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So close yet so far: Brainerd man drops out of Beargrease 2/3 of the way

Andre Duval of Brainerd competes Sunday, Jan. 27, in the Beargrease 120, the mid-distance class race of the 35th annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth. Submitted photo1 / 2
Andre Duval of Brainerd signs a commemorative poster as a competitor in the 35th annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth on Sunday, Jan. 27. Submitted photo2 / 2

Ah, young love! It can move mountains ... or stop a musher dead in his tracks.

When one of Andre Duval's sled dogs went into heat during the 35th annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon in Duluth, one of the male dogs took notice and decided to call it quits.

"The second 38-mile leg was tough on my leaders, and I had one of my team dogs go into heat, so my male leader was frazzled, I guess," Duval said. "He was confused as to what he was doing, so long story short, I had to pull out (of the race) at the 84-mile checkpoint at Finland."

The 20-year-old from Brainerd was competing for the first time Sunday, Jan. 27, in the Beargrease 120, the mid-distance class race of the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon.

"I was keeping pace. The really professional teams were way ahead, but for the first leg, I was right on time as far as running consistent speeds and getting to the checkpoints right on time and taking off again right on time," Duval said.

Established in 1980, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is one of the longest sled dog races in the continental United States.

"During the second leg, it snowed, and it was like a whiteout for like an hour and a half. We got 2 inches of snow, and it was drifting on the hills, so it was kind of a tough go," Duval said. "I was climbing up one hill, and it had 3-foot drifts in it."

The new 300-mile Beargrease marathon route heads inland through St. Louis, Lake and Cook counties before ending at Grand Portage. The Beargrease 120-mile race takes mushers along the same route but finishes at Lutsen Mountains ski hill.

"I have couple of more races that I'll be able to go to this year, but as far as the Beargrease, I'm not going to let it defeat me my first year, so I'll definitely give it another shot next year," Duval said.

Prize money in the amount of $5,400 will go to the 300-mile marathon winner and $3,600 for the winner of the Beargrease 120. There were 24 teams competing Sunday in the Beargrease 120.

"I knew a couple of the mushers that were there, but when we got there, it was new for the dogs, so they were kind of confused," Duval said of his Alaskan husky greyhounds-European pointers, a mixed breed. "I've been to races before, so I was fine with the whole race as far as that goes, but as for my dogs, it was their first race they've been to."

The Duval family has been active in sled dog racing and rides for years and gives sled dog rides at Cragun's Resort and Hotel on Gull Lake.

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