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Wildersmith on the Gunflint January 12

Wildersmith on the Gunflint     by     Fred Smith       January 12, 2018  
  

As was expected, our days’ long cold spell has been tempered. A break in the fifteen day “tsunami” of consecutive below zero hours at Wildersmith happened last Saturday afternoon.

Southerly winds ushered in some warm air nudging the mercury above the nothing mark in a remarkable turn-around from minus thirty-four just after daylight that morning. Then by next day, it was a venerable heat wave as temps soared to the teens, and the sudden January thaw contributed a couple inches of snow. The white stuff is something we’ve seen little of in this neighborhood for nearly a month.

Conditions as they have been, it seems remarkable that water is still seeping from the hills around us. One would think the bitter cold would stop this mini glacier making process dead in the ground. However, such is not the case along the Mile O Pine and most other back country roads in the County.

Water is trickling into roadside ditches, building to near the travel surface level in icy stratums as it gets exposed to the frigid air. The build-up of ice at drain culverts is often something to behold and it changes daily. It is intriguing to think this is a micro-process that likely created real glaciers thousands of years ago.                                                                                                          

This same amassing of hard water is true with many crystal stalactite formations observable on rock outcroppings in several places along the Trail. Whereas ice causes angst in many situations, if one is into ice sculpture, the crystalline elements created in many places through-out the Gunflint and Arrowhead are just another example of the majesty “Mother Nature” fashions in cooperation with “old man winter”.                                                                                                                                                                       

The Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Races of last weekend were held in traditional, tough winter atmosphere. With temps hovering at thirty some below, the energy; of dogs anxious to run, enthusiasm of mushers, handlers and administrative volunteers was nevertheless, at fever pitch. One would never have thought about the weather causing a stoppage, and it didn’t.                                                       

Sights and sounds of this historical, revival seemed to reverberate throughout the upper Trail. To say the event was colorful is an understatement.  Human cover-ups protecting against the bitter elements were varied as every person on the scene, even including the paw booties on the stars of the show.                                                                                                                             

While a lot of mechanical things didn’t want to start, much less run smoothly in the frosty conditions, the dogs did, and so did the people involved. Yours truly was privy to many observations of the activities, but time does not allow a total recounting.                                                                                                                      

Among notable scenarios were the early morning haze of breathing dogs, people, and cold vehicle emissions hovering over the mid-Trail neighborhood in anticipation of what was to about to take place.                                                                                                                                                                   

Just before eight AM, the view of dogs being led to the start line with mushers’ faces already framed in frosted beards, exposed hair and hat lines is forever a scene to captivate. The approach to the “on your marks” location portrayed organized chaos as handlers strained to contain this canine energy which erupted from the time they are harnessed to the moment the starter cut them loose. There they go!                                                                                                                                

Meanwhile, out on the trail, at various check-points, my viewing found un-countable volunteers hanging around campfires doing their duties to keep racers safe while tracking and reporting race progress back to headquarters.                                                                                                                                                    
Perhaps the greatest view is a team of steaming dogs, tongues hanging out, rounding a curve in dead serious silence. While their trail boss is bringing up the rear; often running, pushing and riding, covered in facial frost with his/her back snow covered in testament of fluff being kicked up from the steady seven to nine mile per hour pace.                                                                                          
Hours later, the first leg is over, with the mandatory lay-over. It’s time for dinner, drink and bedding down for R & R as the view becomes one of calm, a different quiet now for man and his eight or twelve best friends.                                                                                                                                                                 
Six hours later, the view of energy to be un-leashed is revived. Sounds bark to life once more as the harness comes out, let’s do this again. As if they were just getting going for the first time, exuberance to run and pull explodes again, and they’re off. This time the teams are into the silence of growing darkness and now, blowing snow.                                                                                                  
The view is much different for this final leg, next to impossible. It must seem as if they were running into a dark hole. Quiet of the woods remains golden as teams trudge along under cloud shrouded heavens. Their only guiding light coming from the mushers’ head lamp and a twinkle of red flickering on the lead dog, passing check-point after check-point heading to the final turn.                                                                                                                                               
But the teams are out there, somewhere. The challenge of navigating this remote territory after dark seems incomprehensible and even worse over a long lake toward the finish line in blinding, wind driven snow.                                                                                                                                                                                    
Long hours of hushed grinding it out is about to end in the darkest wee hours of the next morning with a view of Trail Center lights culminating the two days.   
                              
Hey, they all came back, it’s over! All teams were winners for having endured difficult conditions regardless of this being a relatively short race in terms of miles covered. As this was a competition though, Joanna Oberg was the finish leader in the eight dog class, while Ryan Reddington repeated his 2017 finish, leading the twelve dog teams to the finish line for 2018.                                                                                                                               
Congratulations to all participants for choosing the Gunflint Mail Run! And thanks to all organizers, sponsors and volunteers for putting on a spectacular Gunflint Community event!                                                                                                                  

For WTIP, this is Wildersmith, on the Gunflint Trail, where every day is great, be it bitter January or sticky July!
 

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