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      Mushers gather for the big event

      It's the calm before the storm. The Marquette Holiday Inn hosted the annual pre-race banquet for the mushers and their guests.

      Mushers arrived from all over to compete in this weekend's UP 200 and Midnight Run...Minnesota, Alaska, Quebec, and even South Africa.

      "This is always a great race," says Gierhardt Thiart, a South African native. "It's a festive atmosphere. The people are nice, the setup is nice, and I believe the trail is going to be awesome."

      There were all the usual activities such as food, information, and a silent auction. Even Banshee, the mascot, made an appearance.

      But one thing is different this year. The race is starting in Chatham, not Marquette. This year's course has required mushers to alter their strategies, but some are unconcerned.

      "I can understand why they start in Chatham because of the lack of snow and for the safety of the dogs and the mushers," Thiart says. "But a race is a race. Conditions...we need to adapt to the conditions."

      Some even welcome the variety.

      "It's one reason I love the sport is there is never two days or two races that are the same," says Ed Stielstra, musher and kennel owner from McMillan, MI.

      The evening concluded with the much anticipated bib drawing. The first musher in the Midnight Run will be Amber Evans from Milaca, Minnesota.

      The Midnight Run ceremonial start will take place in Marquette at 7:10 p.m. Friday with a 10 p.m. restart in Chatham.

      The first one out of the chute for the UP 200 will be Amanda Vogel from Ray, Minnesota. The UP 200 will begin at 8 p.m. in Chatham.