MARQUETTE - Among the hundreds of sled dog fans lining Washington Street in downtown Marquette Friday night were two special visitors.
Driving more than 500 miles to witness their first-ever sled dog race were Evelyn Rentchler, 91, and Phyllis Grant, 96.
"You just have to remember, age is a state of mind," Rentchler said.
Driving all the way up from Newcastle, Ind., friends Evelyn Rentchler, 91, center, and Phyllis Grant, 96, right, spent Friday night watching their first sleddog race in downtown Marquette with their friend and host Carolyn Raffensperger, left, of Big Bay. (Journal photo by Johanna Boyle)
The two friends are staying in Big Bay with their friend and former pastor Carolyn Raffensperger, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Big Bay.
Having heard about the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run from Raffensperger, Rentchler and Grant decided to make the trip, driving the 15 hours on their own.
"She tries to navigate and I try to pay attention," Grant said with a laugh.
Although the two have visited Raffensperger during the summer and fall, this weekend is their first visit to the area in winter and their first experience with sled dogs.
They had the opportunity Friday to meet with some of the mushers and get an up-close look at the equipment and the dogs at the teams' vet checks before taking their seats right at the starting line at the Midnight Run ceremonial start.
"We thought the dogs would be like in pictures with long fur and curly tails and three times bigger than they are," Grant said of their original image of a sled dog.
So why make the trip?
"Just because we had never seen a race before," Grant said.
"We like animals," Rentchler added.
When they return to Indiana, both said they will bring a glowing report of the area and the U.P. 200.
"Everybody should come see a sled dog race," Grant said.
"And we will tell everyone how gracious everyone is," Rentchler said. "They'll be envious."
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.