SHIRLEY, Maine — While some people complained about the snowstorms and bitter cold temperatures that have gripped Piscataquis County recently, many four-legged creatures are delighted by the weather.
At Mark and Ashley Patterson’s kennels in Shirley, 55 sled dogs were yapping and prancing happily through the deep, fresh snow last week as they waited for their chance to go on an exercise run.
On Saturday, Feb. 7, the ninth annual Plum Creek Wilderness Sled Dog Race gets underway with Ashley running the 66-mile trek. “We needed a little more snow on Scammon Road [in Greenville], so I think conditions will be great,” said Mark.
One of only three long-distance races in New England, the Plum Creek Wilderness Race begins and ends at Leisure Life Resort in Greenville. Starting time is 9 a.m.
The traditional 100-mile race was shortened this year due to the planned expansion of Medawisla Lodge and Camps on Second Roach Pond about 20 miles north of Greenville.
A 30-mile race, sponsored by West Branch Pond Camps, is also being held and there will be plenty of fun activities provided by AMC and Greenville Recreation for spectators and families throughout the day at Leisure Life Resort. The event is free to the public.
The Pattersons run Lone Wolf Guiding Services, offering everything from dog sledding to moose-watching tours. This time of year, naturally, their main focus is on mushing.
While some kennels use various breeds for sledding, the Pattersons stick to Alaskan huskies. “It has all the desirable traits of every breed of dog in one package,” Mark explained. “They’re friendly, intelligent and have the desire and physical characteristics that make them want to run.”
Training time for sled dogs can range from a year to four years “depending on their leadership qualities. Some peak earlier than others,” he noted.
As Ashley started preparing a team for an exercise run, the barking of the nonparticipants increased noticeably. “They all want to go out, and they’ll get their turn eventually,” she said.
The regimen is usually two days of exercise followed by one day off. In the summertime, the dogs usually get a great deal of rest. “You can’t run them if it’s over 70 degrees,” said Mark. “So they look forward to winter.”
The Pattersons enjoy the Plum Creek Wilderness Races — Ashley has run the 100 several times while Mark competed in the 30-mile trek last year — but not for competitive reasons. “Many of us just want to get the dogs out for a nice run and show them off,” Mark said. “We’re not going to let them run at their full potential because we’re training for the Can Am 250 [in Fort Kent on Feb. 28] again this year.”
Ashley has run the 250 three times with dogs for another kennel, but this time she’ll be using her own team.
But racing close to home is also quite enjoyable, Mark added. “In the New England races, at least in my experience, they hold the dogs’ care to a very high standard,” he said.
For more information, visit www.100milewildernessrace.org.