MARQUETTE, Mich. (AP) -- Despite frigid wind chills, over 2,000 people lined the streets of downtown Marquette to launch the 12th annual U.P. 200 Sled Dog Championship.
Thirty-eight 12-dog teams, the largest field in the event's history, began leaving the starting line just before 8 p.m. Friday.
Organizers in Alger County's Chatham, where the companion Midnight Run race began, also reported good crowds and much excitement associated with the Chatham Winter Festival.
Among the 46 entries for the Midnight Run were six-dog teams from Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, Poland and Russia, along with Canada and the United States, The Mining Journal of Marquette reported.
From downtown Marquette, mushers traveled to the first checkpoint in Chatham, followed by checkpoints in Rapid River and Escanaba. Most of the racers were expected to begin arriving at the yacht yard in Ludington Park in Escanaba early Saturday morning.
Ludington Park is the halfway point for U.P. 200 mushers. Dogs will be checked by vets, fed and bedded down to rest before leaving for the long trek to Gwinn, a 106-mile stretch, and the return to the Mattson Lower Harbor Park finish line Sunday.
The 65-mile Midnight Run will finish in Escanaba's Ludington Park; based on past experience, the top racers were expected in Escanaba as early as 6 a.m. Saturday.
The ice on Little Bay de Noc between Gladstone and Escanaba, where Canadian musher Bill Orazetti broke through and drowned in 1994, is 18 inches to 2 feet thick, Bennett said. "We won't have any problem. We checked it with a chain saw carefully," he said.
Hundreds usually crowd Washington Street for the takeoff. "But there are plenty of other places to see the race along the way," said Jan Holbrook, race headquarters coordinator.
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