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Can-Am Sled Dog Races return to northern Maine after pandemic hiatus

Denis Tremblay
Robert F. Bukaty
AP file
Musher Denis Tremblay, of St. Michel des Saints, Quebec, Canada, leads his team at the start of the Irving Woodlands Can Am Crown 250-mile sled dog race, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Fort Kent, Maine.

The Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races return to Maine this year after a hiatus of one year forced by the pandemic.

Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz spoke with Sarah Brooks, vice president of the race board, about this year's race.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Gratz: Are there any changes you are having to make this year due to the pandemic?

Brooks: A couple of the checkpoints do have a few restrictions. I am also the coordinator of the first checkpoint, checkpoint No. 1 on the 250 race, and that's right at the town office, the town hall in Portage. And we are restricting people from going into the community center and we are asking that masks are being worn inside at all times. We've made special arrangements for the Canadian mushers and we do have quite a few Canadian mushers, for them to be administered COVID tests when it comes time for them to cross back into Canada, because at this time, that is a requirement.

How are the snow conditions up there?

Well, we were a little bit concerned. About a week ago, our trails were all ice. We had that rain that everybody downstate had. Since then, that has created a wonderful base. And we've had probably four or five inches since then. I predict the trails are going to be extremely fast. I think that they should be very good for the dogs.

Who are some of the favorites in the 250 this year?

We have a very good competitive group this year. We have a racer by the name of Wade Marrs. He's living in Wisconsin at this point in time. He used to be in Alaska and he has finished in the top 10 of the Iditarod quite a few years. We have Denis Tremblay from Quebec who is returning. He is a past winner of the Can Am 250. We have Remy Leduc and his better half, Katherine Langlais. They are both from Glenwood, New Brunswick. They are extremely well known Canadian racers. We have racers that are from Maine. We have Barry Dana, we have Amy Dionne, who lives 20 miles away from the start of the race course.

There's also going to be a special sled for part of the beginning of the races. Tell us about that.

Basically, between Portage and Allagash, they're right out in the middle of the wilderness. If something happens to a team — it could be that the musher has a medical event. It could be that they just can't go on any further. Maybe because of the trail conditions. Maybe a big storm has moved in. Maybe a team got lost. Somehow or another has to be taken out of the woods, has to be extracted. Well, in the past, it's been a very hard thing to do, because how do you take 12 dogs and a musher and a sled and whatnot out of the woods. We had a musher by the name of Gino Roussel from New Brunswick. Gino competed for the 250 for quite a few years. He ended up becoming sick. I was at his hospital room and Gino talked to us about what he would like to see happen with all of the races. And he gave us a whole list of suggestions. The other thing that he asked us to do was to build a rescue sled for the dogs. For the Irving 250 starts, the rescue sled will be taken down the Main Street start by what will be the rescue snowmobile for up in the woods and it will be put on display.