Monday, August 24, 2009

John Beargrease, rower

John Beargrease is famous as the North Shore mail carrier who would run by sled dog from Beaver Bay to Grand Portage. Come spring, however, he'd turn to his rowboat for the same journey.

If John Beargrease were delivering the mail on the North Shore, would he still do it in a rowboat? Would he enjoy it?

I spent this weekend at the North West International Rowing Association's annual championship regatta, held this year at Lake Elmo outside of St. Paul. There was a lot of rowing, no dogsledding, and the only cargo in the "rowboats" was an occasional water bottle.

Lake Elmo is no Lake Superior. Rowing needs a straight course of 2000 meters; the regatta race course barely fit onto Lake Elmo going the long way. But the water was almost as clear as Lake Superior, and the lake was over 100 feet deep in places.

Below, in the 3 seat (2nd in from the right) is my son Hans. He's awesome for a 13-year old rookie rower.

As I headed up the lake to row in heats or finals, I would sneak peeks at the shoreline and the development. Rowing is not a very good way to experience scenic landscapes. You go backward and are only looking backward, unless you screw your head around and even then the view "forward" is all jumbled and out of focus.

So once or twice in the middle of a race I'd think of John Beargrease, rowing his way backward up the North Shore to deliver the mail. If you're not pushing yourself to get 2000 meters faster than the other boats, maybe you could actually enjoy 200 kilometers of the wild North Shore. Even backward.

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