Friday, February 4, 2011

The John Beargrease Race 2011

Joanna and I just returned from Duluth, MN where Joanna participated in the annual Beargrease race, one of the most competitive, challenging and prestigious races in the lower 48 states. The race is named after a Native American, John Beargrease, who actually delivered mail by dog team between Two Harbors and Grand Marais from 1879-1899. Each of the contestants is sworn in as an official mail carrier and given a mailbag with mail in it to deliver to the finish line.

Two choices are offered to the mushers- the Beargrease Marathon, which is 370 miles using 14 dogs or the Beargrease Mid-Distance, which is 110 miles using 8 dogs. Joanna runs in the Mid-Distance race. She and her Dad logged many training miles on the dogs to condition and prepare them for this difficult race.

Her two cousins, Sarah and Holly Oberg and I were the handlers. It was our job to drive the dog trailer to the checkpoints and prepare a place for the dogs to rest, heat up water for their food, keep track of her times in and out of checkpoints and make sure she and the dogs were hydrated. We would sleep outside under the stars with the dogs to keep watch over them and to give Joanna a chance to eat and rest herself, if possible. We were all very thankful for the perfect weather-not too cold or hot.

There are three legs to the race. The first leg is 35 miles, the second leg 38 miles and the third leg, the most difficult of all with its long, steep hills, was 33 miles. Joanna did okay on the first leg and was in 12th place out of 39 contestants at that point. As she left the first checkpoint for the second leg of the race, she hung on tight to the handle bar because her dogs were wild to go. She had a super fast second leg of the race which put her in 6th place. Unfortunately, one of her dogs was dehydrated after the second leg and had to be left behind. With excitement and anticipation of having the best finish ever, she left the second checkpoint with seven dogs to tackle the most difficult third leg of the race. Her hopes for a high finish were dashed when she realized she had another dog that was dehydrated and several others had either a shoulder injury or wrist injury. She ended up loading the dehydrated dog in the basket of her sled and with mainly three dogs pulling, she reached the finish line in 13th place.

Even though she didn't make the top ten, she was thankful to do as well as she did considering the difficulties the dogs were having.

In addition to the race itself, Joanna had an unexpected encounter with Jeff King, a four time Iditarod champion. She even got her picture with him as you can see above.

It was a most interesting and exciting adventure. I'd have to say that Joanna definitely keeps our lives from being boring.