FORT KENT– For the past 12 years, former Wallagrass Elementary principal Larry Murphy’s determination to compete in the Can-Am Crown has earned him the admiration and applause of the Greater Fort Kent community, elevating him to the unofficial status of Can-Am hero by some. This year, in his last run with his dogs, Murphy finished his goal of completing the race when he and his team pulled into the Lonesome Pine Ski area at 5:30 this morning, hours before his anticipated arrival time.
“It was an enjoyable final ride, I’ll tell you that,” the energetic 60-year-old musher said.
Murphy arrived at the Lonesome Pine Ski Trails to an initially empty yard. Family, friends and spectators scrambled out to meet the musher, grabbing coats and hats and leaving cameras and gloves behind in the rush.
He said his first thought upon seeing the empty yard was, “I don’t think anyone knows I’m here.” He joked that he was planning to “drive right straight through and wave,” before the crowd tumbled out of the building to greet him.
Over his years in Can-Am participation, Murphy has often had former students and community members bearing signs in his honor and cheering for him at all stages of the challenge. Maybe because he’s entered the Can-Am 250 nine times and come in closer to last place than first on years he hasn’t had to scratch, most consider him to be the underdog.
In an example of how the community feels about Murphy, when he pulled into Allagash, he found a flower and a note waiting for him from Fran Labrie. The note said that he’d receive the rest of the flowers when he crossed the finish line, and when he did, Labrie was there to hand him the bouquet.
But in true musher form, Murphy’s first words after the race were about his dogs, rather than his personal accomplishment in completing his last Can-Am 250.
“My dogs…reminded me it’s not always how you’re built or what your genes are, it’s what you’ve got inside,” he said. Two dogs on his team for this race, Bailey and Otis, were running on guts and loyalty, he said.
In the first leg of the race, after the snowstorm the area received, Murphy said, “Mother Nature gave us a little challenge. It took a lot out of the dogs.”
He responded by giving his dogs extra rest and by making sure that they ate and drank at least the minimum requirement before he left the checkpoint. Murphy pointed out that tired dogs are like tired people.
“When you’re overworked and tired, all you want to do is sleep too.”
Murphy had to literally work the jaws of one of his dogs who was refusing to eat a piece of meat until she swallowed and started to eat on her own.
At the five to eight mile marker, Murphy said his team seemed to know to pick up the pace and to head for the checkpoint.
“I swear the dogs can read signs,” said Murphy. “When they see the eight mile marker – boom!”
“They inspired me again. I love doing this because these dogs inspire me. They’d pull me until they dropped,” he said.
As Murphy came over the hill into Fort Kent, he said, “I was yelling to the dogs, ‘Look at the lights! Aren’t those pretty?’”
“They were looking back at me like I had three heads,” he said and then laughed.
Murphy said he has no second thoughts about retiring from racing. He’d always said that when it started to be, “I have to go training, I have to get the miles in,” he would know it was his cue to retire, and that time came this year.
Maybe because he knew going into it that it was his last run, however, he said he was more determined this time around.
“It made me more focused and think things through,” he said.
Murphy said he plans to spend more time with his grandsons, doing things with them that his father had done with him. He has plans to spend more time with his wife Irene, too.
“My wife has spent many hours waiting for Larry to return from training runs,” he said.
The couple has discussed hiking the Appalachian Trail in the past, and he wants to revisit those plans now that the daily responsibilities of running the dogs are over. His last Can-Am run with his dogs will be something he never forgets, though.
“I loved it. I loved the ride. I loved the finish.”