Sunday, February 20, 2011

UP 200 Dog Sled Race

The UP 200 Dog Sled Race came to Grand Marais yesterday. The event has been going on for over 20 years. The race is limited to 40 dog sled teams, although only 19 teams signed up this year. Mushers included 8 from Minnesota, 4 from Michigan, 3 from Wisconsin, 2 from North Dakota, 1 from Ontario, and 1 from Ohio. Three women participated this year.

In addition to the UP 200, there was also an 89 mile midnight run race with a route from Gwinn to Deerton and then ending in Munising.

The UP 200 route starts in the Marquette area travelling east to Grand Marais and back -- usually a 240 mile round-trip distance. Because of the icy conditions, race officials shortened the race this year to end in Wetmore, which is located just east of Munising.

Fourteen of the teams finished this year's race. Ryan Anderson from Ray, MN finished first as Team 2 with a total time of 21:42:24. He finished with 11 dogs, averaged 13.2 mph and had 10:34 rest time. Nathan Schroeder from Chisholm, MN finished second as team 4 with a total time of 22:00:29. David Gill as Team 13 finished third with a time of 22:21:37.

The event is possible because of hundreds of volunteers at each of the checkpoints, as well as the race officials, trail maintenance crew, timers, team runners (to help the teams get to the starting lines), and members of the community who work the trail to held direct the teams at intersections and at major turns in the trail.

Here is the map of the UP 200 trail route.

The night of the race we experienced up to 70mph winds. The trail maintenance crews had to be diligent to clear the trail of downed trees and branches.

I agreed to help friend, Wendy, at crossing number 7. Our station is located around a mile south of Grand Marais. Our job was to direct the teams to make a sharp, more than 90 degree left turn into Brodie Block's driveway. Due to the sharpness of the turn as well as the icy conditions, at least five of the mushers toppled their sleds. In each case, they issued an immediate verbal command and the teams stopped!

Here are a couple of shots of our station. Race officials provide a couple of hay bales as well as a fire ring,firewood, safety vests, and a radio. Wendy was responsible for the radio and for reporting when each team went by our station.

Because of the difficulty of the turn at our station, the mushers had different strategies. Some were able to slow their teams to stay on the sled. Others dragged one leg to help turn the sled. The musher below ran next to the sled and used his arms to help turn the sled.

Two of the sled dog teams came trough right after each other. The team that was a little behind made up ground down Mixon Road and almost passed the team in front of them.

This is one of the sleds that didn't make the turn.

Our shift at station 7 was from 10am until 2pm. Actually, we were able to leave a bit early since all of the teams had already come through. I went over to the museum and opened from 1:30 until 6pm. I wasn't sure if I wanted to spend the money to heat the museum, but I'm glad I did. I actually was fairly busy. Not only did visitors come into the museum, but some of the race officials did, too. Here is a shot of Al from Soo, Ontario. He is a former musher who now helps out with the UP 200. I also spoke with tourists who came to Grand Marais for the event from Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.

Once the teams arrive in Grand Marais, they are directed behind the Recreation Center. The field was plowed and straw delivered to give the dogs a cozy place to curl up and rest.

Race officials review the supplies to make sure the mandatory safety equipment, survival gear, food, and water are on the sled. Vets also check the dogs to make sure they are healthy and able to safely complete the race.

Inside the rec center the Grand Marais Women's Club holds a fund raiser and sells sloppy joe sandwiches, soup, and desserts. Volunteers also conduct a silent auction to raise money to pay for event expenses.

Here is a picture of Lou Bailey manning the radio to receive updates from all the volunteers working the 11 stations on the trail in Grand Marais.

All of the times for each of the teams is recorded.

Once the teams have rested the required amount of time, the dog teams are hooked up to the sled. Runners help to move the teams to the starting line, which is located right in front of the museum. It is quite exciting when each team is released. All of the spectators clap, cheer, and ring cow bells. Thankfully, the snowmobilers at least during the UP 200 must wait when each sled dog team is in the starting gate.

The biggest surprise of the day occurred when Wendy came into my museum with a new dog that she purchased from one of the sled dog teams. She has had several dogs in the past, including a wolf, but it has been a while since she has had a puppy.

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