FORT KENT, Maine — Mushers and their four-legged teammates have been arriving in this town along the Canadian border all week leading up to the start of the 23rd annual Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races.
Here are a few quick facts on the event:
— An army of volunteers will bring in around 150-truck loads of snow Friday night to cover a quarter-mile long, 20-foot wide swath on Main Street. Within an hour of the last team leaving town, all that snow will be removed.
— About 50 mushers and 500 dogs will take off from Main Street, with staggered starts of 8 a.m., 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. for the 30-, 60- and 250-mile races, respectively.
— The Can-Am Crown is known as the “Iditarod of the East.” Mushers who complete the Can-Am 250 qualify for the 1,000-mile Iditarod in Alaska.
— Mushers in the Can-Am Crown 250 travel through four checkpoints that take them through Portage, deep into the North Woods, Allagash and back to Fort Kent. Only the Portage and Allagash checkpoints are open to the public. A map of the route and checkpoints is available online at can-am-crown.net.
— The first Can-Am 250 was Feb. 16, 1993. Nine teams took off into a blizzard that dropped 15 inches of new snow in 24 hours, with wind-chill temperatures down to minus 32 degrees.
— The Can-Am Crown start is very spectator friendly. Some years, the crowd lining the race lane has numbered more than 8,000.
— All three races end at the Lonesome Pine Ski Lodge in Fort Kent. The 30- and 60-mile teams will finish Saturday afternoon. The first 250-mile teams will start arriving early Monday morning. The last finisher in each race is awarded “The Red Lantern.” This comes from the Alaskan gold rush days, when people would hang red lanterns to guide mushers along a trail. The last musher on the trail would extinguish the lamp to let people know no one was still on the trail.
— As a rule, a sled dog can pull the equivalent of its own weight. Mushers in the 30-mile race must have 5 to 6 dogs, the 60 requires 6 to 8 dogs and the 250 mushers must hitch up 8 to 12 dogs.
— There are several important commands for a sled dog: “gee” for right, “haw” for left, “whoa” to stop, “on by” to pass another team. The one thing you will never hear a musher say is “mush.”
— A total purse of $40,000 is up for grabs in the 2015 Can-Am Crown, with the winner guaranteed $4,500. There also are cash prizes awarded to the first to arrive at each of the four checkpoints and smaller amounts to all who finish the race.
— This year, skijoring has been added to the weekend. Starting Sunday at 11:30 a.m., skiers harnessed to one or two dogs will race around the trails at the Fort Kent Outdoor Center, formerly the 10th Mountain Center. Skijorers will compete for cash prizes in 5-, 10- and 15-km races.