FORT KENT, Maine — Rene Marchildon claimed his first victory in five attempts in the 250-mile Irving Woodlands Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Race on Monday afternoon when he crossed the finish line at 4:08 p.m., 42 hours after leaving the starting line Saturday morning.
In one of the closest finishes in the race’s 19-year history, Marchildon of South River, Ontario, was followed a minute later by Andre Longchamps of Pont Rouge, Quebec, who took second place just seconds ahead of third-place finisher Jamie Nelson of Togo, Minn.
Along the way the teams faced just about every weather scenario Mother Nature could throw at them, from driving rains Saturday night to near-blizzard conditions Sunday night and Monday.
“My dogs pulled their freaking hearts out,” Marchildon said soon after arriving in Fort Kent. “They really did it.”
Marchildon, Longchamps, Martin Massicotte of St. Tite, Quebec, and Denis Trembley of St. Michel-des-Saints, Quebec, all left the final checkpoint in Allagash within 15 minutes of each other, between 3:37 a.m. and 3:51 a.m. Monday, for the final 43-mile push to Fort Kent.
Four-time Can Am Crown 250 winner Massicotte arrived in fourth place Monday, and Trembley took fifth place.
Nelson left the checkpoint at 5:56 a.m. and caught up to the men nine miles from the finish.
Conditions were so bad on the last leg that Marchildon, Longchamps, Massicotte and Trembley stopped alongside the trail for three hours to rest their teams nine miles from the finish.
“We dug a fire pit, gathered firewood, hung up a tarp and just sat there,” Marchildon said, adding that Massicotte attempted to forge ahead but wind-driven snowdrifts in an open field forced him back to the impromptu campsite.
“I have three new best friends,” Marchildon said of the three other men.
At one point, Marchildon said, the snow was so deep he was forced to walk in front of the dogs, breaking trail.
“I had a lead [line] tied around me and the other end tied to the lead dogs,” Marchildon said. “We were going up this hill and I was just on my knees crawling.”
More than 14 inches of fresh snow blanketed northern Maine on Monday, and as conditions worsened throughout the day, Can Am officials dispatched trail groomers to pack the course.
“This weather is slowing the race right down,” George Theriault, race marshal, said late Monday morning. “We’ve sent out the groomers [but] there is more snow than they are used to.”
Marchildon’s best Can Am Crown 250 finish before Monday’s win was second place in 2005. He won the Willard Jalbert Memorial Can Am Crown 60-Mile Race in 2007.
By Monday evening, only one other musher remained in the race. Krister Rassoch of Sullivan, N.H., was at the Allagash checkpoint and projected to finish the race at 6:42 a.m. Tuesday.
More than two-thirds of the 23 mushers who started on Saturday had dropped out of the race by Monday morning because of the weather, dog problems or personal injuries.