{Tsuga Siberians}

May 26th, 2007 - “Mike's Can-Am 250”

Wednesday night, with the truck all packed, (ok, stuffed!), Sue and I got our last really good night’s sleep for the coming week. Thursday morning at four, we were up and out to water the dogs and by seven they were loaded and we were headed for Fort Kent for the Can-Am 250. Leaving Wyatt, Birch and Esther was kind of sad, but we knew Scott would be taking good care of them. Wyatt and Birch are of course retired. Esther had a sore on her front leg from a bootie-rub and wasn’t racing because of that. Since I don’t have any idea what other dog she would have replaced, it was ok to have a reason to leave one of the trained-up dogs behind. The weather forecast had been looking warm for the weekend and now they were talking about a big storm brewing for Friday night, just before the race start. It always seems to storm on Can-Am weekend, but the outlook of soft trail and warm temperatures had me already thinking I might have to scale back my race schedule. Somehow this really didn’t bother me too much. Last year, I finished at 11:21am Monday. I hoped I could do it at least that fast this year, despite having our four yearling males on my team, but was ready for whatever cards got dealt. Sue and I had pretty much divided our teams by gender because most of the females were either in heat or just starting their cycle. I was content in my mind that I would simply adjust to trail and weather and use the race to prepare for next year’s Quest, not worrying about where I placed. In the Quest, we will never push as hard as what minimum rest in Can-Am demands. Sue’s schedule was already fairly conservative, so we were both pretty relaxed and ready to get going.


Katahdin Lodge

Packing the sleds at the start

Mike's sled ready to go

Main Street - sloppy snow!

We made our usual Thursday night stop at Katahdin Lodge a couple of hours south of Fort Kent. Bob and Rhonda who had a team entered in the 60 miler this year and Sue’s Dad and Linda stayed there with us, too. David Mitchell of our host family in Fort Kent saw our truck as they passed heading south with Isaac to Sugarloaf for the weekend. They turned around and came back to the lodge to wish us luck. Thanks, guys!! Bob and Rhonda had also offered to handle for us over the course of the weekend. Race rules prevent handlers from assisting the team or driver during the race, but they can help at the start and finish, pick up dropped dogs and the checkpoint bags once we are done with them, and provide moral support. This may not sound like much, but having such great friends looking out for us, our dogs, and our stuff was priceless.

Friday morning, we watched a beautiful sunrise while we watered dogs. But as the dogs ate, thick grey clouds were moving in from the southwest. After a great breakfast back inside the lodge, we made our way north to Fort Kent. We stopped briefly at Tammy and David’s to drop off some stuff and then headed up to the ski area to register and get our vet checks done. We got a nice early visit with the vets due to my number two bib. The vets flexed each limb, listened to each heartbeat, inspected all 96 feet, and generally gave a complete once-over to all 24 of our race dogs as Sue and I shuffled them out and then back in to their dog boxes. Zirkle sat in the cab and supervised the paperwork. Tom and Linda looked on and got their first impression of distance sleddog racing and why it’s kind of a tough spectator sport. There’s a LOT of time to stand around in the cold, waiting, waiting, waiting. The first flakes of snow began to fall as we packed up the dogs and headed out to feed ourselves after greeting many of the other mushers on hand. It’s funny to see all the various levels of preparation among the mushers. Some are calm and ready. Some are still packing checkpoint bags. Some are still deciding what and how to pack and asking for advice. Ours were sealed up and ready, and I could tell you exactly what was in each of them. After some food at Rock’s Diner, we sorted our bags into waiting trailers and pickup trucks at the drivers’ meeting in a moderate snow that had already accumulated several inches. The meeting went pretty smoothly and was over in less than an hour. We were told the fresh snow would be a good thing for the trail as some of the plowed logging road sections had become “muddy” during the previous week’s warm spell. I’ll take fresh snow over mud any day!! After a nice dinner out with Bob and Rhonda, we were back at Mitchells’ to drop the dogs, relax with Tammy, and get some sleep between plow-truck passes that continued every few minutes ALL night long.

Mike's Team:

Stump
(M)
4 yrs old

Maple
(F)
5 yrs old

Gila
(F)
4 yrs old

Romeo
(M)
4 yrs old

Logan
(M)
1 yr old

Merlin
(M)
1 yr old

Hawkeye
(M)
4 yrs old

Hood
(M)
1 yr old

Wilson
(M)
1 yr old

Curly
(M)
5 yrs old

Gecko
(M)
4 yrs old

Jim
(M)
8 yrs old

Race morning dawned with a broken sky, warm temperatures with the mercury in the mid 20’s, and a fresh 8-10 inches of snow in town and certainly more in the hills. Once again, the dogs seemed to pick up our relaxed attitude (I was truly relaxed, Sue was faking it pretty well!!) and they all ate well at their early morning watering. We got the truck parked in our number two spot only 150 yards from the start line. While we packed our sleds and milled around the start area we received lots of good wishes from spectators, friends, race officials, and other handlers and racers. It’s awesome to have built up so much positive support in Fort Kent over our years of racing here. With the official gear checks done to assure we’ve got the long list of mandatory gear in the sled, we are ready to go. FINALLY!!


Ready to go!

Hooking up Mike's team - Sue hooks up Curly

My team had Stump and Maple in lead, Romeo and Gila in swing, followed by Logan and Hawkeye, Merlin and Wilson, Hood and Curly, and then Gecko and Super Jim in wheel position just in front of the sled. With 21 cumulative Can-Am 250 finishes among the 8 veterans and a very strong group of the four yearling males, I felt very confident about the ability of this team. I took the leaders’ neckline and waved back to Bob on the runners. “Let’s Go!” The team was calm and collected in the start chute. The veterans’ demeanor rubbed off on the youngsters who took in the spectacle of hundreds of race fans lining a thin strip of snow down Main Street. These young dogs hadn’t even been in a harness at this time last year and now they were headed out on the toughest race in the east. As the loudspeaker blurts “15 seconds,” I leave the dogs and walk back to the sled, being held by several men. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” and I don’t have to say a thing. The dogs know what a countdown is and we’re off! I stand firmly on the dragmat, slowing the team in the chewed-up track over the asphalt street. The cheers and waves are a blur as the team becomes my complete focus. A right hand climb off the street, over the dike, around the abutment, under the bridge, back up on the dike, along the road, and then across it onto the railroad grade. Phew, we made it out of town. Just as I begin to settle down and relax as the team cruises down the flat trail, I see Jim’s booties are torn and already full of snow. I scan up and down the team and can see quite a few more booties that don’t look right. Damn!! I just spent 20 minutes putting them all on and they cost about a dollar each. They are all junk within a mile of the start because the trail down Main Street was worn through to the asphalt. I can already see gait variations in the team due to uncomfortable feet. Those boots have got to come off!! I make the decision to stop, remove 48 boots, and replace them with 48 fresh ones out of the sled bag. As one team after another rolls by my stopped, mostly patient team, I tell myself it’s OK as these teams were generally faster than us and would have come by soon anyway. It would have been nice to catch a draft off each of these teams, but I’m convinced I’m doing what’s best for the team. I must have been pretty fast with the boots because although it felt like I was there forever, only 7 teams came by while we were stopped. The dogs’ patience was pretty well used up as I almost got back to the sled before they pulled the hook and I hopped on the runners. We were back underway after our unplanned 15 minute break only 2 miles in to the race. Not quite the start I had been looking forward to…


Mike in the start line

He's off!

After seven or so miles of cruising down the railroad grade with teams visible ahead and behind, we go “haw” on to narrow, soft trail, with the sun shining through some lingering clouds and flurries. Our pace is pretty slow as it’s already above freezing. The snow is sticky and heavy. “It’s going to be a long day getting to Portage, guys. Goooood doggggssss.” Christine Richardson catches and passes us. The dogs get their first draft of the day and we follow her speedy alaskans for a while. As she starts to pull away, I don’t even think of asking the dogs to chase more. The heat, in combination with the soft trails, is all our thick-coated huskies can handle. They don’t need the stress of me asking them to go faster. We pass the spot about 20 miles from the start where Kobuk went down last year in similar warm conditions. I am glad to not have him in the sledbag like last year, but think and worry about how the big fluffhead is doing for Sue a few miles behind us. When a couple more teams catch and pass us, I switch Gila up to lead in exchange for Maple who is less heat tolerant than Gila. It’s really nice to have excellent and friendly passes with every team as a group of mushers pass us over the next several miles, just after we had made a short rest/cool-down stop. Normand Casavant has such a cheery “Mister Mike, I wisha’ you a verrrry good run, ehhh!!??!!,” I can’t help but laugh right out loud as I wish him a good one, too. Robert Fredette tells me he’s got a bunch of yearlings and I’ll be seeing him down the trail. Steve Collins rolls by and shortly after, Don Hibbs’ short-coated, long-legged alaskans nearly sprint by. Kevin Malikowski from Minnesota passes but doesn’t pull right away and we lament the cancellation of the Beargrease earlier in the year. Watching these teams come by, I can tell mine is not the only team affected by the day’s conditions. I feel like we are going VERY slowly, but these teams are mostly only slightly faster than us. I make another short stop to let these teams pull away so the dogs don’t over-exert themselves chasing. I’ve already resolved to take it easy and preserve the energy of the team, not worrying how long this first leg takes us. It’ll be cooler tonight. We’ll see some of these teams again. I find myself thinking about the Yukon Quest as the miles go by. I would surely be parked, relaxing next to sleeping huskies if it was ever this warm on Quest, which thankfully is pretty unlikely. Because there is not that kind of time here at Can-Am, I keep the team plugging along at their slow, but steady pace with frequent short stops. “Gooooood dogggssss.” The passing lets up as the day grinds on, and finally it starts to get dark, although not much cooler. Some sections of the trail start to set-up and the teams’ pace quickens when we cross the north end of Portage Lake, about 8 miles from the checkpoint. A snow squall mixes with, then changes to a noisy sleet, for the last few dark miles. A “gee” off the logging road, over the last hill, and Portage lights are visible as sleet pelts my face despite my baseball cap and hood pulled down tight. I sign in, park the team, remove 48 booties, rub and wrap 24 wrists, feed 12 thirsty mouths and lay out 12 straw beds. We’re the 19th team in to Portage after having started second. Another four teams come in within 15 minutes of us. Settle in, boys; that was a long run (10 hours 45 minutes). We’re going to spend some time right here. I check my watch as I finish feeding the team, 9:45pm. We’re outta here in 4 hours, boys; sleep well. Tom and Linda were waiting for Sue, who was reported to be close. I go inside to get some much needed dinner, I’m starving!! Mitch, Bob, Rhonda, Tom and Linda all greet me inside and not long after I finish my first bowl of stew, somebody says Sue is in. I pry myself away from the table and go back outside to see how the other half of TeamTsuga is doing. Sue seems upbeat and her team looks good, including Kobuk. Alright!!!, she handled the longest leg in poor conditions and her team looks great! What a relief to my worried mind. Now how about another bowl of stew…

After a quick walk through my team to replace a couple wrist wraps that have slipped off and tuck the dogs in again, I’m back in the Portage Municipal Building to eat, drink and change my clothes. Despite the fact that both of the teams he was handling for (Matt and Steve) have already left the checkpoint, Mitch was still waiting for us at Portage. Thanks, buddy. It’s always fun to hear how the 30 and 60 mile races had turned out earlier in the day and see how tired some of those drivers are who have made the trip down to Portage to handle or just be a spectator. Rhonda was no different. She had an “ok” run in her 60 mile race, but looked like she needed a bed soon. Most of the people in the room looked that way!! I’m sure I did, too, but things were just getting started. Sue made her way inside before long and I got to talk with her some about our runs here and the trail ahead. Although I was skipping a nap, I encouraged her to go lie down in the room set aside for mushers to sleep. After a little more time and a lot more food and water, I started thinking about getting ready to go. The sleet had thankfully not lasted long and a snow squall brought a fluffy inch of snow to cover the ice while I was inside. The sky and the checkpoint were clearing out now, and thankfully it felt like it was cooling down, too. The dogs accepted their booties without complaint and with tuglines reattached, I ran my snubline to a waiting ATV that gave us a controlled exit from the checkpoint, down the driveway, across the road, and to the checker at the entrance to the trail. In the past, I have felt a bit of anxiety at this point in the race as we set out in to the deep woods. The next 135 or so miles until we get to Allagash are pretty darn remote. There’s definitely a feeling of being “out there!!” This year, I couldn’t have been any more ready to get out there. From experience comes confidence! Bob stepped off the other runner he had ridden over on with me for safety’s sake, in case “something happened,” and we signed out at 1:42am Sunday as the 21st team out of Portage.

Twenty-first, I thought to myself. Certainly not where I had hoped to be in the standings, but as the team took off on the much faster, harder-packed snowmobile trail out of town, I smiled, turned off my headlamp, fired up my iPod, and watched the sky clear revealing the full moon. The trail stayed good and I knew our pace was much better than it had been all day on the first leg. As the moon rose higher in the sky, it was bright enough to even see color on the harnesses on my smooth trotting team. I felt complete contentment as the team looked great. The music in my ears kept me dancing and smiling on the runners as we glided through the moon shadows. A little excitement as we passed a couple teams in the last hour before dawn helped keep the mood happy despite being sleepy. After the moon dipped behind the hills ahead of us to the west, its light was soon replaced with the soft glow of dawn at our backs. The last ten miles to Rocky Brook dampened my spirits some. Wilson was showing a slight limp in his right shoulder. He showed no signs of pain when I stopped to flex, stretch, and massage him, but as we got back going, I couldn’t keep my eyes off the young guy’s altered gait. His tugline was still tight and he wasn’t in pain, so on we went. The other problem was how quickly the temperature came up with the sun. By 8:30am when we signed in to Rocky Brook, in 19th position, I had decided we would be spending the day here instead of 35 miles up the trail in Maibec where I had hoped to be by now. I’ll admit, I got a little bummed here, letting the race get away. After yesterday, I just didn’t want to march the dogs through the heat of the day again. I had a vet come over and check Wilson out and I watched the last of the competitive teams pull out as I tended to the rest of my team. Knowing we would be spending a while here, I took some extra time loving the dogs up and giving long massages to tired muscles that were not used to trail this soft. The vets could find nothing wrong with Wilson, other than maybe a slight muscle pull. I got a great breakfast up at the kitchen trailer at this logging camp. Several snow squalls blew through during the day and left wet layers of big flakes. Sometime after I lay down in a vain attempt to sleep, Sue got in. Outside to check on my team, I chatted with Sue who felt her team was “falling apart.” I hoped it was just the heat which she had to deal with much more than me. I think I convinced her that a good rest would be just what her youngsters needed and things would be much better tonight on the run to Maibec. She also said she’d likely be dropping Moon with sore wrists. The little girl had done her best, but having just done 120 miles in 24 hours, her little legs had had enough. After Sue had gone inside for lunch, I sat with my team and baked in the sun with them, giving some more rubs to smiling, but hot huskies. I tell myself longer rests like this are good training for Quest despite thinking of all the front runners up ahead in Maibec. Several times, beginning at about 2pm, I start to get ready to go as the sun goes under some clouds. Each time, the sun breaks back out and it feels like the temperature goes up ten degrees. Finally, around 3:30 I just decide it’s time and after a long seven hour rest where I had hoped not to stop at all, we hit the trail again at 3:41pm in 19th place.

Our start out of Rocky Brook was not very impressive, considering the length rest we were coming off. The sun was still well above the trees and the temperature was above freezing. It took us a little over two hours to do the 13 miles to Round Pond on the Allagash River. But as sunset painted the sky orange and red, then pink and purple, the dogs picked up the tempo. The trail off the pond climbs steeply, cranks around a sharp gee and on to a logging road with a single track down it, right through a winter deer yard. The hoofed-tracks are everywhere and the dogs start running so fast, I stand on the drag with both feet smiling ear to ear, wishing I could slow them a bit more. “Easy boys…Take it easy...!!” It’s fun to say THAT nearly 150 miles in to a tough race! I assume they are chasing a deer up ahead or it’s just the general smell of the deer yard that has them fired up, but they don’t want to slow back to a safer pace for miles. Through the gaining darkness, I eventually see a coyote up ahead on the trail. “So THAT’S what you guys have been all bothered about!” The chase continues for another few miles as the wild canine seems to enjoy a little toying with his domesticated kin. I never saw where it turned off on to one of the many deer-hoof-packed side trails, but the dogs eventually ease back to a sustainable pace. The whole “game” lasted about five miles and it was awesome!! The moonrise was amazing at our backs. It came up bright, glowing red and cast a pink light before the sky was even dark. After the big Rocky Brook rest and the temperature falling, the dogs and I both had good enthusiasm. The magic of the night was only marred by Wilson’s altered gait. The limp wasn’t any worse or worsening and he still showed no pain, but he obviously wasn’t completely comfortable either. I decided he’d finish his race in Maibec despite the vets giving him the OK to go on. Even so I was a happy musher driving a happy team in to Maibec, just before 8pm in 18th place.

With booties off, food in, wraps on, and a fresh set of runner plastic for the sled, I went in to eat. The faces and attitudes of drivers inside the dining room were typical of Maibec. Tired and grumpy. I was just the opposite and hurried off quickly after eating to take a nap. With my race schedule completely scrapped at this point, I mulled my options for the rest of the race. Wanting to make sure my 5-hour mandatory rest at Allagash would fall during the middle of the day tomorrow, I decided to leave here after what I considered a minimum four hours after the meal I had just fed the team. After getting a solid hour of sleep, I was back outside to find half of my team on their feet as several teams had recently pulled in, including Sue! After leaving her in Rocky Brook, I was glad to see her still making her way up the trail!! She was wearing a smile, too! I was so relieved and it made filling out the drop form for Wilson a little easier. I’d love to finish this race with all 12 of my dogs sometime, but it wouldn’t be this year. The vets led Wilson off to care for him until he could be transported out to Allagash. After booting up the team, with my snow hook in hand and a race handler with the leaders (Stump and Gila, still), I see a loose dog sprint across the yard and someone yells “LOOSE DOG.” I reset my hook and go to help corral the troublemaker creating a ruckus. As I approach the dog, I finally see it in the beam of my headlamp and realize THAT’S MY DOG. “WILSON, come over here!!” He runs straight to me, looking to get back with his teammates. I have no doubt he wanted nothing to do with being left behind. He wanted to stay with his team and run on. I gave him a big hug and told him that the forms were already filled out and there was nothing I could do. I led him back to the garage where the vets never even knew Wilson had slipped away, having popped his snap somehow and escaped out the door unnoticed. I joked with them as I turned him back over that I really did want to leave him and they could keep him this time…

After signing out under a bright, white moon at midnight-thirty in 12th(!!) place, the team settled in to a comfortable trot. Only a couple hours into the run, I catch a glimpse of stray shadows from a headlamp behind us. With my headlamp off in the moonlight, I wonder if they’ve sensed us yet. After a while I click on my light as the team closes the gap and I can finally tell it’s our good friend Amy Dugan. She follows for a bit, then has a clean pass and pulls away as consistently as she had reeled us in. I was a little bummed to have just fallen out of a money spot and back to 13th place on the trail. I watch her headlamp get farther away, but I stay active on the runners, working up the long hills with the team. It’s still a long ways to go. Just as dawn began, we turned “gee” on to a tight little downhill twisty section of trail. A big change from the wide roads we’d been traveling. The dogs got excited and raced down this section. When we pop back out on to single track down wide road, I see Amy AND another team out ahead of us on a mile-long straightaway, and I swear we’re gaining on them. When Amy stops to snack her team, we slide by and not long after that, we catch and pass Kevin just before the longest hill in the whole race. Not wanting to have the dogs distracted by a team on their heels, I run beside the sled for the next couple miles to make sure we pull away quickly, which we do. For the last 15 miles in to Allagash, we slow drastically again as the sun bakes the dogs, but I never see Amy or Kevin over my shoulder. At 8:50am Monday, 11 healthy dogs pull me in to Allagash in 11th place.

Only two other teams were parked in Allagash when we arrived as the front-runners had already left for the last leg to Fort Kent. My team got the full attention of 3 or 4 vets for the mandatory check of the dogs here. While I fed them, the vets worked their way through the team, finding no problems. The dogs happily ate their soupy meals and promptly fell asleep in the hot sun and warm straw. I repacked my sled and went inside for a big breakfast with Tom and Linda, Bob, and John and Amy, who had pulled her team in just 14 minutes after us. Kevin came in another half hour after Amy. Conversation with this group was too good for me to want to go nap and it being the middle of the day, I stayed in the Two Rivers Diner, except for a quick change of my clothes and a check on the sleeping team. The five hour break here went by very fast and before I knew it, it was time to start getting ready to go on to the finish. I thought it would take a great run by the team to stay ahead of Amy. If there hadn’t been two teams right behind us and the last money positions up for grabs, I would have surely taken a bit more time in Allagash and let it cool off some more. I’ll admit I was back in more of a racing attitude and I wanted to hold our position, so it was time to go!! The dogs weren’t so sure. I had to lift the sun-drenched huskies off their straw. Once up, they stood there groggily. I moved the team up in our chute to get them away from the straw as we waited the last few minutes before we could leave. I was nervous. It was still too hot, but at 1:50pm Monday we set off in 11th spot for the finish line, 45 miles away. As we started across the frozen Allagash River, the dogs nearly crawled. We moved slower than we had at any time all season. I seriously considered stopping in a shaded area to wait for the sun to go down some, but never made the decision to do so. I looked over my shoulder constantly, expecting to see Amy’s team gaining on us. The trail here had been rerouted this year and we got to a gee turn I did not recognize. I could tell we were turning on to a plowed road by the snow bank we had to go over, but I couldn’t see anything over the bank, so I just called “gee” as the leaders got to the bank and Stump and Gila turned us sharply onto the icy road. Just as my feet landed back on the runners as the sled slammed down off the bank, there it was!!! A huge, fully loaded logging truck was only a few feet behind us and coming straight by at a pretty good rate of speed. I’m so grateful the driver of the truck and the dogs all remained calm. I had never heard him coming and he of course had no idea we were coming. I stomped the brake, held the team in their tracks, and the truck cruised right by within an arm’s reach as both the dogs and I cringed and turned away, too scared to look. The driver did everything right and just rolled right by. I’m sure his heart stopped, just like mine, and he tooted his horn and flashed his lights in relief as he disappeared in his cloud of snow dust. I stood there looking at my team gee-ed right over, perfectly hugging the edge of the road. If they had not been doing exactly that, well, it wouldn’t have been good… As I took my foot off the brake and said “OK, boys,” the team set back to the job at hand. We stayed on this plowed road for another couple miles and at one point when I turned to watch the setting sun as we crested a long hill, I could see Amy’s team back down the road, probably a mile away. I had the feeling that was going to happen… “They’re catching up boys, let’s go!!” And with that, for the first time all race, I asked the dogs to pick up the pace. I started running up hills instead of just pedaling along with one leg. The dogs definitely sensed my meaning as we passed the one spot the trail overlaps with part of the first day’s run for a couple miles. As we passed where we turned to go down to Portage two days ago, I called, “Straight ahead, Stump!” He knew just where we were and really started to pick the team up. I really thought Amy was going to be catching us soon, but the combination of the setting sun, cooling temperatures, firming trail, the dogs knowing where we were, and me working my tail off seemed to work. A couple of hours of twisty forest trail more and we came out on to the open fields 10 miles or so from the finish. I hadn’t noticed the wind very much during this run, but when we broke out of the woods into the fields, the trail was buried under drifting snow. There were markers every few hundred yards on both sides of the trail though. I could shine my headlamp up to the next set of markers, Stump and Gila would catch the light of the reflective marker and stay on trail. No problem, “Gooood doggggsss!!! Let’s go home!!” The few times they did start to lose the trail, I called them back onto the firmer snow and they responded just perfectly. The faith and trust shared between the team and me paid off more than once during this run! With the drifted fields behind us and just a few more miles to go, I stopped the team just long enough to visit quickly with each dog, giving scratches and hugs, especially to the yearlings, Merlin, Logan and Hood, finishing their first long race.


Resting in Allagash

Ready to leave Allagash

Pulling the hook, I gave them the “Where’s the truck??” And before I knew it, we were sliding down the ski slope to the finish! We did it again. At 8:46pm Stump and Gila who had led almost the whole race together, pulled us to an eleventh place finish with a small group of friends and race officials there to greet us. I really missed Sue being there to share my finish as she has the last several years. As soon as I was signed in, my gear was checked and my vet book turned over, I crawled through the team in the chute, thanking each dog for their effort, loyalty and friendship. As most of the crowd went back inside the ski lodge, Bob and John helped me snack, un-harness and load the dogs into their boxes, all while trying to keep our beers from freezing. Just as we were finishing stuffing the sled contents in the truck, someone yelled “Team!” and we rushed up to the line to see Amy’s team finish about 40 minutes after us. After welcoming her, I made my way inside to Race Central to see if Sue was out of Allagash yet. Despite the fact her mandatory time was up, they had no report of her leaving. I really hoped everything was ok with her and the team. I worried more than a little bit as I headed “home” to Mitchells’ where there was a shower, dinner and a bed waiting…

This year, with my finish, the race wasn’t over for me yet. My Sue was still out there with the rest of our precious huskies. So after some pampering by Tammy and David including a delicious moose dinner and a big three hours of sleep, I was up to get back to the finish line. No way was I going to miss Sue coming in to finish her first long race. Up at Race Central, the awesome Can-Am staff was still there, even at 3:30am. Sue hadn’t left Allagash until almost 11pm, so I still had a bit of time before she’d be here. After sorting gear at the truck so there’d be room for Sue’s stuff and letting my team out of their boxes in the ski area parking lot, I went back inside to wait as it was finally feeling like winter, with temperatures the coldest of the weekend, by a lot. Just before 6am, Sue’s trotting team came in with Squiggle and Lotus leading the way! If I wasn’t going to cry anyway, having these two in lead brought me to my knees with emotion. This was an extremely symbolic and important pairing. While I had the central core of our kennel, Sue had mostly the young and the old. For Squiggle, this was very likely her last race. She was finishing her fourth 250 in a row. What a way to retire!! She has been a huge overachiever her entire career and is simply an amazing dog and friend. Lotus is one of our puppies and also a bit of an overachiever in her own right. She’s the shortest of our youngsters but has all the drive and spunk a musher could ever ask for. And here she was, with Sue’s faith that she could handle, leading at the end of her first long race! I was so proud of Sue and her work with the dogs this year. She has come so very far as a musher. When I finally set her back down from the bear hug I gave her, we took the team to the truck and with help from Bob and Rhonda un-bootied, un-harnessed, snacked, and loved-up the dogs before boxing them.

The race this year wasn’t all I had hoped for, but it was so much more. For me, it was my fourth time finishing in the money in the last four tries. Each of those times, I’ve had the fastest purebred team in the race. I didn’t get to finish with all 12, but I had a very strong 11 at the finish and Wilson, the dog I dropped in Maibec, wasn’t even limping by the time I got him back at the finish. I have to give Stump the Most Valuable Dog award this year as he again led every single step of the race for me. He is really amazing. My tightest tug award goes to the yearling Logan, in his first big race. He was least affected by the heat and pulled hard the whole way. My “coyote run” to Maibec turned out to be the fastest time on that leg by ANY team and had the largest margin between 1st and 2nd place of any leg. It also set up my “big move” in Maibec to get back into the money spots. Last year I was proud to have finished within minutes of my schedule. This year I was proud to have adjusted to what the dogs needed, not what the card in my pocket said I should do. The long rest in Rocky Brook may have set up my fastest time on that next leg, but even after our relatively short rest in Maibec, we had the fourth fastest time of any team on the long hilly trip to Allagash. I was excited to see the team finish strong and happy in my last time around the Can-Am for a year or two. As for Sue, she made some history being the first woman to finish a team of siberians in the history of the Can-Am 250. We also became the first wife/husband team to finish the race. We finished 21 dogs in this race coming from a training pool of only 25 and nearly half of them being yearling rookies. Yeeha!! What a season!! We left Fort Kent after the awards dinner and fantastic full night’s sleep with a lot of confidence and pride, but also a strange feeling, knowing we wouldn’t be back next year. If only we had finished our Quest qualifying, every goal for the season would have been met…
As far as the race overall, this was a tough year, but not the hardest I’ve seen in my five years of trying. The winner was two time Iditarod finisher Rick Larson of Montana and he said this race was “more demanding than Iditarod.” The top 5 spots were within an hour of each other and the top three were all from the USA for the first time ever. Quite a few rookies finished this year, too. I’m glad to say I think I had a small part in that. I’ve tried to make up for my scratch as a rookie five years ago by helping aspiring mushers prepare for this race. I took some small personal pride in several of the other rookies’ finishes. Congrats to all who finished and good luck next year to those who didn’t.

We could not possibly do what we do without the help we have gotten from a wide group of friends and family. I simply can’t say thank you enough or with any more sincerity and gratefulness to all of you that have helped us!! Our dog sponsorship program was awesome this year. Thank you to all who sponsored a dog or dogs. Special mention must go to Rhonda and Bob, Betty and Jim, Krik and Mitch, who have all gone over the top in their efforts to assist us whenever and however they can. Our families continue to give support and love despite infrequent sightings of us. Several businesses have also stepped up with help- Kelim Webdesign, Mountain Ridge Mushing Gear, and Husky Creek Sleds.

Most of all, I need to thank those nearest and dearest to me, Sue and our dogs- Wyatt, Birch, Esther, Zirkle, Wilson, Moon, Eliza, Lotus, Molly, Trip, Isis, Kobuk, Reba, Ambler, Cassin, Squiggle, Mugs, Gecko, Hood, Curly, Hawkeye, Romeo, Merlin, Logan, Maple, Gila, Stump and Jim. Thank you. You mean everything to me.

THANK YOU ALL SO VERY MUCH!



Huskies | Dog Log | Racing | Photo Gallery | Mushers | Sponsors | Contact Us | Links | Return Home