Month: January 2015


About 7 hours after leaving Trail Center, teams began pulling in to the next checkpoint – Devil Track. Again this was now dark of night so, from the vantage point of someone awaiting arrivals, you’re standing down at the edge of Devil Track Lake watching a tiny point of light approaching from across a broad expanse of horizon. Behind you is the ever-present bonfire (these people know how to make a fire!) and the Devil Track Lodge, lit-up and welcoming.
Nathan coming in to Devil TrackNathan Devil Track 2
As the dogs come to a stop the mushers are asked to hand over their mailbags. I think I forgot to mention this part earlier. Before the start of the race all mushers were sworn-in as official mail carriers for the duration of the race. The same oath that I imagine John Beargrease had to recite back in about 1880?         “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter.”      They were each given a mailbag to carry, filled with letters one may purchase through the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon website. (these are then addressed and returned in time to be carried during the race) These are great keepsakes and will reach their destinations with a special stamp saying the letter was carried by sled dog during the race. This is not a great shot but you can see the size of the mailbag here – being given to  revered musher Jamie Nelson, during opening ceremonies:

Jamie Nelson getting mail bag

And this next image is of Nathan Schroeder handing over his mailbag at Devil Track. Nathan was the JBSDM winner last year and went on to the Iditarod where he received the Rookie of Year Award.
Nathan in to Devil's Track handing over mailbag

From Devil Track the mushers are headed back down the loop and by then I really had to go grab a few hours of sleep. When I woke up I decided to drive on to the Finland Checkpoint (missing the return swing through Sawbill) so I could intercept the leading teams again. It was actually difficult to keep up with these guys. They were flying! Here are some shots of the trail coming in to Finland from a musher’s point of view. The glow sticks that are hanging from trees as you approach the checkpoint:

Glow stick Finland

The signs for unsuspecting cross country skiers or the like:

Trail signs FinlandSign to Finland 2

Here’s a YouTube of Frank Moe coming in to the Finland Checkpoint. And, a still:

Frank Moe coming in to Finland

When the dogs are resting – if you inch up too close to take a picture – a handler will often suddenly appear and ask you to stay back so that the dogs can rest. Pretty great of them, handlers are awesome. Letting sleeping dogs lie:

Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie


Monday morning, day two. New snow and the landscape transformed, pristine.  As marathon teams headed up toward the Trail Center checkpoint, mid-distance mushers were completing their 103-mile journey down at Devil Track, with Martha Schouweiler, Frank Holmberg and Joanna Oberg taking the top 3 spots.

Very sweet scene at Trail Center. Everyone tromping in and out of the restaurant, enjoying Sarah’s fantastic food – mushers, handlers, families, volunteers, spectators – while dogs are fed and blanketed and/or resting on beds of straw alongside the Gunflint Trail. Mushers also find some time to sleep. Some images from the Trail Center Checkpoint:

Time to Go?Resting at Trail Center

Getting ready to head out for Devils Track

Mike Keyport, great-great-grandson of John Beargrease (and member of the JBSDM Board of Directors) was there to greet mushers and share a eulogy written for John Beargrease by Viola Keyport (Mike’s Mother and great granddaughter of JB) Here is Mike Keyport and his son Justin, next to the photo-board display Mike put together for the occasion. In the photo on the right, Mike is reading the eulogy to Bruce Langmaid from Ontario, who (sadly!) made the tough decision to scratch at this checkpoint:

Justin and Mike keyportMike Keyport reading Eulogy to Bruce

The eulogy, as written by Viola Keyport:
2008 Eulogy Beargrease

Shawn McCarty (#13) was the last musher to arrive. I overheard a conversation between handlers as he was coming in… about the fact that it’s easy for people (spectators) to think that ALL the mushers are here to race all-out, with a winning position being the goal. He said people don’t realize that, for a young team, the goal can be something very different – for the dogs to have fun, to get to know the route, stay in the game and gain experience.
Last in Trail Center Shawn McCarty

Judges. Sleep deprived and dedicated. Dan, on right:
Race Judges Trail Center

Erin Altemus and dogs readying to head back out – next stop Devil Track:
Erin Altemus team

Teams and photographers out there waiting:
Teams and Photographers

No idea what to say about this, but the dogs were looking happy about it:


Some shots from activity at the Sawbill Checkpoint last night. This was between about 11:00 and 2:00 or so. Mushers come in out of the woods headed toward the wooden bridge that crosses the creek here. At first all you can see is a bit of a glow in the distance from their headlamps. Sometimes there are also lights blinking on the lead dogs, usually red – though there was a green one too – and these show up next as you now see the blur of feet coming fast. As with the Finland checkpoint, the cry “TEAM” goes out as people clear the path and ready to intercept the dogs. Mid-distance mushers are ushered to an area where they meet up with their people. For the marathoners, Sawbill is an unassisted checkpoint. As mushers arrive, the dogs are grabbed by volunteer handlers and the teams are led into the woods where they all camp out for the night. Mushers wrangle the caretaking themselves… cooking food for the dogs, checking each dog head-to-toe in the circles of light cast by headlamps. It is a beautiful and heart-tugging thing to watch… these mushers so quietly going about the business of making sure everything is in good order so that a little rest can be grabbed before the next leg to the Trail Center checkpoint up the Gunflint Trail. The play of light was gorgeous and the sounds, rhythmic and soft, melodic.
Crossing the bridge into Sawbill

Coming in with red blinkers
In the light of the headlamp

Dog shadows

The Handlers

Welcome to Sawbill

Time keepers

Dinner being heated up for some lucky dogs.
Cooking dinner for the dogs

And lo and behold there was a smallish tent set up and inside a volunteer named Linda was cooking bacon on the stove for the mushers. Seriously!
Linda cooking bacon at Sawbill
Kind of a lonely drive getting out there…
Driving out to Sawbill


Well, here they go! Race started outside of Two Harbors today at 2:00 with a drum ceremony honoring the spirit of John Beargrease and sending the mushers and their dogs off with all true desires that this be a safe journey for all. Here are the Burntside Lake Singers with Ron Boshey, great-great grandson of John Beargrease.
Burntside Lake Singers
It’s night here and I’m parked on the side of the road outside a place that has internet, about to head up to the Sawbill checkpoint next so this is going to be a quick string of photos from today. Here are some mid-distance mushers heading out:
Mid distance 127

Mid Distance start 122
Marathon start:
Marathon 4
And several hours later at the first checkpoint in Finland, a team coming in off the trail:
team arriving Finalnd
One lucky dog, bedded down with a tent for one:
A tent
Vet checks:
vet checks Finland
And, the volunteers – they are everywhere and doing this very important work of keeping the roads safe for everyone, standing at crossroads in the woods, working Ham radios, stoking the bonfire… here’s a quartet yelling “TEAM” as one hears people out in the woods along the trail send out a whistle or a hoot, a yell.
Volunteers at trail exit
Allrighty. Off to Sawbill.


The 31st running of The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon begins tomorrow at 2:00, Minnesota time! You can follow along on Ifan t.v. There’s a link from the Beargrease site.

Many of the pre-marathon events are happening at the Black Bear Casino in Cloquet, just outside of Duluth. Mushers began pulling in to the parking area last night with their teams.
Agora and Killer

Last night (Friday)
Arleigh Jorgenson was the featured speaker at the Gala dinner and he kicked things off beautifully with his sharing of stories and photos connected to the sled dog racing community over the last forty-plus years. A favorite was Arleigh’s recounting of a time when he was sleep-deprived during a race… (said how this is something that always happens and you’re okay because the dogs are running the trail and you don’t really have to see the trail) and he was hallucinating and having a conversation with a man who had appeared next to him on the runners – “I knew I was hallucinating so I kept my eyes straight ahead because the conversation was so interesting.”

Beginning at 7:00 this morning:
Mushers checked in at the registration area and then had their teams Vet checked. There are swarms of Veterinary students and technicians here working with the Veterinarians as they carefully go over each dog, head to toe, performing a complete physical and rating the dogs in a number of categories.
Here is Saul Ellering from Sauk Center, MN. He’ll be wearing #11.
Saul Ellering Vet Check
Marla Brodsky, of Hilltown Wilderness Adventures in Massachusetts, helping one of her dogs out of the truck here, will be running her first Beargrease, the mid-distance.
Waiting their turn
Marla Brodsky 2
And Marla is a singer as well! Watch for #28.
At 10:00 this morning was the Cub Run! A race for the kids that was amazing to watch. Here are some shots of four-year-old Elena Freking, daughter of Blake and Jennifer Freking out of Finland, Mn. First photo – at race start with her sister in sled.
Race start:Elena Freking cub run start
Race finish with her dogs:
Elena Freking at race finish
Another finisher…
Cub run finish
Last but not least! Was saying hello to Colleen Wallin (#7 this year!) when up walked Bruce Langmaid with the gift of an axe. Quite beautiful! Bruce is from Kearney Ontario and will be wearing #8.
Bruce gives Colleen an Axe

Race starts tomorrow. Not sure how I’ll follow it and post things here, but I’ll try!


Neither ( lack of ? ) snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

The Race is ON! These are the words you will see today at the top of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon website. For those of us living here on the west coast and hearing daily news of Minnesota temperatures being 20 to 30 degrees below, it is easy to forget that cold doesn’t necessarily mean SNOW. So far, this winter hasn’t graced Duluth with enough snow for the race to begin where originally planned, and organizers have been working through some tough decisions because of it. On Sunday they announced their decision to keep the January 25th start time, with a change in the location of the starting point being moved from Duluth to the Two Harbors/Finland area, tbd.

So, I’ll be returning to Minnesota one week from today to begin my second visit wearing my hat as a 2014 McKnight Visiting Composer with the American Composers Forum. ! I am incredibly excited to be heading into the sled dog mushing world, to witness this event, to greet everyone I met in the fall, to meet new people and learn new things. I am also a good bit nervous. Let’s just say it is presently 60 degrees here in Northern California.

Here is a photo of John Beargrease and one of his brothers, delivering the mail. (1880-1900) If you look closely at the shoulders of the dogs you can see decorated cross-shaped things. I learned from musher Tim White (champion musher, expert innovator, reknowned sled builder and designer of the famed Quick Change Runner (QCR) System) that these are called “standing irons.”
John Beargrease and brother
Photo courtesy of Jim Perlman, Holy Cow Press

For those of you wanting to know more about standing irons, here is an interesting explanation in a mushing blog, written by Nancy Cowan. She concludes with this – “My feeling on the dog irons which either held bells or streamers, or both, and were mounted over the padding that was painted or embroidered, was that it was used primarily by both Native American voyagers and the French trapper/voyagers. There were very practical and important reasons. The trails to and out from trading posts became fairly deeply rutted snowpaths between high embankments of snow. The streamers, the colorfully painted cloths could be better seen against the snow by the people standing on the palisades at the post…the bells and streamers were very beneficial in preventing dogtrain pile-ups where these trails intersected. If you could not see them coming, you could hear them coming. And, knowing the natures of those trapping teams, a pileup would be the worst sort of catastrophe. There was also enormous pride in the beauty and glamour of one’s outfit.” nancy cowan

So, I’ll be donning my various merino woolies and will begin posting here again from Minnesota after the 20th.
Wishing all of you a 2015 filled to the top with every imaginable loveliness.
Peter Rindisbacher dog cariole
Painting by Peter Rindisbacher.