Middle of the Night, No Sleep and the Snowy Seney Stretch? That’s No Problem for Volunteer Driver Brenda Ransom

July 29, 2022

Ever wondered what it’s like to stay awake for 36 hours straight while driving all over Marquette and Alger Counties while it snows? Well, Brenda Ransom has been doing just that for almost 30 years and she can tell you all about it. Brenda is one of the 800 volunteers that make the UP200, Midnight Run and Jack Pine 30 a reality every year. She volunteers as a judge driver—taking the race marshal to checkpoints and wherever else they may need to go during the race— and she’s perfected her role over the decades. Brenda shared this firsthand account of her experience as a driver. Thank you, Brenda, for your years of volunteerism and your contributions to the race!

It all started one day when a volunteer didn’t show up and Pam Forsberg came to me at work and asked if I could help out in headquarters… Almost 30 years later and I am still around! My duties as a UP200 volunteer have changed since those first few races of working in headquarters. A volunteer was needed to drive one of the race judges. And here I am today still driving around the race marshal. One might think it is a cushy job, and it could be, but not for me. I can’t sit around and just watch. I have to get in there and help. Once I arrive in Marquette on Thursday for the bib draw banquet, I get to work on doing tasks that need to get done. For those that know me, they know I am a social butterfly, so it plays to my advantage with some of things I am asked to do. Pre-Covid, you could find me hanging out with Ikey and getting the pre-race documents, name tags, judge packets, and more completed. I don’t slip in to driver mode until we have our ceremonial pre-race dinner with all the judges and their drivers. Then it is game on!

After layering up in my warm gear, it is off to the start of the race on Washington Street. Once that last musher leaves, the race marshal and I are off to follow the race until the bitter end. We often stop at road crossings on our way to a checkpoint. There we’ve been known to form a safety line across the road when a musher is coming through before we head off to the next stop. My role has kind of morphed into being the administrative assistant for my judge.  There are times he may need me to check in at the checkpoint for us. A musher might be looking for him and they see me first, so I help get the two connected. If a checkpoint needs paperwork brought back to headquarters, I take charge of getting it there. Or maybe a team arrives at a checkpoint and they are short volunteer handlers, I’ll step in and help.

Quite often I get asked about sleeping during the race. Now trust me, I have learned to get my sleep when I can. In my beginning years as a driver, I did not manage that time very well and it was not pretty! So I can sometimes be found sleeping in my vehicle so I am at the ready to get my judge to the next place he needs to be. It can make for a long drive when you don’t catch some zzz’s when you have the chance. Especially on a long and dark road on the Seney stretch.

The friendships I have made from volunteering at this race are so amazing. Every February it is like going back to church camp when it is time to head to the race. Even with Facebook and texting, it is still the best feeling to see my mushing friends face to face and give them a hug. The laughter, the tears, the joy, and the frustration we have shared over a bonfire on the side of the road or while waiting at a checkpoint are simply priceless. It makes the drive from Sault Ste. Marie back to Marquette worth it all.

Brenda Eagle-Ransom
UP200 volunteer extraordinaire