St. John Valley Times
Can-Am Experience - Rocky Brook logging camps

By Monica Pettengill ROCKY BROOK - I had the pleasure of traveling to checkpoint number two, Rocky Brook, for my first ever Can-Am Crown experience this year. The logging camp owned by Irving Woodlands is no longer used by loggers, but is still in tip top shape. The volunteers left for Rocky Brook at I p.m. from the Fort Kent Town Hall.

The camp consists of two sleeping buildings with private bedrooms and a community bathroom, a fully equipped kitchen and dining building, and a large garage building that also houses the generator.

Andre Landry and his wife Norma, their daughter and a friend drove to Rocky Brook the Wednesday before the race to drop supplies at the camp and to begin the set-up. Irving Woodlands started the generator to the camp and had a plumber come out to the site to open up the plumbing. After the race the generator is shut down and the plumber returns to drain the pipes and close up the plumbing.

When we arrived the first order of business was to unload and finish setting up camp. The buildings were warm and relatively clean considering they'd been sitting unused for a year. There was a lot of work to do, but the volunteers set to work and had everything ready in time to sit and eat a delicious dinner prepared by the checkpoint coordinator, Norma Landry, for the volunteers. I haven't eaten so well in a long time. We were fed salads, chicken pie, Shepard's pie, stuffed pasta, shrimp scampi, homemade rolls, and pie. Lots of delicious pies.

After dinner most of the volunteers tried to get a few hours of sleep. Many had already been awake for over 24 hours, By the look of the times the mushers were getting, they'd begin arriving just before 2 a.m. Those who decided to stay awake played card and dice games and a few went snowshoeing.

The real excitement began just two seconds shy of 1:45 a.m. when the first musher Rita Wehseler blew into camp. Six more teams arrived within the following 45 minutes. I walked down to the road where the line judge, Bob Ouellet, and his timers were keeping warm next to a bonfire. Peering down the road 'into the darkness a small light appeared. It was the headlamp of the next musher. It took a few minutes from the time the light could be seen until the team of dogs crossed the line. Once the arrival time is confirmed, the musher signs off on the time and brings their team into camp.

Depending on their strategy, the condition of the dogs and their sled, and how tired they are, some of the mushers pulled into the checkpoint just long enough to give their dogs some water and turn around to take off. Others decide to take a break. The next checkpoint after Rocky Brook was 30.7 miles away in Maibec.

The checkpoints in the CanAm provide beds and food and drinks for tired and hungry mushers and their dogs. The yard at Rocky Brook had not been c1eared as much as in past years so when the teams started coming in fast and staying long to repair their sleds it became difficult to find places to rest the dogs.

Because the plowed trails had eaten up the plastic runners, mushers busied themselves with replacing them. Some were worried that more plowed roads would eat up the last of their runners. Fortunately for them, the only plowed road left on the trail between Rocky Brook and the end of the race was a short stretch immediately after leaving the checkpoint for Maibec.

It started to get light outside about fifteen minutes to six on Sunday morning. There were still six teams we' were waiting to on to arrive at the checkpoint. The HAM radio operators John Goran and Lee Trask informed us that the last team, driven by Caroline Morin of Ste-Helene de Bagot, Quebec, left checkpoint one, Portage, at 5:18 a.m.

Volunteers were tired and the situation with the icy set-up area in the front of the buildings was becoming dangerous. Exhausted, people began to slip and fall on the ice. The resident medic, Lisa Pelletier, was worried that someone would hit their head during

a fall or worse yet, become impaled by one of the stakes in the ground should they land on one, To top it all off, Can-Am Central called to request that Pelletier check two mushers, Larry Murphy of Fort Kent and Ed "The Sled" Obrecht of Ladysmith Quebec, who hadn't even arrived yet, for possible hypothermia.

People at the checkpoint were beginning to feel anxious ..

Still, with eleven mushers already on their way to Maibec and a sunrise that promised another beautiful day, the group at Rocky Brook persevered. One by one the teams came into the checkpoint. They were tired and cold, as were the volunteers. Some volunteers found places to take quick naps everywhere from the dining tables in the busy kitchen, to a couch in the common room of one of the bunk houses, to a pallet beside the bonfire still burning near the checkpoint line at the road.

Andy Benkendorf's team, from New Jersey, finally crossed the Rocky Brook checkpoint team at 7:55 a.m. Sunday. His team was worn and tired from having to carry two dogs nearly 70 miles, Benkendorf said. He had his first dropped dog shortly after, leaving Fort Kent and had to carry the dog in the basket all the way to Portage. He then left Portage with only 11 dogs and had another dog drop shortly after he left from there. He carried the second dog all the way to Rocky Brook. With broken runners, two dogs down, and a slow first couple of legs of the race, Benkendorf made the tough decision to scratch.

By 8:30 a.m., Rocky Brook was still awaiting the arrival of Murphy and Obrecht as well as Morin, who wasn't expected for a couple of more hours.

Volunteers breathed a collective sigh of relief as word came in that Obrecht had been passed on the trail where he'd decided to curl up in his sleeping bag and take a little nap. The passerby checked to make sure he was safe and he was.

Another sigh of relief came in when a local favorite, Larry Murphy arrived at the checkpoint seconds before 8:56 a.m. After Pelletier checked him for signs of hypothermia and declared him OK to continue, he announced that he would keep going, but without two of his dogs. Murphy couldn't help but comment on the volunteers. ''I'm from Fort Kent and I've seen the community come together for events like the Biathlon and the Can-Am and the volunteerism is incredible." Murphy said that he was very proud, of the people who volunteered.

Murphy left the checkpoint later that day, but didn't make it far. Twenty minutes after his departure, he returned to Rocky Brook and scratched the race.

I went with Norma Landry to perform a mandatory bag check for one of the mushers. Every musher in the race is given a list of supplies and gear that they must carry with them for the duration of the race. The list includes survival equipment such as a sleeping bag and fire starting kits as well as food and a cooking pot. Also on the list is a first aid kit, headlamps for seeing the trail at night, a mirror and a whistle for signaling a search party in the event that the team goes off the trail or gets lost, and extra harness equipment for the team. If equipment is lost along the way then the musher must replace it at the nearest checkpoint. At the last checkpoint each musher's bag must be inspected. Then if an item on the list is not in the bag at the end of the race, officials know that it was lost during the last length of the race and could not be replaced at a checkpoint.

Ed "the Sled" Obrecht arrived at 9:32 in good spirits and seeming well rested.

I left for the hour and a half drive home long before the last of the volunteers at Rocky Brook Sunday. Mushers have a rigid timeline they need to follow and the deadline for mushers to leave Rocky Brook was 8 p.m. Sunday. Most of the mushers were on their way to Maibec long before that.

Everyone at Rocky Brook acted as a team and I was proud to be a part of the event. My husband, Marty, also had volunteered and enjoyed the experience so much that he vowed to return next year. I look forward to being right there with them.