EAGLE LAKE, Maine — With temperatures plunging well below zero, 11 mushers and their dogs plied the trail of the 100-mile Irving Woodlands-Mad Bomber sled dog race here Saturday.
Yukon Quest finisher and four-time Can Am Crown 250 winner Martin Massicotte of St-Tite, Quebec, took first place at this weekend’s fifth running of the race with a time of 9 hours 22 minutes.
Ten minutes behind Massicotte in second place with a time of 9 hours 32 minutes was Jeffrey Barril of St-Zenon, Quebec. His father, Claude Baril, won last year’s race with the same team.
Rounding out the top three was race rookie Sylvain Robillard of St-Gabriel de Brandon, Quebec, with a time of 9:33.
“This was our smallest field yet but by far our most competitive,” Tenley Bennett, race organizer said. “The trail was fast and everyone was in before dawn on Sunday.”
The 100-mile race took mushers from the shores of Eagle Lake, where they set out at 11 a.m. Saturday, into the Maine woods for 50 miles to Moose Point Camps at Fish Lake.
There the mushers and their teams were required to take a four-hour layover before heading back to Eagle Lake on the same trail. The finishers began arriving around midnight.
“I’ve raced here three times and this is a beautiful race,” Massicotte said. “I’m not here to win but to give my dogs a good training run and get them used to checkpoints and feeding on the trail.”
Three of the dogs on Massicotte’s 10-dog team are rookies, he said.
In 2003 Massicotte placed sixth in the 1,000-mile Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race, and the Quebec musher is signed up for this year’s Can Am Crown 250.
In all, nine mushers competed in the 100-mile race vying for the $10,000 purse.
New this year was a 30-mile race which saw three entrants.
Amelie Aubut of Pont-Rouge, Quebec, won the shorter distance race in a time of 2:53. Second place went to Yves Carrier of Baker Lake, New Brunswick, with a time of 4:14, and Kevin Quist took third with his time of 4:42.
Also new this year was the sponsorship from Mad Bomber, makers of fur hats and mitts popular with winter outdoor enthusiasts.
Company president Brent Reynolds came up from Virginia to see how his $5,000 in sponsorship was being spent, and he was not disappointed.
“I’m amazed at the commitment of these mushers,” Reynolds said. “And we’ve received some real Southern hospitality here in northern Maine.”
Company officials also brought along some gear to field test during the race.
“We brought up some prototypes and hope to use some photographs we took here on our Web site,” said Scott Stephens, Mad Bomber vice president of marketing. “It really is a win-win for us to be involved in this.”
Mushers needed all the cold-weather gear they could get as temperatures fell to below zero Saturday night.
Perhaps the best outfitted was Andy Benkendorf of Mint Hill, N.J., who rigged his sled with a small propane heater to keep his hands warm.
“I’ve been using this for a couple of years,” Benkendorf said. “My hands stay warm and I can get two or three runs out of one propane bottle.”
“We’re calling this the ‘biggest little sled dog race in New England,’” race organizer Tenley Bennett said in the hours leading up to the event’s start on the shores of Eagle Lake. “We have some great teams here this weekend.”
Also racing was home crowd favorite Larry Murphy of Fort Kent, the teaching principal at Eagle Lake Elementary School.
“I think the Eagle Lake 100 is a great training race for the Can Am 250,” Murphy said. “I like to come out here and support my community where I work.”
Murphy, who has raced in Eagle Lake in each of the event’s five years, has placed everywhere from third to 11th.
“I’m looking to be in the top half of the field this year,” he said.
Murphy’s finish time of 10:50 was good enough for seventh place, even after a 10-minute penalty for taking a wrong turn.
At the start Murphy had some help from one of his students and musher-in-training Sullivan Abbott, 11.
The Eagle Lake Elementary School sixth-grader said he became interested in mushing after reading about the Iditarod Sled Dog Race of Alaska.
“I knew Mr. Murphy had sled dogs so I asked if I could help,” Abbott said. “I think this is really awesome.”
For his part, Murphy has been impressed with Abbott’s dog-handling skills.
“He’s been helping me train all fall,” Murphy said. “This spring he’s going to take out a team of puppies.”
Bennett said the smaller field at this year’s race is due in part to the John Beargrease Sled Dog Race taking place at the same time in Minnesota, which drew many of the Midwest mushers who would travel to northern Maine.
“For those we normally see here we know competing in the Beargrease is a personal goal they want to accomplish,” she said.
Racers who make it to Eagle Lake were treated to a fast and hard-packed trail, Bennett said, thanks to the work of trail master Roy Doalf and his crew of volunteers.
“The community really got behind this race,” Bennett said.
Finish times were: Martin Massicotte, 9 hours 22 minutes; Jeffrey Baril, 9:32; Sylvain Robillard, 9:33; Andy Benkendorf, 10:27; Adam Cummings, 10:35; Kathy Lesinski, 10:40; Larry Murphy, 10:50; Andre Longchamps, 11:02; Lindy Howe, 12:42.