Excitement and anticipation filled the air the weekend of February 16th-18th as Marquette, Michigan began preparations for the UP200 Sled Dog Race.During the early dawn hours of Friday and into the afternoon, crews were busy hauling truckloads of snow into downtown to cover the main street and convert it into a temporary snow trail for the running of the race. The UP200 is the premier mid-distance sled dog race in the lower 48 States and is a qualifier for the Iditarod. This race is unique because it starts at night in downtown Marquette, Michigan. The dog teams start their run down Washington Street with throngs of spectators looking on. “The downtown start is great with all the people there,” says Mike Bestgen, who keeps coming back for this race. From Marquette, the trail heads out of town along the shore of Lake Superior and then heads west through Deerton and Chatham to the first unassisted checkpoint at Wetmore. Dogs and their mushers then travel on to Grand Marais, where the mushers have an assisted layover. After a much needed rest, the teams then head back the same route to Marquette with another checkpoint stop in Wetmore. When they reach the finish line in Mattson Lower Harbor Park two days later, they have covered approximately 240 miles. This year, the 18th annual running of the race, included a field of 33 dog teams and their mushers. Women raced four of these teams, and three of those four teams finished in the top fifteen. The race was well represented geographically, with mushers from Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Jersey, Montana, and Ontario making up the field of entrants. According to Jeanie Wilcox, the UP200’s head veterinarian, this year’s race had 14 veterinarians and 4 veterinarian technicians attending to the dogs. It also took over 600 volunteers, some working 14 hour shifts, to make this race the success that it was. Without the volunteers, the race would not have gone as smooth. The temperature at the start of the race was in the upper teens. A crowd of six thousand spectators lined the streets of Marquette to see this spectacular event. There was a lack of snow out of Marquette for about 10 miles, but once the mushers got to Deerton, snow was more than plentiful. Tim Calhoun, of Tomahawk, Wisconsin, won the race in a time of 24 hours, 35 minutes and 13 seconds, traveling at an average of 10.6 miles per hour. Tim was the third musher to leave the start gate. After a short distance out of Marquette, he passed the two mushers who started ahead of him. From there, Tim and his dogs never saw another team ahead of them, leading the race the entire way. This was only the second time that Tim has raced here, last year being his first. Tim said, “This was one of the best, tight trails, I have ever been on, and the trail was awesome, other than how hard it snowed.” Besides capturing first place, Tim received “The Tom Cooley” Humanitarian award given to the musher who showed exemplary care for his dogs during the race. Tim runs his 27 dogs out of Dr. Ron Corte’s Quietwood Kennel. He has been mushing now for 5 years. At the mushers breakfast and awards banquet the morning after the race, Tim Hunt who finished 4th, commented on his own run saying “I stayed up ‘til midnight last night trying to figure out what I did wrong. I didn’t do anything wrong, Tim (Calhoun) just had a great run.”This year’s race saw the last two winners competing again and trying to capture another win. The 2005 race winner, Rick Larson from Sand Coulee, Montana, finished second this year with a time of 25 hours, 28 minutes and 27 seconds, averaging 10.3 miles per hour. Tasha Stielstra from McMillan, Michigan, who won the shortened 2006 race that finished in Grand Marais due to severe weather conditions, finished this year in 7th place. The other top finishers were: 3rd place – Ryan Anderson, 4th place –Tim Hunt, 5th place – Rene Marchildon, and 6th place – Rebekah Chapman. Ward Wallin, who finished in 9th place received the Tom Porn “Sportsmanship Award” which was voted on by the mushers. Of the 33 teams entered, 21 teams finished the race. There were 12 scratches in the race, most of them occurring at the Grand Marais checkpoint. Mushers said their dogs tired because of a tough run through heavy snow conditions on the trail.Nature’s Kennel Sled Dog Racing Team of McMillan, Michigan, which is owned and operated by Tasha and her husband Ed Stielstra, had four teams in the UP200 this year. UP200 rookie mushers Andrew Stewart and Krister Raasoch handled two of their teams. They had a good race for their first running, and kept each other company during the race to the finish. Andrew came into the finish line nine minutes ahead of Krister who finished with a time of 34:49.46. Krister crossed the finish line at 11:03 P.M. in last place, which earned him the Red Lantern Award. Tasha, who was at the finish line when the last mushers came in, was amazed to see approximately 50 people or so waiting to cheer them home. At the breakfast the next morning Krister said, “It was my first race and it was awesome.” Commenting about coming from Grand Marais through the whiteouts, he said he made a mistake and “wasn’t smart enough to have a pair of goggles with him.”According to Stielstra, “The trail was very fast on the upward leg from Marquette to Chatham. After Chatham, the trail was a little softer, and then once we moved out of Wetmore, the snow was very deep and punchy.” She said the snow was coming down so heavy and fast, and the winds were blowing so hard, that if a team was more than 15 minutes ahead of her on the trail, she could not see their tracks. Her dogs had to do a lot of trail breaking. After her break in Grand Marais, Tasha was hoping the trail back to Wetmore would be better packed from all the teams going over it, but that certainly was not the case. The snow continued to fall heavily, and some of the worst trail was going back into Wetmore. Tasha stated, “Wind and snow storms are normal along the Iditarod trail, but rarely does it snow so hard that you can’t see your dogs here in the UP.” Other mushers reported that at times they could see only their wheel dogs or the blinking red lights on their lead dogs. The temperatures were not as brutal as they are in the Iditarod, but the snow and wind added to the excitement of the race, according to Stielstra. Tasha reported that the trails were very safe and the road crossings were well marked and staffed by the volunteers.The weekend race ended with the mushers’ banquet and awards ceremony, which was held at the Holiday Inn. The UP200 winner, Tim Calhoun, received his trophy and the winner’s check for $6,700. The other top 14 mushers were also awarded monetary purses for their efforts. Upper Peninsula Sled Dog Association Vice President, Wally Niebauer was very happy with the race, “The start is what sets this race apart. There is the spirit of a community pulling together. This year was the largest attendance ever, and some of the mushers here who have participated in the Iditiarod, said our start was second to none.”Now that the 2007 UP200 race has concluded, board members and organizers are already looking forward to next year’s race. Discussions are being held, and ideas and suggestions are being looked at on how to make the 2008 race even better. So, all you mushers out there, and spectators too, make plans to attend this unique event. Hope to see you in Marquette next February. Pat Ziech has been involved with the UP200 for 3 years as a photgrapher, and makes the trip yearly from Florida for the race.