28th sled dog race is all setOrganizers and mushers have been putting the final touches on the running of the 28th John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon beginning Sunday.
By: Forum Newspapers, Lake County News Chronicle
Organizers and mushers have been putting the final touches on the running of the 28th John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon beginning Sunday.
“Everybody is in full-blown ‘let’s get ready’ mode,” said Suzanne Avello, a race board member. “Our race coordinator is getting permissions and permits for land – it’s quite a project. The trail boss takes a snowmobile to check the trail. Folks running checkpoints have to start putting out signage.”
The race will start at 1 p.m. Sunday near the corner of Jean Duluth and Riley roads outside of Duluth. The end spot is Billy’s Bar on Tischer Road Wednesday.
The festivities begin today with a dinner and silent auction. Jeff King, a four-time Iditarod champion, will speak at the dinner.
On Saturday, racing dogs will be checked by a veterinarian at Grandma’s Sports Garden, but spectators can keep busy, too. Stop by the Cutest Puppy contest at the Fitger’s complex and, after that, the Beargrease photography exhibit at Great Lakes Aquarium. The day will conclude with a 4:30-8 p.m. ceremony at the Depot.
The races will start at 1 p.m. with teams departing every two minutes. From noon until the race start, you can speak with the mushers and meet the dogs.
There are two races: the mid-distance race of 150 miles, and the full-length race of 490 miles along the North Shore. The mid-distance race typically finishes Monday morning, while the full-distance mushers will come in Wednesday.
The traditional “red lantern party” is Wednesday at Billy’s Bar. The party welcomes in the last musher who finishes the race.
“The last musher in has to blow out the light,” Avello said. They are given a ceremonial red lantern. “We want to welcome the last musher as much as the first. It’s quite an accomplishment.”
Avello said Billy’s Bar is the place to be during the race. “People hang out there all day,” she said. “It’s really nice. [At the end of the race] they feed the dogs and kiss them and put them all to bed. I think I was there 13 hours last year.”
The Beargrease events will wrap up with the award banquet held at the downtown Holiday Inn Thursday.
Avello says the curious should watch the race from the Sawbill checkpoint. You can also watch Sunday night north of Two Harbors at High-way 2 and the Alger Grade.
Sawbill is a “remote” checkpoint, meaning mushers must take care of themselves and the dogs and stop for a mandatory four-hour rest.
Spectators are encouraged to bring a tent to the Sawbill checkpoint to experience traditional winter camping. Seasoned winter campers will be available to answer questions about year-round camping.
If you are not into camping, head to Finland or even to Tofte for the mid-distance race.
“The Finland checkpoint has a new building,” Avello said of the community center there. “It is always a fun place to go.”
Avello said the start has the most thrills. “There are about 80 mushers and hundreds of dogs and all these people,” she said. “It’s just so exciting.”
All events are open to the public, and most are free.
Avello said the mid-distance race is open for anyone to win, but last year’s full-length race winner, Nathan Schroeder of Chisholm, might be tough to beat.
Official mail carriers
At the opening ceremony, John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon mushers are sworn in as temporary postal carriers so they can legally carry mail as they race up the North Shore. The mail is dropped off in Tofte and then delivered to the post office and distributed to its recipients.
In addition to regular mail, mushers also carry “trail mail,” small souvenir cards designed by this year’s race artist, Tom Hoff. Each piece is signed by the musher. Trail mail must be purchased in advance so that it can be signed, stamped, and sorted before the race. Avello said collectors of postage stamps from all over the world buy trail mail to obtain the special stamp used on each envelope.