For mushers and spectators alike, the dogs make the sport of mushing what it is
REGIONAL– Returning to the WolfTrack Classic Sled Dog Race after a three-year absence, Frank Moe took first in the 10-dog race, finishing the 60-mile course shortly after 4 p.m. in Cook. But Moe, like many mushers, gave most of the credit to his dogs.
“I think I’m getting closer to my dogs,” he said. “They’re still a lot better than I am, but I’m closing the gap.”
Indeed, while mushers are the ones who get their names in the paper, it’s the dogs that bring the real excitement to the sport. Whatever the conditions, their unrelenting enthusiasm is positively infectious, for mushers as well as spectators. And their excitement was unmistakable as they hit the trail in Ely Sunday morning in both the six- and ten-dog classes, on their way to finish lines in Tower and Cook.
Moe, of Grand Marais, has competed in the Beargrease Marathon and Upper Peninsula 200, but considers the WolfTrack Classic his favorite event.
“It’s a well-run, professionally-run race, yet it still seems focused and comfortable,” he said “It’s a really easy place to come and race.”
The second-place team with Andrew Letzring crossed the finish line two minutes later. Official race times were not available at press time. Mushers took off at 9 a.m. from Ely, and did a layover (the minimum time determined by their start time in Ely) in Tower.
Brendon Schneider, of Dryden, Ontario, claimed the top prize in the six-dog race, completing the 30-mile trip from Ely to Tower in two hours, 12 minutes and four seconds.
The Schneider kennel brought four teams to the race, and again showed their support for this year’s race by donating $600 cash to be used as door prizes for registered mushers. The race itself paid out a total of $4,000 in prize money to the top eight finishers in each race.
Despite a blizzard that dumped more than a foot of snow across the trail route just a few days ahead of Sunday’s race, mushers reported good trail conditions. Brisk winds created snowdrifts over portions of the trail on Sunday, contributing to slower times for mushers and their teams.
“The first half of the trail was great,” said Matthew Schmidt, who took third in the 10-dog race. “After Tower, the first 10 to 15 miles was pretty sloppy and we kind of lost a little drive there. But it seemed to get better after that.”
Overall, mushers were pleased by the race conditions and praised the volunteers and spectators who supported the event.
“It’s a beautiful trail,” said Schmidt, who had never raced in the WolfTrack before this year.
Andrew Letzring also complimented the race organizers and volunteers. Letzring, who took second in the 10-dog competition, said the fresh snow and cold weather didn’t pose any problems. “The conditions were beautiful,” he said. “This is what a dog race is supposed to be like.”
The race involves a huge volunteer commitment, according to Randy Scott, president of the WolfTrack Classic’s Board of Directors. There were over 125 volunteers involved in the two-day event. Volunteers included everyone from the vets who checked on dogs before and during the race, to Vermilion Community College law enforcement students who helped with road crossings. Area snowmobile clubs offered volunteer help on the trail, and local ham radio operators helped track the teams while they were on the trail.
The Friday storm added an extra level of complication to planning.
“We really have to thank the Ely Public Works crew,” said Scott. “There was a lot of last-minute plowing to get done on Friday.”
In Tower, the local maintenance crew was able to carve out just enough space in the Civic Center parking area for all the six-dog team owners to park, as well as space alongside the Iron Ore Bar for the 10-dog teams to do their layover.
Board member Liz Graves took over as co-volunteer coordinator this year.
She noted that the job of coordinating the volunteers is quite time-consuming, but credited the crew of veteran volunteers with making the race run smoothly. She said the VCC crew, as well as the road crossing coordinators, provide a huge amount of support for the race.
Several mushers she talked to praised the race for the safety of the course and the trail crossings.
Graves said the race is especially friendly to first-time mushers.
“It really highlights the sport of dogsledding,” she said, noting the veteran mushers are very helpful to the newcomers.
Graves, who has raced in the WolfTrack in previous years, didn’t run a team this year on account of her responsibilities. She had joined the WolfTrack board last year along with another area musher, when several openings on the board meant there might not be enough help to keep the race running.
Graves and her husband had hoped to race their own dogs in the mid-distance Beargrease this year, but when a dog was injured, they had to pull out of the race.
Action in Tower was fast and furious as the first ten-dog team came through around 11:45 a.m., with the six-dog teams not far behind.
Scott said the race would not be possible without the sponsors and volunteers and singled out State Farm of Ely and Cook for their premier sponsorship of the event. This year’s race was also dedicated to Doug Harris, a WolfTrack Board member and lover of dogs, life, adventure and people. Harris was killed in a logging accident in 2013.
Spectator turnout this year was terrific, according to Scott, even with the sub-zero windchills. The weather didn’t seem to bother the dogs. There were only a few of the 10-dog teams that opted to drop a dog in Tower. Dogs jumped and howled at the checkpoint in Tower, clearly ready for a longer run. Handlers gave the dogs a quick rest, checked feet, fed food and water, but mostly the dogs seemed interested in getting back on the trail.
Cook hosted activities in conjunction with the race this year. Mushers appreciated the chance to get some hot food at the finish of the 10-dog race at the Doug Johnson Recreation Area, Scott said.
Thirty-eight teams registered for the race, according to Randy Scott, but one musher in the 10-dog race withdrew at the last minute after becoming ill. Twenty-six competed in the six-dog race and 10 took part in the 10-dog race. This year’s registrations set a new record for the race, by one team.
This year’s winners were as follows:
First – Frank Moe, 48, Grand Marais,16:00:30, $850.
Second – Andrew Letzring, 30, Iron River, Wis., 16:02:29, $550.
Third – Matthew Schmidt, 35, Grand Marais,16:08:25, $400.
Fourth – Leanne Bergen, 22, Sioux Lookout, Ontario, 16:38:50, $200.
Fifth – Logan Schendel, 25, Finland, Minn., 16:54:28, $150.
Sixth – Brian Wiese, 52, Kakabeka Falls, Ontario, 17:32:49, $75.
Seventh – Mel Mickelson, 62, Nashwauk, 17:34:02, $50.
Eighth – Bob Johnson, 57, Togo, 18:02:41, $25.
First – Brendon Schneider, 20, Dryden, Ontario, 2:12:04, $650.
Second – Clayton Schneider, 62, Dryden, Ontario, 2:24:05 , $400.
Third – Mallory Sturmer, 29, Duluth, 2:25:11, $250.
Fourth – Adam Moore, 40, Dryden, Ontario, 2:29:38, $150.
Fifth – Dusty Klaven, 25, Gheen, 2:37:35, $100.
Sixth – J.R. Anderson, 34, Buyck, 2:42:00, $50.
Seventh – Teri Gapinski, 46, Hackensack, 2:43:17, $25.
Eighth – Gail Branstrom, 46, Babbitt, 2:45:24, $25.