MARQUETTE - Despite less snow than in previous years, the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run both got off to a roaring start Friday evening, particularly the ceremonial Midnight Run start in downtown Marquette.
"This has been one of the largest moves we've ever had to make," said Pat Torreano, Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association president.
Although a lack of snow around the Marquette area had the UPSDA change the route for both the Midnight Run and the U.P. 200, as well as today's the Jack Pine 30, the atmosphere in downtown Marquette was still filled with barking dogs, cheering crowds and lots of excitement.
While the U.P. 200 got its start in Chatham Friday evening, the Midnight Run held a ceremonial start in downtown Marquette before having its official start also in Chatham.
Much like the Iditarod, which holds a ceremonial start in Anchorage, Alaska, the downtown start is as much for the mushers as it is for the fans.
"We do it for the public as well," Torreano said. "It's very important for the spectators and the sponsors."
Amber Evans appears to be enjoying the moment as she prepares to be the first racer out of the starting gate Friday evening in downtown Marquette. Midnight Run racers held a ceremonial start to kickoff the weekend of sled dog racing. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Musher Jerry Papke takes off with his dogs during the ceremonial start of the Midnight Run in downtown Marquette Friday evening. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Midnight Run musherss got to experience the thrill of a race thgrough downtown Marquette Friday evening as a large crowd lined the streets during the ceremonial start of the Midnight Run that kicked off the U.P. Sled Dog Championships. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
Bag check volunteers Nolan Warn, left, and Jacob Gaudette fill out a checklist of required equipment with Midnight Run musher Jon Mattsen of Palmyra, Wis. Mushers are required to carry certain equipment for the safety of their dog teams as well as themselves. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)
This year marked the first year for the Midnight Run to start in downtown Marquette, which Torreano said will become an annual tradition.
Mushers in the Midnight Run said they were excited to be a part of the downtown start.
"I'm really excited to do this downtown start," said Midnight Run musher Lisa Dietzen, a Northern Michigan University student and native of Kaukauna, Wis.
Having run her first race in the Jack Pine 30 last year, the Midnight Run is Dietzen's longest race so far. She also is set to run the Copper Dog 150 in coming weeks.
Running dogs belonging to U.P. 200 musher David Gill, Dietzen said she enjoyed the longer training runs associated with the larger races.
"I definitely like staying on the trail all day," she said.
Although in future years she said she hopes to move up to the U.P. 200 and then the Iditarod, Dietzen said her main goal this weekend is to make it through the 90-mile race.
"I think it's going to go well. I hear it's a great trail," she said.
Starting first out of the gate for the 8-dog Midnight Run was Amber Evans of Milaca, Minn. Evans is also running the Midnight Run for the first time after serving as a dog handler in previous years.
"Downtown here it's exciting, but out on the trail it's nervous because everyone is coming behind you," Evans said of drawing the first slot.
Even though the route for the race had to be changed, following a loop around Chatham to make up the lost distance, mushers will travel from Chatham to Munising. Evans said she wanted to thank the race officials for working to put the race on.
"We're just thankful they did all the work so we could still run the race," Evans said. "Everywhere we're coming from has no snow.
"I want to finish with happy, healthy dogs and a smile on my face."
Although the area around Marquette might be lacking snow, Torreano said the trail for both races looked good.
"The rest of the trail looks quite good," she said. "It's a wilderness trail race. There are going to be some rough spots."
Changes to the race routes and schedule meant the UPSDA had to reroute checkpoints, mushers and hundreds of volunteers.
"Everything has worked itself out thanks to our coordinators," Torreano said.
The U.P. 200 had its start in Chatham at 8 p.m. Friday, with the 12-dog teams running from Chatham to Wetmore, Wetmore to Grand Marais, then back to Wetmore and back to Grand Marais. That race will finish in Grand Marais Sunday morning.
The Midnight Run finishes this morning in Munising.
The Jack Pine 30 starts at 9:30 a.m. today in Gwinn at Larry's Family Foods. It runs the old U.P. 200 trail near M-553 to Sands Station, then follows the railroad track to Goose Lake, where it finishes at the Goose Lake turnoff on County Road 480 across from Lindberg and Sons gravel pit.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.