St. John Valley Times - Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Big Machias:
A mutual love story

by Tony San Antonio

ST. JOHN VALLEY- Big Machias is the second checkpoint in the Can-Am 250 mile race, which I covered on Saturday, Feb. 21. My day began at 11 a.m. on Saturday, when I met Curt Harvey at his home in Fort Kent. I would be traveling to the checkpoint with him. We drove to Ray Thereault's home and met with him and his son. Ray is the "head" of this checkpoint.

As we made our way through the thick woods, I asked Harvey questions as to what my job would be when I arrived -at Big Machias. He explained that I would be a dog handler.

A dog handler's job is to stop the dog team as they come into the checkpoint, assist them if they want to stay, and to help them leave the checkpoint. There are usually three to four handlers per team, which helps especially with the larger teams that come through.

The Big Machias checkpoint is located in a hunting/camping area situated on Big Machias Lake. We arrived there around one in the afternoon and set out doing little odd jobs. After we had everything taken care of, we waited for the first team to come. That would only be around 9 that night.

The first team to arrive was Bruce Langmaid's. After him was Aaron Peck at 10: 15 p.m.

We had a little break until around 12:30 a.m. when Martin Massicotte's team came in, then about a half and hour later Ashley Simpson's team came through. We had a fairly steady flow through the night. Some teams opted to rest for a few hours while others decided to continue moving.

Throughout the night I noticed a re-occurring theme. It was that the people who worked at this checkpoint love this competition as much as the mushers do. I talked to Aaron Ouellet, a college student living in Portland, who has worked with this competition for five years. This was his fourth year being at Big Machias. He started off as a handler, but is now a timer, which is a person who keeps track of the times when the teams enter and leave. He said that he really enjoyed working outside with the dogs and the people who are involved with the races. He went on to tell me that he would continue doing this as long as possible.

I also spoke with a musher from Rumney, N.H., Mike Ellis. This was his second year racing in the 250; he scratched last year at Maibec. He said that he loves dog sledding because it is a challenging and rewarding lifestyle and hobby. He is a true die-hard musher who plans his life around his team. He works as a land surveyor in the summer, which allows him time to train his dogs when the home building portion of the year is over. Since

December, he had run his team about 1,200 miles. He treats his dogs like they are his kids and lives by his motto. "Respect your dogs," which is something that he holds close to his heart.

I am sure that if every checkpoint was like the Big Machias stop, there will be many more successful Can-Am races to come. I urge any and all readers of this article, who are interested in volunteering for the Can-Am races to do so because this has been a very rewarding and fun experience.