Lovers of dogs, competition, and autumn Northwoods weather can get a taste of all three this weekend, when the 14th annual Dirty Dog Dryland Derby takes place at MaKaJaWan Boy Scout Camp in Pearson.
The very possibility of this year's races seemed remote a couple months ago, as the race trails required a mammoth clean-up effort in the wake of the July storm that wreaked havoc on the area.
Thanks to the hard work of many hands, now everyone is invited to come and experience the excitement of dog team racing before the snow even flies. With a variety of classes, spectators will see teams of dogs partnered with running mushers and gear including bikes, scooters, and carts.
Racing will take place on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission and parking is free.
The Dryland Derby is a full-on family event, with spectators encouraged to visit with the drivers and interact with the dogs at their trucks and trailers. Home cooked food service will be available at the race site.
Spectators can expect to see many types of racing events. In canicross, the person runs with a specialized belt around their waist with a line to the dog's harness, and the dog pulling. The trick is for the dog to pull with just enough force to help the runner move but not topple them over.
At left, Thor is in full racing mode, ahead of the feet of Trinity Evans, Irma, in a bikejor race from the 2018 Dirty Dog Dryland Derby. Meanwhile, Michaela Marquardt shows off her driving technique in the two-dog scooter class, kicking in some assisting power for her dogs Taco and Stoli.
Bikejoring involved dogs pulling their human riding a bike. With both one and two dog classes, the dog(s) pull while the driver pedals.
In the scootering event, dogs pull their driver on two-wheeled scooters. This event also involves one and two dog classes, with the dogs harnessed to the scooter, and the driver kicking or running to help the scooter move along.
Carting involves a four or six dog team pulling their driver on a light-weight cart. This will remind many people of traditional snow dogsled racing, with a three or four wheeled cart, in many cases quite a high-tech rig, in place of the snow sled.
Each event offers three groupings: professional, registered breed, and Sportsmen. The professional class means the racers and dogs have participated in other races and enjoy a highly competitive race. The registered breed class is for northern pure breed dogs such as the Siberian Husky. The Sportsmen group is for newcomers or drivers who prefer a less competitive event.
Top placing teams can earn cash, trophies, and other prizes.
Due to the significant July storm damage, this year's event required a massive effort to become a reality.
One of the local event organizers, Beth Castaldi, said the support of the Camp's management was a critical aspect of the trail clean-up. Camp officials not only gave the green light, but also encouragement and assistance with equipment and operators.
“Members of the dog powered sport community have spent hundreds of hours getting the trail in racing conditions,” Castaldi said. “We are very happy to help the camp recover from the storm, in return for the privilege of holding the race at the camp.”
Castaldi recalled that in some spots, even finding the original trail was difficult due to the storm's mess. Professional loggers were brought in to take down the damaged standing and hanging trees, while local mushers cut downed trees into 100 inch pulp logs, removing the branches and debris.
Safe dryland dog racing requires a fairly smooth trail, so there was much more work to be done after removing the large debris. Mushers and MaKaJaWan staff went through with landscape rakes on tractors, then walked the trail raking by hand, filling holes and making it safe.
“Because racing drivers and their dogs will be flying around this trail at 20-plus miles per hour, the trail condition has to be smoother than the typical walking trail,” Castaldi explained. “All ruts from logging equipment, roots, rocks, holes, small tree debris, all had to be removed.”
“Without all the help, we could not have had a race,” she continued. “The trail will be wider and look different to racers, but despite the major mess we will be racing.
“We expect there will be 90-plus teams, the weather looks like it will hold nicely, and the dogs will love running in the chilly temps.”
Racers are expected to arrive from Canada, Alaska, and throughout the Midwest. One team from Alaska will arrive at the Dirty Dog after racing last weekend in Bristol, Ontario. A handful of other race teams will be coming directly from the International Federation of Sled Dog Sports World Championships in Sweden. Yes, Sweden. The country.
The Derby races can be found north of Antigo. Take Highway 45 north and turn on County Road T toward Pearson. Stay on County Road T through Pearson and look for the signs, taking a left off T to the race site.
The event is organized by the Dirty Dog Dryland Committee, with cooperation of the Northeast Illinois Boy Scout Council and MakaJaWan Boy Scout Reservation. Financial support is offered by Redpaw Dog Food and CoVantage Credit Union.