When it comes to their public personas, there's not much that separates Ryan Anderson and Nathan Schroeder anymore.
They both started mushing as pre-teen boys. They both feature family-run support systems that show up strong at finish lines. And, as of early Wednesday, they're both multiple-time winners of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.
Anderson claimed his second victory by crossing the finish of the 31st running of Beargrease outside Billy's bar at 2:53 a.m. Counting backwards from 2015, the past five champions at the 300-plus mile race look like a duel in full; it's Anderson-Schroeder-Schroeder-Anderson-Schroeder.
"Nathan and I were running together the whole way," said Anderson, who finished under hazy moonlight 28 minutes in front of his rival. Anderson sported an energetic demeanor that was matched by his 11 finishing dogs which hardly were panting afterward.
Anderson felt so good when it was done, the 33-year-old from Ray, Minn., said he could get right back on trail and take the team back from where he came - back to Two Harbors. He said he enjoyed the convincing nature of the win, putting more distance between himself and Schroeder than Anderson did while winning by just 20 seconds in 2011.
"I have a lot of respect for Nathan's dog team," Anderson said. "To compete with him is some accomplishment."
Anderson secured the win with a chess move earlier in the race on Tuesday, when he hardly stopped at the Sawbill checkpoint near Tofte.
"I ended up blowing through Sawbill," he said. "I don't know if it got him off his game."
Schroeder, who finished with eight dogs on his line, admitted to making what he called a mistake by getting caught up in the chase.
"My normal strategy is to stay in Sawbill," said the 37-year-old musher from Chisholm. "Why I did that, I don't know."
Anderson may have provided insight into the answer when he said the hardest thing for a musher to do is to stay patient.
Later Tuesday, during a final mandatory four-hour layover at the Lake County Highway 2 checkpoint near Two Harbors, Schroeder told Anderson, "I took the bait." On the final leg Schroeder tried to give it one last thrust to try and close the gap on Anderson. But Schroeder's dogs wouldn't have it.
"They were all raced out," he said.
Nathan's mother, Cindy Schroeder, was among the first to greet the new but familiar champion, hugging Anderson after he'd given his wife, Missy, a kiss.
"It's a pretty good track record," Cindy said of her son's now two second-place Beargrease finishes to go with his three championships.
When it was over Anderson went down the line and back, congratulating each dog twice.
"Are we done, huh?" he said to one dog. "Are we done? What do you think?"
He fed his dogs a slurry of food, using a long-handled ladle to fill their bowls. When they were done lapping up their fill, he tossed each dog a frozen mink body to chew down, then went looking inside Billy's for a warm pizza for himself.
The crowd that had gathered at the finish was delighted by the finish, clapping the muffled clap of the mittened while staying heated by a bonfire and wearing all manners of light fixtures - headlamps, glow sticks and more.
Among the spectators were a gaggle of women from St. Paul's Bethel University, staying up into the wee hours, they said, to cherish something truly Duluthian.
"It's worth the wait," said Caissa Dieatrick of Iowa.
Anderson was a boy when he started raising and racing sled dogs in Pine City. He's a carpenter now who seems as intent on building a fine legacy on the trails. He called this 319-mile Beargrease course tough and grueling for its repeating hills. Out on the course he overcame one wrong turn near Devil Track Lake outside Grand Marais. His eyeglasses needed a duct-tape repair after that brief fiasco, during which he yelled to Schroeder not to follow him down the wrong path. Schroeder didn't, but later agreed that it was Anderson who pressed the race's pace throughout the three days of racing.
Schroeder has three weeks before he leaves for Alaska and his second run in March's Iditarod.
Anderson said he would give some thought to the Iditarod, but for now was content to keep his schedule of weekend racing. Next up is the UP 200 sled dog race in Marquette, Mich., on Feb. 13. It'll be April, he said, before his dogs can lay up and get some extended R&R.
2015 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon results
Through 7:30 a.m. Wednesday
1. Ryan Anderson, Ray, finished at 2:53 a.m.
2. Nathan Schroeder, Chisholm, 3:21 a.m.
3. Colleen Wallin, Two Harbors, 6:06 a.m.
4. Erin Altemus, Grand Marais, 6:20 a.m.
5. Jenny Greger, Bozeman, Mont., 6:31 a.m.
6. Frank Moe, Hovland, 6:41 a.m.
On trail between Highway 2 and finish: Jamie Nelson, Togo; Peter McClelland, Ely; Blake Freking, Finland; Odin Jorgenson, Grand Marais; Shawn McCarty, Ely; Denis Tremblay, Quebec.
At Highway 2: Saul Ellering, Sauk Center, Minn.
Scratched: Amanda Vogel, Ray; Rita Wehseler, Tofte; Bruce Langmaid, Ontario.