Month: February 2015


Every winter since 1967, people have gathered at Will Steger’s Homestead just outside Ely Minnesota to lend a hand in the harvesting of ice. It was my good fortune to find myself included in the activities this weekend. My gratitude to Marian Moore (thoughtful, kind, funny, beautiful, creative and be-slippered) to her sweet circle of friends, and to Will Steger for the welcoming.

People collected down by the edge of the lake with their various saws and shovels, picks and pry-bars, tongs, chainsaws…
Harvesting Ice phase 1
A top layer of softer snow is removed, the surface is scored and sawing begins.
Ice Ball Scoring the ice
And out comes the first cube:
Ice Ball popping ice out of the hole
Time to begin another:
Ice Ball Sawing 3
Next, chainsaws are used to cut the large blocks into segments:
Ice Ball cutting ice into cubes
Smaller blocks are then loaded onto the sled and the horses take them up the hill to the ice house:
Ice Ball Ice loading onto sled
While horses are some tough competition, dogs have had their day helping out with the hauling. To watch these horses in action you may click here!  And here’s a still:
The Horses Ice Ball
Yes, it makes you happy.
Robin at Ice Ball
The Mess Hall exterior:
Steger Ice Ball Mess Hall 
Today I am homeward bound. Thank you Minnesota… to the two and four-legged, ever-onward.

It Will Change Your Life

Tuesday I went mushing. I’ve been trying to write about it, but not much of what I write does the trick. Problematic, for a blog. Ever-shifting light across the stark terrain and leafless trees. Every kind of white. Tracks from Moose and Wolf and smaller animals. Muted jangling of metal clips on the harnesses, soft shoooshhh of sled runners. The dogs and their many desires. How very alive everything seems in the middle of winter. An experience I will forever treasure. The dogs. The dogs.

So, if you click here you should be able to see a little clip from the trail. We did a five-hour loop and I managed to get this at one point early on before I did the face plant and froze my camera.

Thank you to Matt Groth, of Grand Marais Sled Dog Adventures, for your patience and thoughtful guidance, and for making an experience like this possible. Thank you to Agnes, Jekyll, Adele, Meatloaf, and Phil. I am completely humbled by your steady onward.

I met a local yesterday who had considered mushing but had not yet given it a try. He said “I don’t know, it just seems like a lotta the folks who try it end up changing their lives.”

And yesterday evening – a shot of the cemetery on Maple Hill Road:
Maple Hill Cemetery

And a clipping about a type of loss I now understand in a new way:
Eider down complaint


The last leg of the race is from the Highway 2 Gravel Pit Checkpoint in Two Harbors to the finish line at Billy’s Bar in Duluth.
One of my favorite moments of overheard conversation took place during the wait here at HWY 2. Mom of Ryan Anderson and Mom of Nathan Schroeder were standing together and casually talking about things the way Moms might at a soccer match. Except for the part about the beaver meat. Ryan Anderson was the first in here, arriving a little after 8:00 pm. Nathan Schroeder followed about 30 minutes later. (last team to arrive was Saul Ellering at 6:30 the next morning) Click here for a little dark video of Nathan Schroeder coming in.

All teams then had a mandatory 4-hour wait until they could begin the final stretch. Vet checks were still going on:
Vet checks at HWY 2

And here are shots from the finish at Billy’s Bar… where the first 3 teams came in as follows – Ryan Anderson – 2:53 am, Nathan Schroeder ¬– 3:21 am, Colleen Wallin – 6:06 am. This is Ryan Anderson, (bib 14) at finish with 11 dogs!:
Ryan Anderson at Billy's 2

Odin Jorgenson (bib 12) arriving at 8:38 with an eighth place finish, greeting family at the Finish Line. Odin with Betsy and Sigrid (tucked inside her Mom’s jacket) and with his Dad, renowned Musher/Baseball Coach – Arleigh Jorgenson:
Odin at finishArleigh and Odin Jorgenson

At this point I opted to begin my drive back up the shore toward Grand Marais. Back in Two Harbors, the HAM radio operators were still doing their job at race headquarters in the back room of the Vanilla Bean Restaurant. (great coffee!) It is a different world there, listening to the sounds of the radio calls coming in from all over. I recorded many examples of their radio conversations and have plans to use some of the material in the song cycle. “W zero JNO all clear”
At this point Saul Ellering was just leaving Two Harbors and so I drove out HWY 1 and said hello to the Crossing Guard there who had been waiting through the night and who, by now, hadn’t seen a team for 4 hours. These guys are referred to as the “unsung heroes” … standing out all hours of the day and night waiting, shoveling snow onto the roads to make a continuation strip of trail, waiting for a team to come along, so they can step out and stop any traffic. Here, waiting for the final team to cross:
Crossing Volunteer Two Harbors

And NOW – Saul Ellering, carrying the red lantern and coming across at 4:14 PM! To complete a journey such as this, the act of FINISHING, a bit of a miracle from where I stood.
Saul at finish w red lantern
And the final 2015 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon standings?