The longest dog sled race in the Lower-48 is the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon that is often used as a proving ground for many long-distance mushers looking to run the Iditarod or as a training/qualifying race for the big one!
The John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon runs annually. Currently beginning in Duluth, Minnesota and traveling through Minnesota’s north woods to Trail Center (Poplar Lake) on the Gunflint Trail where Marathon musher’s and their teams turn around for the return leg. The race originated in Grand Portage, Minnesota. The annual event also includes a mid-distance race which also begins in Duluth and ends in Tofte, Minnesota.
The “Beargrease” is named for John Beargrease a Grand Portage Chippewa who was one of many individuals who carried mail to the developing communities of Minnesota’s north shore in the late 19th century and early20th century. In recognition of their efforts the Beargrease has recently added Trail Mail which allows individuals to have mail carried by dogsled as part of the regular mail.
The “Beargrease” trail is considered among the toughest there is. Though considerably less distance than the famed Iditarod or Yukon Quest, the terrain of the north shore provide considerable challenges as teams face a rapid series of ascents and descents as the trail winds through Superior National Forest and the “Sawtooth Mountains”. Though the race doesn’t travel along the lakeshore, Lake Superior’s effect on weather is far reaching. Musher’s can face wind chills as low as -70 and temperatures exceeding -35. In the same day they may experience weather well above zero and precipitation ranging from rain to near blizzard conditions.
Few good maps of the trail exist though snowmobile trail maps of the region provide some information. Visit http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/snowmobiling/maps.html access sections 19,25 and 26. The Beargrease Trail follow trail 60 till it intersects with 110 which brings teams into Trail Center at Poplar Lake.