U.P. 200 race brings mush magic

For me, the weekend of the U.P. 200 sled dog race has always had an almost magical quality to it. My family and I have gone downtown every year to watch the start of the race for as long as I can remember. My earlier memories of going to see the sled dogs when I was little have blurred somewhat, but the beauty and excitement of the night are still as clear as it always has been.

We usually try to arrive downtown early, with plenty of time to spare. Bundling up with plenty of warm clothes to keep us from getting cold, we walk down the street from my house to the starting line. The yaps and barks of dogs mix with the chattering of the crowd as we approach. Every year that I can remember, the weather is nearly the same. Being winter, it is dark out far before we leave the house and the streetlights create an orange glow in the night. The snow falls in large flakes that swirl in the breeze, and the atmosphere is one of enthusiasm and anticipation. When we reach downtown, I remember being surprised by the thick snow covering the street, even though I was expecting it.

The first attraction is the dogs. The mushers have their dog trailers set up near the start, and most welcome small children who want to meet and fawn over their excited teams. I remember always being thrilled to get to pet the dogs, but also a little intimidated by their raucous yelping and jumping. They are mostly husky breed dogs of many different colors, from gray to reddish, and I was proud to know much about these dogs from what we had been taught in school. I could also identify the purpose of the colorful booties the dogs wear to protect their feet from getting cut or hurt, and I even remember one year one of the mushers invited my little brother and I to watch as he carefully put the booties on one of his dogs.

We usually manage to find a place by the protective fence in time to watch as the countdown blares out from the loudspeakers, and volunteers hold back the leaping dogs until they can be released. The sled begins to move, the dogs pulling hard in a burst of enthusiasm as the crowd cheers them on and the team speeds off into the night.

This process is repeated for each of the thirty or so teams, and we wander around trying to find the best position to watch from. Being children, my brother and I could worm our way into the front of the crowd so we could see the dogs and mushers more clearly. We each pick a favorite team, and debate the merits of each sled that goes by, deciding who will most likely win the race.

After seeing off all the mushers on the beginning of their hopefully successful journey, my family and I head home for some much needed warming up, usually with a cup of hot chocolate. We may all be cold and tired by this point, but it is all worth it for the wonderful and amazing memories the experience leaves you with.

Editor’s note: Maggie Guter, 15, is a sophomore at Marquette Senior High School. She is a long time member of 8-18 Media and is also involved in in sailing, skiing and piano. Her parents are Jake Guter and Mary Doll of Marquette. 8-18 Media is a youth journalism program of the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum. Through the program, teams of kids write news stories and commentaries on issues important to youth and about any good, or bad, things youth are up to. For more information call 906-226-7874, or email at 818mediaupcm@gmail.com.