A deeper look at Minnesota marathon’s canoe portage division


“THIS GUY IS A MANIAC!” was one of the comments (fit for print) swirling through the crowd of onlookers and race finishers gathered in Whiteside Park as Dan Drehmel headed toward a first-place finish in the 2018 Ely Marathon’s full marathon portage division.

That’s right: Marathon. Portage.

Drehmel’s successful completion of his third marathon portage — this year completing it solo, portaging the full 26.2 miles in a mere five hours and 23 minutes — served as the latest installment to the tradition that this glutton for punishment started in 2016 when he and portage partner/girlfriend, Abby Dare, entered the Ely Marathon and took turns carrying a canoe. After taking a year off (in which Drehmel portaged the half marathon solo), Dare opted to run the half marathon this year, which she did in two hours and 13 minutes, sans canoe, though that seems an unfair qualifier of a successful debut 13-mile footrace. And this year’s individual successes were not without a little friendly competition between the couple. “The night before the race I asked Dan what his half-marathon portage time was from 2017, and I made sure I was moving faster than that,” says Dare, adding, “We had tons of fun! And then we paddled out to Knife Lake [deep in the BWCA on the Canadian border] for a mid-course check with an Outward Bound group.”

Their nonchalance aside, I suppose throwing the packs into the canoe and heading into the wilderness is a reasonable thing to do on the heels of their epic slog. After all, when the portage trail ends, what else can you do, but put the boat in the water and keep paddling?

If you thought that these two athletic lunatics represented a significant percentage of an extremely rare species of sufferers, then you’re wrong, at least about the statistical part. Turns out, portage racing is a bit more pedestrian (pun intended). At least in Minnesota, anyway. Last weekend Red Bull hosted its inaugural Urban Portage, in partnership with local outdoor nonprofit and race promoter, Loppet Foundation. Competitors paddled and portaged 10 miles through the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes and Theodore Wirth Park, ending at the park’s newly constructed Trailhead building, a hub for outdoor activities: nordic skiing, snowboarding, trail running, mountain biking, and now, portaging. (Read more on paddling Minneapolis here.)

More from CK

The Paddlers Who “Portage” a Minnesota Marathon

How to Portage a Canoe.

Portaging 375 Miles on a Broken Foot.

The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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