Sunday, January 29, 2006

To a select few foreign and domestic individuals today marks a very important date on their calender. Months of practicing commands and coordinating maneuvers will be put to the test . Each team's layout was carefully planned long before the snow fell and now after their booties have been secured and frozen meals packed securely on the sled along with a few key items in case shit should hit the fan out in the woods miles between two checkpoints. For 24 years now this race has stirred up excitement amongst Duluth's citizens frozen in the depth of January, the heart of winter. For 24 years the John Beargrease dogsled race has pitted man and dogs against one another in one of the oldest manners of transportation.
The dogsled and team has been around for years and used to conquer some of the earths most rigorous geographical obstacles. In the yukon during the era of the goldrush Mushers and their teams delivered and collected all the letters or packages miners sent home or eagerly anticipated reading from loved ones back home. In Greenland natives who don't so much shy away from modern technology but use what work still rely on dogsleds to take them on hunts or travel between villages. The dogs raised and bread are felt to be of such a superior quality the importing of any dogs onto the island is strictly forbidden for fear of contaminating the strength of the dogs. Far from mutts most dogs used for pulling can sleep out in the harshest of nights insulated by a heavy fur coat. Explorers have relied on dogs to reach both poles even in an era of snowmobiles and lumbering mechanical crawlers.
The Beargrease celebrates the men and women who live comfortably with the modern conveniences of internal combustion and central heating but still have a need, feel the urge to devote almost their entire life to a team of dogs and beautifully crafted wood sleds. The spectator gets to observe these individuals enjoying themselves as they race through the trees with only a headlamp tethering them to the modern world. Rarely do you see Gore tex or nylon shells over engineered synthetic insulators. Just like the sleds each musher's defense against the elements looks dated and inadequette but if anyone knows how to stay warm it's them. Standing on two thin runners for hour on end day after day with a constant wind in your face and minimal sleep between these endless shifts can wreak havoc if you aren't dressed for it.
So for the next week now as you sip hot chocolate relaxing on the couch or complain of a chilly house or biting wind remember that there are a bunch of mushers and dogs up in northern Minnesota dealing with alot more than numb fingers or toes. They're navigating narrow trails, frozen rivers, tending to a pack of dogs they must know and understand like a fellow human. Though old and unchanging dogsledding is perhaps the most bomber way to travel when snow and ice cover everything we don't shovel off and the wind clears.


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