Autumn Finch

United States

I'm a student from Duluth, MN. I love mountain biking, running, camping, and writing about all of those things! I also love biology, German, and math. Writing is my favorite way to explore the intersection of my varied interests.

Animal Athletes in the Great White North

September 19, 2017

    In 1897, the Two Harbors Iron News ran a story about a man named John Beargrease, declaring “there is probably no more reliable carrier in the land, there are but few harder routes”.
Beargrease was the son of an Anishinabe chief in Beaver Bay, a small town on the north shore of Lake Superior. He carried mail, by dogsled, up and down the shore of the great lake, a job that was always demanding and often dangerous. According to Daniel Lancaster's biography of the famed musher, throughout Beargrease’s tenure as mail carrier, he fought dense fog, frigid, dark nights, and terrifying water crossings that haunt even the best modern mushers of the region. Today, mushers young and old brave that same challenging route, hoping to capture some of that Beargrease magic.
    As large, pillowy flakes fall from the grey sky, landing on the perked ears and stained snouts of the dogs, the scene appears to be quite magical. It’s currently five degrees above zero, with an expected high of just 15.
A young musher hooks her frayed gangline to a four wheeler, and the dogs begin to wail with excitement. She punches her snow brake down into the frosty ground as the ATV pulls back against the power of six enthusiastic huskies. The team begins their dicey slide across the ice, the lean muscles of the dogs dragging a 500 pound vehicle, a loaded sled, and five handlers effortlessly. As the sled approaches the starting line, the four wheeler disconnects and the team lunges forward. The musher hollers a command and the dogs come to a reluctant halt. Competing with the roar of the anxious animal athletes, the loudspeaker hints at the team’s identity: “...Jamie...Finland...on your marks... GO!” The team hears their cue and bounds down the trail, into the frozen wilderness.
    Mushers and spectators from around the world come to the Beargrease witness the raw power of a sled dog team tearing through the forest. The event is something of a sled dog Superbowl, attracting athletes, fans, and volunteers from as close as Two Harbors and as far as France. The gravel pit of the race’s outset seems to be nearly as chaotic as Beargrease’s 1800s era route must have been. Steamy breath rises from the thousands of bodies, human and otherwise, and colorful booties speckle the snow for hours after the race, as handlers and volunteers stow them in jacket pockets and pickup beds.
    As the hours after the start turned into days, the mushers and their teams wove their way through pine forests, over frozen lakes and streams, across roads packed over with snow, and eventually rest at a small bar outside of Duluth. A small crowd gathered at the finish line, mostly family and friends of the racers there to pick them up and bring them home. It had warmed up since the race’s beginning, a balmy 20 degrees, and some handlers stood in jeans and t-shirts advertising dog food. Someone’s HAM radio buzzed to life, declaring that the first team should finish at any moment. The congregation of onlookers quieted, listening for the glide of a sled or the panting of a husky. Only the crackling of the fire was audible, until, without so much as a whisper, a pack of dogs came into view. Their tongues were out, steamy breath melting the snow from their fur. They must have been tired, but they certainly didn’t show it. Smooth, powerful muscles flexed as they ran, hauling a weary musher who kicked his foot in the snow as they approached the line. The team had spent more than 30 hours in the cold, running a historic route that stretched to the Canadian border and back. More then 100 years after John Beargrease's mail carrying days, there are still but few harder routes.


See History

Login or Signup to provide a comment.

  • Kaitlyn ❄


    over 2 years ago
  • Kaitlyn ❄

    This is so good.

    over 2 years ago
  • Esi Adoma

    This is a lovely piece. I really like the descriptive language used. Congratulations on your win!

    over 2 years ago
  • Deleted User

    Congratulations on winning. This piece is really good.

    over 2 years ago