The Big Picture

Along the frozen trail

For 25 years, intrepid mushers and their teams have completed the more than 200-mile icy loop that makes up the annual Can-Am Crown 250 sled dog race. On March 5, a Quebec competitor beat the field to the finish in Fort Kent, Maine, for an eighth title, a record. The Can-Am includes three races: typically 30, 100, and 250 miles. But it’s the longest race that you’ll hear about on the car radio, with updates slipped between songs as the race unfolds almost entirely out of public view. Spectators catch a glimpse of racers at the start, cheering the teams as they run through downtown Fort Kent before disappearing into the woods. The teams won’t reemerge for hours, miles away at Portage Lake, the first checkpoint, where they’ll stop to feed their dogs, bed them down on hay, and wrap them in blankets for a rest. Warm winter weather wreaked havoc on the usual course this year with ice starting to run on some rivers that racers usually cross, and some trails being rendered impassable. Officials rerouted the checkpoints, trimming the 250-mile race to 209. Even with the shorter haul, it still takes days to complete the race, with mushers resting at mandatory intervals and then heading back into the bitter cold to harness their dogs. Sleep takes place in spurts and many legs are run in the dead of night with only a headlamp to illuminate the narrow trail.--By Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff
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A team belonging to Gilles Harnois of Quebec waits patiently for the start of the 209-mile race. There are three Can-Am Crown races: 30, 100, and 250 miles, but some of the usual trails were impassable this year because of the thaw, and the longest race had to be shortened by 41 miles. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Dogs on Mainer Ashley Patterson’s team take off. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Brian J. Theriault, a master snowshoe maker from Fort Kent, Maine, watches the start. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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As the first racer pulls into Portage Lake after the initial 69.1-mile leg, two men hop off their snowmobiles to plant American and Canadian flags in a snowbank overlooking the area where the dogs must rest. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Salt coats a vehicle used to transport a team of dogs to the start of the 2017 Can-Am Crown. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Ice covers Maxime Leclerc-Gingras’s beard as the Quebec contestant crosses the finish line of the 30-mile race. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Around dawn, a dog still covered by a wool blanket looks around the Lake Portage checkpoint. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Sled dogs hit the snow in Fort Kent, Maine, at the start of the Can-Am Crown, where spectators brave near-zero temperatures. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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A musher mixes hot water with food for her dogs at the Portage Lake stop. Mushers are required to carry everything they need for their own and their dogs’ safety. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Dogs begin to howl as they are strapped into their racing harnesses before being led to the starting line of the 2017 Can-Am Crown Race. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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With temperatures near zero, bait fish left outside of a bob house are frozen to the ice near where mushers in the 209-mile race will cross. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Martin Massicotte of Quebec and his team cross Portage Lake at sunrise on the second day of the Can-Am Crown 250 (shortened to 209 miles this year because of an early thaw). From here, they will run the 54.5 miles to the Allagash checkpoint, then rest for four hours before the 45.5-mile leg back to the finish line in Fort Kent. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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A musher applies balm to his dog’s paw pads before the start of the race. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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Carl Routhier, of Rouyn-Noranda, Quebec, rests with his dogs at the Allagash checkpoint on the second day of the race. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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A musher rests his hand on one of his sled dogs at the finish line of the 30-mile race. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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After their four-hour rest, Ashley Patterson and her team take off in the dark from the Allagash checkpoint. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)
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