The crowd watches as a team of sled dogs makes their start during the Can-Am International Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent in this Feb. 29, 2020, photo. Credit: Jessica Potila | Fiddlehead Focus

Another Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Race is in the books and, after four or five days of Fort Kent’s canine population increasing by around 500, things are pretty much back to normal. This was the 27th running of the race and that’s a number making me shake my head wondering where the heck does the time go?

On Rusty Metal Farm, we’ve been involved in the race to some degree each of those 27 years. I remember photographing the first race back in 1993 and many Can-Ams after that. Over the following two-plus decades I also covered the race for publications throughout North America and Europe, served on its board of directors and in 2010 ran my own team of Rusty Metal Kennel huskies in the Can-Am Crown 30-mile race.

But the most enduring involvement has been hosting mushers. Host families play a big part in the annual event. It’s really simple math — there are far more mushers, their families and their handlers attending each year than there are rooms at the inns around here.

We’ve hosted a lot of mushers here on the farm. I think the record one year was five mushers and 60 dogs. As long as there are available beds or floor space and room to park, no one is turned away.

And while guest mushers have come and gone, the one constant over the years has been Solon musher Barry Dana, former chief of the Penobscot Indian Nation. When Barry, his wife Lori and their daughter Sikwani first drove up our driveway Sik was 6 months old. Today she is a delightful 25-year-old. Where does the time go?

Barry, Lori, Sikwani and their other kids quickly went from houseguest to treasured friends, and it would not be Can-Am weekend on Rusty Metal Farm without at least one Dana in the house.

But what’s it like hosting mushers and racing sled dogs? I offer the following timeline.

T-minus three days before mushers’ arrival: Figure out what you are going to feed them, go grocery shopping. Make sure every bed has clean linen. Assess the level of cleanliness of the house and inventory what must be addressed over the next three days.

T-minus two days: Put off any house cleaning because there is still plenty of time.

T-minus one day: See above.

T-minus 12 hours: Start to panic because there is suddenly not enough hours in the day to clean the house.

T-minus 6 hours: Realize that these are mushers, and no amount of clutter, dog hair wafting around the furniture or other detritus is not going to bother them. Heck they won’t even notice.

T-minus 1 hour: Put the lasagna you assembled the day before into the oven so it will be hot and ready for everyone’s arrival.

T-minus 55 minutes: Congratulate yourself on your foresight to have the lasagna assembled ahead of time. It helps make up for the shoddy housekeeping.

Zero hour: Greet your mushers with hugs and offers of food and beverages. Try to be as helpful as possible while they tend to their dogs. Silently scold yourself because you’ve not made up the guest bed and then breathe a sigh of relief when the mushers are more than happy to use their sleeping bags.

9 p.m.: Say goodnight and set your alarm for the ungodly hour of 3:45 because your musher wants to be up by 4 a.m. to tend to their dogs before heading down to town in time to get ready for the 8 a.m. race start.

3:45 a.m. race day: Turn off your alarm and wonder why you thought it was a good idea to host anyone ever who has to be up so damn early.

4 a.m.: Make sure your musher is up and moving, make coffee and offer to cook breakfast.

4:15 a.m.: Silently rejoice when only the coffee is accepted.

4:16 a.m.: Feed the cats who have suddenly become fans of mushing if it means people are up and catering to their needs so early in the morning.

5:30 a.m. Wish your musher good luck and wave as he heads down the driveway.

5:31 a.m.: Go back to bed.

8 a.m.: Start your own day.

8:05 a.m.: Tell the cats, in no uncertain terms, that they have already eaten and are not getting a second breakfast no matter how much they beg.

8:06 a.m. See above.

8:07 a.m. See above.

8:08 a.m. See above.

8:09 a.m.: Feed the cats a second breakfast.

9 p.m.: Settle into your favorite recliner and wait for your musher to return after finishing his race. For the next hour or so, check the online race site to get periodic updates on his progress.

11 p.m. Based on those updates, realize he’s likely not going to be back to the farm much before 1 a.m. Sunday.

11:30 p.m.: Decide going to bed makes no sense if you just have to be up in a few hours and feel thankful there is a “Law and Order: SVU” marathon running on TV.

2 a.m. Welcome a very, very tired yet happy musher back.

2 a.m. to 2:10 a.m.: listen to the same story told five times because he’s so tired he can’t remember from one minute to the next what he is saying.

2:15 a.m.: Finally go to bed.

3 a.m.: Wake your musher up to tell him two of his dogs are having a rather prolonged and heated argument. Trudge outside with him and help separate the two dogs and put them back to bed.

3:15 a.m.: Head back to bed yourself, but not before setting your alarm for 6:30 a.m. because your musher needs to be up and ready to head out for the race awards breakfast back in town. Wonder again why you think this is a good idea every year.

6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m.: Enjoy coffee and swap tales from the trails about this and past Can-Am races.

8 a.m.: The final hugs goodbye and watch your musher head down the driveway.

8:10 a.m.: Back to bed for Sunday sleeping-in and, as you close your eyes, find yourself already planning for next year’s hosting. And wondering what the heck you are going to do with the leftover lasagna and all the other food the musher did not eat.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.