Thursday, October 9, 2008


Good Morning Folks. I guess the mood at the “Bunkhouse” got a bit too serious last week, so I decided to publish something more light and humorous. The following story was written by a non-mushing individual who came to “Baisley Lodges” last winter. It is guaranteed to brighten your day and make you laugh. Kevin an Linda Powers drove all the way up from Maryland, USA and although they showed up as clients, they left as good friends. Isn’t it amazing what that country fresh air can do…

So sit back and enjoy!!! Also please be kind enough and do sign our “Guest Book” under comments.

The Great Northern Mushing Adventure


Kevin Powers

Day One

We leave Ocean Pines around 9:00am. First stop, the local bagel shop. Closed. So I have to settle for two chocolate covered donuts from the 7/11 thereby satisfying my glycemic quota for the week. Small price to pay for steeling myself for the 10 hour drive to St Johnsbury, Vermont, the first leg of the trip, with:

a) four Siberian Huskies,

b) a trailer carrying a dog sled,

c) a jury-rigged car-top carrier (supposedly waterproof, but more on that later), strapped to the trailer, containing winter duds with esoteric names designed to allow us to survive temperatures of minus 20 degrees centigrade which is the equivalent of colder-than-a- well-diggers-knee here in the states and,

d) an XM radio tuned to “Oprah & Friends”. With any luck she’ll have Dr. Phil on talking about Britney Spears.

Fenway is harassing Kodiak (they are sharing a crate in the back seat) so mom gives him half a Benadryl tablet, as recommended by the vet. Actually the vet recommended TWO tablets but mom figures we had better start out with a half and see what happens. This question is answered immediately when Fenway not only continues to harass Kodiak but seems to be trying to entice Kaya and Chinook to join in. Mom gives Fenway the other tablet and a half and he lies down and plays dead – for roughly the next four hours.

That would make it one o’clock and time to hit the Nathan’s hot dog emporium on the Garden State Parkway . The only redeeming feature of the Garden State Parkway

Did I mention that it has rained for the past four hours and the water is building up in the luggage carrier? Remind me to tell you about that after the ice-storm story.

So, it’s six hours later we are in St. Johnsbury Vermont, having passed by Turners Falls Massachusetts, on Route 91, birthplace of at least one famous American. No wait a minute I’m thinking of Abraham Lincoln and that was Illinois.

We’re at the, dog-friendly, Nome Inn where the dyslexic clerk manning the front desk gives us directions to the local Pizza Hut and we end up at Anthony’s Dinner, which is closed.

The next morning, after the ice-storm (did I mention the ice-storm?) we make it back to Anthony’s for breakfast by asking for directions to the Dunkin’ Donuts. Directions to Starbucks get us to the Shell station.

But then there’s that damn ice storm. Mom announces that “everything is covered with ice” and that “the walking is treacherous.” But she’s got her trusty Neos boots on. I’ve got my hiking shoes which actually double as ice skates for Olympic speed skaters but the secret hasn’t leaked out yet. My super traction Neos boots with the studs in the soles are packed in the (so-called) water-proof roof-rack because (as I said many times) ”I won’t need them until we get to Canada.”

I head out to check the conditions for myself. Mom cautions me several times to “be careful, it’s very slippery”. She then slips and falls between the words “very” and “slippery” Life is a series of slips and falls, often when you are warning other people not to slip and fall.

The sand truck shows up thirty seconds after I finish salting down the hill leading out of the parking lot. Mom regains her footing.

We’re out of Anthony’s Dinner by 9:00am and heading toward the Canadian border, armed with passports and rabies certificates (but otherwise unarmed) prepared to answer tough questions from the crack Canadian border guards. Mom stands ready to slip into her best Canadian French if we need it. I’ve got the words to Frere Jacques memorized right through the second “ding, dang, dong.”

But I can’t be sitting around writing lengthy e-mails to you guys telling you about the shoot-out and the overturned car. I’ve got stuff to do. And did I mention the fact that there’s water building up in the damn roof rack?

Maybe I’ll write more tomorrow while mom is mushing. But it’ll have to be after Fenway and I have returned from bear hunting.


Day Two

On our way to the Canadian border we stop at a “Centre Infotouriste” to hit the bathrooms. The rest of the “Centre” is “ferme” because it’s “l’hiver” and anyone in his right mind is in “Sud Amerique” or Algiers.

I notice that written on the wall of stall #2 in the men’s room is the following graffiti “Turban Repair Kit”, with an arrow pointing to the toilet paper dispenser. For a moment, I think we are back on the Jersey Turnpike.

We approach the Canadian Border and it appears to be closed. Ooops one lane is open and I hand a French-looking guy with a black mustache our passports.

“Where you going?“

“Edmundston.” There’s an international sign that apparently means “Do you know how cold it is up there?” It consists of a squinty-eyed look and a pursing of the lips with a slight exhale.

“Are you carrying any weapons?” “Nope”, I say, as mom hands over her new pocket knife I gave her for Christmas. Jeez, I hate it when that happens. We gotta get coordinated here. “Except for that knife”, I add, thinking that he really means bazookas, AK-47’s, or rocket-propelled grenades. But then again, there’s no telling what kind of damage your mother could do to Canadian national security with that pocket knife. No buche de noel would be safe.

“OK, you can go!” What? He’s not going to ask to see all the papers your mother has carefully compiled on the dogs? He’s worried about a pocket knife when we could have four rabid dogs in the back of the car?

“We have dogs in the back” I say figuring that it’s better to tell him than to have him notice Kaya and Chinook looking out the back window as we pull away and send an armored personnel carrier to run us down.

“Yeah, I noticed the dog sled. Go ahead.”

OoooooooooooooK. Everybody’s a wiseacre.

We’re heading up Canadian Rt. 55 at what I think is breakneck speed until I realize that it’s 100 KILOMETERS an hour.

At some point, mom announces that it’s 210 kilometers to the next bend in the road we have to watch for lest we shoot right into downtown Quebec. I ask her how many miles that is and a brief discussion ensues about whether you multiply by .62 or divide by .62. I suggest that she try both and we take the lower of the two numbers because I’m tired of driving. That seems to work but I miss the turn and we head for downtown Quebec on some “Pont” that crosses the “Fleuve St Laurent”. Mom starts singing “Salut Bonhomme, Salut Bonhomme” and cracks out a long red horn.

Later we’re back on the right road and heading for “Riviere-du-Loup” where we will make a “droit” and end up at St Jacques.

Did I mention that it has been raining hard since we crossed the Canadian border? Luckily, we’ve got that water-proof car top carrier strapped to our trailer getting pelted by the water from the back tires.

There are more place names beginning with “St.” in Canada than there are cities and towns. There’s even a “St. Antonin”, apparently in honor of a U.S. Supreme Court Justice!

So we stop at St. Subway to get lunch. I’m scanning the menu on the wall to figure out what a “Subway Club” is called in French. I can’t find it anywhere and then mom announces that it is a “Club Subway”. That would make a “Club Sandwich” a “Sandwich Club”, which in fact turns out to be the case. However, just to prove how difficult it is to become a French linguist, I discover that “The Big Burger” is simply “Le Big Burger”. Damn, I’ll never remember that one!

Just as we hit Riviere-du-Loup (named after sea-lions which the Canadians call sea-wolves, go figure) and turn onto the only secondary road we’ll hit on the entire trip, the rain turns to snow. I wonder if the carrier is snow proof.

Traffic slows down to a crawl when a van ends up on its roof in a ditch on the left side of the road. All the dogs, except Fenway, wake up to look at the flashing lights. Fenway, now on a methadone program, having kicked the Benadryl habit near Riviere-du-Loup, is zonked in his crate, but harassing Kodiak in his sleep.

At 7:30pm we pull into “Baisley Lodges” and discover that it’s actually 8:30pm because St Jacques is on Middle-of-the-Atlantic-Ocean Time, having only recently separated from that little curvy section on the west coast of Greenland. It finally stops raining and snowing. We meet Gino Roussel, the proprietor, who looks a lot like Paul Bunyan, except bigger. I start unloading the car while mom takes care of the dogs.

The car top carrier strapped to the trailer is covered with ice and the bags seem to be particularly heavy as I carry them to the cabin - - mom’s in particular.

An hour later, there’s a fire in the wood burning stove and underwear and clothes cover every surface in the cabin.

Will people pass out from the heat before the clothes dry?

What exactly is the effect of road salt on Fruit of the Looms?

Will Fenway climb back on the wagon?

If I fall down while wearing my new snow pants, will I be able to right myself before Spring?

Stand by for the answers to these and other perplexing questions in tomorrow’s report on…The Great Northern Mushing Adventure (or as they call it in French, Le Great Northern Mushing Adventure.


Day Three – First Mushing Day

I’m up at the crack of dawn (6:30am) but the dawn doesn’t crack here until about 8:30am. Another one of those weird longitude/latitude things and the sun.

Then over to the bunkhouse for coffee with Gino and Mosqua, his 105lb German Shepherd. Among his other impressive credentials Mosqua recently distinguished himself by pulling a three year old kid out of the river behind our cabin after he saw him fall in and fighting off a black bear that was in the process of going after his master, Gino. When he’s not saving people’s lives, Mosqua carries a stick around in his mouth and drops it at peoples’ feet so they’ll throw it and he can chase it. He’s a stick-retrieving maniac. Stratch that, he’s a huge, stick retrieving maniac. But, like Gino, a retired Canadian military guy who was involved in just about every dangerous activity in Bosnia and the Middle East, is somebody you want on your side.

Mom heads out to mush at about mid-morning. They are going to try to do eight miles so Fenway is going to stay behind with me and pull me around the headquarters area trails.
He’s not a happy camper when the convoy pulls out without him but comes to his senses when he discovers that I’m hitched on to the other end of his leash and that if he times every yank just right all the pictures I take will be exactly half way out of the view finder. Over the next two hours of walking, I’ll take 30 pictures and erase 15.

Mom returns around 1:00pm and announces that “It was awesome!” I try to get her to be a little more enthusiastic but fail. They ran through a Canadian National Forest that is about three miles from here. The trails and snow were perfect. The dogs did eight miles and are still smiling. Fenway’s pissed because they’re talking about it in front of him.

Around 2:00 we head downtown (Edmundston) to pick up supplies (notice how I’ve picked up the lingo). By the end of the week it’ll be “grub”. We decide to find a place to eat lunch and settle on a family restaurant called “Bel Air”, which is a French phrase meaning Bel Air. The following is a verbatim description of the desert mom and I shared:

Deluxe Maple Cake

Almond Genoise drenched with maple syrup and maple mousseline
All surrounded with maple sugar nuggets covered with a maple glaze and a chocolate dipped maple leaf. I suspect that the plate was also made out of maple sugar. The low glycemic diet took a beating.

Then we head to the IGA to pick up grub (jeez, it didn’t even take a week!). This allows me to confirm my long-standing suspicion that the super-markets of every country in the world have at least one little old lady who careens through the place running into people and looking at them as if the collision is THEIR fault.

Back to the cabin to add wood to the stove and turn the clothes over. Fruit of the Looms are just about done and the flannel shirts are about medium rare. Car top carrier is sitting in the bunkhouse in front of the BIG stove. That little devil seems to be getting stiffer as we speak – so that must mean that it’s drying out.

I remained upright for the entire day while acting as a sled for Fenway. Basically, you put a belt around your waist (leaving your hands free for such things as breaking falls) and he pulls you around, ignoring your pleas to stop or turn right (“gee”) or left (“haw”). What a country!

Gotta watch “Lost” shortly and see how people manage to survive in the wilderness. Maybe get some pointers.

Meanwhile, I’ve got to get psyched for tomorrow’s venture out onto the trails in snowshoes while being pulled by Fenway. As I recall from my youth, there really is nothing to walking in snowshoes, assuming a certain amount of orthopedic dexterity. In addition, those Yoga for Golf classes will serve me well in the event that I have to stand on one snowshoe and spread-eagle both arms. I’m ready.

On a rather ominous note, the French TV stations are predicting a heavy snowfall in about 24 hours. We’re talking “centimetres de neige” which, when multiplied or divided by .62, seems like big trouble. But as Gino tells me “We can handle snow. Just don’t go out of the bunkhouse.”

Stand by for tomorrow’s report. I’ll do my best not to strain either index finger (my typing fingers) during this snowshoe excursion. More on the coming blizzard later.



Day Four

The cold air must’ve gotten to us because we sleep ‘till seven. I’m planning on video taping mom feeding the dogs in the log cabin they are staying in. Did I mention the log cabin dog house? Gino has a separate cabin with room to house four sled dogs. There’s saw dust on the floor and places to hitch each one of them so that they don’t spend all the time wrestling.

On the first night when it became apparent that they were going to sleep in the dog cabin, Fenway tried to organize a break-out but failed. Mom is convinced they are going to be cold so I’ll give this arrangement another day before all four are spending the night with us in our cabin curled up on the floor in front of the wood-burning stove. In order to run the Iditarod we’d have to make sure there are Motel 6’s along the route.

I’m in the bunkhouse for a cup a Gino’s high test coffee and story telling. He’s about to tell me about being the Canadian Embassy security chief in Algeria. I tell him he should write a book and he says “I am.”

Gino is leading the mushing caravan and he is loading his dogs. He has nine dogs. They live in a building he had created specially for them. Each has a separate stall with a door and windows they can look out and see the property. They are the fool-proof early warning system for any intruders, human or animal, on the property. Some are Siberian huskies and some are Canadian Snow Hounds. Mom is going to borrow one of his dogs, Maggie, so she will have a four dog team.

We get to the trail head, about 3 miles away and the sleds and lines get laid out. Tie one dog to the sled line and every other dog starts yapping. “Take me, take me, jeez I’m ready, let’s go. No, no, no don’t take that one with the skinny legs before me. I’m ready, I’m ready!” Gotta make sure the sled is anchored to the car or the first dog will be in Alberta before you get the second one out of the car. Mom reminds me that there are only three rules for dog-sledding:

#1 Never let go of the sled
#2 Never let go of the sled
#3 Never let go of the sled.

I use the same three rules with Fenway who is always plotting an escape. In the meantime I’m holding Chinook and Kodiak while mom hitches up Kaya behind them. She’s preparing to introduce Maggie to Kaya since they’ll be running side by side (unless they take an instant dislike to each other in which case they’ll be fighting side by side). If 100 pounds of Siberian Huskies begin snarling at each other, I’m counting on mom and Gino to jump right in the middle and calm things down. I’ll be answering a long-distance call on my cell phone.

Gino’s team of eight dogs is so eager to get started that they are pulling his sled which is attached to a dog trailer which is attached to his Suzuki truck and the entire thing is inching down the road. When he climbs onto the sled and releases his snub line (that’s the line that secures the sled to something (theoretically) immovable), he and the sled go by me so fast that I miss them with the video camera. While I’m bitching to myself about that, mom whizzes by and I miss her also. Spasticism is not dead! Then mom’s friend Catherine whizzes by and I may have gotten the last dog and her in the video.

Catherine’s husband and I are left and we’re going to snowshoe our way down the trail for “a few miles”. I’m emphasizing the “few” and he’s emphasizing the “miles”. I’ve got my new snowshoes on and I feel like Bozo the Clown with his big red shoes that allow him to tilt in a 45 degree angle in any direction. This is great for picking up your gloves. In order to walk straight ahead, you have to pick up your knees such that they just miss your chin. But, hey, small price to pay to be out here enjoying nature.

Did I mention that the temperature has shot off the low part of the centigrade scale? Screw it! I’ve got my polypropylene long underwear on, plus my snow pants and parka, plus my hood that converts into a scarf, tourniquet, or emergency snowmobile, depending upon what you might need. As they say in French, “I’m ready!” Well, actually they say it in French but the last time I yelled out something in French some guy showed up with a can of maple syrup, so I’ve become gun shy.

I’ve got Fenway on the walking belt and I’m heading at breakneck speed into the Canadian forest. Fenway’s ears are back against his head like a real sled dog but he’s walking off the trail up to his armpits in snow. He responds instantly to the great mushing command “Hey, dipstick, get back over here on the trail where the snow is packed!”

I continue down the trail but notice that Fenway has been watching me lift my knees up to my chin so the snowshoes will clear the ground and he is now doing the same. The kid has potential! He’s prancing like a Kentucky trotter. We are rollin! I glance back at the car and discover that we have covered a good 30 or 40 yards which, when converted to metrics, is a healthy 45 or 50 meters. This is a piece of cake.

Do I make it out of the forest? Does Fenway stop acting like a trotter? Have I tilted over 45 degrees in the snowshoes and survived. Stay tuned. Shoot, I’ve got to go eat. I must’ve lost a good 30 or 40 pounds today. There’s a bag of Wavy Lays potato chips in the cabin with my name of it. More later.


P.S. Did I mention that it has started to snow? Really hard? Snow plows are circling like buzzards.


Day 5

Whoa, we wake up to 30 centimeters of snow! I’m into the metric system now. Completely comfortable with it. Thirty centimeters is slightly more than a crap-load. We’re up to our keesters in the white stuff.

I head for the bunkhouse and see Gino and his right hand man, Richard (pronounced Ree ‘shard by the cognoscenti) shoveling and snowblowing. The snowblower shoots snow thirty feet high and Mosqua, the fearless German Shepherd, is trying to catch it. Having a great time but taking on the appearance of a polar bear. It has gotten him to give up his stick, but only temporarily.

The dogs are still zonked. Did I mention that they have moved into our cabin?

I dig out the car and decide to try to start it. Suddenly, something gramps always told me flashes into my mind: “Practice your short game.” I wish I could remember what he told me about starting cars on a cold day. Oh yeah, “Always flick the headlights twice.” It works like a charm and the car starts immediately. I then put it in drive and the Honda “Intelligent 4-Wheel Drive” kicks into action. A thing of beauty. I’m now in a snow bank on the opposite side of the driveway. “Reverse” gets me right back where I started. Flushed with success, I turn off the engine and head for the bunkhouse (also known as “Corporate Headquarters”) for a cup of Gino’s famous “kick-ass coffee” which he imports from Turkmenistan or one of the other –stans. No cup required. Just pour it and it forms its own. You’re alert for the whole day and sometimes well into the night.

The rest of the morning is consumed by discussions of how to groom the trails so we can run the dogs. There are those, at times like this, who favor simply heading out in the fresh snow, getting stranded, and dying of exposure. Instinctively, this seems to me to be a bad idea. I don’t think my federal life insurance will pay off for “boneheaded behavior while mushing”. I distinctly remember that as being one of the exceptions.

Gino and another guy head out to inspect the trails and groom them with snowmobiles. The two snowmobiles break down sequentially over the next couple of hours.

We decide to head to the IGA to replenish our grub. We run into the same little old lady careening through the produce section. Dirty French looks are exchanged.

Mom decides to take Fenway and the other boys for a run on the trail that circles the property, choosing not to invalidate the life insurance. Fenway, getting his first chance to pull a real sled on real snow tries to convince Chinook and Kodiak to bolt for Alberta but mom discovers the plot and turns them around at the main road. I see them whiz by the front window of the bunkhouse on several loops. Fenway has a “Hey watch this!” look in his eye. Mom has her usual Cheshire cat grin on her face.

Gino rescues one of his snowmobiles and greets us outside the bunkhouse with “What a day, eh?”

It’s still snowing.

Gino’s wife, Fran, fixes a great dinner for us in the bunkhouse – seafood pasta, garlic bread, cheesecake for desert. Gino tells war stories. Ralph Murphy (aka Murph), Gino’s cat, who has been banished to the store room while we eat, provides additional entertainment by clawing his way up the door and looking down on the gathered group through the upper window in the door.

We head back to the cabin around 11:00pm and I notice that the snow is sparkling. Everywhere you look, there appear to be diamonds in the snow. The sky is crystal clear. You can see a million stars. Maybe we should stay another week.


Day Six

Heard Gino whistling for his dogs around 7:00am. That’s a sure sign that the coffee is ready in the bunkhouse.

After breakfast we head to mass at Paroisse St. Jacques. The parking is unique. Bumper to bumper on a circular driveway in front of the church. Anybody who cuts out at communion time will be stuck sitting in his car until everybody else leaves. Hope this idea doesn’t spread to Ocean Pines.

When we walk into church all eyes are on us as we walk down the aisle. Wonder whose seat we’ll end up taking inadvertently. The entire congregation will have to shift two seats to the left. The minute the French mass starts I have a flash back to St. Anne’s Parish and the French nuns I had for grade school. I nod off during the sermon and dream of Sister Mary George Henry, all 6’2” of her, sneaking up on me with that 16–inch ruler. Sister Mary Straight-edge!!

Gino’s mother sings in the choir but we can’t pick her out. We tell Gino to tell his mother that nobody in the choir looked old enough to be his mother. Gino says that this will get valuable points for all of us.

The lady in front of us has the demeanor of Kate Smith during a recording session. A whole family has to climb over her as she refuses to give up the seat on the aisle. She gives the evil eye to the mother when the young daughter sprawls out on the pew. Then she seems to be giving the old guy handing out communion the cold stare for I can’t figure out what. All in the best Christian spirit, of course.

The parking lot after church is like the start of the Indy 500 – on ice. All they need is a guy singing “Down Home Again in Indiana” and a checkered flag. Everybody has studded snow tires.

We head for the trail head at 3:00pm. Mom and Gino are heading out. Mom will borrow Maggie again and run a four dog team. Fenway is miffed. My job is to walk him with the belt and tire him out. Sure. I contemplate putting the snowshoes on him.

Gino takes off with his eight-dog team and mom takes off after him with four dogs. All of a sudden you can hear the ice settling on the river. We’re in the middle of a Rudy Giuliani pep rally after the Florida primary. This is where Stephen King would have the hand come out of the sewer and drag you down.

Fenway and I head out several minutes later. His ears are down, the leash is straight out, and he appears bent on catching the rest of the pack. Then he stops and poops right in the middle of the trail. He then proceeds at a more leisurely pace, ears straight up in the air.

We walk out the length of two good par fives and then turn around and head back to the car. An elderly gentleman is waiting for us. He has a winter hat on with the both ear flaps parallel to the ground, round glasses as thick as coke bottles, a dense white mustache and a cane. He looks exactly like the old guy in the “Milagro Beanfield War”. His name is Alexandre Busse (with an accent aigue over the last e). Gino tells me later that he calls him Alexandre Le Grand because his real nickname is “Bit” (as in “a little bit”) because he’s so short. Alexandre speaks zero English and is peppering me with a thousand questions: Am I a musher? How many dogs do I have? Do I know Gino? (this one was followed by “Everybody knows Gino!) Where was I on the evening of October 1st? The usual stuff. I “oui’ed” and “non’ed” the ones I could and answered the rest without occasioning a visit from the maple syrup guy.

When Alexandre leaves, Fenway and I climb into the car. I put the XM radio on ESPN to catch the latest hype on the Super Bowl. Fenway falls asleep. I fall asleep. One of Gino’s friends goes by on a snowmobile but neither of us hears him.

The minute mom rolls in she says: “Did you see Gaetan on his snowmobile? He was going to ask you if you wanted a 10 mile ride on his 12-dog sled tomorrow.” “No snowmobile came by here. Fenway and I would’ve heard him.”

Then it dawned on me: “A ride on what?”

“He’s prepping for the CamAm race and he’s going to take his 12-dog team on a training run tomorrow. He can use the extra weight to give the dogs a workout.”

Someone looking for ballast again. Right up my line.

At Mushing Boot Camp I got a ride on Sue Thompson’s six-dog wheeled cart because she needed extra ballast. Now I’m moving up to a 12-dog racing team. The rest of that bag of Wavy Lays Potato Chips and a 720ml bottle of 7-Up and I’ll be ready to go. Should be right at my “riding weight” by tomorrow.

Somewhere between the time that we head for home and the Pats lose the Super Bowl, mom mentions that Gaetan had quintuple by-pass surgery last year. “Wait a minute. You mean the Gaetan who is going to be giving me that ride at breakneck speed through the Canadian wilderness tomorrow? That Gaetan?

“Yes and he’s fully recovered from the broken shoulder, that he got a couple of months ago when he got thrown off his sled and dragged several hundred yards.”

I have this fear that the next thing I’ll find out is that Gaetan is the only blind musher in Canada.

Day 7

Figured I would have nightmares about my upcoming 10-mile/12-dog ride during which I look back and discover that Gaetan has fallen off the sled and I’ve got to stop the team before we hit the Atlantic Ocean. But no, instead I have a golf nightmare in which I’m playing in the Senior Amateur and I lose my caddie and my golf clubs somewhere between the second green and the third tee. Somebody in the gallery tells me that my caddie told him he had to go to Canada mushing. This confirms my suspicion that caddies are not as devoted as they once were.

What a relief to wake up! Then I remember the pending ride behind 12 “Quebec Racing Hounds”. Wait a minute! What happened to the good old Siberian Huskies? The dogs I’ve grown to know and love. The ones that will listen to reason (sometimes). Oh, oh they’ve been replaced by racers like Gaetan with dogs that are bred for pure speed. Forget the pure strength (Malamutes) and the strength & speed (Siberians), we’re looking for pure speed (Quebec Racing Hounds, Canadian Snow Dogs).

Apparently, the only thing that slows these dogs down is sled and passenger weight. So, I finish off the bag of Wavy Lays before breakfast and then have six French toast and half a tuna sub. Another 710ml of 7-up and I’m about as heavy as I’m going to get.

I’ll have to resort to adding layers of clothing and filling the pockets of my parka with small, dense objects. That should add another couple of pounds. All of a sudden a vision of Chevy Chase in “Christmas Vacation” riding that flying saucer with the super-spray added to the bottom flashes through by mind. He’s going across the parking lot with sparks flying from the bottom of the saucer. Jeez, are polypropylene long johns flammable? And we’ve got that damn fire extinguisher, the size of a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi, sitting at home doing nothing. It’s got weight and fire control capability. Exactly what I need.

I better get a cup of Gino’s high test so my alertness quotient will be at its peak.

Now we’re waiting for Gaetan at Gino’s place but he’s late. We decide to leave him a note and head for the trail head. I suggest something along the lines of “Got called back to Washington for an emergency meeting with the President. Will take you up on your offer next year.” Mom translates this into French and it comes out: “See you at the trail head. Looking forward to an exciting ride.” Some people are preeeeeeety cavalier with other people’s well-being.

She tries to mollify me with: “I’ll get a picture of you as the sled flies off the starting line.” Great, it’ll be the first obit picture with 12 Quebec Racing Dogs blurred moving from the left to right corner of the picture. I always wanted to be remembered for something. “Jeez remember that obit picture of Powers in the Post. What a classic, you could see the fear in his eyes!”

We get our dogs tied to the sled and Gaetan shows up in his Chevy truck with a hotel on the back for a dozen dogs.

His prototype racing sled is tied to the top. What in the heck does “prototype” mean? Experimental? Untested? In the process of being tested?

His dogs see our dogs ready to go and start barking. As each of the twelve dogs is brought out of the truck by either Gino or Gaetan he is held up by his collar, front feet in the air, back feet pedaling furiously.

The “prototype” is secured to the truck. When the dogs are secured to the gang line and all four feet get back on the ground, they rear back and launch themselves forward into the air trying to get the sled moving. They are barking madly. When all twelve are hitched up, the sled leaves the ground by a few inches and the truck rocks forward as they all pull in unison.

Then I hear the ominous words: “You’d better get in the sled. They’re ready to go.” Jeez, other than the fact that the two ton truck is being dragged along the road, how can you tell? This is no time for sarcasm.

Gaetan says:”Keep your feet on the front bar of the sled.” I guess he fears that I’ll put them through the opening and drag them on the trail. I’d get sucked under the sled and spit out the back with two runner marks on my new snow pants. Nope I’ll keep my feet on the front bar, thank you very much.

Then, as he walks by, he places the snow hook (the big, two-pronged hook that the musher uses to secure the sled if he has to stop on the trail) in my lap. I glance over at Gino on the side of the trail and the look on his face says: “If you don’t want to end up singing soprano with the Vienna Boys Choir, I’d move that thing before the first bump.” My thought exactly.

I move the hook to the side just as I hear the words “Allez, hup, hup.”

Remember that old “Man and the Challenge” show where the guy is sitting in the rocket sled, there’s a countdown, the rocket fires, and the next shot is of the guy’s left and right nostrils next to his left and right ears respectively? Zero to thirty in about ten yards. The space shuttle on land aimed down a three mile straight-a-way through the Canadian forest.

I’ve got my video camera and I’m trying to take pictures but I can’t hold the view finder to my eye without ending up like Sammy Davis Jr. I aim toward the horizon and hope for the best.

As I turn the camera off, I think I see the solid fuel rockets drop away but nope there are still twelve dogs out there, or at least the rear-ends of twelve dogs. Things seem to get quieter as the dogs steady into a solid rhythm. Twenty-four hind legs all dig in at the same time and then twenty-four front legs come between them and dig in. A canine running machine churning up ground and spitting it out behind us. Immmmmmpressive.

I’m sitting in a basket covered by what looks like a yoga mat. I can feel the ground passing underneath and am wondering what the first good bump will feel like. The answer arrives a second later. There are no good bumps for the passenger in a dog sled. I learn that a derriere placed close to the ground can sense speed.

Gaetan yells out: “How to you like it so far?” I’m surprised that he’s doing anything other than concentrating on keeping the dogs under control.

“It’s great! How fast are we going?”

“About 20mph” he says, as we hit a steep downhill section. “About 30mph going downhill.” Wow, thirty miles an hour looks a lot faster two inches off the ground.

Then he lets out a high-pitched whistle followed by “Allez”. The dogs had started to coast after coming off the downhill but when they hear the whistle they all bolt into action again. They look straight ahead, their ears are down. All business.

There are four measured runs at the park. The shortest (6 miles) is called the “three mile turn around”. The next longest (8 miles) is called “The Trapper’s Cabin”. The next (10 miles) is called “The Sand Pit” and the longest (14 miles) is called “The Tadpole”.

We’ve just passed the “three mile turn around” and the dogs aren’t even panting. Two miles later we arrive at the “Sand Pit”, which, amazingly enough, is a huge sand pit.

About twenty yards before we have to make a left hand turn to loop around the sand pit, Gaetan lets out a whistle and then says “Haw!” the two lead dogs bear left and around we go. As we exit the loop, another whistle and a “Gee!” and the dogs turn right. A finely tuned machine. We’re back on the trail heading home. Five miles to go. We covered the first half in under fifteen minutes. The dogs made the left and right turns on command without breaking stride. A thing of beauty.

Gaetan stops the team and the dogs get a thirty second break. I look for several of them to bend over put their paws on their knees and gasp for breath. Nope. Several of them are looking back at Gaetan as if to say “Why are we stopping? Are you ready to go or what?”

One whistle and an “Allez” and the canine running machine cranks it up again. A long downhill and we’re going faster than ever. I ask Gaetan if he thinks the dogs notice the extra weight I’m supplying. Between the two of us and the sled, they’re pulling over three hundred pounds. “Oh yeah, but it’s good for them. The sled will seem much lighter the next time when I’m alone.”

The wind is cold and small particles of snow and ice are flying back toward the sled. We’re both getting bounced around pretty well and, for the first time, I start thinking about what I’d do if Gaetan got thrown off the back of the sled. Coincidentally, Gaetan tells me about hitting a rut, losing control of the sled and being dragged along behind, breaking his shoulder.

What would I do if it happened again? I figure maybe I’d pull a Sgt. Preston of the Yukon stand up in the sled, jump over the handle bar, step on the brake, whistle a couple of times and bring the team under control. Who am I kidding? I couldn’t manage the standing-up part if the sled were standing still. And I lost my ability to whistle two miles back when my upper lip went numb from the cold.

Maybe I’ll just throw that damn hook that’s sitting next to me and hope it adheres to solid ground and stops this thing. Fat chance. It’ll probably bounce along the ground, ricochet back into the sled and I’ll end up in the Vienna Boys Choir anyway.

No, I’ll just hold my position and hope the dogs stop when they see their truck at the trail head. If they don’t and they hit the main road, I’ll just have to wait until they drop dead from exhaustion. Shoot, on solid packed snow on a main road they’ll just pick up speed. I could be back in Riviere-du-Loup in a couple of hours. I’ll just have to wait them out. I’m retired. I’ve got the time. Don’t do anything stupid.

Then the trail head comes into view. Gaetan grabs the big hook, steps on the brake and the mushing machine comes to a halt. The last half mile or so is uphill and the dogs are panting – but not for long. We’ve covered 10 miles in just about 30 minutes, including two 30 second “rest stops”. The dogs are really something.

As for me, my nostrils seem to have returned to their proper location and I’m regaining the feel in my upper lip. All in all, a great day. As mom would say “Awesome!”



We're back home.

I played golf on Saturday at my favorite local course, Eagle's Landing, and seem to have suffered no adverse effects from the ride on the prototype rocket sled. Two double bogeys can be attributed to normal spasticism and the two birdies to a subconscious that refuses to remain subdued. Shot 77. Not bad for the first round of the season.

It was 50 degrees and windy but, after a week in New Brunswick, it felt balmy.

The night before we left New Brunswick it was snowing hard and we were all in the bunkhouse watching the Canadian Weather Channel, where words like "Zut Alors!" and "Sacre Bleu!"appear regularly on the screen followed by a number of exclamation points.

The storm was coming in from the West and dragging with it every piece of moisture from the Aleutian Islands to Riviere-du-Loup. This meant that we could exit Canada the way we entered only with the help of several large pieces of earth moving equipment, which mom reminds me I neglected to attach to the trailer. So, we had to plot a South-eastern escape route and re-renter the States at Holton, Maine.

As we left the bunkhouse, Gino said: "Maybe there will be a break in the weather. If not you can always stay another day." He was ignoring the fact that the weather for the following day was predicted to be even worse all the way down to Connecticut.

At this point we could barely see the outline of our cabin through the blowing snow. Those tornadoes that hit Tennessee were probably supposed to hit New Brunswick but somehow lost their way. Of course we haven't had an earthquake yet either.

But we did have a blackout! About ten minutes after we found our cabin, the greater metropolitan St. Jacques area went dark. Noooooooo problemo, we just put on our headlamps. These are neat little devices that fit around your head and allow you to blind anyone you choose to look at. I like to look down at the floor and then back up at the person repeatedly to see how fast their pupils will open and shut.

Gino's wife brought us a kerosene lamp and we put that in the middle of the kitchen table. Mom surfaced the word "rustic" to describe the situation. George Carlin would put "rustic" in the same category as "foodstuffs", "damsel", and "tootsie". Too dangerous to use in mixed company.

Have you ever tried to pack by kerosene and head lamp? I had what I thought were my snow pants half way into my suitcase before I realized I had grabbed Fenway by mistake. All the rest of the dogs immediately went into their curled-up-in-a-ball defensive position.

By morning, the lights had come back on and the snow had stopped. Only got 8 inches this time. Shoot that's only a light dusting (un dusting light, as they say in Quebec).

I headed out to locate the car and the trailer around 7:30am. If you catch the sun off the snow just right you can see telltale white lumps in the shape of vehicles and trailers.

Speaking of the trailer, a few days earlier Gino had spotted some black residue around the hub of one of the trailer wheels and asked if we had a 'bearing" problem with the wheel. I told him that the only way I would know if I had a bearing problem would be if the wheel actually dropped off and the bearings fell out -- and the bearings were actually labeled "bearings".

Richard, Gino's right hand man, headed outside and, with a couple of tugs and spins of the wheel, announced that, while there was no bearing problem, the bearings could use a little grease. Later that day, he casually mentioned that he had had a few spare moments and had disassembled the wheel, checked the bearings, added grease, and that everything was fine. You get the impression that, if he had a few days off, he could put that new nuclear reactor together up in Alberta. He and I are on opposite ends of the”mechanically adept" spectrum. But I take comfort in the knowledge that he probably knows absolutely nothing about electronic surveillance law.

Gino and I got the dried out (but not for long) car-top carrier packed and secured to the trailer just as it started snowing again. We headed out for the Trans-Canada Highway, apparently named in honor of a Canadian guy named "Trans" who managed to make it out of Canada one winter and wisely spent the rest of his life in the Bahamas.

To our surprise, the weather and the roads all the way to Holton, Maine were good but mom had to show Fenway the Benadryl bottle twice before he finally got the point and calmed down.

At the customs check point in Holton, we got to see the crack U.S. border guys in action. What a difference between our guys and the Canadians!

Border Guy: "How many dogs do you have?"

Me: "Four."

Border Guy: "Do you have papers for all of them?"

Me: "Sure do." (As mom drags out her Britannica-sized file folders on each of the dogs and I prepare to hand them through the window.)

Border Guy: "OK, go ahead." (Not wanting to risk a double-hernia.)

It was shortly thereafter that I was accosted by two little old ladies in the Holton Tourist Information Center. They apparently had not seen another human being in roughly eight weeks and were bent on getting rid of a brochure on every subject having to do with the State of Maine.

Mom greeted my return to the car with: "Where have you been?"

"Where have I been? Two little old ladies grabbed me and chained me to the guest-book stand in the Information Center. One of them looked like Toulouse Lautrec! I was lucky to get out of there alive! I could have used some of these brochures they forced on me to add weight to that prototype sled yesterday."

At the mention of the word "brochure" mom's eyes started to glow like one of those aliens in that movie where you can only tell the aliens by the stiff index finger and the glowing eyes. "Are there any discount coupons for motels?"

Sure enough, buried in one of the brochures between "Arctic Miniature Golf" and "Lobsters by the Pound" was an add and a discount coupon for a Holiday Inn Express with the words "Pet Friendly" in boldface type. Those little old ladies saved us thirty bucks.

We checked in, each of the dogs got a doggie bag with a tennis ball inside. Are they crazy? That's like giving a kid a set of drums!

We headed to Kerryman's Pub in downtown Saco in search of a lobster roll and clam chowder.

Did I mention that it had started snowing?

When I turned the TV on the next morning, the U.S. Weather Channel was using words like "Zut Alors" and "Sacre Bleu". I glanced out the window and the car and trailer appeared to be one large white lump, and it was still snowing.

Now, as an experienced bad-weather driver, I knew that there was only one thing to do --head for Michele's in Old Orchard Beach for breakfast. There's no bad-weather problem that can't be made better by a "Texas Scrambler" with a side order of hash browns and toast. Moreover, we'd just leave the foot or so of snow right on the water-RESISTANT car-top carrier with the expectation that it would impede the flow of water into the carrier and save the Fruit of the Looms from another drenching. Don't you love it when a plan comes together?

For the next three hours of the trip, it snowed, sleeted, freezing rained, and then rained, in that order. As we crossed over the NH/MA border, mom said "Do you want me to drive?" and then promptly fell asleep before I could answer.

Our mileage dropped eight miles a gallon indicating that the car-top carrier was taking on water.

In Connecticut, the weather cleared.

On the Garden State Parkway, we ran into evening rush hour and traffic slowed to a crawl. A guy in the next car who looked like a Mafia hit man gave us a strange look when he saw the sled, then thought he'd better humor us when he saw four sets of wolf-like eyes looking at him through the tinted windows in the back. Wimp.

On the Jersey Turnpike, our mileage improved four miles a gallon indicating that the car-top carrier was draining.

We rolled into 36 Juneway Lane, Ocean Pines, Maryland, just before 10:00pm a mere twelve hours after leaving Old Orchard Beach, Maine. The trip odometer read 2,035 miles for the round trip to St. Jacques.

As I pried myself out from behind the steering wheel I think I heard mom say: "Well, at least we have a week before we have to drive back up to Syracuse, New York, for the Tug Hill Race."



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