They Live For This
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Happy dogs with frosty faces pull mushers along at Beargrease.
Bret Amundson/Prairie Sportsman
The excitement of the race exuded more on the dogs than the humans. Not that the humans were necessarily any less excited to be there, but the extreme cold temperatures had caused each face to be wrapped tightly with some sort of winter weather apparel, keeping any sign of emotion well-hidden.

While musher and spectator alike were enjoying their time at the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, it was the four-legged participants who were the most enthusiastic to be there.

The comment I heard over and over again was, “They live for this,” in reference to the dogs. The announcer at the event mentioned numerous times that the cold weather was exactly what the dogs wanted so they wouldn’t overheat.

I always make sure that the weather is cool enough for my dog when we pheasant hunt, but that’s generally in the 50’s. The mercury had plunged below zero for this year’s race and would remain that way until after the marathoners would finish two days later. The ability of these pups to thrive in freezing temperatures always amazes me.

While the humans suffered some cold fingers and rosy cheeks, the dogs were all smiles. And as long as the dogs are happy, everyone else would be happy too.

We were in Duluth filming an episode of Prairie Sportsman as we followed a couple of the mushers throughout the day. Watch for it on Pioneer Public TV coming in March.

There were so many unique people that are passionate about their dogs and dog sledding in general that it was hard to learn about them all. We were lucky enough to catch a few minutes for an interview with Ryan Redingtion, the 2018 Beargrease winner and grandson of Joe Redington Sr, founder of the Iditarod race in Alaska, who finished a respectable 6th. Redington was in the lead at the last check point, but his dogs tired and he was forced to stop and rest.

The big story to come out of this year’s race is the 1stand 2ndplace finish by husband and wife duo, Blake and Jennifer Freking of Finland, Minnesota. They own Manitou Crossing Kennels and Jennifer is a vet at the Ely Veterinary Clinic. Their daughters Elena and Nicole also raced and finished the Cub Run.

Running a sled dog marathon isn’t for the faint of heart. I was surprised to learn how often it was preferred to run at night. As we sat at the first checkpoint near Two Harbors celebrating with the 40-mile finishers, marathon and the 120 racers were still running the trail in the cold darkness, headlamps blazing and dogs barking.

There were also a handful of young racers taking part, offering a glimpse into the future of the sport. 16-year-old Julia Cross from Thunder Bay took part as a “junior musher” in the 120-mile race, finishing 8thoverall and earning the title of “Vet’s Choice” for the best-kept team and “Rookie of the Year”.

There were a pair of mushers who also shared their interesting story for the upcoming episode of Prairie Sportsman, follow us here or on our social media pages, (Facebook,Instagram, Snapchat: prairiesports) to find out more.
In the meantime, enjoy some photos that I took from this year’s event.