As I noted in an earlier post one of the goals this winter is to attend some sled dog races. One of the first races of the season took place last weekend on the Minnesota North Shore. It was a staged race with the first stage starting at Grand Portage and ending at Hungry Jack Lodge. Day two was from Windigo Lodge to Devils Track Landing and the final stage from Grand Marais to Grand Portage. The final leg had to be rerouted because there is almost no snow in Grand Marais. The final leg started at Devils Track Landing.
We weren’t sure we were going to take this race in but given the lack of snow for cross country skiing we decided to head up to Grand Marais to watch the first ever Gichigami Express Sled Dog Race. The plan was to drive to Grand Marais on Monday and watch the finish of the second stage of the race at Devils Track Landing. However, when we reached Grand Marais there were strong southeast winds creating huge waves along the coast. We decided to watch the waves instead. More about this in a future blog.
On Tuesday morning we decided to skip breakfast at the hotel and go down to Sven and Ole’s where the local Lions Club was having a pancake breakfast. We always try to support local events when we have the opportunity. Unfortunately it didn’t look like the breakfast was well attended but we had a great time talking to some friendly folks from Grand Marais. The pancakes were good particularly the blueberry pancakes.
After Breakfast we headed out to Devils Track Landing to watch the start of the final stage of the race. When we arrived everyone was just starting to get organized for the day. I was surprised that things were so quiet. Usually at the start of the race the dogs are going nuts. We walked around taking photos of the various teams that would be participating in the race. Three of the teams were from Alaska. As soon as the first dog was put into its harness bedlam broke out. The dogs knew that the race was going to start and they were really excited to get started.
Just before the start of the race one of the race officials came by and asked if we were spectators (as opposed to mushers and helpers) and if we were would we be willing to go out onto the lake and forma a line so the dogs would know which way to go. The start of the race was the top of a boat landing heading down to Devils Track Lake and then out onto the lake. Normally they have hay bales set along the start to get the dogs going in the right direction but maybe because of the change in the starting location they didn’t have them on hand. At any rate my wife and I headed out to the lake to help form a line.
The line worked fairly well for the first part of the race but then people started gathering in groups to talk and as one racer came down the boat ramp there was too big a gap in the line and the dogs dashed through the gap and headed the wrong direction. The musher quickly got them under control and headed off in the right direction.
Toward the end of the race we walked back up to the starting gate to get some photos of teams at the starting gate and the teams being brought to the starting gate. It was interesting watching them bring teams to the gate. It takes quite a few people to get a dog sled team to a starting gate. About 5-9 people were helping with each team. Some teams required more help than others.
This was the first time I had seen the use of four wheelers and snowmobiles to help get the dogs to the starting gate. They attached a tow rope from the sled to the snowmobile. This prevented the dogs from just taking off and probably reduced the number of people required to get a team to the starting gate.
At the starting gate they had a heavy chain across the snow. It was held in place by pickup trucks that were parked on each end on the chain. The chain was used to anchor the sled once it was at the gate. Each sled carries an anchor that can be used to prevent the dogs from taking off before the start time. Someone stands on the anchor until just before the team starts.