Linus Meyer fills winter hours with sled dog races

Dogs howl in anticipation of a training run as Linus Meyer hooks up the last member of the team. He runs his dogs in several races each winter.
Dogs howl in anticipation of a training run as Linus Meyer hooks up the last member of the team. He runs his dogs in several races each winter.

By Jennie Zeitler
Staff Writer
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Linus Meyer of Melrose has always liked dogs. Seeing the movie “Iron Will” focused that feeling into an interest in dog sled racing.

“After watching that movie, I decided I wanted to get into that,” Meyer said.

“Iron Will” is loosely based on the story of the 1917 Winnipeg-St. Paul Dogsled Race sponsored by the St. Paul Winter Carnival.

Meyer visited a friend nearby, Paul Ellering, who had run the Iditarod, a historic 1,000-mile annual race from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska.

After riding on one of Ellering’s sleds, Meyer bought six dogs and a used sled in 1995.

“I was still milking at the time, and it was something to do in the winter,” Meyer said.

Meyer and his wife, Ileta, live on the Meyer centennial farm southwest of Melrose. The farm was established in 1863 by his great-grandfather, John Henry Meyer. Meyer grew up in the old brick house that had been built about 1898.

Meyer farmed the land until 2001, milking cows until 1999. He and Ileta moved into a new house on the farm in 2003.

Meyer took the dogs to their first race in 1997, the Mid Minnesota in Remer.

“I didn’t know much about racing,” he said. “We didn’t have quite as much training as we should have. A team should have several hundred miles of training before a race.”

Meyer has run many races since then, including the Voyageurs Classic in Northome, the WolfTrack Classic in Ely, the Apostle Islands race, the John Beargrease in Duluth and the recently-started Camp Ripley Winter Warrior Race.

“I usually go to the 30 to 80-mile races,” he said. “Sprint racing requires a slightly smaller sled and uses groomed trails.”

Meyer starts training in October with an ATV.

The race season begins in January in Northome and continues to about mid-March.

“The snow is usually starting to get soft then,” Meyer said.

Meyer not only enjoys running the dogs for the pure recreation of it, but likes to get together with other mushers. He usually finishes in the middle of the pack.

“I don’t like last place but am not in the money,” he said.

Over his years of mushing, Meyer has observed changes in the sport.

“A winning team used to run about 10 miles per hour,” he said. “Now the dogs are a lot smaller and run a lot faster. Smaller dogs have a better respiration rate.”

Sled dogs are required to have a northern breed in the mix and often include some type of hound, German shorthair, husky and/or greyhound heritage.

Meyer considers the dogs to be part of the family, buying new dogs when needed.

“We’ve only had one litter in 18 years,” he said. “We had 13 puppies and kept seven of them. I still have the mother and all seven of the pups still run on the team.”

Sled dogs aren’t the only members of the animal kingdom at the Meyers’ home. There are chickens, ducks and goats outside. Inside are two more dogs, Mikey the cat and a bird cabinet housing parakeets, finches and cockatiels.

Meyer enjoys being outside while mushing.

“It’s very peaceful; you just hear the runners in the snow,” he said. “You can really enjoy nature that way.”

Trail time has also included some scary moments.

“We were on the Taconite Trail near Ely, not in a race, where the trail came out of the woods and crossed a busy highway,” Meyer said. “There were too many trees to see the road. A big truck went past and then I couldn’t hold the dogs back anymore. There happened to be a big space with no vehicles. It could have been disastrous.”

Then there are the funny moments.

“We were on the trail at night near Holdingford when all of a sudden the dogs just took off,” said Meyer. “They kept going for about five minutes. I could finally see around the bend and found out they’d been chasing a rabbit. It got away from them.”

Meyer enjoys sharing the joys of mushing with new friends.

Al and Rhonda Zimmerman of Albany are just getting into mushing and Meyer has been able to give them some tips.

“Anyone wanting to find out more about mushing can come out for a visit,” he said. “One thing it’s important to learn is how to balance on the sled, to shift your weight.”

There are special times out on the trail that Meyer especially values.

“The best is when you’re out at night under the stars — just you and the dogs,” he said. “I’ll be mushing ‘till I can’t do it anymore.”

For more information, call (320) 987-3549.