45 Teams to Start in John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon Sunday
BY JAMES GERCHY, OUTDOORS WRITER | SPECIAL TO TOWNSQUARE MEDIA
Nothing screams rugged Minnesotan like The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon held each year from Two Harbors to Grand Portage and back to Duluth on the trails along the north shore at Lake Superior.
Forty-five world-class men and women mushers and their teams will compete in three events, each of differing length. 10 teams will compete in the marathon event this year.
This year’s race runs from January 28-31, with an 11 am start 8.5 miles west of Two Harbors off county road 2 and runs mainly on the winter trails along the north shore. It is recommended that spectators park at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Two Harbors and hop a shuttle bus to the start. The start of the race usually draws over 3,000 spectators. There are warming shelters and bonfires, but attendees should dress to be outside in winter in Minnesota. Attendees have access to the mushers and their handlers to ask questions and take photos or get autographs.
The marathon takes three full days to complete with the winner expected to arrive at the finish line at Billy’s Bar in Duluth around 7:00 a.m. on Wednesday, January 31. That is, barring a Minnesota blizzard. In that case, it is anyone’s guess.
The halfway checkpoint for this year’s race will be at the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino at around 4:00 p.m. on Monday, January 29. Leading teams will be available for media interviews and to greet spectators as they arrive.
The only thing that could jeopardize the running of the race is lack of snow. This year the race officials say there is nothing to worry about.
The Beargrease is the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states and is a qualifier for the famous 1000-mile Iditarod race held in Alaska.
The annual event began in 1980 and commemorates the rural mail carriers of the North Shore in Minnesota, who delivered mail for the U.S. Postal Service from 1870’s until 1900. The event is named after John Beargrease, the son of an Anishinabe chieftain, who made the 411-mile journey from Two Harbors to Grand Marais using his trusty team of four canines pulling a sled along the shores of Lake Superior once each week. Today’s mushers have the luxury of a team of 14.
Beargrease’s fastest time on the trip was 28 hours, fully loaded with mail and supplies. Today’s teams of man and canine without the extra weight and with modern technology don’t do it much faster.
Mushers are required to carry the following gear: Two complete working headlamps capable of reaching the lead dog; Knife; Sleeping bag; Promotional materials (not to exceed ten pounds); A cable cutter you know will cut your gang line; Mailbag; Vet book must be carried with the musher and available at each checkpoint; First Aid Kit (including an Ace bandage, pressure dressing and tape); and Matches, lighter or other fire starter.
This year’s event is limited to 14 dogs, all under constant veterinarian supervision from animal doctors that specialize in sled dogs. There are mandatory rest stops along the way to rest and feed the dogs and mushers alike.
There is no handicapping by weight of sleds, gear, or mushers. It’s all up to the dogs, the preparation and training, and the rest strategy on the trail.
Take some time this year to witness one of the greatest winter traditions in Minnesota. Spectators can get more information on the John Beargrease website.