Guest Commentary: Life can’t be so easy on the trailJust when I think we’re all getting soft, something like the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon comes along.
By: Katya Gordon, Two Harbors, Lake County News Chronicle
Just when I think we’re all getting soft, something like the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon comes along. Late last weekend, my daughters and I headed up Highway 2 about seven miles to where the teams cross the highway and then dodge off the trail for the first required rest.
The Beargrease is named after John Beargrease, a native of the North Shore who carried the mail from Duluth to Grand Marais year-round for decades in the late 1800s, via boat, boots, and – you guessed it – sled dogs. This was before there were roads and certainly before there were forecasts.
Could any modern race be worthy of such a fearless character of the north? Having just read the biography of John Beargrease, I had his spirit fresh in my mind.
It was pitch dark out even though it wasn’t yet supper time. The temperature was below zero and dropping fast. After parking in the parking lot and hustling a 100 yards into the woods, we realized we’d arrived. We crept by sleeping dogs and soon found ourselves with front row viewing of dogs coming and going with their teams yelping, leaping, panting, running and the handlers firmly and calmly holding their dog pairs through thick and thin, the volunteers guiding teams along the trail at turns, and the rest watching, helping, cheering.
There was a fire nearby, but hardly anyone was there. Everyone was too busy. The order amid the chaos was remarkable considering all that needed to be accomplished. Dogs needed to be guided to the right spot for a rest, unharnessed, checked for frostbite and injury, fed, watered, put to rest, harnessed, brought back into line, and released to head, once again, into the inky blackness with an abundance of energy and trust, their natural resources.
Away from the rest station it was much quieter. The stars twinkled, the volunteers stamped their feet and murmured comments to each other. A dim light gleamed up the trail and all took their places. Two tiny red lights, harnessed to the necks of the lead dogs so they could be seen but their vision wouldn’t be hampered, were the first sighted. Silently they sped swiftly by, silently they rounded the bend, and silently the musher glided by, completely focused on the task at hand. They had the night to get through, then another, then another. Wasting energy was not an option.
Soon the cold took over and we began stomping our feet and slapping our mittens together. We could hardly tear ourselves away, numb as we felt, there was something so mesmerizing about the way these mushers, dogs, and handlers put themselves out there. No planning in the world could prepare them for whatever they would encounter, and they knew it.
I realized then that though we all now have internet, electricity, and, in most cases, central heating, there is still the thirst for the ultimate immersion into the harshest conditions the elements can dole out. There is still the passion for dogs and what they can do out there. There still is the human ability to be pushed to the limit and beyond.
And to think it’s all happening right outside our back yard.