St. John Valley Times - Wednesday, March 13, 2002


by Gale Flagg

FORT KENT After months of work by many people, race day arrived with a near-zero temperature early in the morning of March 2. As always, the dog teams were excited, jumping up and down in their harnesses, some of them howling with anticipation. The 25 sixty-mile teams took off from Main Street at 8:00 AM. When I approached the starting line for ham radio transmissions confirming the team number and the number of dogs (8) in the team, I noticed the snow lane between the barriers was a very light brown. There was so little snow this winter that the stockpiled snow had enough sand in it to color it.

At 9:00 AM the thirty 6-dog teams of the 30-mile racers began their starts from Lonesome Pine ski lodge. Back on Main Street, the 250-milers started with 10-12 dogs at 10:00 AM. Several handlers helped move each team into the gate for the countdown. Twenty-four teams departed at 2-minute intervals with a large crowd cheering them on.

The trails were in good shape, although a bit of rain and six inches of heavy snow two days before the race necessitated some cutting and removal of broken tree limbs. The trail crews did a fine job.

After the start of the race, the Maibec caravan started from Fort Kent and included Ham Radio operators in the lead and as the tail. In between, we had the truck with the trailer full of straw, two North Star Search and Rescue vehicles, and a van full of timers, handlers, runners, and a cook. The Michaud Farm Road was in fairly good shape, snow-covered and somewhat icy, but not a problem for anyone. I didn't see any White-Winged Crossbills in the road, which I usually do. The small cone crop is to blame. There were some moose tracks for long distances at the side of the roadway.

We arrived at Maibec about 4:00PM. The radio antenna was set up, the straw and about 30 water pails and covers were unloaded. We checked out where the teams would be tied when they came in. After supper and meeting we went to bed.

At 3:00 AM I was awakened. A team might arrive at 4 AM. When I went out it was snowing and the wind was blowing hard. I hoped it would keep snowing!

At 05:11 Stephane Duplessis was the first to come in to Maibec. After he spread out the straw for his team, he covered them with fleece blankets. I noticed one of his dogs had burrowed under the straw and all I could see was a mounded hump of straw.

The next teams in were J.R. Anderson at 05:27, Martin Massicotte at 5:40, Bruce Langmaid at 06:07, Trapper Bergerson at 06:28, and Matt Weik at 06:42. A flurry of activity, with straw, hot water, and food bags being delivered to each team, a hot or cold drink for the musher, veterinary check, and some gear checks.

Can-Am has a computer program that estimates the time of arrival of a team at a checkpoint. Estimates for Trapper Bergerson were particularly accurate. Trapper uses a GPS to keep his dogs running at a steady speed so they don't wear themselves out by running too fast. On the last leg (47miles), the computer program estimated that Trapper would cross the finish line at 8:06:52. He finished at 8:05:30.

A walk around the Maibec yard showed all the dogs blanketed and many buried in the straw. The wind kept up, the snow changed to sleet and then back to heavy snow. Then it stopped and I thought we had escaped rain, but the temperature continued to rise to 44 F and rain fell. The dogs dropped their ears and looked displeased.

Other teams came in throughout the day. Mike Johnson came in a bit after 9 AM. His dogs were big and long legged. When he pulled them up against a snow bank for a rest, they were barking and jumping. They looked like they wanted to keep going. Mike said they were just showing off in front of the checkpoint crew. He said he had to push the sled a lot in the slush. Maybe he needed the rest and the dogs didn't! Most dogs push their heads against the snow a bit, or roll and then settle down for a nap.

The rain began to wash the snow off the roads and the yard. Ice appeared and wet ice is very slippery. Everyone moved carefully.

Teams were coming in and going out (starting at 10:00) all day. After dark Gratien Gendron left, but soon came back. The road was too gravelly. Stephen Hessert also went out and came back. A couple of other teams left after midnight. The temperature started to drop and by morning was in the teens. All those who had stayed overnight left together about 7 AM.

Pine Grosbeaks were looking for gravel on the road. Black-Capped Chickadees were landing in the straw seeking oats and bits of spilled dog food. Gray Jays, with level flight, flew between evergreens.

Liz Como returned with ruined runners. Stephen Hessert, who scratched at Maibec, loaned Liz his sled to continue after I got the okay from the race marshal on the radio.

By Monday afternoon, the Michaud Farm Road had turned to pure ice, so we had to drive back to Allagash by a different route.