Running and riding 70 to 110 miles through winter wilderness, several mushers in last weekend’s Gunflint Mail Run races managed to finish within seconds of each other. In the shorter eight-dog race, Dusty Klaven of tiny Togo, Minnesota beat Chad Schouweiler of Irma, Wisconsin by 28 seconds.
In the longer twelve-dog race, Ward Wallin of Two Harbors, Minnesota came in just a minute before second-place Matt Schmidt of Grand Marais, Minnesota.
The tight competition might have been partly a factor of the fast trail, which had been cleared, prepared and groomed by race volunteers and snowmobile club members working with Trail Boss Rick Johnson. Organizer Jack Stone of Stone Harbor Wilderness said their efforts paid off.
“Their work was rewarded with a fast track and we finished the race in great time. All the mushers had nothing but great things to say about the overall condition of the trail,” Stone said.
The routes both started, ended, and included a mandatory layover at Trail Center Lodge. From Poplar Lake, racers wove through lakes north and east up the Gunflint corridor on Superior National Forest land. The 70-mile racers turned around near the east end of Gunflint Lake, while the 110-milers went nearly to Sea Gull Lake. Temperatures were in the single digits.
Wallin, the winner of the 110-mile race in nine hours and thirty-six minutes, previously competed in the UP 200, CanAm 250, and Wolf Track 60 races. In his spare time, he is working on a biography of veterinarian Dr. Nick Vukich. He and his wife operate Silver Creek Sled Dogs guide service.
The winner of the 70-mile race, Dusty Klaven, has been competing for eights years but racing the Gunflint for the first time. She previously competed in the White Oak Classic, Wolf Track Classic, Apostle Island, John Beargrease mid-distance, and the Tahquamenon Country races.
A group of five veterinarians examined each dog before the race to ensure they were in good health. They also helped care for the dogs along the route. The 110-mile racers were required to take a five-hour layover in the middle of the race, while the 70-mile competitors had to rest for at least three hours.
The race purse was $6,000, with winners Wallin and Klavin earning $1,400 and $700 respectively. Other racers included previous-Iditarod competitors Jennifer Freking and Chad Schouweiler.