FORT KENT, Maine – He’s known as the “Jack Rabbit” on the competitive mushing circuit for the fast times he posts on the early stages of a race, but this year Rene Marchildon has a different strategy in mind as he runs the 19th annual Irving Woodlands Can Am Crown 250-Mile Race.
“I’ve learned patience,” Marchildon said as he prepared his team Saturday morning before the race start. “It’s a 250-mile race so I don’t need to pass everyone on the first leg.”
Rather, Marchildon, who came in fourth at last year’s CAC 250, was among 23 mushers taking part in this year’s race along with 24 in the Willard Jalbert Can Am Crown 60-mile race and 30 in the Pepsi Bottling Can Am Crown 30 miler. He plans to allow some of his stiffest competition to blaze the trail from Fort Kent to the third checkpoint in Maibec, about 150 miles into the race.
“This year I want to get as many dogs to Maibec as I can,” he said. “There have been years I’ve gotten to Maibec with six dogs and still finished the race.”
This year Marchildon said he wants to keep mushers like Ryan Anderson of Ray, Minn., and Nathan Schroeder of Chisholm, Minn., in front before he makes his move after leaving Maibec.
“People tell you the race really starts in Maibec,” Marchildon said. “So it makes sense to get there with as many dogs as possible that are happy and healthy.”
To keep his dogs happy Marchildon is known for singing on the trail — his rendition of “Rocky Raccoon” is their favorite.
“I’m a terrible singer,” Marchildon said. “But my dogs never complain about my singing.”
Weather was the other big story on Saturday with mushers and organizers consulting National Weather Service radios to iPhones for the latest forecast. Those forecasts ranged from heavy rains to up to 2 feet of wet snow over the racecourse.
However, by Saturday evening the storm was passing to the south and east and the forecast had changed to just several inches of snow mixed with rain and sleet into Sunday.
“I think the weather is perfect for me,” Martin Massicotte of St. Tite, Quebec, four-time Can Am 250 winner, said Saturday morning. “I’m ready for the rain.”
Massicotte is hoping to garner his fifth win, saying, “I have a one in 23 chance [and] it’s always fun to be here.”
By early Saturday afternoon the winners of the Can Am 30 race were crossing the finish line with Gabriel DuPlessis of St. Zenon, Quebec, taking first place in 2:43:00.
Second place went to Amy Dionne of St. David in 3:09:39, and Peter Franke of New Durham, N.H., came in third with a time of 3:16:08.
Rico Portalatin of Westhampton, Mass., won the CAC 60 in a time of 6:04:46. Second place went to Joseph Tolley of Hardwick, Mass., in 6:33:19, and third to Marie-Eve Drouin of Metabetchouan-Lac-a-La-Croix, Quebec, in 6:35:28.
Back at the start of the 250, Marchildon was scoping out his competition and noted four-time Iditarod finisher Jamie Nelson of Togo, Minn., had a good chance to mush her way to being the first female winner of the CAC 250.
“I have a lot of respect for Jamie,” Marchildon said. “It would be great if she came in first [and] if I’m one second behind her I’m good with that.”
Race results and musher tracking is on the Can Am web site www.can-am.sjv.net.