Mush! The UP200 starting line – Marquette, Michigan

DISCLAIMER: I consider myself to be an animal lover and advocate, very much against animal abuse, torture, and neglect. Last month, I was invited by Marquette County CVB (Marquette, Michigan) to visit for a weekend and, among other events, attend the starting-line festivities of the UP200 sled dog race. I didn’t think twice about accepting the invitation and getting the chance to see those dogs up close and at work; I’ve always considered them to be amazing! Unlike greyhound dog racing, we don’t hear much about cruelty to sled dogs (except that one high profile news story out of British Columbia a few years ago, or such similar ones). I began to second-guess my decision to attend the UP200 after I returned from Marquette. I started thinking that I possibly betrayed all those animals I’ve advocated for through the years and feared that I may be a hypocrite. But, as they say, “what’s done is done”. I’m going to file the UP200 under the once-in-a-lifetime-experience category and one in which my daughter and I had a lot of fun together.

The UP200 is an annual event and quite a big deal in the Michigan Upper Peninsula city of Marquette. The starting line of the 240-mile race is smack dab in the middle of downtown Marquette and is one of the biggest parties of the year. Volunteers and workers haul in tons of snow to line and pack Washington Street and the starting gate is erected, through which the sled teams begin their quest.

UP200 Starting Gate

UP200 Starting Gate

Lucia & Solo

Lucia & Solo

On our walk over to the starting line, we passed several participating teams making their final preparations  The dogs were resting and the mushers were savoring one last hot meal. We stopped to meet this friendly little fella named Solo.

As night falls (as does the temperature), Washington Street becomes lit up and the spectators begin to claim their spots along the start of the route. One at a time the sled teams are introduced by name and hometown. Many of the mushers are from Michigan but we heard of teams traveling to Marquette from Minnesota and even as far away as Montana.

Washington Street - Downtown Marquette

Washington Street – Downtown Marquette

“Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, ONE!” The next sled team launches through the starting gate and zooms past the spectators towards Lake Superior. Lucia loved the countdowns and got a kick out of the protective booties the dogs were wearing on their paws.

We stayed long enough to see almost ten teams through the starting gate but it was getting cold. Really cold. Some warm soup and hot chocolate was waiting for us back at the hotel. Despite the frigid temps, we made some fun memories together as a family and now I can see why many families return to Marquette for the festivities year after year.

My family’s trip to Marquette, including accommodations, was provided by Marquette County CVB and its partners. All words and opinions, as always, are my own.

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