…And they’re off

U.P. 200’s 27th running kicks off Friday night

MARQUETTE — Warmer than normal temperatures brought near record crowds along West Washington Street Friday night to watch sled dog teams embark on the 27th running of the U.P. 200 and Midnight Run.

Thousands of cheering spectators lined the streets to see the teams leave the chute at two minute intervals starting at 7 p.m.

Musher Denis Tremblay, of St. Michel-des-Saints, Quebec who drew the No. 1 bib for the U.P. 200 led the charge.

The 12-dog teams will race 240 miles to Grand Marais and back to Marquette for a Sunday finish in Mattson Lower Harbor Park.

Race organizers had concerns about warmer than normal conditions, with temperatures Saturday expected to reach 52 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.

Sally Manikian from Shelburne New Hampshire, who drew bib No. 3 for the race, said she decided to return to the U.P. 200 for the second year in a row even though she doesn’t feel she has enough dogs.

“I had so much fun last year,” Manikian said. “The trail is just so beautiful and wild. Last year it was just pristine… like glass.”

Manikian, who has been raising sled dogs for eight years and racing for five, said the sense of community is a driving force to stay involved in the sport.

“One of the reasons why I race, other than spending time with the dogs, is just spending time with other mushers, and you only get that at races,” she said. “If I want to be part of the community I have to travel. I have to show up, because if I don’t show up, these things go away.”

Master of Ceremonies Walt Lindala said the temperatures may slow the teams down, but it would not dampen the enthusiasm of the race.

“The U.P. 200 and Midnight Run starts will be business as usual,” Lindala told the crowd.

UP Sled Dog Association president Ron Hewson told the crowd that in the years that he has been involved in the event, a downtown start is a crucial part of its success.

“We have to have a downtown start,” Hewson said. “The mushers realize that, and they are willing to go through a little bit of slush to make that happen.”

Musher Shawn McCarty from Isabella, Minnesota, who is wearing bib no. 7, said this is his second U.P. 200.

He said one of the reasons he returned to compete again is the downtown start.

“I like the start,” McCarty said. “It’s cool.”

McCarty said the warm weather does cause some concern, because the dogs tend to slow down.

“I hope the meteorologist is wrong,” McCarty said. “You can’t let the dogs heat up too much, so you have to run slower, and then the snow gets mushy.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who was among the race attendees for the first time since his inauguration in 2011, told the crowd they should be proud of the event and what it represents about Upper Peninsula residents.

“Look at this event,” Snyder told the crowd. “The U.P. 200 is quite an awesome event to bring people together. More important than any single event is the spirit of the people here. This is pure Michigan.”

State Rep. John Kivela and State Senator Tom Casperson attended the opening ceremonies as well.

The JackPine 30 was slated to begin at 10 a.m. this morning out of the parking lot of Larry’s Family Foods in Gwinn.

More information, along with race standings, can be found online at www.up200.org.

Lisa Bowers can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is lbowers@miningjournal.net.