Nature Column #9806-St. John Valley Times-Week of March 18, l998
EL NINO AND THE SLED DOG RACES ( PART TWO)
Race officials at the Maibec Checkpoint cheered and congratulated each sled dog team for making it over the mostly muddy "El Nino" road. Whether fast or slow, each team was a winner in our minds for having completed this most grueling trail section.
At Maibec, dogs were watered, fed, and carefully checked by the excellent veterinarians. Then the dogs got a well-deserved rest on dry straw that we provided. The straw attracted a small flock of snow buntings. Several times these white birds with black wings were spotted eating the seeds in the straw.
Bruce Langmaid changed the harnesses on some of the dogs before he left Maibec. A maroon set and a blue set each put pressure on different parts of the dogs' bodies. The changes were intended to make the dogs more comfortable.
Don Hibbs said that if his dogs did not eat, it would mean they were done with the race. His dogs participated in a tiring race the week before, and had a virus after the race. The unexpected, difficult muddy road run was especially tiring for them. Two of his dogs had not gotten sick before, and they became ill at Maibec, so Don decided to pull out of the race at that point. He enjoyed the hospitality so much that he joked maybe he should drop out every year at "Hotel Maibec".
The three fastest mushers, Martin Massicotte, Bruce Langmaid, and Paul Boudreau rallied after their rest at Maibec. The mushers were fed by Lynn Wilkinson, Jo Williams, and me. We dried out the mushers' clothes with Larry and Ginny L'Italien's help. We all wished the rain had been snow! The judges had quite a time filling out time cards and sled check forms -- using plastic bags, and an umbrella, but still writing on some limp cards. The mushers also slept, after arranging for wakeup calls.
From Monday morning to Monday evening, five mushers left Maibec and two mushers arrived. They all were assured that the rest of the trail would be easier.
When Barry Dana was getting ready to leave, he called each dog by name, sat it up, and massaged its shoulders. He promised a couple of dogs he would do that for them every hour. The mushers really care for their dogs and do all they can for them.
Al Moorcroft put booties on his dogs at midnight (all the mushers used booties to protect the dogs' paws). Then he asked his team if they were ready. They all stood up and one began to "sing". When Al made a last minute change of harness, all the dogs began to sing and jump up and down, eager to be on the trail. Al headed for Allagash at 1:00 AM.
The Maibec crew left Monday morning, and found the road much improved from Saturday. We stopped in Allagash to await the arrival of Al at that checkpoint. We were somewhat horrified to see water on the Allagash River where the teams cross to Two Rivers Lunch. When Al reached the slush and water his dogs fanned out, tried to pick their way on snow. We saw Al in knee deep water. Our hearts ached for him as he struggled. When he finally tried to lead the dogs, his sled tipped over! Then he was through the mess and coming up the steep bank with one dog riding on the sled. We encouraged him from the moment we spotted him.
It is a tribute to the hardworking trail crew that most of the trail held up very well. Some said
that the run to Fort Kent was perfect -- even the Wallagrass Lake crossing. Some mushers poled
the sled along as they rode the runners so they would not make holes in the trail for the
following mushers. In spite of El Nino's water and warmth, the 1998 Northland Telephone
Can-Am 250 was a wonderful success!
Gale L. Flagg
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