Beargrease mushers report warm, slow conditions
GRAND MARAIS -- John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon mushers were reporting a tough trail and slow going Monday. But after the cancellation of last year's race and the postponement of this year's race, no one was complaining, even if it was a bit wa...
GRAND MARAIS -- John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon mushers were reporting a tough trail and slow going Monday.
But after the cancellation of last year's race and the postponement of this year's race, no one was complaining, even if it was a bit warm for the dogs.
"These guys are Siberian huskies," past champion Blake Freking said Monday morning at the Sawbill Trail checkpoint. "It's too warm for us, but we are taking it slow and having a good time. We have snow and we have a race."
Another former marathon champion, Keith Aili, was also enjoying himself after a six year break from mushing.
"It's bringing back a lot of memories on the trail," he said at Trail Center checkpoint. "I've spent years on the trail."
Not so his current team, whose members have not run distances before this year.
"It's a learning experience, but the dogs are doing all right," Aili said.
He said the trail, covered with a recent fall of wet snow, was one of the softest he's ever seen.
"It's way slower," than normal, said Aili, who was the first musher to reach Trail Center on Monday afternoon. "But it's the same trail for everyone. When you get slower conditions like this everyone is close. There is a race going on between more than two teams. There's still a long way to go in this race. A lot of things can change."
Nathan Schroeder, the third past marathon champion running this year's race, got off to a bad start Sunday when, at the first road crossing, his team veered to follow a running volunteer. Schroeder's sled hit the back of a parked pickup truck. Luckily, his dogs were not injured.
"The dogs are fine," he said.
Schroeder, who won the race three years ago and placed second by 20 seconds two years ago, also reported that the trail was slow, but that his dogs "seemed to be doing pretty good."
Well enough Monday that he was the third racer to reach the turn-around checkpoint at Trail Center Lodge.
Trail Center, located up the Gunflint Trail out of Grand Marais, is a popular checkpoint with many mushers and handlers. On Monday, handlers, volunteers and spectators waited by the lake for mushers, lounging in old sofas arranged in the snow near a wood fire. The restaurant was open, providing hot food and a warm place to sit and rest.
Owner Sarah Hamilton works to make the mushers welcome. This year, each racer picked a wrapped bundle she had prepared. Each contained goodies; two contained certificates for $500, one a certificate for $1,000.
Hamilton is giving the money "just for fun."
"Mushers are generally poor folk, and there can only be one winner," she said of the gifts. "This way, every so often someone slow will win some money."
Winning one of the $500 certificates was Andrew Letzring, who was second into Trail Center.
"It's incredible," he said. "She doesn't have to do that."