FORT KENT, Maine — The 28th edition of the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races will begin Feb. 29 in Fort Kent expects a handful of veteran mushers, but also some new faces — including a 15-year-old first-time competitor.
“If you’re interested in seeing any sled dog racing at all, this is the one where the best mushers from all of eastern Canada and the eastern United States come to race, so there’s no need to go to the Yukon Quest or the Iditarod when you have the Can-Am in your own backyard,” Can-Am President Dennis Cyr said.
Organizers anticipate at least 5,000 fans will line Fort Kent’s Main Street this year to watch the dogs take off, according to Cyr, who said conditions are ripe for another successful race.
“There’s plenty of snow and the trails are coming along pretty well,” Cyr said. “The guys have been out since early January working the trails. We’re signing at this point and most of the sections have been opened. Everything looks good.”
Musher Martin Massicotte, famous for winning his 10th Can-Am Crown 250 last year, will not take part in this year’s race because he and his team are heading to the Iditarod, but there will plenty of veteran Can-Am mushers on hand.
Fan favorite Rico Portalatin of Milo is registered for the race as is Andre Longchamps of Quebec, who gave Massicotte a run for his money last year.
The Can-Am also continues to attract new mushers, which this year includes Caleb Hayes, a 15-year-old athlete from Belfast.
Hayes trains with his father, Jonathan Nathaniel Hayes, proprietor of Poland Spring Seppala Kennels out of Frenchville. The senior Hayes has raced in Can-Am off and on throughout the past 20 years, but said of his son, “I will feel far more proud supporting him and seeing him cross the finish line.”
Caleb Hayes, a wrestler at his high school who enjoys music by 20th-century musicians such as Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong, said he is looking forward to his first official sled dog race in Can-Am, and enjoys being out on the trails with his dogs.
“It’s just like when you get out there with the dogs by yourself, there’s a certain beauty of it. You can’t get that anywhere else,” Hayes said.
Hayes will be racing on the 30-mile course, and although Can-Am will be his first official race, he has had plenty of sled dog experience, according to his father.
“Caleb and the rest of the kids have grown up seeing mushing and Seppala Siberians as our family recreation,” Jonathan Nathaniel Hayes said.
“I want my dad to be proud of me when I finish the race. I don’t care what place I get in — I just want my family to be proud of me,” Caleb Hayes said.
Admission to the Can-Am is free of charge and spectators come from all over the United States and Canada to watch the dogs take off.
The Can-Am Crown races will kick off at 8 a.m. Feb. 29 with the Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am Crown 100 mushers taking off from the starting line on Main Street.
The Pepsi Bottling & Crossings Can-Am Crown 30 mushers and their teams will follow at 9:10 a.m.
The Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250 will begin at 10:20 a.m.
Racers will finish at the Lonesome Pine Trails Lodge.
Related: Dog sledding in the Moosehead Lake Region