Mushing Bulletin # 107 – Vet Check Day at the Can-Am

Remember a couple of bulletins ago I told you that I had to reconstruct my Celsius to Fahrenheit conversion chart down to 20 below? Well, it appears that once again I was a bit overly optimistic. At six thirty this morning it was minus 31 degrees Celsius – right off the lower end of my amended chart.

Luckily, in the interim, I bought an indoor/outdoor digital thermometer. All you do is push a button and it switches from Celsius to Fahrenheit. So, at six thirty this morning, I immediately knew that minus 31 degrees Celsius equates to minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit.

If Tony Soprano lived up here he wouldn’t need that meat locker as the intermediate resting point for stiffs before he deposited them in one of the cement pillars of a New York skyscraper. He’d just put the bodies, dressed in Cabelas parkas, on the front porch in Adirondack chairs. Line ‘em up like a sedentary barbershop quartet until the construction site was ready for them. Who’d notice? Moreover, after a couple of snow storms they’d look like ice art.

It’s at times like this that I sympathize with Sam McGee, a golfer from Tennessee (“where the cotton blooms and blows”). His wife talked him into going to Alaska to run sled dogs. Well, you know the rest of the story. His handicap skyrocketed to fifteen and he and his favorite Izod golf shirt were converted to ashes in a large furnace “on the marge of Lake Lebarge”. A tragic story that should be required reading for any kid who picks up a golf club.

But, as they say in New Brunswick: “It’s another beautiful day on the Skoodawabskooksis!” Or is it the Maduxnekeag?

Anyway, the sky is blue; the clouds are white; the snow sparkles. One deep breath of that minus 25 degree, crystal clear, air and your mind clears.  You think to yourself: “Oh my God! I’m in New Brunswick and it’s vet-check day at the Can-Am!” Reassuring thoughts of stethoscopes and rubber gloves fill the mind.

We’ve decided to cross the border at Fort Kent rather than risk another 45 minute delay at the Madawaska “I’m going to have to search your car” Border Crossing.

Guess what, Fort Kent has the same pre-disposition to search cars. Only took them a half hour, but those of you down in the lower 48 ought to feel a whole lot safer knowing that four out of the last five times we’ve crossed the border Uncle Sugar’s agents have wasted time searching our car. I’m sure they could give you some bureaucratically cogent reason for their actions (i.e., suspicious dog sled on the roof of the car) and seem happy as a clam about it. They are busy logging things into a data base, scanning passports, having us fill out customs forms and making a pretence of efficiency and competency. That’s what’s most irritating, the notion that being busy is as worthwhile as being busy about something important.

Dog trucks are packed into the parking lot at the local ski lodge by the time we get there. Everybody is milling around waiting for the vet checks to start. We are no longer strangers at these events. There are old friends from Mushing Boots Camps as well as people we’ve met at various races up and down the east coast. You walk by dogs and you can tell that they remember you. Makes you wonder if they have nicknames for the humans. “Mr. Cheeseburger and Fries coming up on the left.”

We luck out. Because we are borrowing two dogs from Rob Cooke who is running his team in the 60-mile race, the vets are going to check our dogs along with his. The 30-milers’ dogs are always checked last and some not until the morning of the race. That is a real hassle. It is good to get it done.

When the dust clears all our dogs are labeled “WNL”. That’s mushing vet talk for “Within Normal Limits”, meaning that all their vitals (paws, legs, heart rates etc.) are in good shape. See the photo below for one of the vets in action. They really are a great group of people.

At 4:30pm there is the mandatory Mushers’ Meeting in the Town Hall. Mushers and handlers are briefed on the idiosyncrasies of the trails (e.g., red signs signal an upcoming turn; green signs indicate the 30-mile trail). I’m wondering if anybody is color-blind (like me) but nobody speaks up. All the signs look alike to me so it’s a good thing that I’m not on the sled – it would be a deadly combination of color-blindness and spasticism.

The organizers issue the usual warnings. Believe it or nor people occasionally have been caught cheating e.g., dumping gear off their sled on the trail to lighten the load; dropping bits of food along the trail to distract pursuing dog teams.

Looks like there are about 80 teams scheduled to race. There are 30 (six dog) teams in the 30 miler; 24 (8 dog teams in the 60-miler; and 22 (12 dog teams in the 250-miler). That’s over 600 dogs heading down the main street of Fort Kent between 8:00 and 11:00 o’clock tomorrow morning.

The meeting breaks up around 6:00pm and we head for the Canadian border where we encounter a friendly Canadian Customs official who asks us a couple of questions about tomorrow’s race and waives us on.

We’ll be up at 4:30am tomorrow on race day in order to get back to Fort Kent and through U.S. Customs. We want to be in our assigned parking places by 7:00am when race officials visit each one of the mushers before the race with a check list to make sure the musher has the required gear.

Tomorrow will be hectic. I’ll try to get pictures of the Head Musher at start and finish off to you from the wifi connection at the finishing line located at the Lonesome Pine Ski Lodge. A more detailed description of race day will follow after the dust has cleared.

On the trail of the lonesome pine, I remain,
The One-Man Pit Crew

  1. You Rock! Linda!

  2. Would love sometime to see a photo of your vehicle, fully loaded with sled, 6 dogs, their food & vitamins, 2 humans, plenty of hummus, an extra pneu, etc., etc.

    Hope today goes well. Remember to BREATHE!

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