Beargrease leaders race on final stretch

As of noon Tuesday, 12 of the 15 remaining teams had reached the Mineral Center checkpoint, about 32 miles from the finish.

sled dog race
Ryan Anderson on the trail near the Mineral Center checkpoint Tuesday near Grand Portage.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

GRAND PORTAGE — Musher Keith Aili, of Ray, Minnesota, and his team of dogs were the first to arrive at the Mineral Center checkpoint on Tuesday at approximately 7:45 a.m. Ryan Anderson, of Cushing, Wisconsin, arrived 12 minutes later.

The story was the same as the men and their teams left the checkpoint about four hours later. Aili's team left Mineral Center at almost exactly noon on the dot, headed toward the finish about 32 miles away. Anderson and his dogs left 12 minutes later — both mushers smiling as they hit the trail.

Aili caught up to Anderson on the trail between Trail Center and Skyport checkpoints late Monday, arriving at Skyport on Anderson's heels, but his inexperienced team of dogs couldn't pass Anderson's team on Devil Track Lake. Aili said his young dogs haven't quite mastered the skill of running across lakes yet, motioning his hand back and forth to demonstrate how they ran.

"I wish I had an adult veteran dog team. ... Only one of these dogs has seen the finish of a long race," Aili said. "I'd much rather be on that team," he said, pointing to Anderson's dogs resting on straw in the Mineral Center parking lot.

But Anderson wishes he had Aili's team going into the last segment of the race.


"I'd rather be driving his team because it's in front," Anderson said.

Anderson had been leading the race through Trail Center, the race's midway point. Then things changed.

"The last two runs weren't very good," Anderson said.

Just after 3 a.m., Anderson left the Skyport checkpoint only two minutes before Aili. Anderson had to switch his leader right out of Skyport. Then one of his dogs was sore, and the 70-pound dog had to ride the rest of the way to Mineral Center in the sled.

With about 32 miles to the finish in Grand Portage, Anderson wasn't sure if there was enough time to close the gap on Aili. Anderson expects to leave the Mineral Center checkpoint with eight dogs, while Aili expects to have nine.

"It kind of shortens your window to make up any time," Anderson said.

The Grand Marais musher and her team of dogs finished the 107.5-mile mid-distance race in 15 hours, five minutes and 15 seconds.

Chute change at Skyport checkpoint

It was 10:21 p.m. and 7 degrees below zero when the twin headlamps of race leaders Anderson and Aili first began to glimmer through the trees across Devil Track Lake.


Ten minutes later, a crowd of a few dozen began to cheer as Anderson and his team approached the line drawn in the snow as the designated chute, only to break toward an adjacent gap in the trees near Skyport Lodge, following the trail the dogs recognized rather than the chute the officials wanted the dogs to use. Anderson attempted to redirect his dogs to the designated chute, only to see them again run toward the neighboring gap.

News Tribune coverage of the nearly 300-mile race that takes teams up the North Shore and ends in Grand Portage.

At that point, officials decided to locate the chute in that second gap, and Anderson’s team was waved through. Aili’s team, following the first team’s scent trail, went the same way. It was settled; that would be the chute.

A lack of fencing and paucity of hay bales seem to have added to the confusion. Later, four hay bales were arrayed across the misleading first chute to avoid any further confusion.

About 32 miles to go

Aili and Anderson were joined at Mineral Center before 9 a.m. Tuesday by Sarah Keefer, of Burnsville, Minnesota; Nick Vigilante, of Ely; and Matthew-Karl Schmidt, of Grand Marais.

Just after 9 a.m., Jesse Terry, of Sioux Lookout, Ontario, arrived at Mineral Center and moved into third place, because of his shorter remaining rest time.

By noon, 12 of the 15 mushers left in the race had checked in at Mineral Center. Musher Daniel Klein, of Eagle, Wisconsin, scratched on the trail overnight between Trail Center and Skyport after his dogs stopped, race officials said.

Once teams have finished their mandatory rest allocations at the Mineral Center checkpoint, there is just under 32 miles left.

Mushers held the following places in the race at noon Tuesday, according to the Beargrease website :


  1. Keith Aili, Ray, Minn.
  2. Ryan Anderson, Cushing, Wis.
  3. Jesse Terry, Sioux Lookout, Ontario
  4. Sarah Keefer, Burnsville, Minn.
  5. Nick Vigilante, Ely
  6. Matthew-Karl Schmidt, Grand Marais
  7. Katherine Langlais, Glenwood, New Brunswick
  8. Ero Wallin, Two Harbors
  9. Colleen Wallin, Two Harbors
  10. Peter McClelland, Ely
  11. Laura Neese, Newberry, Mich.
  12. Jennifer Freking, Finland
  13. Andy Heerschap, Nolalu, Ontario
  14. Kristen McCarty, Babbitt
  15. Mary Manning, Hovland

This story was updated at 12:41 p.m. Jan. 31 to add information from the mushers and update times and rankings. It was originally posted at 9:37 a.m. Jan. 31.

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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