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Sled dog racers savor the solitude

FRAZEE -- The pitter-patter of paws hitting the snow. The silence of the countryside.

Both are music to the ears of sled dog drivers that competed here Friday and today.

The event is noisy at the starting line, with a loud speaker, dogs barking and hundreds of spectators cheering on the teams.

But once the mushers get around the corner and out of sight, it's quiet.

"It's almost liberating," said Mark Johnson of Aberdeen, S.D., who competed for the first time Friday. "It's just you and the dogs."

Mark Arntson, grand marshal for the Third Crossing Sled Dog Rendezvous, said being alone on the trail with your dogs is part of the sport's appeal.

"There's no feeling like it," Arntson said.

About 70 racers from the United States and Canada competed in the eighth annual event, which ended today (Saturday)

More than $10,000 in prize money was awarded.

The routes ranged from 4.2 miles for the four-dog race to 14.75 miles for the open race, which allowed mushers to use as many dogs as they wanted.

The event is one of the largest open events in the lower 48 states. It was selected to be a Mushing USA Midwest Regional Championship Race.

Terry Streeper, a former No. 1 racer in the world who has won four national championships, travels to Frazee from British Columbia each year for the contest.

So far this year, he and his son, Buddy, have competed in five races.

"This is the best competition we've probably faced this year," Terry Streeper said.

The father and son team competed in the open race with Terry driving 18 dogs and Buddy driving 16.

Terry Streeper holds a record for racing 28 dogs.

"Some people drink beer. Some people smoke dope. I like to drive big dog teams," he said.

Eddy Streeper of Osage, Minn., Terry's brother, also competed in the open event with 18 dogs. He placed first Friday, with Buddy Streeper coming in second.

The final winners of each event will be determined after today.

About 100 volunteers make the event possible, said Heidi Brune, president of the Frazee Sled Dog Club.

Club members and volunteers spend up to six weeks grooming and marking the trail, which is on private land.

Several busloads of area students attended Friday's races.

Brune said she expects 3,000 people to come and go from the event over the two days, with some watching from checkpoints along the route.

Jill Mickelson of Frazee was a spectator Friday for the third year and plans to return today with her grandchildren. She said she loves watching the dogs take off.

"The dogs get so excited," Mickelson said. "I feel their anticipation."