Dog Sled Racing: The Thrilling Event Taking Over the U.P. This Weekend
The dogs quiet down when they take off, intensely focused on their task of pulling Bestgen and his sled. The shadows twist shapes and recede as the team moves along.
“You feel like you’re a part of the team, like you’re a member of it,” Bestgen said.
The St. Cloud, Minn., musher is gearing up to compete in a nighttime race being held this weekend in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
A trio of races is planned, including the UP 200, Midnight Run, and Jack Pine 30. The UP200 trail covers 240 miles from Marquette to Grand Marais and back again. The Iditarod-qualifying race starts at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 13. The Midnight Run that Bestgen is competing in will start after all the UP 200 racers have left the chute in Marquette, but not before 8:30 p.m. The dogs and mushers participating in the Midnight Run will cover 90 miles, turning around in Chatham. The Jack Pine 30 Race starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday in Gwinn, with teams covering about 26 miles of trail. For full race details, including where you can watch the dogs and their mushers come through, plus information about family-friendly activities, visit www.up200.org.
This is Bestgen’s fourth year competing in the Midnight Run and he’s run dogs in at least 11 UP200 races before that.
He starts training his dogs in September, by having them pull him on a four-wheeler due to the typical lack of snow. He usually switches to a sled in December, but a lack of snow where he lives has prolonged the four-wheeler training. The dogs need to run a lot of miles to work up to the 90-mile round trip Midnight Run race.
“It’s a little harder getting those miles in when you’re not on a sled,” Bestgen said.
Dog sled racing isn’t a cheap sport, but Bestgen said it’s how he likes to spend his money and free time. He’s up every morning at 5:30 a.m. to feed the dogs, play with them, and deal with their waste.
“I could be making a payment on a brand new Corvette if I wanted to,” he said. “A dog is a much healthier lifestyle.”
“Some people join a pool league or a bowling league. This is what I choose to do with my life,” he said. “As long as I can afford it and I have fun, I will continue doing it.”
As for his dogs, they’re treated like champions and lead a very good life, according to Bestgen. He said much like how other breeds of dogs are suited to police work, serving the blind or disabled, hunting or herding, his huskies love pulling a sled.
“I think dogs that have a job and enjoy what they’re doing are much happier dogs in the long run,” Bestgen said. “That’s what they’re bred to do.
“The minute they see the four-wheeler coming around, they get excited,” he said.
Planning to check out the dog sled races this weekend in the Upper Peninsula? Tell us your favorite part of seeing the dogs and their mushers in the comments.
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Photo credit: Frank Kovalchek