John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon Kicks Off to a Cold and Exciting Start

Alejandra Palacios
Updated: January 27, 2019 10:38 PM

The 35th John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon kicked off Sunday afternoon and mushers and their sled dogs were eager to get on the trail.

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The Beargrease kicked off at Billy’s Bar and is ending at the Grand Portage Lodge and Casino.

"My happy place is out on the trail with my team, I really love it,” Jennifer Freking, a well-known marathon race musher, said.

"I’m excited. We got a really good team and it's a great race, great competition, and it's a lot of fun so we're excited. It’s Beargrease time,” Ryan Redington, the 2018 Beargrease marathon champion, said.

The marathon was filled with all sorts of emotions as mushers were getting final details ready to race with their trustee companions.

"I feel nervous and excited and I hope the dogs only pick up the excitement,” Kevin Vandenbussche, a Beargrease mid distance race musher, said. "It’s my first time racing my own dogs and my own team. I always raced other people's teams so it’s just exciting to be here and give her a go.”

Vandenbussche came all the way from Moosonee, a town in Ontario, Canada. 

"These dogs are just eager to get going and they’re just antsy," Josette Koets, a Beargrease attendee, said.

While spectators were struggling to stay warm at the Duluth start line, mushers were thankful for the below zero temperatures.

"I’m really excited. I have Siberian Huskies, they're really well furred dogs. Their ideal temperature is between 10 below and 10 above,” Freking said.

Freking kicked off the start of the marathon. She's been raising sled dogs for years and was more than ready to hit the trails once again with her husband Blake and the rest of the mushers.

"It’s my passion. Mushing makes me smile all year. I wake up every morning and am excited to go work with my dogs,” Freking said.

The Frekings own Manitou Crossing Kennels where they raise and train their Siberian Huskies for sled dog races. Jennifer is a veterinarian at the Ely Veterinary Clinic.

The Beargrease has been a family tradition for Ryan Redington. His grandfather, father-in-law, brother-in law, and wife, have raced in the Beargrease. The Alaskan musher has been racing sled dogs since he could reach the handle bars. He trains year round for the big event.

"I put on a little over 2,000 miles on my team. It’s a lot of miles of training for this race," Redington said.

Some changes were made to this year’s Beargrease marathon race like lowering the team requirement from 14 to 12 dogs. The marathon was also shortened to 300 miles, which is about 100 miles shorter than last year.

"Last year we ran this race by two in a half hours so we're ready for it to be longer or shorter, Redington said.

Although the race was shortened, it still proves to be a challenging one for the 12 mushers competing. The Beargrease marathon is considered the longest sled dog race in the lower 48 states. The length however, didn't scare mushers who were up for the challenge Sunday. 

"It's a tradition to this area, it’s part of Minnesota,” Koets said.

A total of 58 mushers were competing in the marathon, mid distance, recreational, and junior Beargrease.


Alejandra Palacios

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