I keep a spreadsheet listing the events I might want to go attend. This past weekend was a big weekend on my list. the options were the Hudson Hot Air Affair, Michigan IceFest and the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race. This year my wife and I chose the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race. Our last visit to this event was in 2011.
We planned on driving over to the race from Duluth. We rose early and found that it had snowed overnight in spite of a temperature of -9 degrees. We headed out around 7:30 because we wanted to arrive before the race started and soak up some of the excitement generated by the dogs. On the drive over to the race there were some spectacular views of Lake Superior with sunshine on the lake and lake effect snow clouds in the background. The roads were covered with a little lake effect snow and it was snowing along the lake.
When we arrived at the race the temperature was a balmy 6 degrees with sunshine. The starting point of the race is in a gravel pit about 10 miles east of Cornucopia. The gravel pit offers a good place to park for all of the mushers, volunteers and observers. It also provides ample space for a staging area as the mushers attach the dogs to their sleds.
We arrived about a half hour before the start of the race so we had ample time to walk around and watch the mushers getting ready for the race and listen to the growing excitement of the dogs as the start of the race approached. This year there were over 60 dog teams participating in the various classes.
This is a great race to watch because there are so many sled dog teams with various categories from the serious racers to family and youth racers. The crowd is usually small enough that there are plenty of opportunities to observe the race from all sorts of advantage points.
I photographed for a while at the starting gate and then worked my way down the race course to photograph the teams from various vantage points along the course.
Toward the end of the race I returned to the starting gate to photograph some of the younger racers as they started the race.
One can’t say enough about the volunteers. Without them the race could not take place. For the larger teams it takes 4 or 5 volunteers to get the dogs to the starting line and try and keep them calm before they are off and running.
Volunteers will be seen in most of the photos because they are such an integral part of the race. More than a few of them took spills trying to get the dogs to the starting line.
The din at the start of the race is so loud that you literally can hear the person next to you. Most of the dogs are frantic as they reach the starting line. I particularly like the dogs with blue eyes because they show the intensity just before the start the race.
There are a few teams that are really calm. This team was so relaxed that they seemed to be caught off guard when the signal to go was given. They almost fell over one another trying to get started.
One nice thing about this race is that it is an out and back race. So the racers finish at the same place they started. After all of the racers head out onto the course and watch the teams on the course. We did that on our previous visit but this trip we decided to head into Bayfield for some lunch and a little shopping.
We stopped at the Pickled Herring for some lunch and to check into our motel. They had my favorite meal, chili. I noticed as we walked up to the restaurant that the ferries to Madeline Island were not running and that the Ice road was closed. That could only mean one thing, the windsleds were running. Sure enough our waitress said the windsleds started today. This was something I always wanted to see and photograph. As we had lunch we saw the sled head out to Madeline Island.
After lunch we walked down to see check on the sled schedule. On the weekends the schedule is reduced. The last one of the day was at 4:30 and we didn’t think we would be back in time to watch it so I added it to my list of things to do in the morning.
We then headed back out to the sled dog race. We wanted to watch a few of the dog teams finish the race. In contrast to the raucous sounds at the start of the race all is quiet as the dogs return to the finish line. Fortunately it was cold so the dogs seemed to be in good shape at the finish. On an earlier visit it was so warm that the dogs were exhausted at the end of the race.
As we watched the returning mushers my wife notice a couple of people that looked familiar, It’s hard to recognize people when they are bundled up for the cold. It turned out to be some old friends from Menomonie that are now living in Cornucopia. We chatted with them as we watched the mushers finish.
Later in the afternoon we drove down to Meyers Beach to check and see if the Apostle Island Ice Caves were open. They were not open but there were tracks out onto the lake where some adventurous individuals took the risk to walk out onto the ice. Our friends said that people had been walking out to the caves for a couple of weeks in spite of the warnings at Meyers Beach that the ice was not safe. The National Park Service requires that the ice be stable for several weeks before they give the ok to go on the ice. On a previous visit I met several people from the park service checking the thickness of the ice. They were using sounding equipment to check it. We decided to hike the bluff trail and wait for the NPS to certify the ice was safe before our next visit.
The next morning we had a great breakfast at the Egg Toss Bakery Cafe. Great place for breakfast and their bread is outstanding. After breakfast we walked down to the harbor to watch the windsled arrive from Madeline Island. We then checked out of our motel and headed back out to the sled dog races. We spent most of the morning watching the teams head out. It was -9 degrees and seemed much colder on the second day maybe because the wind was blowing and the sun wasn’t out.
A popular spot on both days was the fire pit. As I mentioned the temperature was in the single digits and there was a wind on the second day so everyone was bundled up.
After the race we planned on doing some skiing but since it was so cold out and we had a long drive we decided to skip the skiing and head home to watch the Super Bowl.
There are several hundred pictures on my website from the two day race.