Unassisted checkpoint new for U.P. 200

MARQUETTE — As with any longtime sporting event, changes are bound to occur.

The 2018 U.P. 200 sled dog race, set for Friday through Sunday, is no exception.

The biggest change has to do with Timber Products, located along M-28 east of Wetmore, which Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association President Darlene Walch said is the first major checkpoint in the 230-mile race that goes from downtown Marquette to Grand Marais and back.

“For the last several years, it’s been an unassisted checkpoint, meaning there are no dog handlers allowed,” Walch said. “What we’ve done — and this was a musher request — was to consider having it be an assisted checkpoint unless they are using the race as an Iditarod qualifier.”

So, that’s what happened.

This year at Timber Products, dog handlers will be allowed to go in and assist the mushers, she said.

“Timber Products has been extremely gracious about it,” Walch said. “They’ve got a physical layout at their property that’s conductive to having both assisted and unassisted. We can separate the mushers, so if there is someone qualifying for the Iditarod, they have to take that as an unassisted, and Timber Products can handle that.”

Walch noted Timber Products does not allow spectators into its compound, but that’s acceptable since mushers typically don’t arrive until about midnight or 1 in the morning until about 5 or 6 a.m.

The new setup simplifies the race for the mushers, she said.

“If you do it unassisted, you have to pack your drop bags and have them dropped off before you go,” Walch said. “We transport them out there. It’s just a whole different way of doing a race.”

If dog trucks are allowed to be at that site, gear and food already are there, she said.

“Logistically, it’s easier for the musher,” Walch said. “It’s also easier for them because their handler can be there to watch their dogs while they go off and get some sleep.”

However, mushers using the U.P. 200 to qualify for the Iditarod still have to go the unassisted way.

The Iditarod is, after all, a much more grueling event.

“We want them to have the experience of getting through an unassisted checkpoint,” Walch said. “They need to be able to take care of their dogs.”

On its blog entry entitled “Over the River and Through the Woods: UP200 Spotlight,” Timber Products made this entry regarding the 2017 race:

“Our hardwood veneer mill was an ideal location for a checkpoint due to its proximity to the race course and its ability to remain isolated from the public while providing protection from the elements. The veterinarians parked their triage truck in the dry kiln area, where they examined the dogs, and the dry storage area served as the official time keeping office.”

Timber Products General Manager Jon Johnson said his company is strategically located along the race course, and provides a safe and quiet spot.

“There’s a point where the dogs need peace and quiet, and our location kind of fit that need,” Johnson.

He also said his company’s involvement is good for the community.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.