FOR THE LOVE OF DOGS
300 MILES. 450 DOGS. AND A RARE BREED OF HUMANS: 400 VOLUNTEERS BRAVE ICE, SNOW AND SLEEPLESS NIGHTS TO HOST THE LONGEST MUSHING EVENT IN THE LOWER 48.
By 1:05 a.m. Monday, the temp hits 14 below zero. Gregg Phillips slips off a mitten, clicks on his headlamp and slides a latex-clad finger in a dog’s mouth. “He’s dehydrated,” Gregg tells the musher at a road crossing in northern Minnesota. She’ll have to make the last dash to the finish without Kenai, a rookie Alaskan husky on the team. Gregg swipes Kenai’s snout with the orange disqualifying mark (“a badge of honor” he calls it), then moves down the line. His crew has hundreds of pulses to check, gums to swab and vet diaries to update (one per musher) before rushing to the next checkpoint by sunup. Dehydrated, hungry and sleep-deprived themselves, the vets will get their break in two days, after the snow settles on the finish line. Gregg’s team of 20 rounds out 400-some volunteers who host the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon each year along Lake Superior’s frigid North Shore. Their pay for four days of around-the-clock work? The satisfaction of sustaining the longest mushing race in the continental U.S. And quality time with 450 dogs. For 34 years, the Beargrease has covered hundreds of miles of frozen Minnesota terrain. Merciless hills wind through wolf and moose country in the Sawtooth Mountains butted against the Canada border. Fulldistance racers climb 30,000 feet of