can’t believe 2014 is almost over. It’s been a crazy year, for sure. I definitely feel like I’ve grown as a photographer, especially in the last seven months that I have been apart of the BDN.
I’ve been able to take visual risks and have been rewarded for doing so. It’s so refreshing to be able to work in an environment where you are not only allowed to experiment, but where it is encouraged.
It amazes me how open people in Maine allow you to become apart of their lives so quickly. As I said in my six-month introduction, I’ve seen people at the happiest days of their lives and I’ve seen them at the worst.
This selection of photos shows all of that.The lowest lows, the highest highs and everything in between.
What I really love about the BDN is the focus on multimedia and video. It helps give our audience a whole different level of connection that words and photos can’t do alone.
My three favorite video pieces from 2014 definitely do just that.
I’m positive 2015 will be even better. I’m stoked to bring you guys even more amazing photos and video to help tell your stories.
The beauty of what we do as visual journalists is that sometimes we are given free-range to go out and find something that interests us and photograph it.
I wanted to photograph something that was winter related. My co-worker, Gabor, suggested checking out the Belfast Curling Club, Maine’s only curling club.
I sent an email to the club to see when a good time for a visit would be. Steve McLaughlin answered pretty much immediately and we set up a time to meet later that week.
Being from Ohio, I’ve never seen curling in the flesh, only occasionally on tv during the Winter Olympics. I wasn’t really sure what I was getting myself into. The basics of the game I knew, but I wasn’t sure about where I would be able to shoot from.
Originally, I thought the sheets (the ice section the game is played on) would be spaced further apart from one another allowing me to photograph in between the sections.
The sheets at the Belfast Curling Club were touching each other. In essence, it was one sheet of ice with three different playing fields drawn on it. The fact that the sheets were so close together, and that I didn’t have a pair of shoes to go on the ice with, meant I was stuck shooting from the carpeted deck or the observation “warm room” upstairs.
But this is why I love this job, it keeps you on your toes. It makes you throw out your original idea of how you were going to document something and adjust on the fly.
That’s what I did.
Do I wish I was able to get on the ice and shoot from there? Of course I do. But sometimes the challenges are good, and they make you push yourself a little bit more than you would have normally.
I can’t believe it’s been six months since I started at the Bangor Daily News as a visual journalist. Time sure does fly when you’re getting shipped off to different parts of the state.
To be honest I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I first started here. I’ve been to Maine a few times, and to Bangor specifically, to visit friends, but didn’t know much more about it other than it gets cold in the winter.
To give a little back history of me, I grew up in Canfield, Ohio. The buckeye state. I went to school in Upstate New York at RIT (go Tigers!), then from there I’ve pretty much been a gypsy. I’ve lived in six states in six years. New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Indiana, Vermont, and now Maine. Some of these places I’ve worked at newspapers, some I’ve freelanced or interned at, others I worked for photo related companies. All of them have allowed me to grow in some aspect of photography.
When I saw the opening at the BDN, I knew it would be a perfect fit. Maine seemed like a great place to explore more, and the staff really pushed how to present stories online.
Some of the assignments I’ve had are ones I would have never been able to cover had I not had this job. I’ve covered your daily assignments of press conferences and high school sports, but I’ve also been given the opportunities to cover national news and some really fun features.
I’ve been to the County more times than some people who have worked here for years have. My second month I was shipped up north for two weekends in August to cover the 2014 World Acadian Congress, a huge festival of Acadian and Cajun culture and history, held every five years. I was totally unfamiliar with Acadian culture, but dove right in and was able to learn so much.
Recently, I was sent up north again to cover the Kaci Hickox, Ebola quarantine story. This was my first time dealing with national news and the media that comes along with it. For four days I spent about 16 years each day staking out Ms. Hickox’s home with 40 other journalists to see what her next move would be. My photos ended up getting national play on Good Morning America, The New York Times, and various other publications. It’s really cool to see your hard work plastered everywhere.
But this isn’t why I got into this journalism. It wasn’t to have my photos go viral, or to hit huge publications. Instead, it’s to help tell the stories of the people of Maine.
A few of those assignments that stick out are Bangor police chief Don Winslow’s funeral, a special performance from the Bangor Band to honor Henry F. Watson, Saint George Greek Orthodox Church moving forward after their priest was arrested, independent logger Tom Pelkey whose business would be impacted from the Verso Paper mill closing, and Bob and Julie Miner who own and run DEW Animal Kingdom & Sanctuary.
All of these people opened their lives to me and allowed me access that many other people would never be able to have. I’ve seen communities come together to help each other out in times of need. I’ve seen the good in people, and I’ve seen the bad. I’ve held people’s hands when they’ve felt scared. I’ve hugged them. I’ve lent my shoulder for them to cry on. I’ve ran through sprinklers and shared meals with them. I’ve given away many high-fives and laughs and they’ve given them right back. I wouldn’t change a thing. I haven’t worked a day at this job yet.
I’m beyond stoked to meet more people as my journey at the BDN continues.