200 miles across snow and ice


UP 200

Jackie Jahfetson

The howls of Siberian huskies echo for blocks around. Mushers muster the dogs into their harnesses and suit each of their paws with warm, neon booties. Children swarm behind wooden barricades along the snowy track of Washington Street, with white bells in their mittens, ready to cheer on the canine athletes. When the timer chimes down, an uproar of bells and applause send the teams of 12 dogs off into a high-speed race from down- town Marquette into the U.P. wilderness.

The 29th annual U.P. 200 kicked off last Friday evening downtown with 19 dogsled teams from across the United States and Canada competing in a 230-mile race from Marquette to Grand Marais and back again. The
U.P. 200 also counted as an Iditarod qualifier, which is a premier sled dog race across Alaska where some of the U.P. 200 participants will compete in early March.

For the first time, musher Brian Kandler from Mason, Michigan, competed in the U.P. 200 and would eventually close out the finish on Sunday afternoon. As Kandler was harnessing his dogs up before the race on Friday, he remarked to several dog-lovers why he’s involved with this sport.

“You’re watching something amazing right in front of your eyes,” Kandler said. “[Dogs are] beautiful and have amazing, powerful attitudes.”

Competing for the past five and a half years, Kandler said he enjoys long-distance races and has competed in several, such as the Midnight Run and a 300-mile race in Canada last year. That experience means he knows how to get himself and his dogs ready for the challenge, and it’s rewarding for a musher to finally take off he said.

“You feel like you’re just checking off details. Most mushers prepare all year round, so when you start to leave the chute, you no longer worry,” Kandler added. “You just go out and run.”

Kandler called the U.P. 200 race the “most iconic one in Michigan” and said that everyone is “enthusiastic.” At the finish line at Mattson Lower Harbor Park in Marquette, crossing in first at 11:04 a.m. on Sunday was Keith Aili of Ray, Minnesota, with a total run time of 23 hours, 30 minutes and 45 seconds. Coming in seven minutes later to take second-place was Denis Tremblay of St.Michel-des-Saints, Quebec. Martin Massicotte of St.Tite, Quebec came in seven minutes after Tremblay at 11:18 a.m. to take third place. The top prize of the U.P. 200 was $9,000, according to the official race website up200.org.

Following the U.P. 200 start Friday night, the Midnight Run began at 8:30 p.m. with 21 teams traveling a 90-mile distance from Marquette to Chatham and returning back to Marquette. The first-place winner was Joanna Oberg of Ignace, Ontario, who came in at 11:19 a.m. on Saturday with a total run time of eight hours, 37 minutes and 46 seconds. The weekend also included the Jack Pine 30, which is a 26-mile race that took place on Saturday in Gwinn with Jerry Trudell of Calumet finishing first in 2 hours, 1 minute and 23 seconds.

Hundreds of volunteers, many of them students and community members, sported yellow, white and orange vests. They assisted directing traffic and crowd control during the races. For NMU sophomore biology major Hailey Martin, the sled dogs were the highlight of the weekend.

“I’m a dog-lover and it’s nice to go to,” Martin said.

“It’s really fun. The dogs are super sweet and excited to move.”
The weekend’s races are a U.P. custom and it’s an opportunity for many to witness something they wouldn’t normally see, Martin said. It’s an event that draws in much attention, and it’s entertaining for everybody, she added.

Though the passing clouds and 18 degree temperature made it ideal for the mushers, many people from the crowd huddled inside warming tents around downtown Marquette throughout the evening. For its fourth year, NMU hosted a warming tent, where many people fueled up on hot chocolate and cookies and danced to the musical accompaniment of a DJ.
Many locals could be spotted around the racetrack, but there were also several new faces in the crowd like Helene Mowczan from Lapeer, Michigan. Mowczan was in town on vacation when she decided to attend her first U.P. 200.

“I’m amazed,” Mowczan said. “I’m always fascinated by dog racing, but everybody here is very helpful and friendly.”

For spectators like Mowczan, it was a challenge to find the right place to stand because the crowd was packed around the track, leaving many to scramble for snow banks, Mowczan said. And though Mowczan wished she came better dressed, the cold temperature could not stop the energy of the crowd.

“Seeing the dogs and the kids bundled up, I’m looking forward to coming back next year,” she added.

For a complete listing of the results from the U.P. 200, Midnight Run and Jack Pine 30, visit up200.org.