GRAND PORTAGE—The husband-wife duo of Blake and Jennifer Freking , of Finland, came from behind to take top honors at the 35th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog marathon this week. Jennifer, …
GRAND PORTAGE—The husband-wife duo of Blake and Jennifer Freking , of Finland, came from behind to take top honors at the 35th running of the John Beargrease Sled Dog marathon this week. Jennifer, an Ely veterinarian, and her husband are long-time mushers who operate Manitou Crossing Kennel in Finland.
The Beargrease trail runs 293 miles from Duluth to Grand Portage, making it the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states. Established in 1980, it’s a qualifier for the iconic Iditarod in Alaska.
Racers started at Billie’s Bar, on the north end of Duluth, early Sunday morning with temperatures running at a brisk minus-20 degrees, conditions that are actually considered favorable for the dogs. Blake was first to cross the finish line in Grand Portage, shortly after 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, while Jennifer touched the ribbon about an hour and 45 minutes later to claim second place. For Blake, it was his second first-place finish in the Beargrease, having won the race previously in 2004.
Neither Blake nor Jennifer was in the lead as of the final race checkpoint, about 35 miles from the finish line. But Ryan Redington of Skagway, Alaska, who was leading the race at that point by over an hour, struggled as he was forced to drop dogs from his team. With his original team of 12 down to six dogs, Redington ended up finishing in sixth place.
Peter McClelland, of Ely, was the seventh-place finisher in the race.
Other local racers this year include Dusty Klaven, of Togo, who came in 11th in the mid-distance 120-mile race. Klaven works at Fortune Bay Resort Casino, which was one of his sponsors. Jennifer’s team was sponsored by Wintergreen Northern Wear, of Ely.
Alice White, a veterinary technician at Ely Vet Clinic, and Morgan McClelland, of Ely, both finished the 40-mile race.