Ashley Thaemert wins Beargrease 40-mile race
Thirteen mushers competed in the shorter Beargrease race Sunday.
TWO HARBORS — Ashley Thaemert, of Cook, won the 2023 John Beargrease 40-mile race Sunday afternoon. Racers were the last to leave Sunday morning but the first to complete their races at the Highway 2 Gravel Pit in Two Harbors.
Thaemert took first for a second year in a row with a time of six hours and one minute. She said she uses the 40 race to train up her puppy teams for the 120 race for the following year.
"The trail was very nice, it was solid and fast," Thaemert said. "That can make things easier on the dogs. But it's also harder to keep them at a steady pace and keep them from injuring themselves."
That's what happened with her sled dog, Sienna, who Thaemert had to put into her sled bag about 10 miles from the finish line.
"She ended up getting a little bit of an injury from going so fast, but she finally had the vet team check her over and she's doing really good," Thaemert said. "She did not want to be in that bag. She wanted to be out on the trail still. So she was fighting me the whole time."
The 40 race is a timed race where mushers can only use up to six dogs. This means that although a musher might cross the finish line first, it depends on how much time it took them to complete the race in comparison with their fellow mushers. There are no checkpoints along the way, it is a straight-up sprint, but organizer Mallory Cummings said that teams can check in with their teams to address problems at road crossings. Mushers must use their resources and common sense to make it through the hilly course.
"The strategy on a day like today when it's so cold and the trail is so fast and packed, you get off your sled and you run up every single hill. That's about it," Cummings said.
This was also the first year that the 40-race has had purse for its contestants. Sponsors have provided $2,500 split among the top 10 places for this year's race.
Despite having the later time slots at the Beargease starting line that morning, several of the mushers were around by 8 a.m., ready to talk with spectators as they paced through the preparation area.
One such musher ready to go early was Kate Dehlin from Marquette, Michigan. Dehlin, who took 11th place, returned to the race for a second run after her first in 2021, the year with no spectators due to the pandemic. She said she was eager to return to see what it was like with more people around.
"It feels like such a strong sense of community, but it was quieter that year," Dehlin said. "I didn't even get a picture of my finish, so that was disappointing. It was the biggest race I'd ever done at that point."
Dehlin has been racing since 2011. She started out as a volunteer for the UP 200-mile race in Marquette and "caught the bug."
"I've always been interested in the dogs and I had a lot of books on it and a few things autographed by Iditarod mushers," Dehlin said. "Eventually you decide, well guess I'm not going to get my master's. I'm going for the dogs.
Farther down the row of mushers, Claire Hendricks and Elena Freking did their "boot dance" to help warm up their feet while waiting to race. Elena Freking is the daughter of well-known Beargrease mushers Blake and Jennifer Freking and she's entering the 40-miler at just 12 years old. She's been running her own team since she was 4 years old in the Cub Run.
Elena Freking takes off in the Beargrease 40!@johnbeargrease @duluthnews pic.twitter.com/ifZ8ZIKEPP— Dan Williamson (@Dan_Williamson) January 29, 2023
"I just want to have fun and a good, clean run," Freking said.
Hendricks's family has been friends with the Freking family for years and said their love for dogsledding inspired her to race as well.
"This is my first race in the last eight years, but I think it'll be fun," Hendricks said.
Freking had a slight mishap at the end of the trail — she made a tight turn and fell over. She was uninjured and laughed about the incident after the fact.
Hendricks took eighth place in the race and Freking took 10th place.
In second place was Derek Nechuta, of Mosinee, Wisconsin, and placing third was Ann Stead, of Duluth.
This story was updated at 7:07 a.m. Jan. 30 to add the names of the second- and third-place finishers and to correct the place of Kate Dehlin. The News Tribune regrets the error.