Brian Bergen finds success early in busy sled dog racing season
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
Long-time Sioux Lookout resident Brian Bergen is an avid sled dog trainer and racer, and he kicked off his racing season at the Gunflint Mail Run Sled Dog Race, in Cook County, Minnesota, which took place from Jan. 10 to 12.
Bergen, along with his eight-dog team, finished the 65-mile race in just under five-and-a-half hours (5:23:30), earning him third-place among 16 eight-dog teams. His third-place finish was an improvement from last year, which saw him place fourth with a time of 6:10:55.
Bergen said he enjoys being reunited with familiar faces at the Gunflint Mail Run every year. He also praised his lead dogs, which have been racing for longer than usual.
“With the Gunflint (Mail Run), it’s all fun. You’re familiar with all the people that end up racing, so you go to these things, you get to socialize, and you get to enjoy your dogs. I was very happy with my placing too,” said Bergen.
“My main lead dogs are old dogs. The two lead dogs and one of the point dogs, they’re turning nine years old on the May long weekend. Their prime is between three-years-old and six-years-old. At six they raced and did well, then at seven they raced and did well, and now, at eight-turning-nine, to me they did fabulous,” he continued.
Bergen has 30 dogs that he trains and runs during his free time. He said his schedule mostly features working and training his dogs.
“I have some younger dogs. I didn’t use any of the younger dogs that I wasn’t familiar with. Partly because I work, and it’s harder… I work, I train dogs, and I sleep. It’s busy… I pretty much work and run dogs, and I feed, water, and take care of them. It’s a vicious circle and addiction,” Bergan laughed.
Bergen said he hopes to participate in at least three more races this year. February has the potential to be a packed month, with races every weekend, but Bergen has his sights set on races where he’s found success before.
“Maybe another four, but probably for sure three. I aim for those four. Last year I only did three because the trailer that I transport the dogs with broke in the middle of the racing season, so I missed one of the races, which was very disappointing but that’s life,” said Bergen.
“In February I could race every weekend, but I’m not going to. When I retire, I would like to… Two weeks from now I have the Kodiak race, which is in the Twin City in Minnesota on a lake in the middle of the city. I’m thinking of not going to it. It’s shorter, at only 40 miles… I think I can do well and I believe I could be in the top ten but, the following weekend, is the Midnight Run, which is 90 miles in Marquette, Michigan. That one is the one I missed last year because of a broken trailer axle. That one I believe I can compete and be in the top five. I know the race and my dogs know the race, which makes a big difference.
“Right after that weekend is the Ely Race, which is 52 miles, and I won it last year, so once again the dogs know the race and I would like to go back to that one. Then, the very next weekend, is a race called the Copper Dog, which is back in Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. I would like to go do that one. If I’m in the top ten I’m doing great, but I go for the fun of it,” he concluded.