It’s been a very eventful last few weeks around Bearskin.  We are happy to be renting a lot of canoes, and maybe even happier to be renting a lot of cabins.  We are busier this summer than we have been recently, and it feels like it.  While it seems hectic at times, and certainly exhausting, it has also been quite fun and we’re never at a loss for something to do.

The Gunflint Canoe Races were held on July 21st.  They are a fundraiser for the Gunflint Trail Volunteer Fire Department, and are always one of the highlights of the summer. 

Unlike many canoe races, you won’t find any Kevlar canoes, or bent shaft paddles at the Gunflint races.  The golden rule of the races is only aluminum and roylex canoes and only straight paddles.  A common misconception is that these rules are in place simply to level the playing field.  In truth, if allowed access to high-end racing equipment, many of the locals would reach such high speeds that we would soon be witness to the kind of high speed wrecks commonly seen in jet boat racing.  So for the safety of the participants, but mainly the spectators, that shiny new Grumman is the hottest canoe there. 

Over the past three years, Bearskin has steadily improved at the races, and this year was our best yet.  The canoe races start with the long distance race.  Fellow Bearskin employee Ryan and I were able to place second, despite our inexperience paddling together.  Maybe next year we’ll do a few practice runs.

The start of the long distance race

In the women’s sprint race, sisters, Kate and Laura Vernon, edged out a win over another Bearskin team of Kaitlin and Emily.  Kate has done nothing but win this event since she came to Bearskin, and may have to move to the men division soon. 

Finish of the women's race

Kate and I were also able to repeat in the Co-ed sprint.  We do spend a lot of time together in a canoe, and sometimes it pays off.  Not in a financial sense, of course, unless we can dream up some kind of canoe racing, barn storming tour. 

Bearskin was less successful in the broken paddle and backwards paddle.  Ryan and Dixie fell victim to the chaos around them in the backwards.  It’s hard enough to keep a backwards traveling canoe straight, but it’s near impossible when being crashed into by other canoes. 

The start of the broken paddle looked as though Bearskin would again finish off the podium, but a late surge by Ryan and Kaitlin, coupled with an untimely loss of control by other teams near the finish line, resulted in a third place finish for Bearskin. 

Bearskin was back on top again after I won the men’s solo race.

Finish of the men's solo race

The women’s gunnel pumping race was next.  In what may have been the longest, most confusing gunnel pumping exhibition ever, Laura was the third participant to cross the finish line.  I’m not here to pass judgment on whether her methods, or those of her competitors, fell within the pre-established rules of the race.  But she crossed that line third.  

For anyone out there who does not believe that it is indeed possible to propel a canoe 100ft by bobbing up and down while balancing on the gunnels, watching this race would not have changed your mind. 

The grand finale was the men’s gunnel pumping.  Ryan had been training in earnest for this event, and had placed high expectations on himself.  The perfect gunnel pumper’s body would be short, with a low center of gravity, but with enough weight to push the canoe deep into the water.  Ryan, lacking in both shortness and weight, gave it his best effort, but ended up a DNF.  He did, however, manage to keep his canoe free enough of water to be able to paddle to shore. 


Curtis Blake, Bearskin’s fishing guide, fared no better, despite being heavily favored by many in attendance.  After an explosive start which put him out in front of his competitors, Curtis was unable to hold on and ended up all wet.  While we admire the flare and style Curtis exhibited in his brief stint atop the gunnels, we are hoping that next year he can end the races on a high note for Bearskin. 

The start of the gunnel pump race. Curtis, our fishing guide, is in red.