ALLAGASH - At 12:02 a.m. Monday, Don Hibbs reached the final checkpoint at Allagash, well over an hour ahead of his nearest competitor, Martin Massicotte.
By all appearances, Hibbs looked strong, and his dogs looked healthy as he bedded down his team and gave them a much-needed rest before beginning the final 45-mile trek to Fort Kent.
On the trail conditions, Hibbs commented "You know, the trails are the same for everybody. There's lots of snow, and under these conditions they do the best they can. They do a great job with the trails. Up to today, it's been punchy and slow. It just hasn't been cold enough. Tonight was better. As for me, I tend to concentrate more on power than speed."
Hibbs asked what the current temperature was, and when he learned that it was 6 degrees below zero, he remarked "I thought it was warmer than that... it felt to me like it was 15 or so."
Watching Hibbs bed down his team of dogs was a lesson in genuine T L C. The way he handled each of his dogs could almost make a mother cry.
Hibbs would spread out the hay, and gently carry his dogs in his arms, laying them down in groups of two, then place a blanket on top. Within just a few minutes, it seemed, his entire team of dogs was sound asleep. It made me wonder what Hibbs would do for his dogs when they pull him across the finish line.
Hibbs was firmly in the lead when he left Maibec, and didn't look back. Hibbs said that, depending on what kind of lead he had, he might take six hours during the layover, in order to give the dogs more rest if necessary.
Checkpoint Coordinator Ruth Pelletier and head timer Wendy Voisine were glad to see things finally getting underway at Allagash after a lengthy wait since the early afternoon.
With Don Hibbs as the leader coming into the Allagash checkpoint,
there was a minor time discrepancy that had to be adjusted. "They sent him out two minutes early from Maibec, so he has to leave two minutes later from here. Stuff like this happens occasionally, but we definitely would have caught it anyway on this end." Pelletier and Voisine were at the Allagash checkpoint until Tuesday. "Yesterday we were here peeling potatoes," Pelletier joked.
Gail Flagg and Sandra Daigle were monitoring the shortwave and forestry band radios, relaying information back to CanAm Central. The forestry radios used were specific to the safety checkpoints. As of 1 a.m. Monday, things were going very smoothly, according to Flagg.
Trail veterinarian Sheila Morrissey said that, overall, the dogs looked to be in great shape. "Up until this point, it's been pretty quiet for us, of course. But when the teams come in, all the dogs have to be examined."
Morrissey said, "We watch the dogs very carefully when they come in right off the trail and see how they react, and their attitude." Morrisey said they watched the younger dogs, especially, as some of them don't always know how to pace themselves, and many of the dogs have never run a race on this scale.
When discussing the dog's paws, Morrissey said, "You know that old saying 'no foot, no horse?' Well, the same rule applies to these dogs. They are putting a lot miles on those little feet, and the trail conditions affect them, adversely, on occasion. Ice chunks can work their way into the dog's paws and cause a real problem. So we watch for that, as well."
Just from the constant pounding they can get swollen feet, Morrissey said. Typically the main problem was cracks from the snow balling up under their feet. Most of the time, the musher will apply ointment to dry out the moisture and heal the feet.
At the Allagash checkpoint, there were four veterinarians and two vet technicians available to inspect the dogs and treat them, if necessary.