TWO HARBORS, Minn. — Nick Turman and his dogs took a wrong turn en route to the Trestle Inn in Finland, Minn., last year, tacking up to 8 miles on to his 120-mile Beargrease sled dog race.
Back on the right trail, he brushed aside his crew's suggestion that they pack up and drop out of the competition. That's not his style. Turman loaded up his eight dogs, got back on the sled and set out for the finish line.
Turman finished 10th out of the 20 mushers who started the mid-distance race the previous day. Still the miscue helped him earn his second career sportsmanship award for the extra effort.
"Other people would've quit," said Turman, who has had the nickname "Terminator" for the decades he's been a part of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon races either as a competitor or volunteer. "That's the way I am. I like to complete things, the accomplishment."
Turman, 75, is the oldest of the 58 mushers competing this year in one of the races, which include the main event — the 300-mile marathon that ends Tuesday evening at Grand Portage Lodge & Casino — and the speedier 120- and 40-mile races.
Marathoners are scheduled to begin leaving at 10 a.m. Sunday from Billy's Bar — property on the border of Duluth and Rice Lake that will likely be packed with fans pressed four-deep at the chute to watch the staggered start. The 300-mile race, a qualifier for the Iditarod, is known for its hills. It winds up the North Shore, and mushers must take a total of 24 hours of rest, including mandatory four-hour breaks at Sawbill, near Tofte, and Mineral Center, the last stop 31 miles from the finish line.
According to the National Weather Service, windchills could drop from 20 to 45 degrees below zero across the Northland on Sunday morning. Beargrease officials said Friday that it won't likely match 2019, when it was consistently 30 degrees below zero throughout the course. Still, the cold is expected to linger into early next week.
Ryan Anderson, who cruised to a record-tying fourth victory last year — a stat he shares with Nathan Schroeder and Jamie Nelson — is back. As are Colleen Wallin and Ero Wallin, a fan-favorite mother-son duo who finished close enough together last year to share a hug beneath the finish line's Beargrease banner. It was Colleen Wallin, though, who crossed first — before Ero, a baseball player at St. Cloud State University.
Elite musher and 2018 champion Ryan Redington, whose grandfather founded the Iditarod, isn't racing this year. He's handling for kennel partner Sarah Keefer, who has Wildfire in her pack — the sled dog that was hit by a snowmobiler last year and has since recovered.
Rita Wehseler, who won the mid-distance race last year in just over 17 hours, returns along with Ashley Thaemert, who won the Beargrease 40.
For Turman, the bitter forecast weighs on his mind.
"I'm the coldest man in Minnesota," he said during a recent visit to his home on 80 acres in rural Two Harbors, where he has 18 dogs and several recreational sled-dog trails. "I have to eat a lot when I'm out there, and if there's a hill, I'll run it just to stay warm."
Turman heard about the Beargrease in the late 1980s, he said, and called the organization looking for a way to get involved. That year he cut brush on the trails and the next handled dogs for a musher from Wisconsin. When a friend quit the sport, Turman was already hooked and bought his dogs. Turman's wife, Joy, briefly tried the sport. She liked the quiet.
"It's like being pulled behind a boat — without anyone driving the boat," she said.
Turman isn't sure how many years he has competed, but said he has done all of the distances and once won the 40-miler.
He's aiming for the top half of the pack this year.
"Just finishing fills your goal — what you've been working on since September," Turman said.
Going into race day the trails are in good shape — helped along with the 22 inches of wet, heavy snow that fell at the start of winter. There have been some slushy spots along lake crossings, according to Beargrease official Alex Angelos, but the cold should fix that.
"You step off the trail and you're up to your chest in snow," Angelos said.