Backpack across Europe after college? Sure, that’s been done.

Backpack across Europe on skis? Well now. That’s a different story.

Jackson Bloch of Falmouth and Tyler DeAngelis of Readfield are a pair of 22-year-old Bowdoin College grads who first crossed paths on the well-groomed cross-country ski trails of western Maine. They competed against each other in middle school and high school before becoming Nordic teammates at Bowdoin.

On New Year’s Eve, they plan to board a flight to Prague to begin a nearly three-month adventure that will include cross-country ski marathons in the Czech Republic, Austria, France, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Norway.

“We knew that the marathons in Europe were huge and had a lot of history behind them,” Bloch said. “Near the beginning of our senior year, we decided that since we were both graduating and neither of us had any set-in-stone plan for when we got done, that we would do exactly what we wanted to do and go.”

The longest of the loppets, as Nordic ski marathons are known, is Sweden’s Vasaloppet, a 90-kilometer (about 56 miles) classic race. It’s also the oldest (held annually since 1922 and inspired by a king’s journey in 1520) and most popular.

“We had to wake up at 4 in the morning to register,” Bloch said. “We found out the next day that all 16,000 spots for the marathon had filled up in 83 seconds.”

Bloch and DeAngelis weren’t so fortunate in their attempt to register for the Marcialonga, a 70k race in Italy. It filled before their entries went through.

“We tried,” Bloch said. “But these races are really hard to get into. It’s a crap-shoot.”

Biology majors both, Bloch and DeAngelis have taken different paths since graduation. Bloch worked on a Wyoming guest ranch for four months, leading hikes, improving trails and feeding guests. Since returning home, he’s been doing some home improvement work for his parents and painting, mainly birds with watercolors.

“I’m really into scientific illustration,” he said. “Actually, I’m hoping to pursue that once I get home from Europe.”

A semester in Costa Rica studying ecology and field biology kindled Bloch’s avian interest. While in Wyoming, he was even commissioned to paint the ranch Christmas card.

DeAngelis, who had an environmental studies component to his major and spent his junior spring in New Zealand, stayed in Brunswick to work for the Nature Conservancy as a mapping software analyst.

Along with saving money, they’ve been compiling a list of contacts they’ve met through college, through skiing and through friends and family. A Maranacook High School friend of DeAngelis’ is on a Fulbright Scholarship in Germany. A couple of Bloch’s summer camp buddies live in Austria. A current Dartmouth College skier they befriended lives in the Czech Republic. A law school acquaintance of Emily Bloch – Jackson’s mom – lives in Switzerland. All offered lodging for the itinerant skiers.

“I would love to be able to do the trip in total for under six to seven thousand dollars,” Bloch said. “I don’t know what’s reasonable, but we’ve both been working a lot to save up for it so I think we’re OK.”

They have a joint blog ( on which they plan to post photos and stories of their adventures. The title refers to the total distance they will ski in their eight loppets.

“I’ve got a cool GPS watch that can collect tracks of the races,” DeAngelis said. “So we can embed the maps of the races and people can see exactly where we’ve been.”

Their schedule calls for five classic races and three freestyle races. Their shortest distance is a 42K freestyle race in Switzerland, about 26 miles.

Each of the eight marathons is part of the Worldloppet Circuit, which includes only 20 races worldwide, no more than one per country. The only U.S. loppet is the American Birkenbeiner in Wisconsin. Bloch and DeAngelis plan to end their trip with the Norwegian Birkenbeiner, a 54K point-to-point classic race set for late March and featuring a field of 17,000.

The race honors a time in Norwegian history (1206) when soldiers skied a baby prince to safety during a period of civil war. Each participant is required to carry a backpack weighing at least 3.5 kilograms to symbolize the princely burden, who grew up to be the king (Haakon Haakonsson) who ended the civil war.

“It definitely started with thinking about doing the Vasaloppet and the Birkenbeiner,” Bloch said. “They are the biggest ones with the most grandeur. Then we thought, if we’re going to do those, why not do the others?”

They plan to bring 11 pairs of skis, four pairs of boots and waxing equipment. They will rent a car, but will also rely on trains and other public transportation. They plan to ski competitively, but aren’t sure how they’ll stack up.

More than any prizes or medals, they hope to return with a sense of long-distance skiing’s rich heritage.

“It’s not just wandering,” DeAngelis said. “There’s a purpose behind it.”

“We both want to stay invested in the ski world when we come back, either as coaches or skiers,” Bloch said, “and we hope that our experiences in Europe will help us cultivate enthusiasm for skiing back home.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.