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

Anxiously waiting

by Blake Lagasseo

ST. JOHN VALLEY- The Portage Municipal Building was home to crowds at 4 p.m., Feb. 21, waiting for the Can-Am teams to be received. Murmuring could be heard above the crowd about the food and the race itself. Homemade signs advertise the fresh cooked food for the mushers and volunteers alike.

Many smiles and laughs are exchanged inside while, outside, people enjoy a warm climate and sunlight while smoking a cigarette or playing in the snow. Some wait anxiously with rosy-cheeked children, waiting to see when their team will arrive.

John Kaleta, the Portage Can-Am coordinater, remarks what a great race it is this year with the new racers and stresses that getting rest is very important for the teams. The radio room is murmuring at 4:25p.m. when they receive notification that two teams have crossed the road about a half hour from the checkpoint.

People gather outside to see the first racers arriving, leaving the municipal building nearly empty, with only a few people left inside speaking French and a few speaking religion.

Outside, groups of people gather, talk, and await the first racers' arrival.

A few children play King of the Hill on a snow bank and glance towards the snowy landscape behind them to see if a team has arrived yet. At 4:55 p.m., a team can be seen in the distance, coming towards the checkpoint. Bruce Langmaid arrives at 4:58 p.m. from leaving Fort Kent at 10:02 a.m. With a time of 6 hrs. 56 min. 40 see, Langmaid had an average speed of 10.008 mph. When Langmaid comes in he also comments that the last half mile of the trail was marked poorly and that two trails caused confusion.

Soon after a crew goes out on snowmobile to remedy the problem. At 5:20 p.m. three teams are being called in the radio room as having crossed the road a half hour away. The callers have a hard time to take down the numbers of the teams because they are one after the other. The crowd awaits a team's arrival, trying to guess who it will be. The sun was setting in Portage and a strong wind starts blowing, causing communication problems between the crew at the Portage checkpoint and others. The teams are feared to have taken the wrong trail in the confusion of a poorly marked path and the crowd waits for any sign of a team. Finally there is a beacon of light on the hill, which can't be identified as either a team or a snowmobile. The sled dogs are illuminated by the musher's headlamp as they cross into the final portion of this part of the race. Martin Massicotte arrives at 5:44 p.m. from leaving Fort Kent at 10:24 a.m, with a time of 7 hrs. 20 min. and 51 sec. and an average speed of 9.459 mph. At 5:48 p.m. Ashley Simpson arrives from leaving Fort Kent at 10:04 a.m. with a time of 7 hrs. 42 min. 57 sec. and a average speed of 9.00745 mph.

At 6:15 p.m., these mushers rest and eat, and a munnur has once again settled over the hall while the dogs are mounded on the ground outside, resting for the next stretch of the race.

At 7 p.m., sled dogs can be seen anxiously bouncing from the ground for food and the light from the mushers'headlight shining over them after the arrival of:

  • Aaron Peck: FK Out- 10:20 a.m. Portage In- 6:12 p.m.Time 7 hrs. 52 min. 10 sec. Avg. Speed- 8.83163 mph
  • Mitch Ingerson: FK Out- 10:18 a.m. Portage In- 6:21 p.m. Time 8 hrs. 3 min. 14 sec. Avg. Speed8.62937 mph
  • Stephane Massicotte: FK Out10: 12 a.m. Portage In.- 6:2 p.m.Time 8 hrs. 10 min. 26 sec. Avg. Speed - 8.5026 8 mph
  • Amy Dugan: FK Out- 10:08 a.m. Portage In- 6:25 p.m.Time 8 hrs. 17 min. 5 sec. Avg. Speed8.38894 mph.
  • Robert Frelette- FK Out- 10:00 a.m. Portage In- 6:38 p.m. Time 8 hrs. 38 min. 15 sec. Avg. Speed8.04631 mph
  • Larry Murphy: FK Out- 10:10 a.m. Portage In- 6:59 p.m.Time 8 hrs. 49 min. 40 sec. Avg. Speed7.87288 mph

After this, with only six teams remaining, a quiet begins to rest over the hall, with only timekeepers bustling around inside and the distortion of the radio in the distance.

At 7:14 p.m. Marcelle Fressineau arrives from leaving Fort Kent at 10: 16 a.m. with a time of 8 hrs. 5 8 min* 21 sec. and a average speed of 7.74589 mph.

Immediately after Fressineau's bag is checked for supplies, Matt Carstens arrives at 7:1 5p.m. from leaving Fort Kent at 10:26 a.m. with a time of 8 hrs. 49 min. 10 sec. and an average speed of 7.88031 mph.

Within the next hour two teams arrive.

  • Michael Ellis: FK Out- 10:14 a.m.Portage In- 7:53 p.m. Time 9 hrs. 39 min. 17 sec. Avg. Speed7.19855 mph
  • Andy Nissely: FK Out- 10:28 a.m. Portage In- 8:12 p.m.Time 9 hrs. 44 min. 55 sec. Avg. Speed7.12922 mph

As the night calms, only two teams remain. Mushers, dogs, and children alike all rest, waiting for the final moment to see their team off as the winter waits to see them off to the trail.