EAGLE LAKE, Maine — It was a bit of a nail-biter, but in the end Mother Nature came through and planners of the Irving Woodlands-Mad Bomber Eagle Lake Sled Dog Races announced this week the event is on, albeit with a few modifications.
“For a long time it seemed like a carbon copy of last year when we had to cancel due to not enough snow,” John Kaleta, race co-organizer, said. “We finally got just enough snow [this year], and now our fingers are crossed we don’t have any [rain], but we are confident the trails will be good.”
The annual event kicks off Saturday, Jan. 14, with the start of 100-mile race at 11 a.m. on Convent Road in Eagle Lake. Immediately after, teams in the 30-mile race will head out on the race trail.
The single road crossing for both trails is at the very beginning as the teams leave the start.
From that point on teams are on woods and snowmobile trails the entire time on their way to the 30-mile race turnaround 15 miles in and the 100-mile race checkpoint at Moose Point Camps on Fish Lake where teams take a mandatory four-hour layover.
According to fellow organizer Tenley Bennett, trail boss Wayne Pelletier has been working steadily to pack the trail, and test run has shown it’s holding up.
“Not that there is a lot to pack,” Bennett said. “But it’s been so cold what is packed sets right up.”
Earlier last week Kaleta ran his own eight-dog team on the trails and found conditions great for running and suitable for mushers to control their teams.
“Safety is always our concern,” Bennett said. “We know last year people were disappointed when we canceled the race even after getting some snow — but that snow would not pack and mushers could not sink a hook.”
Mushers use what they call a snow hook to anchor the team in the event the driver has to step off the dog sled. A hook needs several inches of hard, packed snow to dig in and hold up to a dozen excited huskies.
Because of the low snow levels and related trail conditions, the race committee has decided the 100-mile race is now a maximum 10-dog race, down from 12 dogs.
“It’s going to be a fast trail,” Kaleta predicted. “It’s going to be awesome with a lot of good mushers coming to race.”
Among those mushers are returning drivers Andre Longchamps and Amelie Aubut of Pont-Rouge, Quebec.
“The training is going well for both teams,” Aubut said. “We have snow here and have been training on the dog sleds for two weeks.”
Mushers around New England and eastern Canada have been forced to use ATVs, wheeled rigs and even snowmobiles as fall training turned to winter this year with lack of snow in many regions.
“Snow or not we’re out there training,” said Amy Dionne of St. David. “The trails are awesome [and] although they are fast, they are fun.”
Dionne and her sister Holly Dionne are each registered in the 30-mile race.
Other local mushers to watch out for are Fort Kent’s Larry Murphy in the 100-mile race and 30-milers Lindy Howe and Kevin Quist of Stockholm, Sullivan Abbott of Eagle Lake, Jessica Holmes of Portage, Tim Bair of Caribou and Mike Paradis of Fort Kent.
While the Eagle Lake race crew is breathing a sigh of relief over the snow conditions, organizers of two other races — The Brownville-KI and Beyond 30-Mile race on Jan. 28, and the Wilderness Sled Dog Race in Greenville on Feb. 4 — have announced their races are still a go, pending additional snowfalls.
Information on the races may be found at www.eaglelakesleddograces.com, www.critterwoods.com and www.100milewildernessrace.org.