Nature Column #9405--St. John Valley Times--Week of March 2, 1994



How could we have known after the record-breaking cold of January and early February that we'd be basking in 50F and 60F sunshine on Saturday and Sunday, the 19th and 20th of February? Mother Nature threw a curve ball at a year's worth of training by mushers and dogs and at a year's worth of planning by the designers of the Can Am Crown Sled Dog Race.

The sixteen dog teams got off to a glorious start and enjoyed the beautiful weather. Forty-five minutes into the race, in a Wallagrass field, I watched the dogs race by with tongues hanging out. Several mushers were peeling off heavy jackets and asked if we could send some clouds to cover the sun, which was teasing us with the promise of spring.

After that, Ruth Schenk and I drove to the Maibecs Logging Camp in T13 R14. We saw lots of nipped-off fir and spruce tips on the snow along the Michaud Tote Road, evidence of red squirrels feeding on pollen buds of those trees. We saw many moose tracks and also fox and snowshoe hare tracks. (In our woods in Fort Kent, moose tracks had appeared just a week before when it warmed up from the most severe cold.) When we arrived at Maibecs, the welcoming, helpful, caretaker couple told us that they had an unprecedented number of mice during the summer and fall (sound familiar?).

At 2:22A.M.(Feb.20) Tim McEwen's handlers arrived and told us we'd have two teams coming in about 4:00AM. It was an anxious three hours after 4:00 before Andre Nadeau arrived at 7:04 AM, 21 hours and 25 minutes after the start. He reported that at 6:00 AM the trail started to become "punchy", with dogs breaking through.

Tim McEwen arrived at 7:38 AM. Their teams had traveled through the night to take advantage of cooler temperatures.

About noon we began to get reports of deteriorating trails and water rising on the river. Russell O'Farrell and his dogs were the only ones on the trail and overdue at Maibecs. Don McEwen, last year's second place finisher was handling for his son Tim this year. He said that dogs pushed in such heat could die and Russell was probably pausing until it got cooler.

While waiting we watched the preparation of food for Tim's team. This is what went into each bowl: dry dog food, raw ground beaver meat (purchased from trappers), a multi-vitamin powder, calcium, probiotics (a dry yogurt-like powder to aid digestion), and water. The dogs were also given whole herrings. When the dogs need a rest on the trail, the musher stops the team. The musher plays with the dogs a bit and gives them a snack. Tim uses sausages made with ground lamb and hi-energy powder. Then the dogs are ready to run again.

We also watched the very thorough veterinary check of the dogs. The vet checked every foot pad, looking for cracks and cuts. Each leg was felt and gently pushed and pulled to check for articulation of joints and any strains. Heart and lungs were checked with a stethoscope. Eyes and mouth were checked. The tail was lifted to check for signs of diarrhea. Any dog not passing the check is dropped from the race.

As Sunday progressed the trail deteriorated and on the St. John water rose on the ice unbelievably fast, in about an hour, during the 60 mile race. We heard reports of trouble on the river and were told that the 250 race was on hold. The 60 mile race was stopped at Allagash. Some dogs had gone through the ice, but were rescued. George Theriault was up to his waist in water at one point--that was water on top of the ice. Wisely, the race officials terminated the Can Am 250.

Russell O'Farrell came into Maibecs at 4:16PM. Although his dogs were falling into the snow belly deep and he was falling in thigh deep, dogs and musher were in good shape.

What Mother Nature did to the roads will be remembered by all the handlers who traveled between Portage and Musquacook on Saturday night. Wet ice is much more slippery than cold ice. The Bangor TV crew drove from Allagash to Maibecs on the Michaud Tote Road early Sunday morning and had a terrible trip on the slippery ice, which we had just traversed the day before without much trouble. There were some adventures leaving Maibecs by road, too--both glare ice and mud!

As Harry Gray said at the Can Am 250 Mushers' Banquet: "Mother Nature ate you up with snow last year, and Mother Nature ate you up with water this year." However, nature is the one thing you can never plan for exactly. That's an accepted fact among mushers and planners, and in 1995 everyone will be raring to go again. Who knows, the weather might even be perfect!

Gale L. Flagg

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