Matt Carstens said he never felt better after racing the Can-Am 250 than when he finished this year. That’s quite a statement considering how difficult the going was with deep snow, punchy trails and warm temperatures. “We’re going to take a nap and do it again,” he said enthusiastically while inundating his dogs with well-deserved affection. So, what was the secret to his feeling so great? He indicated the water-filled hydration pouch and hose he wore on his back. This was Carstens’ fifth time competing in the Can-Am 250, and he has become a top contender after winning the race last year. This year he placed fifth in the 250 and won both the Eagle Lake 100 in January and the 100-Mile Wilderness in Greenville. The 34 year old, who speaks with a quiet southern drawl, grew up in North Carolina – an unlikely rearing for an aspiring musher. He said his move to Alaska after finishing school was inspired by the landscapes and adventurous lifestyle described in the book of the same name by James Michener. He’s been mushing since 1996 and did his first race, the Sandwich Notch 30, in 1998. “It felt like I’d just done the Iditarod when I finished (that race),” he said. “It was a long 30 miles.” Mushing, according to Carstens, gives him a “sense of being an explorer.” “It brings you back to the roots of all mankind,” he stated before the Can-Am mushers’ meeting Friday night. “It’s peaceful and a tension relief – not always but most of the time.” Carstens lives in Whitefield, New Hampshire, and works and trains with Mitch and Kricket Ingerson at Nevahome Kennels in Bartlett. Carstens says it takes teamwork to raise and run a successful distance team. “It’s a group effort between the humans,” he said. They train the dogs year round. In August, they attach up to 24 dogs to an 800-pound four-wheeler which the team pulls about three to four mph. Each dog pulls about 30 pounds – about the same as they would on a 12-dog team with a full sled. “It’s a slow, methodical training process,” Carstens said. “The more miles you put on them, the calmer they’ll be (at race time). I like the dogs to be calmer. When they’re not, it makes me anxious. When you rush, things tend to fall apart,” he said. Quietly intense and focused, Carstens is a student of sled dog racing. “This is a sport that you never stop learning,” he said. He visits other kennels, analyzes videos for new ideas, reads the literature and learns from veteran mushers. “I watch Martin (Massicotte) and Bruce (Langmaid) a lot. He won’t tell me much but I learned a lot by watching Martin,” he said. And no doubt, much to Massicotte’s and Langmaid’s chagrin, Carstens says he takes pieces of what he’s gleaned from them and decides what will work best for his dogs. “I’m looking forward to slugging it out with these guys,” he said Friday night before the race. But he had a slightly different perspective at checkpoint two. “These guys over here are pretty scary,” he said gesturing towards Massicotte and Andre Longchamps as he massaged salve into the pads of one of his dogs. “I’m always looking over my shoulder,” he said. Before leaving the final checkpoint Carstens commented, “I’m kinda anxious. It’s gonna be a hard pull over there and I’d like to pass a few teams. It’s gonna be a long run.” His secret? “I have no secrets; that’s the secret,” he said. But, he said, he does try to work with his dogs as individuals rather than as a team. “When I’m hooking them up, I take time with them. After a run, I let them know how much I appreciate what they’ve done. I give them lots of individual praise while I’m running them. A lot of it is training. All the stuff, the little things that add up to a great big performance.” He said the Can-Am 250 is great training for the Iditarod – it is a qualifier for it and for the Yukon Quest. The self-sufficiency, the long runs and short rests “puts you in the right frame of mind” to do the ultra distances. Carstens does have a goal of running the Iditarod someday. But with 40 new puppies in the kennel and the need for more sponsors, he said it probably won’t be next year. So, what is it about mushing? From his entry on the Can-Am’s “Meet the Mushers” webpage: “Every time I hook up a dog team whether it be for a four-mile run or a 100-mile run, my adrenaline pumps. I feel just as excited as a sled dog! Watching teams develop over the course of the training season is also very rewarding. Mostly I enjoy traveling miles and miles through the wilderness, just me and the dogs working together and having fun. And as long as we do our best we will always feel like champions!”


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