Front left to right: Carol Hicks (retired faculty in Engineering Technology), Slava Hoffman, Dr. Mike Cauley; Back: Pete Kotila (former NMU student), Jeff Hoffman (former faculty member), Ron Raisanen
Long after dark, from deep in the woods, a headlamp appears, and red lights blink in ghostly clouds of breath surrounding lean, panting dogs. Dr. Mike Cauley waits by the fire with his stopwatch along a remote, snow-covered highway. The dogs pull sled and driver over a bank of snow, cross the silent road, and disappear again into the night.
Cauley, who has taught in the Engineering Technology for the last 42 years, has volunteered at an ice-cold crossing station for about 10 of the 20 years that the UP 200 dog sled race has taken place.
This year, Cauley arrived with other volunteers before dark to set up the station at the Rapid River Truck Trail road crossing. They gathered firewood and built pillars out of blocks of snow. They set up lanterns which, in the middle of the night, would help to guide the dog sled teams as they followed the path.
“We do something unique each time,” Cauley says. “One year, we made an igloo.”
As each team passed, he noted the mushers’ bib numbers and recorded their times, and then used a ham radio to report the information to the UP 200 headquarters in Marquette so they could be sure that all teams were safe and accounted for. When cars approached, Cauley stopped them to allow the teams to pass safely.
“You see the breathing hanging above the dogs on the trail,” Cauley says. “It’s an eerie feeling, it’s neat. They cut across, and go up and over.”
Several years ago at the M95 crossing station, he says, a team of dogs came up and over the snow bank, and there was no musher—only an empty sled. Cauley and another volunteer stopped the dogs, which were friendly.
“Someone had a snowmobile, so they went off and looked for a mile or two,” Cauley says. “About fifteen minutes later, a woman came walking by. She had been tossed off.”
Fortunately, the woman wasn’t hurt, and she was able to continue the race.
This year, the crossing was uneventful, which was a good thing. Moreover, the weather cooperated. While it was 14 below last year, this year “it wasn’t quite so cold—only two below,” he says.
This year, Cauley was joined by former faculty members Carol Hicks and Jeff Hoffman (along with his son, Slava Hoffman), Ron Raisanen, and Pete Kotila, a former NMU student.