All you need to know about this weekend's Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth
The marathon starts Sunday, Jan. 29. Fifty-eight mushers are registered in the four race categories: the marathon, the 120, the Junior 120 and the 40.
DULUTH — As the 2023 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon approaches this weekend, mushers and event organizers are hoping for cold temperatures through the week to firm up the trails.
According to Brittany North, Beargrease vice president, the trails were looking a little "mashed potato-y" on Monday, Jan. 23, but she remained optimistic for the weekend conditions.
According to the Beargrease website , 58 mushers are registered in the four race categories: the marathon, the 120, the Junior 120 and the 40. North said much of the programming will be nearly identical to last year, including trails and checkpoints.
"We don’t have a whole lot of changes this year," North said. "I feel like it’s kind of a copy-and-paste from last year, which on our end is kind of nice as we try to get better at putting on this race.”
The annual sled dog marathon honors John Beargrease, an Indigenous man who delivered mail between Two Harbors and Grand Marais in the late 1800s. Beargrease used several methods to transport mail, including a rowboat and a team of horses, but he's best-known for his winter deliveries via dogsled.
Here's everything you need to know about Beargrease 2023:
Races start Sunday
The races start Sunday, Jan. 29, at Billy's, 3502 W. Tisher Road, Duluth. The start and finish events are open to the public and will be streamed at beargrease.com . No outside dogs, except service dogs, are allowed.
The event begins at 8 a.m. with a "Meet the Mushers" event. There will be a ceremony at 9:45 a.m. with the national anthem and pipe ceremony.
Mushers begin to leave the chute at 10 a.m. Teams depart every two minutes, beginning with marathon mushers, followed by Beargrease 120 mushers and Beargrease 40 mushers. The last team is expected to leave the chute around 12:30 p.m.
A free shuttle will be available from the University of Minnesota Duluth. The shuttle pickup and drop-off point is at Junction Avenue and West College Street. Shuttles will run from UMD to Billy's from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and will return to UMD from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Parking at Billy's will be limited on a first-come, first-served basis.
John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon
According to the Beargrease website , 17 mushers are registered for this year's nearly 300-mile marathon.
The marathon finishes Tuesday, Jan. 31, at Grand Portage Lodge and Casino, 70 Casino Drive, Grand Portage. Beargrease organizers estimate teams will finish between 5 and 10 p.m., which could vary depending on weather, trail conditions and musher strategy.
In 2022, Ryan Anderson of Cushing, Wisconsin, won the marathon in 54 hours, 29 minutes and 24 seconds. Anderson is returning this year with his eye on a potential fifth Beargrease win.
“We’re gonna try. We’ll see," Anderson said. "That’s kind of the goal, obviously finishing with the eyes on No. 5. It’s just another dog sled race. Anything can happen at any given time, just like any sporting event — you never know what’s going to happen. You just go into it as prepared as possible, I guess, and whatever the outcome is, it is.”
Anderson, who's been racing in the Beargrease marathon on and off since 1994, said he loves returning to northern Minnesota, where he used to live. He's also excited for his two young children to be present at the start of this year's race.
The Beargrease 120 has 27 mushers registered, including three junior mushers. The 120-mile race finishes the morning of Monday, Jan. 30, at the Trestle Inn, 9459 Highway 7, Finland. Organizers expect teams to finish between 6 a.m. and noon, depending on race and musher conditions.
Lynne Witte, of Cheboygan, Michigan, has raced in the Beargrease 120 every year since 2018. Last year, she finished sixth.
Witte said she has grown "addicted" to the race. The former elementary teacher started coming to Beargrease after she retired.
Witte comes from a canoe-racing background, and she likes the Beargrease 120 because she gets to go fast for a shorter period of time. She said there hasn't been much snow in her area of Michigan, even after she's crossed the Mackinac Bridge to the Upper Peninsula. However, she always looks forward to coming to northern Minnesota for the race.
“It’s fun. I love it, and there's a community of people that travel now and do very similar races. You’re with them a lot and you get to be good friends because of that," Witte said. “It’s a harder race than we have in Michigan, so for me I like that. I know it’s harder, but that’s OK. I’ll keep coming back as long as they have one.”
The Beargrease 40 finishes at the Highway 2 gravel pit in Two Harbors. The 14 registered mushers are expected to arrive between 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday, depending on trail and musher conditions.
Cutest Puppy Contest : Saturday, Jan. 28, at Fitger's, 600 E. Superior St., Duluth. Preregistration for puppies is required. Viewing and voting is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., with awards presented at 1:30 p.m. No outside dogs are permitted.
Opening ceremony: 3 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at Black Bear Casino Resort, 1785 Minnesota Highway 210, Carlton. The event will begin at 3 p.m. with a drum ceremony, eulogy for John Beargrease and a land acknowledgment. Mushers will receive their bibs and mailbags and will be sworn in as mail carriers. No outside dogs allowed.
For more information about mushers, the races, John Beargrease and to watch live coverage, visit beargrease.com . The Duluth News Tribune will also provide regular updates during the race at duluthnewstribune.com/beargrease .