|By Andrew Birden
MAIBEC o The people met in the parking lot of the gym at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. There must have been about 15 of them, all volunteers who were heading out to the most distant checkpoint on the Can-Am circuit. The checkpoint was a small logging camp that goes by the name of Maibec,
One of the many remarkable things about the people who volunteer for the Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Races is the immediate sense that each and everyone of these folks is a person anyone would be proud to call friend. They each show an acceptance of the differences in their fellow volunteers, demonstrate a willingness to work' hard and to solve problems, and have a passion for the event that goes far beyond mere enthusiasm.
A person from the St. John Valley' will join with the volunteers "from away," and there is no impression that any of the people, locals or far-travelers, are different or alien in any way. People who only see each other only for a few days once a year greet with the familiarity of long-time friends who could have run across each other if' the grocery store just the other day.
To be honest, the trip to Maibec is an adventure all by itself. Even though it is only about 70 miles from Fort Kent to Maibec, the last 40 of those miles are down barely-marked logging trails that curl up and around steep hills, dip into lowlands, and travel so far away from civilization that the only thing a cell phone is good for is throwing it at a deer that might stumble into camp. Saturday's trip was even worse because the rain the night before had frozen the road into a 40-mile ribbon of steel-colored ice. At one point, three cars slid into the same snow bank, one after-another, and then a fourth driver took his turn and slid into the same pile of frozen hardened snow.
Along the way, near the beginning of the Michaud Farm Road in Allagash, the snow reflected the rays of light so brightly that travelers saw what looked like a matte black hole into the snow bank on the side of the road. The only reason the travelers knew for certain it was a man .who had paused in his walk with his canine companion was because they saw the jet-black figure wave at the passing convoy.
At one point, a reddish fox ran across the ridgeline and over the hill out of sight.
At the end of that trip, when the vehicles finally rejoined in the parking lot at Maibec, drivers said the conditions of the road were so horrible that they had to pry their fingers off of the steering wheel and repeat that it wouldn't be so bad when they drove back out in a few days.
As soon as they arrived, Checkpoint Coordinator Tonya Michaud had everyone unloading boxes of supplies and marking the rest areas for the mushers who would arrive in the next several hours, comfort their dogs, and move on.
The volunteers planned to stay over the next few days.
And while they worked, they were part of a larger group of individuals from the St. John Valley who each contribute to this event. At the start of the race, some people spoke to Keenan Blier, a high school student helping and learning from a local musher by the name of Larry Murphy. A woman recalled how Dick Fortin and his wife open lip their house each year to give the volunteer veterinarians a place to stay during the Can-Am.
One person smiled as he remembered John Kaleta and Ben Paradis, assisted by Sean Graham, helping another local favorite, Mike Paradis, prepare his sled and dogs before the sixty-miler. Local nurse Rachel Charette inventoried her medical supplies as she prepared to care for the mushers and monitor their health. Everyone could still hear the sounds of veteran CanAm announcer Alain Ouellette as he cheerfully led the spectators through the three starting events earlier that morning. The local folks who come out to make this race happen are too numerous to ever count or for the organizers ever to be able to definitively show their appreciation. All of these people, neighbors and friends, combine their energies to make this major event a reality.
Yet there are even more folks who help out with this event.
Inside the main building of the camp, after completing the preparations, Tonya Michaud gave a hug to a man who was obviously from somewhere else. The man had an easy grin, he wore a red bandanna and long dreadlocks fell from the back of his head. Across the table, a young woman of Asian descent was asking whether the dog handlers would be working in shifts. A man across the r'oom was speaking in a southern Texas drawl, slow and easy like molasses, explaining the procedure to transmit arrival times to Can-Am Central.
It was obvious that Can-Am is much more than a local event.
Scott Giroux, the fellow with the dreadlocks, is a former musher who has been volunteering at Maibec for the last seven years. He had come up from Belfast with several friends. He's in charge of all the dog handlers, which are the people who make sure the mushers have all they need to care for their team.