A Monmouth snowmobiler and his teammate have won Cain’s Quest, a grueling 1,400-mile endurance race in the wilds of Labrador. Another Monmouth man and his teammate placed second.

But Team DSN, the team created in memory of David Norcross and featured in the Sun Journal in January, was forced to drop out of the race less than a day after it began.

“It was unbelievably tough. I can’t even put it into words,” said Kevin Norcross, who formed the team after his brother died last year. “But we don’t regret anything.”

Cain’s Quest teams travel day and night, cutting through the wilderness with only a GPS to guide them. There are no groomed trails to help them through the snow. Temperatures can plummet to 30 degrees below zero.

Many of the race’s 30 teams drop out well before the finish line, sidelined by broken snowmobiles, sickened by the freezing temperatures or too exhausted to continue.

For Kevin Norcross of Oxford and his friend, Lance Robinson of Brunswick, problems began about 400 miles into the race. Their GPS froze and they lost the ability to navigate. Then their satellite phone wouldn’t work. And as they drove in circles looking for the right direction to continue the race, they used all of their gas and much of their emergency gas.

With temperatures well below zero, they realized they had a choice: try to stay in the race and risk their lives, or quit. Twenty hours after the race began, the men drove their snowmobiles to a road for help – automatically disqualifying themselves.

Although Norcross and Robinson didn’t do as well as they’d hoped, two other Maine teams did.

Tim Lessard of Monmouth and his teammate, Eric Hall of Jackman, won the race. Rich Knipping of Monmouth and his teammate, Robert Gardner of Norridgewock, placed second.

At the end of the six-day race, the two teams crossed the finish line six minutes apart.

“It’s kind of hard to believe we pulled it off,” said Lessard, who sponsored Knipping’s team last year as owner of Grip-N-Rip Racing Products.

This was Lessard’s first year competing. He and Hall went into the race with a plan: They would use less powerful, more fuel-efficient machines. Carry less fuel so the snowmobiles are lighter. Set an even pace.

“That was our strategy, slow and steady,” Lessard said. “It worked perfectly.”

Behind for much of the race, Lessard said, he and his teammate jumped ahead at the end, largely because they were able to skip the last fueling station and drive on while the other team had to stop.

As the race winners, Lessard and Hall will split $30,000.

But participants say they didn’t do it for the money. With snowmobiles, entry fees and food and lodging, most spent more on the race than they could hope to make in winnings.

“We might break even,” Lessard said.

As second-place winners, Knipping and Gardner will share $10,200. This was their third time racing.

“We wanted to see how we’d match up,” Knipping said. “We agreed right from the start that it wasn’t about the money.

In 2007, Knipping and his partner came in fifth place. In 2008, they came in fourth. Both years, Knipping said, they gave away a chunk of their prize money to the Pine Tree Camp, a summer camp for children and adults with disabilities. They hope to do the same this year.

Knipping and Lessard said they were unsure whether they would compete in Cain’s Quest next year. Training takes money and time, and the race itself is brutal.

“About half way through I told myself I’d never do this again,” Lessard said.

Norcross, however, said his Team DSN would go again.

He and Robinson received a lot of support and community sponsorships – help they’re grateful for. And they’ve already gotten support for their second try.

“We learned a lot. We’ll go back again next year with a better set-up, a better team and more people and all that stuff,” he said. “We took the good out of it and learned we could keep up; we just need to have the right equipment.”

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