FORT KENT, Maine — A New Hampshire musher who competed in the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races for 14 years was so inspired by her experiences in northern Maine that she bought a house and moved her kennel of dogs there.
Musher Becki Tucker and her crew of Outlaw Ridge Kennel sled dogs moved from New Hampshire to Fort Kent in September 2020, even as the Can-Am was put on hold that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Aroostook County has become a more desirable place to live since the onset of the pandemic, as people flocked to rural areas to get out of more populated parts of the country. The nearly 40 percent decrease in housing inventory and a similar bump in property sales in March 2021 indicated as much. But in some cases, as in Tucker’s, longtime visitors chose to be residents of one of Maine’s most rural counties because of connections they already had.
“I’ve loved the community, the atmosphere and the energy I would feel the second I pulled in for race time,” Tucker said. “I would cry as I jumped in my truck and headed home after the race. A great friend told me it’s because I was never meant to leave, that this was home.”
The Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races, now in its 30th year, draws mushers and their dogs from all over the United States and Canada, and attracts thousands of spectators to the small northern Maine border town of Fort Kent where the races are held. The Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250 mile race is the longest of the Can-Am races, which also include the Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am 100 and Pepsi / Native Dog Food Can-Am 30.
Tucker, a veterinary nurse at Fort Kent Animal Hospital, first participated in the 30-mile race before moving up to the then 60-mile race — which has since been replaced by the 100-mile race — and ultimately competed in the Can-Am Crown 250.
This year Tucker will tackle the 250-mile Can-Am course, along with her team of Alaskan huskies led by dogs Frenzi, Khrome and Neva.
Whether she and her team cross the Lonesome Pine Trails finish line with the fastest time is of little consequence to Tucker. Every finish is the best, she said.
Tucker said her Can-Am journey throughout the years has included many memorable moments.
“Like the year it was 25 below zero with 50 mph winds and we got blown off a cliff 20 miles into the race but the team managed to get us back on trail,” she said. “I remember pulling into Portage [the second race checkpoint] and thinking ‘this is crazy’.”
She considered pulling her team from the race until she saw that her dogs were happy, despite the high winds and slick trail conditions that originally set them off course, Tucker said.
“They all stood there, energetic, perky, tails wagging and they were saying ‘let’s go,’ so I let them run the show,” she said. “They are incredible athletes and that’s the detail you need to respect and acknowledge.”
Tucker is one of 17 mushers registered so far this year in the quest for the Can-Am 250 Crown.
She and her team have been training on local snowmobile trails, but Tucker said this is no ordinary year because she is operating the kennel alone and working full time at the animal hospital.
Northern Maine weather, while ideal for sled dog racing, is also not always ideal for training. Snow storms mean losing a day of training to shoveling out the kennel.
“Generally I hang up my scrubs and stethoscope for work after Thanksgiving and I focus on training the race team for the Can-Am and giving sled tours, which brings in money for the year for the team,” Tucker said.
The Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races will kick off at 8 a.m. Saturday, March 5, on Main Street in Fort Kent. For information about the races visit https://can-am-crown.net