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Last weekend we took a roundabout road trip to the 2015 Apostle Islands Sled Dog Races. Our first stop was at ABR in Ironwood, Michigan for a half day of skiing. The next morning we were up early so we could make it to the races before the 10am start. As usual we were early and had plenty of time to wander around and look at the prerace activities. We were fortunate that we were early because we had to make a couple of trips back to the car for extra cloths. While the air temperature was around twenty degrees there was a strong wind that made it a bit cool.

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We had a chance to check the dogs out before they became excited about getting hooked up to the sleds. Many of them had eaten and seemed to be relaxing before the race.

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Many of the mushers already had their sleds out and were getting ready to hook the dogs up to the sleds.

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As with just about every place in Wisconsin there was a lack of snow. This was the first time that I’ve been at the race where they had to haul snow to the parking lot so the sleds could make it to the starting line without running on gravel.

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As with any sled dog race it requires many volunteers to get the teams to the starting line. This group reminded me of the typical group of tourists following the leader holding a flag. They were heading out to the teams to assist the mushers to the starting line. It takes five or six people to get the eight dog teams to the starting line.

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This was one of the first teams to head out onto the course. The dogs were overly excited and became all tangled up just before they were given the signal to go. One of the handlers was trying to get the dogs straightened out when the team took off and the handler ended up on the ground. The dogs were still tangled up but the musher was able to get the lead dog headed in the right direction using voice commands.

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Unfortunately this team did not make it through the race. They had a problem on the first turn and the musher was injured. They had to send a snowmobile out to pick him up and someone had to bring the team back to the starting point.

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After photographing from near the starting gate I walked down the course a ways to photograph from a different position. I have to say this is the first time I’ve seen a musher smoking a cigarette either before or during a race. My wife was at the starting gate when he started. She said he was trying to light the cigarette in the wind when the team started.

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After photographing out on the course for a while I wandered back toward the starting gate to photograph some more mushers starting the race.

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I then moved up to the starting line to watch the teams being brought into the starting gate. I believe this girl was 8 years old and had a team of two dogs. The announcer said that she got an early start to racing because her mother was racing when she was six months pregnant with the little girl. The musher listed her day job as a student.

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The final musher of the day has raced in this race a number of times and his entire team consists of dogs rescued from shelters.

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After the race we met up with some friends that had moved from Menomonie to Cornucopia, Wisconsin. We talked for a while and planned on having lunch but it started to rain just after the race finished. We decided to head to Duluth before the roads turned bad. As it turned out the rain stopped after about a half an hour and the sun came out.

Many more photos from the first day of the race can be found on my website.

This year for the first time in a long time you might be able to experience a number of outstanding events on the same day or at least the same weekend in the Bayfield area.

The weekend of February 1 and 2, 2014 the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race will take place. In my opinion this is one of the best sled dog races for spectators because there are a large number of sled dog teams that participate.

Off and Racing

Off and Racing

In addition, it is possible to get up close to the dogs and it is easy to watch them come out of the starting gate. There are no bad seats at the event.

Resting

Resting

Since the race is an out and back race you have time to watch them take off in the morning, enjoy lunch in Bayfield, and return to the race site and watch them come back early in the afternoon.Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-11-2-_2518

While in Bayfield you can drive out to Madeline Island on the ice road. The ice road to Madeline Island opened this past week so the ice should be good and solid by the time of the sled dog race. When we were at the race last year the wind sled was operating still operating.Madeline-Island-Windsled-13-2_0043

In addition, the Apostle Islands Ice Caves are open so you have a chance to watch some of the sled dog race, drive out to Madeline Island on the ice road and walk out to the Apostle Island Ice Caves all on the same day.Apostle-Islands-Ice-Caves-14-1-_1471

A better option would be to stay in the area and enjoy the events over the course of the weekend.

We stayed in Bayfield during our recent trip to the Apostle Islands Ice Caves. Unfortunately there is not a lot to do in Bayfield this time of year because most of the business are closed during the week.

Bayfield

Bayfield

We did spend some time walking around the harbor area checking out some of the fishing boats that remain in the water all winter long.

Fishing Boat

Fishing Boat

All of the sailboats were in winter storage.

Sail Boats

Sail Boats

Bayfield has a lot of snow this winter.

More Photos from Bayfield can be found on my website.

Davidson-Windmill-13-10-_2220In late October we took a late fall road trip from Duluth to Bayfield. Our first stop was Davidson Windmill located just outside Superior, Wisconsin on highway 13. I had driven by it many times but never took time to stop. It was built by a Finnish immigrant in 1904 and was used to mill locally grown grain.

Amnicon-River-13-10-_2260Our next stop was the mouth of the Amnicon River. This was only the second time I had been to this location. I’ve always wanted to photograph the area around sunset but never made it this year. The sandbar that separates the Amnicon River from Lake Superior is usually covered by dead trees and logs.

Port-Wing-Harbor-13-10-_2268The third stop was Port Wing Harbor. This houseboat is usually moored in the harbor. The story is that you can’t have houseboats in the harbor so once every summer the owner take it out onto the lake thus qualifying it as a boat.

Herbster-13-10-_2289Herbster, Wisconsin was the next stop. The wind was blowing and there was nice wave action on a beautiful fall day at the beach in Herbster.

-Cornucopia-13-10-_2293We drove from Herbster to Cornucopia where we stopped at the harbor where there are a number of old fishing boats on display. This is the Twin Sisters out of Cornucopia.

Houghton-Falls-State-Natural-Area-13-10-_2312My wife was interested in visiting the Apple Orchards in Bayfield but my goal was to visit Houghton Falls State Natural Area. We had tried to find it a few weeks earlier but failed. This time we had a better map. It was getting a little late and everyone but me wanted to head back to Duluth. I did manage to get a few shots and an overview of the area.

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.

Lake-Superior-13-2_0387bWe 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0405When 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0101We 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0431This 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0433I 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0751Toward the end of the race I returned to the starting gate to photograph some of the younger racers as they started the race.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0800One 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0308Volunteers 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0234The 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0250There 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0624One 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.

Madeline-Island-Windsled-13-2_0024We 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.

Madeline-Island-13-2_0010After 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0790We 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0775As we watched the returning mushers my wife notice a couple of people that looked familiar, It’s hard to recognize peopleĀ  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.

Lake-Superior-13-2_0836Later 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.

Madeline-Island-Windsled-13-2_0043The 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.

Apostle-Islands-Sled-Dog-Race-13-2_0133A 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.

We were recently in Bayfield, Wisconsin to watch the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race. During our visit we discovered that the Madeline Island Windsled was in operation.

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Madeline Island is the only island in the Apostle Islands that is open to commercial development. It has about 250 year around inhabitants. It is 2 miles from Bayfield out in Lake Superior. Most of the year access to Madeline Island is by ferry. The ferry operates until the ice is too thick. At that time scheduled access to the island is by Windsled. Some of the locals use bikes, snowmobiles, skis etc. during the transition period. Once the ice becomes thick enough scheduled access is by van. The van runs until the ice starts to breakup in the spring and the windsleds are used once again until the ferry can operate.

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I’ve always wanted to see the Windsled in operation and this was my lucky day. On the weekends it only makes three trips. During the week it makes more. There are actually three windsleds that are in use with the larger sleds operated during the week when there is more demand. The windsleds transport everything that needs to go to and from Madeline island during the time it is operation. On this particular day the smallest sled was in operation.

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It was a beautiful crisp cold morning as I stood out on the ice waiting for the windsled. There had been a little snowfall the night before so there was about an inch of powder on the ice. In the distance I could see a large cloud of blowing snow and knew this was the windsled making its way across the ice. The pine trees in the photo mark the route the windsled takes and also marks the ice road in the winter. On this particular trip the windsled offloaded several passengers and picked up several more.

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Apostle Islands Sled Dog Race

This past weekend we took another road trip. Our destination was the Apostle Islands Sled Dog Races in Bayfield, Wisconsin with a little skiing in between. We arrived at the Echo Valley Gravel Pit well before the races were to start. The gravel pit is located 12 miles north of Bayfield on Highway 13. It offers a large flat area so the racers can get all of their gear ready for the race and also provides parking for the Volunteers and spectators. This was our first dog sled race and we didn’t know what to expect.

Anticipation

When we arrived most of the mushers were already encamped with their dogs and sleds on the ground. The first thing we noticed was the tremendous excitement in the air. Most of the dogs were barking and the din was really loud. There were other dog teams that were really calm. We walked around the venue admiring the beautiful animals on the various teams.

The races were scheduled to start at 10am so we headed for the starting line in time to get a good viewing location. The din really increased as the dogs were getting harnessed up. They knew what was coming and were really excited to be off and racing. Although the parking lot was full we didn’t notice all that many spectators around the starting line and we had no problem finding some good viewing sites for the start of the race.

Heading for the Starting Line

Volunteers at Work

One of the reason there were so few spectators was because there were a large number of volunteers working. We didn’t realize that it takes so many people to put on a dog race. It takes 5 or 6 people to bring a dog team to the starting point and even then there can be mass bedlam. The dogs are frantically jumping around and frequently get tangled up in the harness. Since they have two shutes at the starting gate there can be mass bedlam as the dogs get ready. The mushers have an anchor on the

Starting Shute

sled and that is attached to a wire cable at the back of the Shute so the dogs can’t take off before everything is ready. When they are given the go the anchor is handed to the musher and the team jumps from the starting gate to the cheers of the fans.

Halfway Home

On this particular day there were 4 different classes, 8-dog, 6-dog, Sportsman, and Family/Youth. We watched most of the racers start before leaving and driving down to a midway point on the race course to watch some of the teams out on the race course.

Sailboats waiting for Spring

We then headed back to Bayfield to see if we could watch the wind sled that transports people back and forth to Madeline Island. As it turned out the ice road had opened up so the wind sled was no longer running We took time out for a nice lunch and watched people driving out to Madeline Island and ice fishing on the lake. We also took a few photos of the sailboats that were stored along the harbor.

The Finish

After lunch we drove back out the to the race starting point which had become the race finishing point. What a difference. In the morning there was bedlam with the dogs ready to go and barking up a storm in the excitement. The weather was warm and the course was soft so the dogs really had to work hard. When finished the race there wasn’t a sound. Their tongues were hanging out and it looked like all they could think of was getting back to the truck for some food, water and rest.

Resting

This was a fun day and something we would love to do again. The race venue is great and you will have no problems getting a good viewpoint for photography. If you really want to get up close you can volunteer to help at the race. They are always looking for volunteers to help with the dogs.

Additional photos from the day can be seen on my website.