MAIBEC - The most remote checkpoint on the route of the CanAm 250 is located in Maibec, nearly 80 miles away from Fort Kent. The Maibec logging camp, nestled at the end of barely-plowed, unmarked roads between streams and forest and endless tracks of snow, consists of a large garage, several sheds, and a long bunkhouse.
When the checkpoint crew pulled into camp, they immediately went to work creating what CanAm racers have dubbed Hotel Maibec. Hotel Maibec has a reputation as the most comfortable stop on the grueling route.
The team of about 25 people split off into several groups. One group began laying out cable and equipment in order to establish the ham radio station to complete the network spread across northern Aroostook County just for this event. Another group began sorting the 50 or 60 bags of equipment that the mushers sent to Maibec to await their arrival. A third group, armed with a tape measure, lengths of cut rebar, orange road cones and a power drill began laying out the parking area for the mushers to use.
This last group used the drill to drive a large bit into the frozen surface of the camp's yard, and then they pounded the rebar into the holes to mark off the areas where the dog teams would park. They covered each up-thrust length of rebar with a road cone.
Later in the evening, volunteer cooks pulled together a huge traditional meal of baked potatoes, vegetables, beef steaks, and marinated moose meat.
One fellow stood outside over a gas grill as the snow fell and blew around him, searing and cooking each steak to perfection. In the past, a different figure would have been operating the grill.
After the meal, Mike Daigle, checkpoint coordinator, took a moment to speak to the volunteers.
He explained that the Michaud family had sponsored the checkpoint this year in memory of Mitch Michaud. Michaud's siblings donated the money for all the materials, and his daughter, Tonya MiChaud, donated the food for the weekend.
According to Tonya Michaud, her father was the person who started the tradition of the steak dinner at Maibec. She said that she would join him every year at the camp in order to share good food and companionship with the people who volunteer for this duty.
This year, Tonya was the assistant to Daigle, and she was one of the directors of the CanAm event.
Tanya said that at the 2007 race, her father felt like he was fighting a cold and he was tiring very easily. A month after volunteering at Maibec for the last time, doctors discovered that Michaud's tiredness wasn't a cold, flu, or pneumonia. The elder Michaud had cancer. He died in December.
Andrew Marquis, who rescued tired dogs during the CanAm races said, "He's here with us, you know it."
After dinner there was apple pie, blueberry pie, strawberry-rhubarb pie, and mumbleberry pie.
And brownies. Those brownies were good.
While everyone enjoyed the dessert (or desserts), others watched television, monitored the race through the ham radio, played cards, or read books. Conversations about the most unlikely topics sprang up, from the relative merits of various Disney movies to the best way to locate vintage electronics.
Hotel Maibec was filled with interesting people who had taken a few days out of their dynamic lives to volunteer out here.
Tonya Michaud said, "What tonight was about was what my father was about, sitting back, laughing, and good times."
During the night, teams of veterinarians and dog handlers arrived to augment the workforce.
In the morning, Hotel Maibec was like a small farm during the harvest, with people working hard to finish their jobs and everyone having a purpose in their lives and only a limited time to fulfill that purpose.
Around 11:09 am., Normand Cassavant pulled into the camp, followed closely by Martin Massicotte and Matt Carstens 10 minutes later. Don Hibbs also drove his team in before lunch.
The volunteers set to work, directing the sleds into a carefully laid out parking arrangement, helping the musher wherever the rules allowed, transmitting vital information back to CanAm Central, and keeping track of who was still on the trail approaching Hotel Maibec.
An observer would have noticed that everyone had a smile on his or her face, and everyone was working as hard as he or she could and barely acknowledging the effort.
And that, perhaps, was the thing about Maibec that the late Mitch Michaud enjoyed the most - the sense of shared purpose, community, hard work, and friendship.
Tonya Michaud said, "He always had a smile on his face."