FORT KENT, Maine — The tight-knit nature of the sled dog community came through for musher Michelle Redstone when her truck and trailer crashed on icy roads about 24 miles west of Quebec City.
Redstone, a 31-year-old welder from northern Ontario, her passenger Ed McEwen and Redstone’s nine sled dogs were on their way Thursday to compete in the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races.
A winter storm had made the roads so treacherous that authorities closed that section of the Trans-Canada Highway shortly after Redstone’s rollover accident.
Redstone said she was traveling around 40 miles per hour when her truck — pulling a trailer and dog box with her team of nine sled dogs — hit an icy patch. When her pickup landed on its side, Redstone said her thoughts went immediately to her dogs.
“The first thing was the dogs and where were they,” Redstone said.
She said that when she had acquired the dog box, she had made sure the construction was reinforced with a welded steel frame and safety latches on each dog door. The dog doors had opened slightly during the crash, but the safety latches had kept her team from falling out or running into traffic on the highway.
Redstone’s pickup, trailer and the dog box were all totaled but neither Redstone nor McEwen were injured in the accident. Her dogs also escaped unharmed.
“Don’t look at what happened; look at what didn’t happen — the dog box flipped right on its top and the truck was on it’s beam end but no humans and none of the dogs were hurt,” said McEwen, a dog handler for musher Gavin Baker, also of Ontario.
Baker was traveling ahead of Redstone as both were entered to compete in the In Memory of Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am Crown 100.
Redstone, Baker, and several other mushers from Ontario — Kevin Vandenbussche, Ralph Schade and Mark Clements who were also traveling to compete in the Can-Am — all stayed at a local motel for the night. The next morning, the mushers transported Redstone, her dogs and equipment to Fort Kent for the races.
When Redstone arrived in Fort Kent volunteer veterinarians with the Can-Am examined her team, but just to make sure the dogs really were unhurt, she had them examined a second time by the veterinarians on Saturday morning.
Despite the accident and feeling sore herself, Redstone went ahead with the race out of respect for her dogs who had traveled so far to run the Can-Am trails.
“I wanted them to have that reward,” Redstone said.
Redstone made it to the Allagash checkpoint before she scratched from the race due to trail conditions that left Redstone and two of her dogs feeling tired.
The trail had a solid base underneath, Redstone said. But a winter storm had dropped a foot of snow over northern Maine on Thursday. Although trail masters spent the better part of the day Friday grooming trails after the storm, severe winds on Saturday hampered those efforts and caused drifts along the trail that made the going difficult for the dog teams.
“There was just nothing left; it was time to go to bed,” Redstone said.
Her part in the competition finished, Redstone now had to figure out how to get home with her dog team. Again, the mushing community stepped forward.
“On my way home three to four mushers will relay me,” she said.
Matthew Paquette, Melissa Vangrootel Shane Cox, all Ontario-based mushers who did not compete in this year’s Can-Am, will provide the transportation.
“We’re just like a tight community in Ontario. I sent Matt a message and said ‘I need to get from here to there. Can you figure that out?’ and he did,” Redstone said.
Redstone began the first leg of her journey home on Sunday afternoon and said she is thankful for the support she received from the mushing community.
“I would have been in real trouble if my musher family hadn’t stepped up to take care of me; and that’s exactly what they did; and that’s exactly what mushers do,” she said.