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Schroeder leading Beargrease field on trail to Highway 2

John Beargrease marathon mushers Julie Albert (from left), Colleen Wallin and Erin Altemus cross Poplar Lake after leaving the Trail Center checkpoint on Monday. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
John Beargrease marathon racer Keith Aili leaves the Trail Center checkpoint Monday. (Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com)2 / 2

Musher Nathan Schroeder and his team were the first to reach the Highway 2 checkpoint — the last one before the finish line — during the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon on Tuesday night.

Schroeder, of Warba, who is looking for his fourth Beargrease title, reached Highway 2 north of Two Harbors at 9:17 p.m. His closest competitor in the 383-mile race, Jason Campeau of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, reached Highway 2 about a half-hour later, according to tracking on the race website, with Ryan Anderson and Keith Aili — both of Ray — running third and fourth on the trail from Finland.

Mushers are required to stop for at least 4 hours at Highway 2, meaning Schroeder would be able to hit the 35-mile trail to the finish line at Billy’s Bar in Rice Lake, just north of Duluth, just after 1 a.m. today. Race officials predicted Tuesday night that it might take about 5 hours to reach the finish, putting the top musher in before sunrise.

A wild card, though, was the snow and gusty winds in the region Tuesday night.

The snow was sticky and warm, meaning it was creating more resistance for the dog sleds and making the trail more arduous for the dogs, said race director Jason Rice.

“How deep this packs up and how sticky and resistant the snow is, it could definitely change things,” Rice said.

Find updates on the finish today at duluthnewstribune.com.

Schroeder did what mushers call “turn and burn” at the Finland checkpoint — leaving the checkpoint minutes after arriving. Several other mushers followed suit.

“He’s running from Sawbill all the way to Two Harbors in one shot, roughly 70 miles. He’s probably doing this so he can make better time before snow adds up,” Rice said Tuesday night.

Campeau, meanwhile, was gaining some ground on Schroeder during the day Tuesday. He was one spot away from being Rookie of the Year at the Iditarod last year.

“Jason Campeau is the real deal. Just because it’s his first Beargrease, don’t be fooled. … He’s not coming into this blind and he is not inexperienced. He has a very fast, high-powered dog team,” Rice said.

Ten teams remained on the trail as of Tuesday night. Marathon musher Amy Dionne withdrew from the race at Grand Portage because her dogs became too tired while on the trail. She had the trail sweeper on a snowmobile radio to her handlers at the next checkpoint, and the handlers met her at the next road crossing, Rice said.