|By Elizabeth Deprey
ROCKY BROOK - After all of the dogsled teams took off from Fort Kent on Saturday morning, my dad and I headed out into the snowstorm toward the town of Portage, the first rest stop for the dogs and where we were meeting our ride to Rocky Brook logging camp, the second rest stop.
Dad had signed up to be a cook and drove my CRS to Portage, where we received a ride to Rocky Brook from Bill and Joan Pettengill of Blue Hill. We joined a convoy of vehicles out to the checkpoint.
As we were heading out onto the road and introducing ourselves, Bill asked, "Do you think they know I only have two-wheel drive?"
I'm pretty sure the answer to that was "no," as the three vehicles ahead of us powered up and down the hills and around the curves in the woods on the way to the camp, while we struggled to keep up and keep out of the snow banks at the same time.
The old dirt logging roads had big dips in the road that caused the truck to go airborne and caused those of us in the truck to bump our heads on the ceiling. We took it like troopers, laughing and continuing on until what Bill called our "NASCAR moment."
We knew there was a left turn at some point that would lead down Rocky Brook Road. Unfortunately, by that time, we had lost sight of the convoy, visibility was bad, and we did not discover the turn until Bill had to make a sharp left or head into a snow bank of unplowed road We all sucked in our breath as Bill somehow kept us on the road and on track.
Our stop, like Maibec, was closed to the public, making it a very different experience from the crowds in Fort Kent.
Norma Landry coordinated the volunteers I followed, supervising the unpacking and the cleaning of the three cabins.
Unfortunately, the Can-Am last year was the last group to use the cabins, so the buildings were filled with dead and hibernating flies. I thought about helping until someone found the dead and decomposing mouse body under a desk. They found another mouse corpse in a couch.
I've never seen anything that dead before.
While half the group was cleaning, the other half, led by Norma's husband, Andre, was forming a line of trucks in the middle of the driveway to create a "U" shape for the mushers to drive up. They drilled posts into the ground to which the mushers would tie their dogs.
When the flurry of activity was complete, everyone hustled out of the cold and into the kitchen building, where I had already staked out my spot near the coffee.
Although Dad and some others had time to help cook, Norma had meals and more meals already prepared, including pans of lasagna and spaghetti bake, and she finished making chicken pot pies while everyone was cleaning and setting up.
She said this was the cooks' chance to relax.
Once the dogs were there, she would be out with them.
After everybody ate a big and delicious meal, she brought out at least a dozen pies, all different types, and dozens of cookies and squares. We were really roughing it.
After dinner, some of the volunteers went out snowshoeing or went to hang out in the cabins while we all waited. And waited.
Some volunteers played cards, Uno, Charlemagne and Dame de Pic. Norma and others in the kitchen made chicken stew and tomato rice soup.
My main focus was on the marker board, on which our resident nurse, Lisa Pelletier of Fort Kent, was updating reports about who was arriving and leaving in Portage. The reports came from Jim Grandmaison, who was manning the ham radio in the other building and updating a program on a laptop to help us estimate times.
Finally, at 1 a.m., the first team was supposed to come in. Then 2 a.m. passed. Then, at 2:30, the team was supposed to come in at any minute, so I headed out to the bonfire that some of the guys had made at the end of the driveway to light the way for the mushers and to keep warm.
Then we waited. And waited. I gave up at around 3: 10 a.m., and at 3: 11 and 15 seconds, the first musher, Don Hibbs, came in. Norma and Andre checked everything out at the bottom of the hill, and then sent them up the driveway to be tied to a station and checked by the vets, who had arrived some time around midnight. Luckily, I got to see him pull in.
It was such a relief to see the dogs after all the preparations and waiting. The whole camp perked up. Two other mushers arrived about an hour apart.
The cooks must have made hundreds and hundreds of breakfast sandwiches on homemade bread, which Crystal Parent of Eagle Lake had baked.
Meanwhile, we speculated about the fate of Fort Kent favorite Larry Murphy, the principal of Eagle Lake Elementary. Unlike the other mushers, he hadn't left Portage. People in the room knew his usual pattern was not to stay overlong at the first checkpoint. We also speculated about Ed "the Sled" Obrecht, a musher from outside Quebec who was running the race for the first time. He hadn't made the Portage checkpoint at a time when most had checked out. Search-and-rescue later found him, we heard, in between the safety checkpoint and Portage, camped out and waiting for a lost dog to return to him. Ed the Sled was supposed to be in and out of Portage by 6 a.m. Sunday, or he would be disqualified, or "scratch."
We also heard about a team in one of the shorter races that stopped partway so a dog could throw up six or eight booties it had eaten.