TWO HARBORS, Minn.-The snow pack is growing, dogs are howling and the 2018 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is getting ready to kick off again.
Mushers from around the Midwest are preparing for the race Sunday, Jan. 28, at the Lake County gravel pit on Highway 2 outside Two Harbors. The recent snow has improved conditions for mushers. The forecasted snow early next week should make conditions nearly perfect for the race start.
The conditions are a far cry from just last week, when a day well above freezing caused conditions on the trails to deteriorate. Musher Colleen Wallin said she had to wear rain gear last week during her team's training run to Duluth from her home near Silver Creek Township.
This year, the Beargrease is spreading its events over two weekends instead of the traditional, all-in-one weekend.
The Cub Run will begin Saturday, Jan. 20, shortly after 1 p.m. at the Silver Creek Town Hall on Highway 3. The Cub Run is a race designed to give beginning mushers up to age 14 an opportunity to learn about the sport while competing in a smaller version of the Beargrease.
Teams should be returning to the Town Hall about 3 p.m. An award ceremony will acknowledge the first- through third-place finishers as well as those displaying the best care of dogs and sportsmanship.
Also on Saturday, the Cutest Puppy Contest will be held at the Fitger's Brewery Complex in Duluth. Registration for the popular event will begin at 11 a.m. and is limited to 40 puppies 4-9 months old. Voting will take place from noon to 2 p.m. The winners will be declared shortly after.
Next weekend, festivities commence Friday, Jan. 26, at 5:30 p.m. with the "Beer-grease" at Glensheen Mansion in Duluth. The event is catered by Canal Park Brewing. The following day, Jan. 27, there will veterinarian checks in the morning and a ceremony at the John Beargrease gravesite beginning at noon in Beaver Bay.
All the changes have been done to allow spectators to experience as many Beargrease festivities as possible. Spreading the events out makes the entire experience a little less hectic and helps Beargrease volunteers see as much of the race as possible, Beargrease race director Jason Rice said.
"When we were doing that all in one weekend, it's just insanity," he said. "Our volunteers are our spectators-in-chief, and we want them to see as much as they can."
Thousands of spectators have attended the event the last two years at the gravel pit. This year, Beargrease will have three buses ferrying people between the Lake County Fairgrounds and the gravel pit a few miles away. Beargrease organizers started providing the free shuttle last year after cars were parked on the side of Highway 2 for miles in both directions by the gravel pit.
At the pit, vendors will be selling food and drinks. In past years, even mushers have had treats for spectators prior to the race. Previous winner Nathan Schroeder has cooked up walleye tacos and other racers have served up their favorite pre-race delicacies.
Two Harbors businesses are also gearing up for an influx of business over the next two weekends, particularly next weekend. In years past, crowds have flooded Castle Danger Brewery, Carmody 61, Judy's Cafe and any restaurant they can fit in for a bite to eat or a beverage.
2018 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon Schedule
Saturday, Jan. 20
• Noon, Beargrease Cub Run at Silver Creek Town Hall
• Noon to 3 p.m., Cutest Puppy Contest, Fitger's Brewery Complex, Duluth
Friday, Jan. 26
• 5:30-8 p.m., Glensheen "Beer-grease" event, Duluth
Saturday, Jan. 27
• 8 a.m., Veterinarian checks at Camp 61 and the Green Door in Beaver Bay
• Noon, John Beargrease gravesite ceremony in Beaver Bay
• 3:30 p.m., Beargrease Silent Auction opens at Superior Shores Resort, Two Harbors
• 5 p.m., Opening ceremonies at Superior Shores, Two Harbors
Sunday, Jan. 28
• 9 a.m., Meet the mushers at the Lake County Gravel Pit on Highway 2
• 11 a.m., 2018 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon start (free parking and shuttle buses available at the Lake County Fairgrounds beginning at 8 a.m.)
Monday, Jan. 29
• Mid-distance race finish at Trail Center Lodge on the Gunflint Trail (winner typically arrives around 7 a.m.)
• 1 p.m., Mid-distance awards banquet at the Lodge at Devil Track, Gunflint Trail
• 2 p.m., Halfway checkpoint for 400-mile race at Grand Portage Lodge & Casino, meet the race leaders as they arrive
Wednesday, Jan. 31
• Beargrease Marathon finish line at Billy's Bar in Duluth (Winner typically crosses the finish line around 7 a.m.)
Thursday, Feb. 1
• 11 a.m., Marathon awards banquet at Superior Shores Resort in Two Harbors