|By Monica Pettengill
FORT KENT - The seventeenth annual Irving Woodlands sponsored Can-Am Crown 250 concluded with 36-year-old Matt Carstens of Whitefield, New Hampshire winning the race with a finish time of 27 hours, 7 minutes, and 45 seconds.
This is the second win for Carstens in the 250-mile crosscountry dog sled race with his first win in 2006, when he finished with a time of 29 hours, 13 minutes, and 42 seconds. This was Carstens' sixth time participating in the Can-An\ Crown 250. Last year, he came in third place. He also won the Eagle Lake 100 in 2006 and 2007.
The second place winner in the 250-rnile race was 36-yearold Jason Barron of Lincoln, Montana, who finished the race
in 27 hours, 39 minutes, and 13 seconds. Barron was scheduled to race in next week's Iditarod in Alaska, but made the ;hoice to withdraw from that race at the last minute when some of his dogs were exposed to a virus while attending the .Iohn BeargFease" Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota a month prior to the Can-Am Crown.
The same virus, according' the Fort Kent Chamber director Dave Kelso, forced the pre-race scratch of seven teams who had pr.eviously registered for the CanAm Crown 250. Barron took advantage of the openings and was able to register during the week before the race start. This was Barron's first Can-Am Crow'n 250.
In thir~ place was 44-year-old Rita Wehseler of Tofte, Minnesota, who finished the race in 29 hours, 34 minutes, and 47 seconds. Her time was nearly six hours faster than the previous year's wirlller and set a record for the fastest finish of the Can-Am Crown 250 by a female musher.
Even in the cold weather, hundreds of peQple lined the streets of Fort Kent to watch the start of the 17th annual Can-Am Crown sled dog races Saturday morning . The stores and businesses on Main Street opened early and welcomed the crowds with special deals, free hot chocolate, and Can-Am souveNirs. The mushers came from near and far to run their dogs 30, 60, or 250 miles through the Northern Maine woods.
The day before the race, temperatures wre mild and a steady, heavy rain fell across the region, threatening trail conditions. Andre Landry, chief of security and Main Street start, and his crew of well over 100 volunteers worked all day and night Friday to set-up and prepare for the team' arrivals. Landry said that at midnight on Friday Main Street in Fort Kent looked like it was being prepared for a conoe tace. "The rain coming down was unbelievable," he said.
A cold front moved over the region during the wee hours of the morning Saturdday and the rain eventually stopped. Landry and his volunteers were able to finish the set-up of Main Street with the laying down of the snow track base that began at Key Bank on Main Street and extended to the dike just before the International Bridge. Most of the volunteers headed home to grab a few hours of sleep around 4 a.m. Landry worked through the night.
Although the cold snap made it possible to complete the set-up on Main Street, the rain washed away snow right down to the gravel on the portions of the trails that were plowed logging roads. The abrupt cold overnight Friday froze the trail making for especially icy conditions on.those areas. The icy and gravelly roads tore up plastic sled runners and made it difficult for the dogs to run with their booties slipping on the ice. Some mushers removed the booties to help, but most agreed that the conditions on plowed portions of the trail were less than favorable.
In contrast, however, the portions of the trail that were groomed and snow covered were hard from the melt and subsequent quick freeze. This made for favorable conditions on those sections and the dogs pulled hard and fast. Mushers were pulling their teams into the first checkpoint in near record time. Most of the plowed road portion of the trail was located between Portage and the second checkpoint, Rocky Brook.
There were four checkpoints where mushers were required to stop. The length of their stop var-' ied depending on strategy. Every team was required to take a fivehour layover at the last checkpoint in Allagash. The teams were also required to take a minimum of nine hours of rest that could be divided amongst the other three. checkpoints, Portage, Rocky Brook, and Maibec.
At every checkpoint there is a crew of veterinarians to check the dogs at the·musher.'s request as they come in. Normally, only a musher can decide if one of his or her dogs should be 'dropped,' though a vet's recommendation is taken into consideration. A dog can be dropped for many reasons, including injury, tiredness or strategy. At the start of the race and at certain checkpoints, a vet checkup is mandatory.
Otherwise, if a vet notices an injured dog and is not allowed to check the dog, the vet may insist on having the dog checked. If the musher refuses then the race marshal might have to intervene. Rocky Point checkpoint coordina-. tor, Norma Landry, said that generally this is not a problem because the mushers really care for their dogs. It's rare that a musher would refuse a vet's assistance if one of their dogs needed it.
Seven mushers ended their race early this year including popular local 54-year-old Larry Murphy of Fort Kent, and four time Can-Am Crown 250 winner, 40-year-old Martin Massicotte of St-Tite, Quebec. Murphy experienced some trouble with his dogs and returned to the Rocky Brook checkpoint about 20 minutes after he had departed it to end his race early'.
Carstens was the first to arrive at the finish line in Fort Kent seconds before 3:54 a.in .. Monday. The final racer, 43-year-old Caroline Morin of Ste-Helene de Bagot, Quebec, arrived at the finish line at 10:44 a.m. Tuesday.