Nature Column #9803--St. John Valley Times--Week of Feb.11, 1998



This year work started early on the Can-Am Dog Sled Race trails. On Jan. 3, Stan and I snowmobiled with Lynn Cyr, Dana Pinette, Bob Ouellette, Randy Pinkham, George Pooler, Larry Guimond, and trail boss Dennis Cyr. It was slow work pushing through the heavy, deep snow, taking more than an hour to break trail through narrow, twisting Pooler's Run between Martin and Carter Brooks. At Martin Brook we stopped to lay a tarp on the bridge that Dennis and others had rebuilt a week earlier. Then the men took turns shoveling snow on the tarp.

During the day I noticed that some of the workers had grapefruit-sized snowballs attached to their boot laces and pant cuffs! That tells you how sticky and heavy the snow was.

The next difficult section was a fresh, unpacked ridge trail that crosses Gilmore Brook. The snowmobiles were getting stuck going downhill! To fix the bridge over the brook, we put down branches and a tarp, then shoveled snow over it. Lynn snowshoed a turn-around on the other side of the bridge. If we were getting stuck going downhill, we figured we'd never make it going uphill over fresh snow!

We went back onto the snowmobile trail, then around to the other end of the ridge trail. All I need say is we got stuck, stuck, and stuck. After a lot of pulling and pushing we made it back to the bridge, and headed for Second Wallagrass Lake. The trail was quite well packed giving the drivers a bit of rest. The lake looked slushy but there was one track across, so Larry and Dennis attempted to cross. The slush bogged them down somewhat, and just before the other shore they swerved sharply back to the their track. It was too slushy to attempt the entire crossing.

On Jan. 31 half the group went to Portage, and I went with the other half to run the St. Francis (60-mile) loop. It was a lovely sunny day, but most of the trip was difficult, with more than a foot of new snow obscuring the old track. The drivers tried to keep their sleds balanced on the humps by very actively shifting their weight from side to side. Larry Guimond, Lucas Guimond, George Pooler, Randy Pinkham, and Stan were the acrobatic drivers. It reminded me of hiking on a sailboat to keep the boat from capsizing.

Stan and I stopped to wait for Larry at one point. When Stan went back to look for him, I walked on the trail, which was in a huge open area. I was surprised to see what looked like a Daddy-Long Legs crawling on the snow, but found that it only had six legs, a tiny head, longish neck, and oval body. Checking in insect books I found an obscure reference to a kind of Crane-Fly, "a curious wingless genus -- Chionea". According to Dick Dearborn, State Entomologist, Chionea valga adults are seen on the snow here in the north. They use a proboscis to drink water off the surface of the snow. Not much is known about them. They are usually solitary. Some speculate that the cold stimulates their claws to make them move faster and farther on the smooth surface. This makes finding a mate easier than in their usual habitat of lumpy mosses. They come to the surface, find mates, and probably return to the mosses to lay their eggs. The larvae live and feed in the rich organic matter among the mosses.

Gale L. Flagg

Return to race news index

home paw button