Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Beargrease - A View from the Turn-around

The Twenty- fifth running of the Beargrease Sled Dog Race is now history. Jason Barron of Lincoln Montana came in first followed by Duluthian John Stetsen. The only musher from Cook Country finishing the race this year was Rita Wehseler of Tofte who came in ninth.

What this years race will perhaps be most remembered for is the mid race rain. When the race started on Sunday the snow conditions were good and the weather was mild. Monday, the second day into the race, sometime after 9:00 p.m., depending where you were along the race route, it began to rain- correction it poured. According to the crossing- guard stationed at the Lima Grade’s turn onto the Little Ollie road enroute to Trail Center over an inch of rain accumulated in his upright plastic sled. The result was of the twenty-seven mushers that started the race fifteen “scratched” –most, seven, at Trail Center during the thick of the rain. Following the rain the temperature plummeted to below zero. One musher pretty much summed it up, “I had to quit, it wasn’t because the dogs and I were completely wiped-out, it was because I was soaking wet and cold and not sure how in the world I was ever going to warm-up enough to continue the race”.

At the Trail Center, the race “turn-around,” Sarah Hamilton, even with the rain, was up beat about the race. “It was a great boost- financially and emotionally but” according to Hamilton, “ we would be open for the race even if we did not make any money.” Hamilton noted she served over three hundred meals during the race and estimated the turnout of spectators, racers, handlers, Beargrease officials and the media at Trail Center was over six hundred people. Trail Center remained open all Monday night as the musher came in, rested and headed back to Duluth.

Along the Little Ollie Road Jim Ross spent most of Monday night manning a campfire and watching the musher as they passed by his cabin Further down the road, Joannie Nickols rather then disrupt the race by driving her car from her cabin to Trail Center, skied over. As she approach Trail Center with her headlamp lighting her way she was mistake by the awaiting crowd as one of the dog teams arriving. However the spectators could not figure out why this “team” was traveling so slow. When she shouted at them that she was a skier, the crowd jokingly booed. And at Poplar Creek Guesthouse B&B handlers for one of the mushers waited for his arrival.

Post Scribe by Ted Young- Barbara and I arrived at Trail Center shortly after 8:00 p.m., on Monday several of the teams had already came in. The rain was beginning to fall. There was a great festive crowd including many of our Gunflint Trail neighbors. It is clear that the Beargrease really is an important addition to the Gunflint Trail each winter. We are lucky to have this exciting event and to have Trail Center as the turn-around.

Also it should not be forgotten that the historic inspiration and organization of the Beargrease goes back to the Gunflint Trail Mail Run Dog Sled Race held along the Gunflint from 1977 until 1980.

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