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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.

Two mushers on the trail.
John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon racer Colleen Wallin leads her son, Ero Wallin, as they near the Arrowhead Trail road crossing Feb. 1.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune
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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.

Dogs running.
John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon racer Erin Altemus’ dogs charge up a hill early in the race Jan. 30, 2022.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

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.

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"Trail Mail," operating for 15 years, has mushers deliver mail by sled to recognize John Beargrease's legacy.

Here's everything you need to know about Beargrease 2023:

Races start Sunday

Beargrease 2023.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

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.

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At the Beargrease finish line.
John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon racer Ryan Anderson nears the finish line Feb. 1, 2022, for his fourth marathon championship. He has also won the mid-distance race twice.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

“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.

Beargrease 120

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.

Musher talks to vet.
John Beargrease 120 racer Lynne Witte, of Cheboygan, Mich., talks with a race veterinarian at the finish line Jan. 31, 2022. Witte finished sixth.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

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.”

Beargrease 40

Elena Freking of Finland, Min.
Elena Freking, 12, of Finland, Minn., is scheduled to compete in the Beargrease 40.
Dan Williamson / 2023 file / Duluth News Tribune

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.

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Other events

Eric Moore holds Gus and watches as daughter Shelby, 14 months, creeps by at Fitger’s Brewery Complex on Saturday afternoon. Gus, an easy-going Alaskan malamute, took first place in the annual Beargrease Cutest Puppy Contest. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com
Eric Moore holds Gus and watches as his daughter, Shelby, 14 months, crawls by at Fitger’s in 2019. Gus, an Alaskan malamute, took first place in the annual Beargrease Cutest Puppy Contest in Duluth.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

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.

Mushers 14 years old and younger raced Saturday in the John Beargrease 2023 Cub Run at Lakeview National Golf Course in Two Harbors.

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 .

MORE ABOUT BEARGREASE
Musher Joanna Oberg of Grand Marais and her team of dogs finished the 107.5-mile mid-distance race in 15 hours, 5 minutes and 15 seconds.

Laura Butterbrodt covers health for the Duluth News Tribune. She has a bachelor of arts in journalism from South Dakota State University and has been working as a reporter in Minnesota and South Dakota since 2014.
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