Day two of the expedition began for me at 530am. This was my team’s first night on the trail, and I wanted to get out of the cabin and check on them.
They say your brain continues working on problem solving while you sleep. This is why you often wake up with a clearer perspective on life issues. It is also why, leading up to this expedition, I would wake up in the middle of the night, and not be able to go back to sleep. “Ping!” Wide awake at 2am for an hour with the realization that I hadn't fully researched a portion of the maps, or hadnt fully prepared for a possible eventuality. Not until I’d make a physical note of the new information my resting brain presented me with, would I be able to catch another hour or two of sleep. Surely, I thought, I would finally start resting well on the expedition, after long days of exercise and exposure. But this was not to be the case.I continued getting perhaps 5 hours sleep throughout the expedition, now matter how tired I became. Kelly Sporting Camp cook Cheril Turner would soon be delivering breakfast. Her husband and Maine hunting guide, George Turner, was coming to help me piece together the unknown portions of my day’s route, which he had been scouting for me, weeks ahead of the expedition.
George and Cheril became good friends of mine ten years ago while I was heading up the field research for a White-Tail Deer Winter survivability study for the state of Maine. I needed to get ten more satellite gps collars deployed onto more deer, and George offered to let me collar them from their garage window, since they have a deer wintering area right off their back porch. This is where I also became acquainted with Cheril’s unrivaled hospitality and skills in the kitchen. Soon we were sipping on french pressed coffee and eating home made breakfast sandwiches. George and I poured over the route he proposed from Allagash to Round Pond. Not only would this be another long day, with approximately fortyfive miles, but it would be the most mountainous day of the expedition. As if all that were not enough, I would not be on the hardpacked snowmobile trails anymore. I knew that this second day would be the greatest indicator of whether or not my small eight dog team would be able to complete this expedition.
It was nice to have my sons with me one last time, to help me hitch my team. In the past two years they have become true mushers in their own right. For the next six days, one hundred percent of the dog work and care be on myself alone.
The Kellys came out to see me off. I cherished one last hug and kiss from my wife, and pulled the quick release. We were off. Within the first two miles we ascended from the river valley, through a deer wintering area. My team caught sight of some deer and broke into a sprint. A few more hills and I ws finally able to settle the team down into their paced day of work.
And work it was. I pushed with my ski pole, paddled, and ran up hill with my dogs more on this day than in any race Id competed in over the past twenty five years. After one particularly steep climb, I remember saying out loud to myself, “George! I thought we were friends!” I was kidding of course. As tough as this route was, I knew it would have been far more difficult plodding over those ridges without his reconnaissance. I tried to rest my team in the heat of the day, but they refused to stay still for longer than 10 minutes at a time. The older dogs had the experience to sit and take advantage of any rest offered. The younger half of the team refused to rest. Our final two hours of travel to Round Pond wer done in darkness. With five miles to go, Zoe, the female wheel dog who’s harness had failed the day before, quit. She just put the breaks on, and refused to take another step. I looked her over and saw no visual problems. She was a couple days into her heat cycle. I could only assume that she was cramping up. Olaf, her partner in wheel hadn’t eaten his breakfast that day. He also had diarrhea. I placed Zoe into my sled bag where she enjoyed the final five miles of the day. I could see the historic Jalbert Sporting Camp in the distance, but I could not mush directly to it. Allagash Wilderness Waterway regulations limit entry to approved access points. I would have to mush past the camp by a few miles and come onto Round Pond at the Blanchette Bridge. When I arrived at the bridge, two snowmobiles pulled up. It was my good friend Patrick Aldrich and the Jalbert Camp steward, Andre Landry. “I see you have a bagged dog.” Andre noted. “Yes, unfortunately.” “Well, your just a couple lake miles from camp. We have dinner on. Gotta get you rested up for tomorrow.” Andre and Patrick had been scouting my route for me for the following day, so I asked, “Tomorrow is about thirty five miles, right?” The thought that the following day, while mountainous, would be ten miles shorter had given me hope through the last few hours. “No. Your route tomorrow to Umsaslkis lake is at least forty five miles.” Andre answered. I was crushed. On a small eight dog team, and just two days into a seven day expedition, I had one dog that had quit on me, one dog not eating and with diarrhea, and now I was being told that tomorrow would be just as gruelling as today. When I arrived at Jalbert camps, I was more than discouraged. I set about my routine of unharnessing, feeding and bedding down the dogs. Olaf Zoe and Bear ate nothing. This could be the beginning of the end, I thought to myself. Patrick and Andre were the consummate hosts. The wood stove dried my gear, and warmed our dinner- a premade lasagna made by Ms Landry. We went over the next day’s route. It would indeed be another 45 miles over more highland ridges. I shared my concerns.
“What will you do?” Patrick asked. “I'll rest the dogs. I'll try to feed them again in the morning. I’ll see how things look in the light of the morning sun.” And with that we withdrew to our bunks for the night. Join me here again next time as I share my day of travel from Round Pond to Umsaskis Lake.
And please consider donating to the erection of the Togo monument at the State HOuse in Poland Spring Maine by clicking on the link below.