Friends in Cold Places - Part 1 - John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon

Jennifer Shea Hedberg | 21 January, 2015

Wintercraft sponsor of John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon

Given our line of work and my husband's inclination to befriend everyone he meets, you can imagine that we have developed strong connections to creative and hearty souls in some fairly cold places. It will take a few blogs, but I would like to talk about a few of them in this "Friends in Cold Places" series.


The Event: The first ranks high on my personal adventure quotient--the running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon. Our involvement has always been on the sidelines, of course, but we love it. For several years now, Wintercraft has been a sponsor of the event and been honored to provide globe ice lantern centerpieces for the annual fundraising gala. The ice lanterns have a second life when they are brought north after the gala to decorate the pitstops for mushers and dogs.

Wintercraft sponsor of John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon Donate Globe Ice Lanterns

The Connection: We were introduced to the Beargrease by Linda Nervick, who is an Eveready battery of a person. Linda runs and works with the award-winning Lake Superior Magazine in addition to her Beargrease wizardry. She sucked us in and we have never looked back. Truthfully, its hard to say no to such a captivating person, so no matter how busy we may be, Tom and I drop everything and head north to be delighted all over again by the power and grace of these amazing dogs and their mushers.

Linda Nervick organizes the John Beargrease eventThis is a typical photo of Linda, pictured here with two adorable  puppies.  BTW - One of the Beargrease events is a Cute Puppy Contest - this Saturday from noon-2:30pm. The hallways of the Fitger's Complex in Duluth are lined with cute puppies who need your vote to win the title of the Cutest puppy. A not-to-be-missed part of the Beargrease weekend.




The Story: The gala is always on the Friday night and on the Sunday we bundle up for the starting line, where we can walk through the musher area and see the hustle and bustle as they gear up for the 400 mile race that will take several days to complete. A mid-distance race starts takes place at the same time to open the event up to more competitors.


For all the nay-sayers out there that complain about ill treatment of the dogs, they need only watch the start of one of the sled dog teams. It takes a crew of at least 6 people to hold the leaping and barking dogs in place so that the musher can make last minute adjustments to the dogs, rig and clothing. When all is set, the musher steps behind the rig and steps firmly on the brake. The dog holders back away and announcer starts the countdown - 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 - Go! The dogs energy immediately changes from restlessness to determination and they shoot out of the start with such joy it is hard to explain. It is joy-absolutely. They are bred to do this very thing - run - and they love it.


The people who weather the cold temps to cheer on the mushers and dogs line the start are a hardy crew for it can take quite a while to send off all the competitors. Luckily there is usually hot cocoa and other treats in a tent nearby. Thrown in an occasional character to add flavor to the day: Meet an Alaskan Bush Man - otherwise know as "The Bear Man of the Beargrease".

The Bearman of the Beargrease with Jennifer Shea Hedberg of Wintercraft

After the start, volunteers head north to help at the musher rest stations where the dogs can be fed, receive medical attention if needed and curl up in a ball under a tree with their master and teammates.

So, dress for the elements and head north this weekend for the 31st running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.

Note: Beargrease organizers warn fans and volunteers that NO PETS will be allowed at the start, the checkpoints or any road crossings so as not to interfere with the race or the athletes.


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