Before the first running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in 1980, there was the Gunflint Mail Run. On Monday, January 30 and Tuesday, January 31, 2012, Stone Harbor and friends plan to revive the race in Grand Marais – one of the only snow-covered spots in the state.
“When the Beargrease race was cancelled due to lack of snow, the mushers here were really disappointed,” said Jack Stone, owner of Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply. “So the Cook County Dog Mushers and I started thinking: Why not invite the mushers north? We have snow and the conditions are great. So, we put the word out – and they can’t wait.”
The last time this happened was in 2007, when the Beargrease race was also canceled due to lack of snow. For this year’s version, Stone Harbor teamed up with The Landing at Devil Track, the Trail Center, the Cook County Dog Mushers, and the Cook County Ridge Riders snowmobile club to create the race route. It will include the opportunity to experience winter camping at Devil Track, similar to the Sawbill Winter Camping Village that would have taken place during the Beargrease event.
All of the Gunflint Mail Run events are timed to ensure that spectators and participants are still able to take part in the Beargrease-related events that have not been canceled. “It was important for us to make sure we aren’t taking anything away from that outstanding event, which we look forward to sponsoring every year,” said Stone. “We just want to give the mushers a chance to compete, since that is what they love – and what they have been training for.” According to Stone, almost all 16 of the available race spots were filled by mushers from Cook County within days of announcing the race.
The race will begin at approximately 4 pm on Monday, January 30, with an expected finish before noon on Tuesday, January 31. Mushers will travel from Devil Track up the Gunflint Trail, and then to the Trail Center, where they will have a five-hour layover. After that, they will make their way back down to Devil Track, for a total route of approximately 100 miles.
“Most people think there’s been nearly no snow in Minnesota this year, but there has been plenty of it up here on the Gunflint Trail,” said Sarah Hamilton, owner of the Trail Center. “We really enjoy being the turnaround point for the Beargrease each year, and are excited to hear that our musher friends will still be stopping by mid-race.”
Spectators are welcome to join in the festivities at the Trail Center, or at Devil Track. Winter camping at Devil Track will begin on Sunday evening and continue Monday night, with heated tents and other gear supplied by Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply. There will purse and other prizes for racers to win, plus a whole lot of fun for racers and spectators alike. If the weather allows, snow kiting demos, Marquette ski demos, and other winter activities will also be available on site, courtesy of Stone Harbor.