BELFAST, Maine — In February of this year, Jonathan Hayes of Fort Kent set out on a seven-day, solo sled dog expedition. His intent was to honor Togo - the legendary sled dog - and musher Leonard Seppala – who together delivered a life-saving serum to Nome, Alaska to combat diptheria in 1925. The story was told in a 2019 Disney movie called “Togo”.
Togo eventually was brought to Poland Spring, and died there. Hayes mushes a team of sled dogs all descended from Togo; this expedition was his way of honoring the rich history surrounding Togo’s epic journey.
A few weeks before he set out, Jonathan reached out to Jeremy Grant, a Maine filmmaker and videographer – to ask if he’d make a documentary about this journey. Jeremy’s answer? A resounding 'yes'.
"I get this email – 'Hey, I know you probably get this all the time but I’m going on this big dog sled expedition and it’s gonna be through the most remote country of Maine with this rare heritage breed dog that is descendants of Togo and Togo happened to have lineage here in Maine...' – and I’m like ‘Wait, what?’ So it all just kinda fell together. The story was too good not to take on," recalls Jeremy.
Any story that gets Jeremy Grant out into the Maine woods is his kind of story. Through his Timber Cross film and media company, he tackles adventures around the state, hoping to inspire folks to get outside. Jonathan Hayes asked just the right guy to document his expedition.
Jeremy was immediately taken with the project. "I loved Jon’s passion. I loved his dedication and his willingness to tackle something no one else had done. And I loved that it involved not just him. It was a solo expedition. Each day on the trail he would do forty to fifty five miles or 20 miles; whatever each day required by himself. With very limited help or assistance. But, it took a community of friends and people who just cared about this project to help orchestrate, to help guide him through these remote places in Maine."
The expedition started in Fort Kent, often traveling in parts of the woods were there weren’t even logging roads, and the team had to sometimes break their own trail. They stayed at hunting camps along the way; when word spread about the expedition, hunting camps offered lodging, a meal, even raw moose meat for the dogs.
This was the route that Jonathan followed:
Day One, Fort Kent to Allagash (stayed at Kelly Camps)
Day Two, Allagash to Round Pond (Stayed at Jalbert Camps)
Day Three, Round Pond to Umsaskis Lake (Camped out on the ledges)
Day Four, Umsaskis Lake to Chamberlain Lake (Stayed at Nugent's Camps)
Day Five, Chamberlain Lake to Chesuncook Lake (Stayed at the Chesuncook House)
Days Six, Chesuncook Lake to Seboomook Wilderness Camps on the north shore of Moosehead Lake
Day Seven, Seboomook to Greenville via Moosehead Lake
Finish at Thoreau Park, East Cove, Greenville Maine)
Jonathan had great support. "Thankfully, I had a lot of great woodsmen, people who really know the North Maine Woods who just jumped on board and when I finished a section, and I was at a sporting camp, the owner of that sporting camp or the Allagash ranger would set down with me with my Maine Atlas and Gazetteer from DeLorme and help me plot the next day’s travel."
Here is the story 207 did on Jonathan's expedition in February.
Jeremy had his own set of challenges to plan for. Apart from navigating areas where there are no roads, it was the dead of winter, with temperatures often ten or twenty below zero at night. "Some of the logistics were part of the fun and the challenge of trying to captivate this," he says. "How do I get myself in to as many of these places as Jonathan is going to be so I can get these raw candid moments."
Jeremy estimates that he traveled 1100 miles to meet Jonathan and catch up with him in various places. He equipped Jonathan with a camera on the sled and relied heavily on a drone – not only to capture the team, but to locate Jonathan from a distance as they often traveled after dark, with only a headlamp to light the way.
"Jonathan doesn’t have an active GPS tracker on him so I have no idea where he is – we have radios, he used it once and it worked for seven seconds," he recalls. "The drone was a huge part in this documentary because it allows you to see the grand scape and scale of some of these places in Maine, and they give you some unique angles of the remoteness of him going in."
Jeremy says they became ‘like brothers’. One man on a mission to honor a legendary dog. The other? Determined to document that mission and capture the spirit and determination it takes to navigate the north Maine woods.
Jeremy puts it this way. "I want people to be inspired and educated. I want people to be inspired to do something that might be unique or different. Just follow a passion that they want to do. Who cares what anyone else thinks? What are you most interested in. How can you be the most you can be. For Jon? You need to strap that man to some dogs."
The documentary True North Legends of Dogs and Men will debut Saturday, September 18th as part of the 12th Annual Poland Heritage Day Celebration with showings at 1:30 and 8 pm. The weekend will include all sorts of family-friendly events including the unveiling of the Togo Storybook Trail, as well as dog sled demonstrations, food, games, and a 5K. If you would like to learn more about Togo, and the ongoing effort to raise funds to erect a statue in his honor on the grounds of the Poland Spring Resort, click here.