Ryan Anderson of St. Croix Falls, Wis., and his eight dogs were the first to cross the Beargrease mid-distance finish line shortly after 7 a.m. this morning at Lutsen Mountain.
Anderson, a winner of the mid-distance race in 2001, has also won the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon three times in recent years. After completing the 120-mile mid-distance race, he was left craving more time on the trail.
"We had a good time," Anderson said while the dogs gobbled up a mixture of kibble and ground beef. "I'm kind of sad it's over. I tend to run the marathon and enjoy that a little bit more."
Nonetheless, he's excited to get home to his wife and 7-month-old newborn - the main reason he didn't commit to the longer race this year.
Anderson finished the race in 10 hours, 13 minutes, 34 seconds.
Less than 10 minutes after Anderson's finish, four-time champion Martha Schouweiler of Irma, Wis., and her team crossed the finish line under the warm glow of twinkling lights strung between trees. Schouweiler's official race time was 10:21:42.
Karen and Tom Ketchmark, two of seven volunteers at the mid-distance finish, helped hang the lights, line the trail with luminary lights and set out the firewood. They've been out staffing the finish area since 5 a.m. this morning.
Neither of them had been spectators of the sport before they first volunteered for the race last year. The couple lives between their homes in the Twin Cities and Lutsen and volunteering for the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is a way they can appreciate their love of winter while giving back to their second community.
Though volunteering for the race can include long hours stationed in the cold to ensure every team is taken care of, along with early mornings or sleepless nights - things that might seem far from glamorous, the Ketchmarks disagree. They're just happy to be out in Minnesota's winter wilderness.
"I think it's awesome," Karen Ketchmark said of the sled dog race. "The dogs are athletes and the mushers treat their dogs with such love and respect."
Rounding out the top five finishers in the Beargrease 120 were Joanna Oberg of Grand Marais, with a time of 10:30:07; Rita Wehseler of Tofte, 10:38:41; and Joann Fortier of Gaylord, Mich., 10:53:59.
Julia Cross of Thunder Bay, Ontario, was the first of five junior mushers to finish the mid-distance race. She finished eighth overall.
The 16-year-old pulled in smiling with frozen eyelashes and a full team of dogs eager to keep running after she stopped the sled.
"Maybe they should keep going and run the marathon," a spectator joked while the dogs yipped and continued attempting to pull the stationed sled.
"They obviously don't think they're done," Cross said of her team primarily made up of dogs from marathon racer Frank Moe's kennel, as well as one of her own named Jitterbug. She raced with the same team earlier this year in the Gunflint Mail Run.
When it comes to getting involved in sled dog racing as a young adult, Cross said more veteran mushers are eager to take on the role of a mentor to guide younger mushers into the sport.
"A lot of us have really good mentors," Cross said. "We're the future of this sport, so our mentors want to keep the sport alive. Everyone has someone that is helping them. It's fantastic."
Over the years, Cross has had the opportunity to work with Moe as well as, to name a few, marathon veterans Nathan Schroeder and Peter McClelland, who is running the marathon this year. Four times a week Cross makes the 90-minute drive from her home in Ontario down to Hovland to train with Moe's dogs. Her goal is to someday run the marathon and eventually the 938-mile Iditarod in Alaska.
She's been running dogs since she was 5, but not because she was born into the sport. In fact, she said, her father's allergic to dogs and her interest in the sport started when she attended a local winter carnival that gave sled dog rides. She's been behind dogs ever since.
Colleen Wallin of Two Harbors was the first to leave the Sawbill checkpoint near Tofte Monday morning. She was followed by last year’s Beargrease marathon champion, Ryan Redington of Skagway, Alaska.
Somewhere on the trail between Sawbill and Trail Center, Redington passed Wallin. Redington, dressed in his neon green, was the first to cross the frozen Poplar Lake to Trail Center at, 15 minutes ahead of Wallin Monday afternoon.
Spectators, dog handlers and race volunteers grabbing a warm bite to eat, or a reprieve from the cold, inside the Trail Center Restaurant off Poplar Lake had a view of the mushers arriving at the checkpoint.
“Just tough, tough dogs. They love to run,” said server Susan Poche from behind the bar as she poured a beverage while admiring Wallin’s team outside the window.
Poche lives next door to the restaurant and has worked there for 25 years, giving her a front row seat to the race.
Every year a team camps out on her lawn, she said with a grin before asking the owner of the restaurant and store, Sarah Hamilton, which teams were camping on her land this year.
“Mushers get free burgers,” Hamilton told Poche before heading back to the store fronting the restaurant where she had posters for sale at $10 each or $15 for a signed copy with all the mushers’ signatures.
Blake Freking of Finland pulled into Trail Center third ahead of partner Jennifer Freking. Erin Altemus of Grand Marais arrived shortly after.
“The last leg felt so slow,” Altemus said of the 51-mile leg between Sawbill and Trail Center. “That often happens during a daytime run like this, but man that was surprisingly slow. Dogs just don't like running in the day.”
It didn’t help that Altemus didn’t catch any sleep at the previous checkpoint and was looking forward to a few hours of much needed rest herself.
Out on the shore of the lake, volunteer Dave Hanson of Grand Marais tended to the fire all afternoon to help keep spectators, handlers and volunteers warm as they waited sometimes over an hour between teams. Mushers can leave the Trail Center checkpoint after at least four hours of rest.
Mary Manning of Hovland was scratched from the race after arriving at the Sawbill checkpoint early Monday morning.
Ward wins Beargrease 40
Meanwhile, in Sunday's Beargrease 40 race to the Highway 2 checkpoint in Two Harbors, Jim Ward of Duluth came out on top with a race time of 2 hours, 59 minutes, 52 seconds. Rounding out the top five were were Chloe Beatty of Lakeville, Minn., with a time of 3:15:15; Morgan McClelland of Ely, 3:17:06; Ben Nicolson of Duluth, 3:17:20; and Jonathan Ward of Duluth, 3:18:47.
Tim Chisholm of North Branch, Minn., dropped out of the race before reaching the Highway 2 finish.
News Tribune reporter Adelie Bergstrom contributed to this report.