All aboard the Mush Bus!

The Mush Bus, which consists of a guided tour that brings enthusiasts of the U.P. 200 sled dog races to Grand Marais from Marquette, parks outside the Falling Rock Cafe in Munising to pick up those who reserved a seat on the bus. (Journal photo by Jaymie Depew)

MARQUETTE — Although passengers riding the Mush Bus didn’t see the U.P. 200 sled dog teams resting in Grand Marais Saturday, it didn’t stop them from having a good time.

“We’ve been riding up four years to see this part of the U.P. 200,” said Susan Bochantin of Gwinn. “It’s an experience every year. It’s fun seeing the people who’ve never gone before because every year, it’s something different. I wish there were more buses that came down with more people.”

For several years, the Mush Bus has given people an up-close view of what happens at one of the major checkpoints — which typically entails mushers and their sled dog teams relaxing during a mandatory stop. There’s also a silent auction and homemade food at the Woodland Park Community Center, with the money raised going toward supporting the race.

The bus was upgraded this year from a mini-bus to a 56-passenger motor coach, operated by Checker Transport, due to an influx of people signing up for the ride.

Departing from the Holiday Inn of Marquette around 11 a.m. Saturday, the bus took a pit stop at Falling Rock Cafe in Munising, picking up more passengers, and arrived in Grand Marais around 1:30 p.m.

Fred Huffman of Marquette Country Tours was the guide. Throughout the course of the ride, Huffman, who’s been the Mush Bush narrator several times, passed around a few pamphlets featuring local history — including photographs of the Longyear mansion, which was famously moved from Marquette to the East Coast, and an article about Granot Loma, a 26,000-square-foot cabin built by Louis G. Kaufman in the early 1900s.

After the bus arrived in Grand Marais, it was discovered that the sled dog teams were running behind due to the weather and trail conditions and that the passengers would, for the first time, not see the teams.

“They’re running behind because of all the snow we’ve gotten,” one volunteer said.

With the bus scheduled to leave around 4 p.m., many of the passengers walked around the small harbor village, checking out shops and grabbing a bite to eat.

Snowmobilers came down the main road in droves, with riders filling up the local restaurants and bars, such as the Dunes Saloon and Grand Marais Tavern. After eating, many filled the tanks of their machines and took off.

Joe and D’Linda Wallace of Munising said it was their first year taking the Mush Bus.

“It gives us something to do in the dead of winter,” Joe Wallace said. “We wanted to see the dogs, which of course, we found out we’re not going to, but that’s OK. We weren’t doing anything else and we didn’t have to drive here, which is another reason we signed up to go.”

It was also the first time Rose Biaggio of Marquette and her brother Bill Biaggio of Wisconsin took the Mush Bus.

“This was very well organized and Fred Huffman is very knowledgeable and interesting,” Rose Biaggio said. “I’m from Marquette and he was talking about things I never knew about.”

Bill Biaggio agreed that the narrator was informative.

“You get a lot of Upper Peninsula history out of the deal. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s ever thought about going,” he said.

The bus was at full capacity this year. Many of its passengers said although they didn’t get to see the mushers and dogs, they’d ride again.

The first dog sled team arrived in Grand Marais around 6:30 p.m.