For three years, this particular weekend has found me wandering around downtown Marquette during the start of the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run weekend. This year was no different.
Since I started here at the paper, my turn to work the weekend has consistently fallen on the U.P. 200 weekend.
From Friday night through to the mushers' breakfast Monday morning, I spend the weekend outside, talking to race organizers, talking to the mushers themselves, taking pictures of the teams of dogs, asking spectators what they love about the races, rushing from finish lines to the other events going on in town and then back to the finish line to catch the first teams across.
My first U.P. 200 weekend actually taught me one of my first important lessons in reporting - always carry a pencil in your camera bag because during the winter your pens will usually freeze on you.
Having lived in Marquette through high school and college, going to the U.P. 200 was something of a tradition for my family, especially since we moved to the area from Kentucky where having enough snow to contemplate a sled dog race was not a regular part of the climate.
Covering the various races and events during the weekend has really made me aware that the U.P. 200 is a lot more than just the start in downtown Marquette Friday evening. Besides the U.P. 200 and the Midnight Run, which will be the race that starts in downtown Marquette this year due to lack of snow, there's also the Jack Pine 30, which is now one of my favorite events to cover. Starting in Gwinn, the shortest of the three races gives less experienced mushers or those with smaller kennels the chance to run in a competitive event.
Even if the prospect of teams of dogs racing across the U.P. landscape doesn't interest you, the weekend still offers other events, like the Glacier Glide art show at Presque Isle.
This year, however, the weekend was different, for me and especially the race organizers and participants.
For the first time, a lack of snow completely changed the race routes, with the reorganization resulting in a ceremonial start for the Midnight Run in Marquette and the official starts for the Midnight Run and U.P. 200 in Chatham.
I know changing the races around wasn't an easy decision for the organizers, and not seeing the official start of any of the races in downtown Marquette might have been a disappointment to fans of the races.
But I think the organizers ought to be congratulated for keeping as much of the celebration in downtown as possible.
Last year the U.P. 200 and Jack Pine were both cut short due to lack of snow, which was damaging to equipment and dangerous for both dogs and humans.
Changing the race routes in advance allowed organizers to put alternate loops and schedules in place that allowed the teams to run as close to a full and normal race as possible.
With other events, from cross country ski races to ski jumping tournaments, across the Midwest being canceled this year due to the lack of snow, I think it's really admirable that the U.P. 200 organizers have done everything they can to make sure the races can continue this year.
I'm not a musher, so I don't know what it's like out on the trails when it's just you and your team, but I imagine there's a good deal of making the best out of whatever situation arises. That's what happened this weekend.
Hopefully the races went well for the mushers and their teams. Hopefully fans still enjoyed the Midnight Run ceremonial start Friday evening. And hopefully there will be much more snow next year.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401. Her email address is email@example.com.