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Hook and Bullet Club - Ely Film Festival

Ely Echo - Staff Photo
DURING A Q&A session hosted by Ely Echo publisher Nick Wognum, Carl Skustad of Ely and Leah Gruhn of Duluth along with Joe Weiss of Ely answered questions about the movie “40 Below.” Photo by Mary Wognum.

We took in two films at the Ely Film Festival last week.

The first was “One With the Whale” which is about a Alaska Native family that is forced to deal with online bullying after a family member kills a whale to provide food for the people of St. Lawrence, a tiny Alaskan island in the Bering Sea,

And, the Ely Echo sponsored showing of “40 Below: The Toughest Race in the World” which is about the Arrowhead 135 race from International Falls to Tower where competitors, walk, bike or ski in oftentimes bitter conditions.

When “40 Below” was over I hosted a question and answer period with competitors Carl Skustad, Leah Gruhn and Joe Weiss.

Both Leah and Carl are shown competing in the 2019 race while Joe was a volunteer that year.

Carl shared a story of what happened to him that year and why there aren’t many who ski the race.

“So there’s not many of us that try to ski it. In Marius’s film, I didn’t finish. I pulled out at Melgeorge’s this time. I did finish five others. This one was extremely extra hard with the skis. It’s kind of like skiing on sandpaper.

“And most of us in the U.S. don’t ski this far at once. In Europe, we ski this far at once, but like the Birkie, for example, is 50k. That’s like a long ski in the U.S. most of the time.

“The 135 is not normal on skis in the U.S., I guess. But that’s why I tried it. When I came back from Alaska, I was like, why are not more people skiing the 135? So I gave it a shot a few years ago and found success other than minus 40.

“Minus 40 on skis is just, was a little bit too much. Yeah.

“At minus 40, it doesn’t have to be as epic as this race or this video shows. But there’s other things that happen, as we know, living in the north at minus 40, like pipes freeze, cars don’t start, skidders don’t move.

“I’m at Melgeorge’s and my wife, Christina, tells me the house is frozen. We have four kids at home. I’m like, I’m frozen, too. But I’m coming home.

“I had worked in Alaska and helped move and recover and rescue lots of people. And I personally didn’t want to leave Melgeorge’s and take that risk management on that evening. I went home and thawed pipes.”

Also at Ely’s Historic State Theater in the sold out crowd were Paul and Sue Schurke. They said their daughter Bria was the first female to ever cross the finish line on skis.

Joe Weiss worked as a volunteer in the film but talked about being a competitor in the walking division.

“So the reason I started doing Melgeorge’s is because the last time I did the race, I frosted both of my ears by like, I don’t know, mile 25.

“And it was, talking about conditions, I don’t even know, at that mileage, I was already like two hours behind where I did the year before because you’re just dragging a sled over sandpaper. It’s just brutal.

“And so it’s insanely cold, but I’m sweating like crazy because I’m working super hard and I took my hat off. And at some point I just reached up and both of my ears were frozen solid, which I’ve never experienced that before.

“And they itched, like till the end of April. I would just itch constantly. It was horrible.”

We had hoped to have director Marius Anderson there but he wasn’t able to. If you’d like to see his work check out London Road Films.

He’s got some great shorts on there to watch. One was the world’s oldest hockey player, he does a nice job with Mark Sertich. There’s one about a bar on a frozen Minnesota lake, that one’s cool. Plus there’s one on cutting hair with fire, you gotta watch it, it’s crazy. And then my favorite, a video about a hot tub filled with beer.

I’ve been advocating to have the theater show “40 Below” again. It’s one of the funniest documentaries you’ll ever see.

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