High: 14° FPresident’s Weekend is also race weekend in Maine. We thought about heading southeast to Camden for the U.S. National Toboggan Championships. There, over 300 teams—many decked out as celebrities, astronauts, and barnyard animals, hurl themselves down an iced luge shoot and onto a frozen pond. The spectacle of the event appealed to all of us, but when we told Ari she wouldn’t be allowed to pilot our sled, she seemed to lose interest.
Low: 3° F
Conditions: Partly cloudy with gusting, arctic winds
Not to worry. Just to our northeast, the Moosehead Lake region was preparing for their annual Greenville to Brownville 100-mile dogsled race. We’ve been making great progress on our new skijoring project, and I was certain that watching the professionals would be just the inspiration we need.
To be sure, professional is putting it mildly. Each year, around 20 teams from the U.S. and Canada compete in this grueling race.
The race begins on the iconic Moosehead Lake at 9:00 a.m. Teams are started at 2 minute intervals; they then run up the frozen lake and turn onto a series of trails that lead them to the town of Brownville Junction.
There, the dogs are checked by a vet, have a snack and mandatory 2-hour rest period, then they make the return trip to Greenville.
Last year, the winning team crossed the finish line in just under 7 hours. The last place team finished in 10 hours 35 minutes, meaning they were mushing until well after dark.
These are serious athletes. One musher told me that, even with our long winters, there isn’t enough annual snow cover to keep a dog in race shape. His team spends the summer swimming laps. Others pull 4-wheelers, mountain bikes, and everything short of a bigwheel.
The dogs live to run, and this was more than apparent when we arrived at the race site. We could hear the yodeling dogs long before we reached the lake. And, when we did finally arrive, we were greeted by a squirming chaos of eager racers lunging in their harnesses.
I was overwhelmed. Ari was orgasmic. Here were hundreds of leaping, woo-ing, prancing dogs. Athletic. Strong. The Brad-Pitt-meets-Lance-Armstrong of the canine world. Ari didn’t know what to do with herself. Neither did I. We stood for over 30 minutes watching the race preparations: one of us in jaw-dropped reverie for the complicated logistics of harnessing an enthusiastic team; the other chortling and flirting like a drunken banshee. We just couldn’t take our eyes off these dogs.
That is, of course, until a young couple from Providence and their very fetching dog, Jack, walked out onto the lake to watch the race. Jack was a nice enough guy, but he was no Olympian. His owners admitted that he regularly falls off of sidewalks. When he was a puppy, he'd tip over when he lifted a leg to pee. Still, Ari was beyond enchanted with poor, clumsy Jack. The two dogs wrestled for over an hour and didn't stop until they were a tangled, slobbery, exhausted mess. I don’t think they saw a single sled team start the race.
Apparently a friend in the hand is worth 200 in the mush. Or something like that.