- Associated Press - Friday, January 29, 2016

TWO HARBORS, Minn. (AP) - Some 30 mushers will toe the starting line anxiously on Sunday for the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, billed as the longest such race in the Lower 48.

But the Beargrease field is smaller than it once was - less than half the size of the field about a decade ago. Racers who have gotten out of the sport cite the high costs and personal effort it takes to maintain competitive sled dog teams, with relatively small prize money to win.

John Stetson of Duluth, a two-time Beargrease winner, quit in 2010 right after winning a prestigious and grueling race called the Hudson Bay Quest.

“If I would have won the lottery last week with the $1.5 billion I’d get back into dog racing, but it’s so much time and so much money that it’s not really sustainable,” Stetson told Minnesota Public Radio (https://bit.ly/1P1O8Ex). “You have to be so devoted to the lifestyle of everyday with the dogs.”

Drew Groeneveld of Two Harbors decided he had had enough just before the start of the 2014 Beargrease. He owned a 63-dog kennel and said the time spent on chores such as cutting up meat for all the dogs wore him down.

“When it’s 90 degrees in the summer, and you’re processing a bunch of frozen fish, and there’s bugs flying in your face, that’s part of it too,” he said. “It’s not just crossing the finish line and knowing that you did a great thing with you and your dogs and your team that’s involved with you.”

Groenveld said a lot goes into successful dog racing that people don’t see.

“Every day you have to be thinking of your next litter, your vaccination program, your worming program, your meat preparation, then booking hotels for races, cutting up different trail snacks for races, putting them in bags, all the logistics,” he said. “I can’t even begin to tell you what it’s like.”

As for expense, even a supposedly small thing like dog booties adds up quickly. Dogs need new ones at each of seven checkpoints, so even at just $1 apiece, the expense for the whole race can run to nearly $400 - just for the booties.

But there are still people who remained devoted to raising dogs and competing. That includes Colleen and Ward Wallin of Two Harbors.

Despite the cost and the stress of raising dogs while shuffling their kids to hockey and theater, and maintaining two full-time jobs, Ward Wallin says it’s worth it.

“Everybody has hustle and bustle in their day,” he said. “Just getting behind a dog team, especially at night, when it’s just you and the team and a little beam of light in front of you. It’s truly magical, truly magical.”

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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