It’s a tradition that goes back centuries.
But while sled dogs were once used for survival, mail and even gossip in Northern Minnesota, it’s now a sport that attracts mushers from all over North America looking to take a piece of the first ever Gichigami Express Sled Dog Race’s $25,000 purse.
The three-day stage race took off Sunday morning near Grand Portage. The sun shone through the trees, countless dogs yelped in anticipation and the smell of diesel coming from a Grand Portage ambulance acting as a broadcasting booth hit the air as racers, some from as far away as Alaska, took off one after the other.
“It’s fun to have them come in and race on your training trails,” local Frank Moe said before getting started. “We get to show off where we run every day to some of the best teams in the word so that’s pretty neat.”
Moe has been mushing for 14 seasons. While racing for money is great, the real reason he does it is for the dogs. No other animal will run for 150 miles, rest for a few hours and then beg to do it all over again.
“They’re pretty fun to watch,” he said. “I love the dogs. They’re my best friends.”
And although the dogs are noisy before they get started, out on the trails it’s quiet. So quiet in fact, Moe and his team surprised a wolf just last week. Other winter sports are fun, but nothing compares to being out in the woods with a sled.
“There’ really no other way to get that experience,” he said. “There’s just nothing like it and I get to do that every day.”
Moe will definitely have some company out on the trail, which heads to Grand Marais before looping back to Grand Portage. Organizers say with nearly 20 teams in the race, its first year is a huge success. Director Beth Drost said they really wanted to show off how great the area’s trails are. And pull the local communities together.
“And celebrate all of the wonderful history that we have,” she said.
The race wraps up Tuesday afternoon.
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