The pups plow through

The pups plow through

Noah Hausmann

Friday afternoon the sky was cloudless, sunshine melting Marquette into slush.

It was a beautiful day to go for a walk, but it didn’t bode well for mushers, who hoped for colder temperatures to keep the trails firm and the sleds running smoothly. Still, Washington Street was loaded up with a snowy track, and a chill returned by evening, a breeze rustling the city. Cheering crowds lined the wooden barriers.

Alaskan huskies howled as they waited for the race to start, itching to get on the trails. It was cold enough to see your breath.

Mushers bolted from the starting chute at 7 p.m. in downtown Marquette for the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run sled dog championships Friday evening, Feb. 17, embarking into the night for what would become a warm weekend of racing.

Organized by the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association, the 28th annual U.P. 200 race, which is an Iditarod qualifying event, drew 13 mushers from across the United States and Canada. With teams of 12 dogs, the mushers took on the

230 miles of trail from Marquette to Grand Marais and back again. Meanwhile, 15 racers competed in the 90-mile, 8-dog team Mid-night Run race traveling from Marquette to Chatham and back, and 13 mushers led their 6-dog teams for the 26-mile, Jack Pine 30 Race around Gwinn on Saturday.

Musher Mary Manning from Hovland, Minnesota competed for her second year in the Midnight Run and would eventually place eighth at the finish on Saturday. Before her race Friday night, she made her final preparations and talked to a gaggle of dog-lovers surrounding her huskies.

“It’s exciting as the team zips out of the chute,” she said. “It’s a crazy, fun time. You hold on for dear life sometimes. There’s a whole lot of excitement at the beginning. But once you get out, the dogs mellow and just do their thing—they get into their groove.”

Manning, who describes her age as “old enough to know better, but dumb enough to still try,” has been racing on and off for about 20 years, and this was her sled team’s fourth race of the season.

“Which doesn’t mean I know everything. It just means I’ve been trying for a long time,” she said. “If I’m lucky I can win enough bucks to pay for gas. It’s certainly not a money-making venture unless you’re one of the top competitors. Most of us are just in it for the fun.”

This year, the first place prize for the U.P. 200 was $7,200, for the Mid- night Run was $2,300 and for the Jack Pine 30 was $200, according to the official race website up200.org, which featured GPS tracking of sled teams and live-streaming of the events.

Unfortunately, the finish line for the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run had to be moved to Lakenenland in Harvey, about 14 miles short from the traditional location at Marquette’s Lower Harbor, due to concern for the dogs’ safety with warm weather worsening trails. The temperature neared 60 de- grees on Saturday. In addition, three mushers dropped out of the U.P. 200 after the return-journey checkpoint at Wetmore.

French Canadian musher Denis Tremblay of St. Michel-des-Saints, Quebec crossed the finish line at 9:35 a.m. Sunday to take first place in the U.P. 200 and his first win at a mid-distance sled dog race, with a total run time of 22 hours, 11 minutes and 14 seconds. This was his fifth time competing in the event. Next came Martin Massicotte of St. Tite, Quebec at 9:39 a.m., with Ward Wallin of Two Harbors, Minnesota in third at 9:46 a.m.

Jake Golton of South River, Ontario won the Midnight Run, crossing the finish line at 8:56 a.m. Saturday. Taking second place was Larry Fortier of Gaylord, followed three seconds later by his wife Joann Fortier. Meanwhile, Jerry Trudell of Calumet took first in the Jack Pine 30, which also had to be shortened due to weather.

The kick-off event on Friday brought together hundreds of spectators, some even standing on snowbanks to catch a better look at the race, and among them plenty of Northern students.

“It sounded like fun,” said Megan Roesner, senior digital cinema major. “The [sled dog] race is awesome. I came last year and it was the coolest thing. It’s my favorite.”

NMU students also joined with community members young and old to form a small army of some 200 volunteers, sporting green and orange safety vests. Many student organizations participated, including Aspen Haus, which served as crowd control.

“One of our house goals is to volunteer more this year, so this is one of the ways to do that,” said Heather Mont- gomery, junior social work major, president of Aspen Haus.

Fraternities and sororities helped too, including Phi Sigma Sigma.

“One of our main pillars is philanthropy. We’re giving back to the community, especially with something as important as this is to the community,” said Norelle Lynch, senior management of health and fitness major. “It’s also fun because you get to bring the whole Greek community together too. We love Northern and Marquette, so it’s great to give back.”

During the cold of “half-time” between the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run starts, NMU’s family-friendly warming tent was rocking with party lights, space heaters and wall-to-wall patrons enjoying 24 dozen free cookies from Babycakes Muffin Co., 40 gallons of hot chocolate and Northern swag, as well as a photo opportunity with two retired sled dogs and U.P. 200 merchandise for sale. This was Northern’s third year hosting the tent.

“It was totally packed between races,” said Derek Hall, NMU assistant vice president of marketing and communications. “I’m just glad we gave away all the hot chocolate.” He chuckled.