Friday, January 30, 2015

John Beargrease Dog Sled Race 2015

John and Joanna begin training for the dog sled races in September each year using the four wheeler.  Once we get a good solid base of snow, they switch to the sled.  There is a distinct advantage to living further north as we have had enough snow this year for Joanna to train on the sled since early December and many mushers from MN have not had enough snow to use their sleds.

In fact there was not enough snow for Joanna's first scheduled race, the Voyageur Classic in Northome, MN, so it was canceled.  She was chomping at the bit to race after putting over a thousand training miles on her team.  Because of the lack of snow around Duluth, her second scheduled race, the John Beargrease 103 mile mid distance race was also threatened to be canceled.  The race officials wisely decided to move the race trail further north to stay in the high hills of the Sawtooth Mountains where there was more snow rather than cancel the race or postpone it till possibly March.

I would have to say that the folks spearheading and running the Beargrease Race have done an EXCELLENT job in the planning and preparation for this race.  I can't imagine all the time and energy that has been freely given to make this race happen.  I also commend them on all their effort to make sure the dogs and mushers are safe throughout the trails. 

This Beargrease was more enjoyable than any of the past Beargrease races we've participated in for several reasons.  The weather was above zero with very little wind except for the blizzard conditions for about seven hours at the end.  The Black Bear Casino gave us two free nights in their spacious hotel rooms which was extremely generous.   The vet checks for the dogs, race meeting, gala banquet and bib draw were all located at the Black Bear Casino which was so convenient and relaxing.  We had two super duper dog handler helpers in Ron and Leah Bailey who were with us the whole way through the race.  Leah had a dog team of her own years ago, so knew exactly what to do to assist Joanna at the checkpoints when she came in with the dogs and when she left.  Ron graciously did all the heavy work and quickly learned how to handle the dogs as well.  We got to visit and spend time with lots of friends and the good Lord kept us safe in all our travels. 

 Two wonderful guests and friends, Cory and Nancy Prissel, who stay with us at Agimac River Outfitters in the summer to fish surprised us by coming to the Finland checkpoint.  They wanted to see Joanna come in on the trail and their timing was perfect.  About fifteen minutes before she arrived, they hiked up the trail and saw her come flying into the checkpoint.  Once all the mushers were in, we realized Joanna was in the top four.  That was exciting , but there were still two more 30-35 mile legs of the race to complete.  I realized that I hadn't brought enough food for Joanna to eat (though she typically has not felt like eating much after doing so much running up the hills) and Cory and Nancy came to the rescue.  They produced a pile of sandwiches and a bag of cheese curds for us and stayed all three and a half hours till Joanna left that checkpoint, helping us get the dogs up to the starting line.

The next checkpoint at Sawbill was more rustic.  There was no building to go into to get warm or to use a modern bathroom or purchase food as in Finland.   After feeding and bedding down the dogs, Joanna sat in the front seat of the car with the heater on to try to warm up and to get some sleep.  I stayed awake all night to keep an eye on the dogs and try to think of anything else I needed to do to help Joanna and the team.  At about 3 o'clock I walked over to the tent where the time keeper was to see what time Joanna could leave the checkpoint after figuring her start differential.  I was surprised to hear that she was in third place.

It began snowing rather heavily about 1 am and continued on till about 8 am.  Joanna took off from Sawbill with one less dog who needed to be dropped because of a mild injury and Ron and Leah and I drove our vehicles over to the finish line.  Frank Holmberg left the last checkpoint just one minute after Joanna.  He soon passed her on the trail and ended up getting second place.  Joanna also passed a girl who was in first place at the checkpoint, so she was still able to maintain the third place position which was the best she has ever done at Beargrease.  We were all very pleased with the results and are looking forward to her next race in Marquette, MI the middle of February.

Note:  Pic # 1 Start of race;  pics #2 and 3 at Finland checkpoint with Cory and Nancy Prissel; pics # 4 and 7 coming in to the finish;  pic# 5 at end of race;  pic # 6 handlers Ron and Leah Bailey; pic # 8 In this picture of Joanna holding her award, she is standing next to Mike Keyport, the great grandson of John Beargrease.  The reason the race is named after John Beargrease is because he was a native who delivered mail by dogsled along the north shore of Minnesota for almost 20 years between 1879 and 1899.   Every musher received a leather mailbag with mail and was officially sworn in as mail carriers for the race in honor of John Beargrease.

 I thought you would also enjoy Joanna's comments on her race:

I had a super fun time at Beargrease this year, the trails were fast and fun, the weather was pleasant and above zero for a change, the wonderful company and help of my super awesome handling crew of my mom, Leah and her husband Ron (they were on top of things and were a HUGE help, THANK YOU!) and I had a nice group of dogs ahead of me! Always a great time visiting with all our mushing friends before, during and after the race!! A big plus was seeing some great longtime friends show up at the first checkpoint!!! This was my best Beargrease placing ever with a 3rd place finish with seven dogs! Sure was a fun, fast and wild ride, although the last leg I felt like I was mushing blindfolded with my glasses half fogged up (I need them for seeing the turn signs long distance at night:) and the blizzard-like conditions of driving snow rather blinding in the glare of my headlamp. I have to admit its my least fav conditions to run dogs as I hate when I can't see. I focused on watching my leaders flashing red light on his collar so I could tell if he was going down I needed to get on the drag pad, or if he went up I prepared to run. Didn't even see the long branch poking out from a tree til it hit my forehead and swiped off my headlamp, leaving me in instant darkness. By the time I got the team stopped, my headlamp (still on) was too far behind me to risk leaving my team so I quick strapped on my spare and hoped someone would pick it up and return it to me at the end of the race. I had a feeling my friend Leanne would be the one to pick it up and turns out she did! She said she thought it was probably mine as we have the same headlamp:) I nominated her for the Sportsmanship award and she won it:) A big congrats to Martha and her awesome team who won and Frank for his super 2nd place finish, wonderful friends and competitors:) Thanks to my dad for all his help training and to my wonderful dogs who powered me up the hills:) Team for Beagrease this year (a couple of changes with some dogs out of the race healing up from injuries) was Hawk and Viva in lead the whole race, Vader, Vapor, Venture, Swift, Tango and Vashti. They did a super job.