It’s a go! After some tricky weather, Mushers given the green light

What: The Down East Mushers Bowl, sled dog and skijoring races

When: Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. start time with last race at 2:45 p.m.

Where: Five Fields Apple Orchard, 720 South Bridgton Road

How much: $5 both days ($5 admission on Saturday gets purchaser into the event on Sunday.)

What to bring: Dress appropriately for the weather. Bring money for food booth, which is operated by South Bridgton Community Church.

Reminder: Please do not bring personal pet dogs if possible. If so, please keep dogs on a leash.

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

The sled dog handlers and the skijoring competitors are ready to go.

So are the dogs.

The first mushing event of the season — the Down East Mushers Bowl in South Bridgton — is a go.

“It’s their first race of the year. They are anxious to race. They are anxious to do what they train these dogs for,” according to event organizer Tom Gyger, who owns Five Fields Farm, the property where the Mushers Bowl is being held this weekend.

“The dogs will be wound up to run,” he said.

The location of the mushing event is being billed as spectator-friendly, Gyger said.

Five Fields Farm, the venue for the races, is located at 720 South Bridgton Rd. South Bridgton Road is also known as Route 107.

Races kick off at 10 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday. There are five categories: one-dog and two-dog skijoring, four-dog and six-dog sled dog teams, and juniors handling three-dog teams.

The setting is a spectators’ paradise “with multiple spots to watch the dogs run and more than 3,000 square feet to warm up,” Gyger said.

“There is no other race that provides that amount of indoor space,” including a warming hut where hot food is for sale and a heated barn, he said. Even, the bathrooms are in a heated building, which is an improvement over the port-a-potty units rented for the event in the years past, he said.

“If you dress for the weather, you are going to be comfortable,” he said.

“If the weather turns colder, the warming hut for skiers is there. There are plenty of opportunities to get out of cold without leaving the yard,” he said.

Why would anyone want to leave, and miss the fast-paced, four-legged athletes?

Spectators “will see the dogs on four separate occasions each day. It isn’t just the start and finish. It is not like a lake race” where most of the race cannot be viewed, Gyger said.

At the Mushers Bowl in South Bridgton, people “see them leave the start, and pass within view twice, and then the finish.

“The entire spectator area is where the dogs are hitched up. It is spectator friendly. Families can walk around and pet the dogs” and ask the racers questions, he said.

The dogs are definitely a big draw for folks of all ages.

“We do ask people not to bring your own dog — if possible. But, if you do, keep your dog on a leash,” Gyger said.

The dogs that compete in these races are well behaved, but the dogs are very “talkative” when they are being geared up to run.

“When the drivers and owners are inside, you wouldn’t know there was a single dog on my back lawn. They don’t make a sound,” Gyger said.

“When the dogs see someone with a harness, they go nuts. They see a harness; they think ‘I might get to do it.’ When one dog starts barking, the others start in. That is when the chorus” of excited howling begins, Gyger said.

“That demonstrates that the dogs love this,” he said.

“When they are finished, when they are in the dog houses, they quiet right down. The fun is over,” he said.

Some of the fun for spectators might be getting to various viewing spots along the seven-mile course, although the starting line will have plenty of action, Gyger said.

“From Bald Pate parking lot, you can watch the dogs passing twice, once uphill and once downhill with an 80-degree turn,” he said.

“A third opportunity, if they turn off (Route) 107 to Fosterville Road, at the junction of Fosterville Road and Town Farm Road, there is yet another spot,” he said.

“The dogs cross the road twice. They race out in the woods and come back across Town Farm Road,” he said.

“You can stand there and see the dogs both times — up close and personal,” he said.

Gyger anticipated that this weekend’s mushing event could have between 50 and 70 mushers, and possibly more competitors.

“As far as I know, this being the first race of season, no one has had snow to train on. So, the turnout should be good,” he said.

The dogs will run on whatever Mother Nature provides them.

“This is the first race of the season; and we don’t know of another race that offers more views of the dogs racing,” Gyger said.

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