John Beargrease: Meet your mushersTwo regular Beargrease mushers from the area will be on the trail again Sunday. We asked them about their sport and experiences in the race.
Two regular Beargrease mushers from the area will be on the trail again Sunday. We asked them about their sport and experiences in the race.
Colleen Wallin of Two Harbors
This is my 11th year competing in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. One race that sticks out from these years is the 2007 marathon. Leaving the last checkpoint, (at Highway 2, near our “home” trail a quarter-mile away), we crossed the highway and my team of 10 dogs stopped. There was not one dog that would lead me to the finish line at Billy’s Bar in Duluth.
When I turned the team around, they ran as fast as they could to our turn home. I did not take the time to train the team to go on by this turn home, and they knew better.
I ended up scratching that year and now the last month of training we do not use the home trail and run to the finish line eight to 10 times before the race.
A “hospitality” moment for me was in the 2000 Beargrease 190. I picked up Ellen Rudquist and she rode with me in my sled until we caught up with her team (which she had lost).
An animal moment came during training last year. I was running with my headlamp off under a full moon and was on “Bob’s trail.“ I thought he put something in the middle of the trail and when I turned my light on, my lead dogs were running under a bull moose.
I knew it was a bull, not from his horns but by being so close to his, well … he ran off.
My favorite part of the race is Billy’s Bar, the finish line.
My dogs eat Pursuit Dog Food made by Dr. Tim, beaver meat, herring, and lots of water.
Is there a physical toll the average observer likely doesn’t see? Yes. I am having Amy Phipps Poe get my back muscles firing properly before the race starts.
In 2002 and 2008 my husband, Ward, ran the race because of injuries I sustained during training.
What kind of gear is most vital to surviving the race? My favorite piece of gear is my insulated Nalgene bottle holder made by Granite Gear. Then it’s my Granite Gear mitts, goggles, my pre-race meal at Betty’s Pies, a Dixie Burger at the Highway 2 checkpoint. Also, thanks to Scott for the 12- pack you sent for my handlers last year. Could you repeat that this year?
I’d like to add a huge thank you to my sponsors: Dixies, Grand Superior Lodge, Betty’s Pies, Country Inn, True Value Hardware, Reliable Auto, and MMT Heating and Cooling. Also a big thanks to my wonderful husband, Ward; my sister, Maureen, who’s coming from Texas to be with our boys, Ian and Ero.
The best to everyone out on the 2010 trail.
Blake Freking of Finland
This will be my fifth marathon. I also ran the 150-mile mid-distance race in 2003. I won the marathon as a rookie in 2004. I went to the Yukon Quest (in Alaska) in 2005 but my wife Jen came in second at the Beargrease. In 2006 I was second and my wife third. In 2008 I was eighth and Jen broke her finger in the starting chute. In 2009 I finished third.
The 2008 race was certainly my most memorable race, although my worst if based purely on performance. Jen broke her finger in the starting chute. She started behind me, so I was getting reports at road crossings that she was injured, had scratched, and was going to the hospital. I had no idea what really happened and, of course, expecting the worst. My mind was wandering over the five- hour run to Highway 2. It was brutal. I finally met up with Jen, with her hand in a cast and pins installed to keep her fingers straight, at the Finland checkpoint.
On the run to Trail Center (on the Gunflint Trail), the rain started dumping on us and the absurdity of running the Beargrease marathon in mid-January in the pouring rain was surreal. On the run to Trail Center, in the middle of the night, I spotted the remnants of a bonfire from a distance. As I got closer, I spotted a young kid making a snowman next to the trail with his family. I laughed all the way to Trail Center and knew that if that family could be out there supporting us in the rain, the mushers could hardly complain.
By the time we got back down to Highway 2, the wind chill had dropped to minus-40. All my soaking wet clothing was now frozen solid and every time I pedaled to help the team, my suit cracked and all my zippers were frozen solid.
We are always so gracious of all the volunteers that work on the race. A friendly face at a road crossing is always welcome. We certainly could not do it without the volunteers. A few stand out when they offer a bottle of water or a cup of coffee on a cold dark trail. Sometimes we never know who that person is — which makes it even more special.
I have many memorable areas of trail that are special. I really enjoyed the new loop that was added last year at the end of the Gunflint. Most of the trail is on snowmobile trails and this is a fun change.
We start the Beargrease with 14 dogs. They eat a variety of food depending on weather, length of runs, and their appetites. They eat a variety of high-quality kibbles, beef, chicken, beaver, fish oil and various fats.
We have found the races take less of a toll on us when we are personally better conditioned. Our good friend, Bob, allows us to use his gym facility and trains with us during the summer. In winter, when training dogs takes up most of our time away from work and we are unable to spend time in the gym, I have a dumbbell workout I do while standing on the runners. Just grinding out the miles with the team is conditioning as well. We use ski poles and pedal along with the dogs to help propel the sled down the trail.
We have several pieces of vital gear. Our clothing comes from Wintergreen, which is manufactured in Ely. We use flashing red lights made by Stunt Puppy in Minnesota, which help protect our teams by making them more visible to the snowmobiles that we share the trail with during the race.
Thank you to all the great volunteers and fans who help make the race possible.