John Beargrease and his brothers are local legends in the Lake Superior region of Minnesota for delivering the mail. Yep, you read that right. Delivering the mail. The sons of Anishobe tribal chief, Moquabimetem, the three men would employ multiple methods of delivery – initially as an act of kindness when they were out on their hunting and trapping trips – but later on a weekly basis throughout the year. From 1879-1899 they would use horses, boats, and traverse the land on foot, to get the mail from point A to point B in an area of the country known to have some of the most severe –and rapidly changing – weather imaginable (Don’t believe me? Click here!). Communication was limited at best, so the service the Beargrease brothers were providing may have been the only contact some of the settlers had for months on end.
Where most other men would have packed it in for the season, John Beargrease took to using a Dog Sled to deliver the mail during the winter. Utilizing only four dogs, Beargrease was able to make the 83+ mile trip from Two Harbors to Grand Maris on a regular basis. His fastest time was twenty-eight hours, but you could do the same journey in your car today in less than two. It’s thought that without the brothers’ “mail service” that the area might not have ever developed, so each year the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is held to honor their dedication.
Additionally, the race is held to see who gets the chance to claim bragging rights for the year. Entrants race their sleds with up to 16 dogs on their teams, mushing through the generally brutal winter in Two Harbors, Minnesota where temperatures routinely dip down into the single digits when the sun goes down, and aren’t all that much better when it’s up.
I’m not sure when Nathan Schroeder started racing in the Beargrease, but since 2010 he has won it four times, which is more than any other participant dating back to 1988. To say that Schroeder knows what he’s doing when it comes to dog sled racing and marathons would be an understatement. He’s been a “musher” for more than two decades and was named 2014 Rookie of the Year at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race (yeah, that’s the big one). He relies on Duluth Trading Company’s “Alaskan Hardgear” line of clothing to get him through the journey; warm and protected from the elements. The message here is that if he’s using Duluth’s gear, we should probably pay attention, because it’s obvious that it’s designed to get you through damn near anything.
Here is a sample of some of the items Schroeder employ on his blessed hell ride:
Alaskan Hardgear Puffin Jacket
Built for extreme weather, the Puffin Jacket is lightweight, water-repellent, and has been proven to keep you warm – on its own no less – down to 0°F. The shell is made from 100% ripstop nylon and it’s filled with 100% polyfill, which has been designed to keep you comfortable in cold conditions even when wet. ($99.50)
Alaskan Hardgear Polartech Quarter Zip Shirt
Made from 6.8oz Polartec Power Stretch and 8.8 oz Polartech Hardface materials, the Polartech Quarter Zip shirt allows you to maintain full mobility while being highly abrasion resistant. Wear it as a baselayer next to your skin to stay warm and dry during work and play – or when crossing the thin line between both types of activities. ($99.50)
Alaskan Hardgear Kenai Snow Bibs
Built tough and resilient to forge through hardcore Alaskan winters, the Kenai Bibs have an abrasion resistant, flat-faced woven outer shell that blocks wind, and sheds rain, sleet, snow, and probably even brimstone. On its own, the bib is rated to keep you warm down to 25°F, utilizing high-pile Sherpa fleece to help ensure you remain comfortable and mobile.($129.50)
I don’t know which came first, Duluth sponsoring the Beargrease Dog Sled Marathon, or its participants relying on the company’s Alaskan Hardgear apparel. Either way, as someone who tests gear for a living, I can’t think of a better way to try this stuff out other then being out there in the thick of it in some very difficult conditions. The bottom line is that if any of this clothing failed during the marathon, it could lead to a very unpleasant experience – or even death – for the wearer. The use of the Duluth brand here is a testament to its craftsmanship, durability, and reliability.
Good luck this year, Nathan!