Ceremonial finish for the UP200
Teams competing in the UP200 sled dog race made their way back to Marquette's Lower Harbor Sunday afternoon. The finish was a ceremonial one, since the race was called off Saturday night in Wetmore. After arriving back in Marquette, teams gathered at the Welcome Center to finish out the last few miles of the race’s normal route.
"There was a lot that went into making the decision to end the race in Wetmore on the inbound leg. Part of it, you can see behind me, because it's still snowing. We have had a tremendous amount of snow, and that ice storm, so the trail conditions were very challenging," said the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association President (UPSDA), Darlene Walch.
One concern was that the race was taking too long, and that the racers might not finish until late Sunday night or early Monday morning. However, safety concerns were also a big factor in the decision.
"Also, the condition of the dogs. We didn't want to risk injuries on a long run that was very challenging, so the race marshal weighed all of the concerns, spoke with all the mushers, and made a judgement call last night," Walch said.
Many mushers agreed with the decision, saying the snow caused problems for their dog teams.
"It slows them down, you know, the sled gets heavier, they can't get a good footing, and they're sinking in. It's like if you were running on a beach instead of pavement," said UP200 musher, Shawn McCarty.
Even though the normally 230-mile-long race was shortened by about 64 miles, the mushers kept positive attitudes.
"It's just being out on the trail. Once we're out in the woods, just us and the dogs and it's quiet and we're just traveling, I just love it," said musher Blake Freking, who placed sixth in the UP200.
Despite the circumstances, many people were at the finish line to welcome racers and their dogs.
"People in Marquette just absolutely love the dogs. The community is awesome. Our race marshal spoke with all of the mushers and explained the idea of everybody gathering at the Welcome Center and running that last couple of miles into town. All of the mushers were willing to do it, and it was excellent," added Walch.
More information on the sled dog races, such as standings and information on awards, can be found on the UP200 website.