Crazy Cold Beautiful


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.



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: