MUSH love DOGS

MARQUETTE – Larry Fortier earned his first sled dog race win Saturday morning crossing the finish line of the Midnight Run ahead of the pack in Marquette’s Mattson Lower Harbor Park.

But nipping at his heels the whole time was his wife, Joann.

“She’s won it before,” Larry said of Joann. “This is my first of any race. I’ve never won a race before except for this one.”

The Gaylord couple finished right around 11 a.m. Saturday with all 16 dogs, eight for each team, reported to be in good shape.

“This means a lot to us,” Larry said. “Coming in first and second is big for us.”

“Especially him getting his first win and beating me with the B team,” Joann said jokingly.

Joann, who was mushing the “A” team, finished at 11:03 a.m. while Larry crossed the finish at 10:56 a.m.

“His team came up on me 18 miles in. They just looked fantastic,” Joann said. “He passed me, and I stayed with him just for a couple miles, then he was gone.”

The Midnight Run, in its 26th year, takes sled dog teams on a roughly 90-mile roundtrip between Marquette and Chatham.

Though there was some heavy snow over the first 10 miles on the trail back toward Marquette from the Chatham checkpoint, Larry said the weather was much better than last year.

“It was pretty smooth sailing the whole time,” he said. “We’re happy.”

Frigid temperatures were reported Friday evening when the 16 Midnight Run teams left the starting gate in downtown Marquette at about 8:30 p.m.

At that time, the temperature in Marquette was 1 degree, with a wind chill of minus 15-18 degrees, according to the National Weather Service office in Negaunee Township.

Three teams withdrew from the race, two after reaching the Chatham checkpoint, and one earlier, according to race standings on the Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association website, up200.org.

The final team to cross the finish line, led by musher Kevin Mathis, of Monona, Iowa, arrived in Marquette at 12:38 p.m.

Larry and Joann have competed in the Midnight Run several times, with Joann taking first place in the 2010 competition.

The trick, they said, is to race in the moment, always trying to overcome the next obstacle, whether it’s following the winding trail through wooded terrain, or crossing the wide open fields and snowmobile trails, where “It feels like you’re just crawling along,” Joann said.

Larry said he didn’t like that part of the route either, describing it as boring.

“I thought for sure somebody was going to catch me,” he said.

“I was trying to catch you,” Joann said laughing.

“I know,” Larry replied. “It didn’t work.”

Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His email address is rjarvi@miningjournal.net.