READY TO RUN

MARQUETTE – Despite frigid temperatures, thousands of cheering spectators gathered along West Washington Street Friday night to watch sled dog teams embark on the 26th running of the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run.

Led by musher Andre Longchamps, of Pont-Rouge, Quebec, Canada, who drew the No. 1 bib for the U.P. 200, 14 teams took off through the starting gate beginning at 7 p.m., leaving every two minutes.

The 12-dog teams are set to race 240 miles to Grand Marais and back to Marquette for a Sunday finish in Mattson Lower Harbor Park.

“It’s a beautiful and cold night here in Marquette,” said Walt Lindala, addressing the crowd during the opening ceremony, held prior to the races in front of The Mining Journal offices at the intersection of Washington and Fourth streets. “Tonight is really a celebration of many different communities coming together to make this happen.”

The National Weather Service post in Negaunee Township reported the temperature in Marquette for the start of the race to be 1 degree, with a wind chill of minus 15-18 degrees.

This year, six teams in the U.P. 200 traveled from Canada to compete in one of the Upper Peninsula’s most celebrated winter traditions. Five females are partaking in the race.

“The sport has no age and has no gender,” Lindala said. “Just a desire to compete.”

For 27-year-old Blair Braverman, who can be seen wearing the No. 9 bib, this is her longest race yet.

“It’s terrifying,” she said while packing her sled. “It’s more than twice as long as any other race I’ve done.”

Despite her emotions, Braverman is confident that her team of Alaskan huskies will do well.

“I just love spending time with them and seeing them do something new,” she said. “Plus, they’ll be wearing clothes, so they’ll look cute.”

Braverman, who is from Mountain, Wisconsin, said she learned how to drive sled dogs in Norway, and has been riding competitively for three years.

On the side, she is also an author, with a debut book detailing her experiences on the trail coming out soon. “Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube,” will be released in July, she said.

Five-time U.P. 200 champion Ryan Anderson, of Ray, Minnesota, wears the No. 13 bib for his 13th year in the race.

“It feels good,” he said. “I’m going to take the pressure off of myself and just try to have fun. I’ve put too much pressure on myself the last few years, but I’ve kind of burnt out now. I’ll still be competitive though.”

Anderson and his team of Alaskan huskies finished the Beargrease race nine days ago, leaving not much time for recovery.

“We might need a little more time off,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Tiredness aside, he said the conditions are near perfect in his opinion.

“In the woods, the cold won’t be that bad, and we’ll have the wind at our backs,” he said.

Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, D-Pontiac, was among the spectators this year.

“It is great to be back in Marquette for the U.P. 200,” he said. “There’s nothing that could have kept me away from here tonight.”

Following the start of the U.P. 200, the Midnight Run began around 8:30 p.m., sending off 16 teams on the 90-mile trail to Chatham and back, concluding today in Marquette’s Mattson Lower Harbor Park.

The JackPine 30 was slated to begin at 10 a.m. this morning out of the parking lot of Larry’s Family Foods in Gwinn.

More information, along with race standings, can be found online at www.up200.org.

Kelsie Thompson can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. Her email address is kthompson@miningjournal.net.