It was a balmy ten degrees, early on the morning of January 28th, as the dogs and their mushers began to show up eight miles west of Two Harbors, Minnesota, the starting point of the 2018 John Beargrease sled dog race. Shortly after the teams began to arrive, the spectators began their arrival in mass, in order to meet the mushers and the furry athletes.
A list if this year’s mushers can be found by visiting: https://beargrease.com/meet-the-mushers/
Highway 2 was lined up with cars for at least a mile in either direction. People were walking or taking the shuttle bus down to the starting point. It is very cool to see all the people who show up in order to support the racers. They definitely deserve the attention. I am not sure people understand how much work goes into a sled dog team. Besides countless hours of training and feedings,
there is also the financial burden of veterinary bills, food, equipment, travel expenses and housing, and most importantly the emotional investment that goes into each and every lovable dog.
One might wonder why they do it with such a large investment.
While, I have never formally interviewed any of the mushers on this subject, I have gleaned bits of information from them here and there and have formed a speculation on why. They love it, and so do the dogs. And if you don’t believe me, just show up at the beginning of a run and watch the dogs. They are so excited to get going they use heavy off-road vehicles at the start of the race to help control the dogs so they just don’t take off down the trail.
It is so exhilarating, balancing on the skis of the sled, silently flying over the snow, your body ebbing and flowing with the twists and turns of the trail, feeling the energy of the dogs. It just seems so amazing that they can pull you and a sled across the miles so effortlessly and with such enthusiasm. Believe it or not you can reach speeds of 12 to 18 mph. Quite the rush! I would highly recommend a trip with a qualified musher. There are several top-rated kennels in Minnesota that can accommodate you.
The John Beargrease sled dog race was established in 1980 and is the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states.
The course is close to 400 miles long. The course takes the marathoners from Two Harbors, MN, up to Grand Portage, MN and back to Billy’s, just north of Duluth, MN. Along with the marathon mushers there are also mid-distancers and junior racers. You can get a better vision of the scope of the race by checking out the map below. Race officials always put out a complete list of the checkpoints and driving directions to help spectators follow the teams.
Picture From JohnBeargrease.com
Checkpoint driving directions
The race is in honor of John Beargrease, who initially delivered mail by sled dog up the North Shore, helping to establish many of the towns that exist today. You can read a detailed history of his life at: https://beargrease.com/about-john-beargrease/ and or view the education resources at: https://beargrease.com/education-resources/.
An interesting side note, to honor the sled dog’s rich history of carrying the mail, the mushers carry trail mail during the race. You can purchase a commemorative envelope, write a letter, and have it receive a stamped cancellation which reads, “carried by dog sled.” Kind of a neat gift to give that special someone. For further information on purchasing trail mail visit: https://beargrease.com/trail-mail/ .
I would also like to take a moment and thank the over 500 volunteers that help make the race a reality. There are veterinarians, road crossing guards, check point controllers, race assistants and countless others who contribute to the racers success. It is so wonderful that there are such a great group of people willing to sacrifice several days to support the teams.
I seem to be rambling on about the nuts and bolts of the race, but it’s important I think to know why the race started and who participates. After several years of going up to photograph the race, I have developed some great relationships with other photographers, racers and support staff. Truly each and every person up there is remarkable. I look forward to connecting with people up there that I only see at the race and best of all, it’s like we’ve seen each every day. No lack of things to talk about or awkward silences. It’s my once a year family and I am already looking forward to next year.
If you have the time, there will be an open house on March 11th from 1:00 P.M. to 3:00 P.M. at the Duluth aquarium. This is similar to the one held in January. You can see some of the photographs from last years race as well as meet some of the other photographers and a few of the mushers. I’ve even heard a rumor there will be cake.
Thank you for reading this far & Adventure on! More images can be found at: 2018 Beargrease
Kristy Johnson is a Photographer, Author and Tour Guide.
Since 2012, Kristy has owned and operated Fotonic Images, LLC, which is a full service portrait and real estate studio. She also operates Inspire Photo Tours. Follow her at FotonicImages