Nature Column #9805-St. John Valley Times-Week of March 11, l998
EL NINO AND THE SLED DOG RACES (Part One)
A week before the Can-Am Crown sled dog races, the trails were near perfection, but during the week temperatures rose slowly, and by Friday we had dense fog and drizzle. Friday night the temperature was barely freezing. The crew did a wonderful job preparing for Saturday's start by "paving" Fort Kent's Main Street with the slushy snow.
On Saturday, temperatures were still well above normal. El Nino does affect us up here! In spite of the weather, thirteen teams started the grueling 250-mile race, and nineteen teams started the 60-mile race. About the same time, another thirty-one teams were taking off from St. Francis for the 30-mile race.
The race crew going into Maibec had a slow trip on roads with deep slush and thick ice. Our caravan of five vehicles had a 4-wheel drive to lead and to tail, each with a ham radio. The three 2-wheel-drive trucks between us fish-tailed in the slush even though the speed was slow. The radios helped when the last truck developed a brake problem. I reported to our leader Dean Wiggins that the brake light was on. He said it sounded like a need for brake fluid. Fortunately Shawn Graham, my driver, had a container of that. We all stopped, the fluid was added, and on we went.
As melting continued, rising water on the ponds, lakes and rivers began to cause concern. Between Rocky Brook and Maibec, a brook crossing collapsed, exposing open water 3 to 4 feet deep. Because of this, George Theriault, the Race Marshall, had to reroute the trail to the dirt road between Rocky Brook and Maibec. When the Maibec crew was informed of the change, Shawn, Rob Johnson, Rick Giuquire, and Dave Palman went out to try to shovel snow onto the muddy road. With 25 miles of open road, they soon discovered that the task was hopeless. We knew the racers were going to have a formidable challenge, and they did!
Several of the mushers had to change their QCR's (quick change runners) twice on the road. The QCR's are plastic strips that slip over an aluminum strip which is attached to the wood runners with numerous screws. After using their extra QCR's, some mushers stopped to remove the metal strips before they were destroyed. They ran on wood to Maibec, then replaced the metal strips and put on another set of QCR's. Paul Boudreau and Mike Mayer both mentioned that their metal strips were getting so hot that they expanded. They had to cool them down in a snowbank in order for the new QCR's to fit.
Mike Mayer's boots filled with water during the Carr Pond crossing. As the water deepened, his dogs began to fan out, looking for a better route. Finding none, they circled. Mike then took hold of his lead dogs to guide them across the pond. Bruce Langmaid used hockey tape to seal his Gortex pants down around his boots and was able to keep his feet dry.
When Al Moorcroft came into Maibec, I noticed that his sled was much farther behind the team
than usual. He had put an extra length of gangline on so his dogs could run in the road while he
kept his sled on the edge and even somewhat up on the snowbank where the sliding was better.
Of course, this meant the musher had to run beside the sled rather than on it. Hard work!
Gale L. Flagg
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