Thursday, July 31, 2008

61st AuSable River Canoe Marathon

Well, I had a very good time in Michigan. I had a great canoe partner, Bill Briggs, and two excellent pit crew people, Fred Rayman and Chris Gerwing.

Bill and I finished the marathon with a time of 16:20:17 which was good enough for 34th place. Seventy-six teams started the race and 66 teams finished. For those who don't know, this is a 120 mile canoe race that starts at 9 pm and the racers need to complete the race within 19 hours. There are several check points along the course and the racers must pass these within the cut off times.

Last Wednesday, 07-23-08, I drove up to Kjell Peterson and Rosie’s place in Duluth where I would pick up Bill, Fred and Chris. I arrived about ten minutes to nine in the morning. Bill, Fred and Chris arrived about 8:30 am and they were in the back yard eating donuts. I declined the offer.

We didn’t stay at Kjell and Rosie’s too long before heading east. I hadn’t seen Chris since 2003. I listened to the other guys talking about earlier canoe races as we drove down the road. We eventually made it to Gaylord where we stopped for dinner before driving the final hour or so to Grayling.

We pulled into Grayling at the Woodland Motel where we would be staying until the start of the race.

Thursday morning we drove to a restaurant in town and had breakfast before heading over to the race office to check in. We met Io Harberts there at 8 am. Io had driven all night to get to Grayling and had only a couple of hours of sleep when she met us at the mini-mall.

We planned to paddle the Mio pond and through the cuts after we were done checking in at the race office. I purchased a couple of t-shirts. We also received our race packet and one of the items was a nice poly t-shirt with the word competitor on it.

We went back to our motel and got ready for the paddle. We then drove down to Faye’s Motel where Io Harberts and Joe Dunaisky were staying. Also, at Faye’s we met Becky, Joe’s wife, and Dan. Becky and Dan were going to be Io and Joe’s pit crew.

I went in the office at Faye's Motel and introduced myself to Sandy who is one of the owners along with her husband, Keith. I had spoken to Sandy earlier about rooms, but she was already filled up. Faye’s Motel sponsored several teams in the marathon this year. Sandy took my name and e-mail address to add to her list for next year for possible sponsorship.

We all drove to Mio pond. I had downloaded the race course from Kate Ellis’s GPS earlier and I was interested in seeing how the waypoints / route corresponded to the cuts and the stump field.

Joe Dunaisky also had downloaded the same route off Kate’s GPS. I immediately noticed something wrong once we started paddling. Joe told me he was following the route and my GPS told me I needed to be somewhere else on the pond. It seemed that we were on a track that paralleled Joe's track, but the track was off at least 30 yards or more.

We paddled upstream on the Mio pond from the Camp 10 Road up through the cuts. While Joe watched his GPS, Io kept telling us what some of the landmarks were to look for the cuts. We found the very first cut in Mio pond to be blocked with trees and branches. We paddled back down through the cuts and then we continued on toward the dam through the stump field. We paddled for and hour and a half.

Last night Io told me the Minnesota Governor was going to be giving a speech at noon at the start location of the race and he wanted to meet some of the Minnesota paddlers. Well, I wasn’t going to make it in time to do that today since it was already 11:40 am.

Bill and I decided to paddle the first section of the AuSable River from the start location down to Burton’s Landing. This would be about a 50 minute paddle. This would give Bill a flavor of the first part of the AuSable River for the race Saturday night

We put in the river where we would start the river portion on Saturday night. We paddled a short distance and paddled right past the Governor who was still speaking. We paddled down the course when we came upon the end buoy for the sprint. This buoy was a couple minutes downstream. The sprit determines the racers placement in the LeMans start of the race. We practiced a few times going around the buoy. There were a few other people who were practicing their buoy turns as well. One team that I recognized was Jeff DeFeo and Carina Peritore.

We saw several recreational canoes that were floating down the river. The last time I was here in 2000 I saw many recreational canoes, but most of the people were partying while floating down the river. It reminding me of the Apple River in Wisconsin except the people used aluminum canoes instead of inner tubes.

Fred and Chris were standing at an area just before Burton’s Landing. They told us this would be where they would stand for our first pit.

Later that afternoon we watched the sprints. I also got the canoe jigged. We watched some of the teams begin their sprint and then we walked down to the end buoy to see how the Michigan teams were negotiating the buoy turn. What we saw was that the paddlers would slow down slightly as they approached the buoy. Both paddlers would paddle on the same side before the bow paddler put in a cross bow draw. Once the bow of the canoe was behind the buoy the bow paddler needed to plant a post right in the river bed to keep the canoe from being pushed downstream in the fast current. While the bow paddler was doing the cross bow draw the stern paddler did a rudder. When the bow paddler kept the post planted in the river bed, the stern paddler does about three pushes with his paddle against the river bed to get the canoe parallel with the current before both paddlers could begin the upstream paddle.

Later in the evening my brother-in law drove his motorcycle up from Flint to see me and watch some of the sprints. I used to live in Flint and a couple of the surrounding towns when I was 5 years old to the time I graduated from Flushing in 1974. I then moved to my grandparents lake home on Hubbard Lake (Spruce, Mi) for one year. I went one year of college in Alpena before moving to Minnesota in 1975.

Prior to going to the Lone Tree restaurant to have something to eat at around 9 pm we spoke to Mark Rimer who makes the Gilles racing canoe. He told us and showed us some of his improvements on his design from his earlier models. While at dinner Wayne Koppa stopped by to give us the lettering for my canoe with our sponsors name, Grayling Outdoor Products. . This was the same company that sponsored Al DuBois and me in 2000.

Friday was our day to do the sprint. We were schedule to do our sprint at 2:25 pm. We didn’t do any more paddling prior to our sprint. I had visualized several times what we needed to do to get the canoe around the buoy. In my mind it went pretty smooth.

In the morning we stopped by the business, Grayling Outdoor Products, and spoke to one of the owners, Sharon, for a while. We had a nice visit with her.

We then went over to Faye's Motel and spoke to Io and Joe. I wanted to speak to Dan who was part of their pit crew and he was very knowledgeable about the GPS. I explained to him the problem with following a different course than Joe and Io while paddling on the Mio pond. Dan said they had the same problem a couple days ago. He told me to turn off my electric compass. Dan also changed a couple pages on my GPS that I wouldn't need during the race. Dan told me the GPS should work fine now.

Bill and I paddled upstream of the start location of the sprint for a little warm-up. Well, it was just about our time to go so we moved up to the start line. Two volunteers held onto our canoe while they went over the rules for the sprint. Once the team already on the course was in sight coming back upstream they would start us. They told us the water level had dropped about two inches from the night before. Next they told us to look to our left where the person talking our picture was located.

We were off paddling downstream. It wasn’t long before the buoy was in sight. It was time to put in action what I had visualized. I moved us closer to the right bank after we passed the tree that was sticking out on the right. I already had Bill paddling on his right and then I moved to the right so we were paddling same sides. Bill put in a cross while I ruddered. Then I pushed off three times to get the stern around while Bill had his paddle stuck in the river bed on a post. Now all we had to do was paddle up the shallow, fast current. We had a time of 2 minutes and thirty-four seconds on the downstream portion. Our total sprint time was 6:39:75. We ended up in 27th position with our sprint time. I was very pleased with our sprint.

Friday evening was the paddlers pre-race dinner. Several of us from Minnesota sat at the same table. I sat next to Joe Dunaisky and across from me was Keith, Sandy's husband and co-owner of Fay's Motel. I met Neil LeBlanc, from Massachusetts, who sat diagonally from me. His partner, Brenda Bowie sat down the table across from Io Harberts.

Saturday at 9 pm the race would start, but there were things that needed to be done today. We got a few things from the store prior to going to the pre-race meeting. After the meeting our canoe needed to be inspected by the US Coast Guard for our approved PFDs, whistles and flares. My canoe was left in a secure area where we then couldn't get the canoe until 0830 pm, a half hour before the start of race.

We went back to the motel after eating lunch and after picking up some items at Ace Hardware. Both Bill and I prepared our drink bottles and food for the entire race then rested. I never did fall a sleep, but I was feeling pretty good. I actually got a couple good nights sleep since being in Grayling so that helped.

Earlier in the day we drove by the start location of the race and we saw many people. When it was time to leave for the race we drove to an area away from the start location and parked my Suburban so Chris and Fred could get a jump on the crowd and head to our first pit location.

We hung around the general area where we needed to line up in reverse order of our sprint time to be introduced to the crowd. They would start to introduce the paddlers at 0715 pm. We met several of the other paddlers and other people while waiting.
Al Widing, Sr and his partner were introduced right before us. He's not the person you really want to follow because he runs the length of the board walk and he's a crowd favorite. Bill and I were introduced next and we walked down to the board walk along the river. I actually was looking down while walking on the uneven board walk. It would be a little embarrassing to trip. The crowd gave their applause and I saw Sandy and Keith at the end of the board walk who told us both, good luck!

Next we walked a few blocks away to where our canoes were staged. It still wasn't time to get the canoe so we sat around and talked while observing the crowd.

It was now 0830 pm and the security guards weren't allowing the paddlers to get the canoes. The paddlers were getting frustrated after 5 minutes when the guards still wouldn't allow entry. Finally a committee member came over and got things moving.

I turned on the GPS that was already attached to the foot brace of the canoe. We carried the canoe down to the street and placed it on the line where we needed to start from.
I warmed up by running a little prior to the start. The canoes are on the ground and the paddlers can't touch or grab the canoe before the gun goes off. Once the gun goes off the paddlers grab their canoe up off the street and begin sprinting about a quarter mile to the river. Dave Timmerman and his partner were in the row behind us. I told Dave not to run me over. Fred Rayman told the story when he raced with Dave that Dave ran exceptionally fast to the river.

The gun went off for the start of the race. All that waiting and now we were on. There were two teams that caught us just as we bunched up at the incline to the river. Bill ran down the board walk as far as he could where there weren’t any canoes. We both jumped into the river and got in the canoe. It was a smooth start and we went around a couple canoes that were to our inside.

The first 10 minutes or so the narrow river is full of canoes and waves. Several of the canoes were jockeying for position. The river eventually widens and it's less hectic. Since Bill and I weren't really familiar with the river we weren't going to try and out paddle anyone. Eventually we would fall single file behind some other canoes. We wanted to be with some of the local paddlers going down the river to make as many of the cuts as we could, especially the cuts through the Mio pond.

We got our first pit just before Burton's Landing. There were some teams that passed us going down the river, but we were just staying with the group in front of us. I believe it was before our third pit when I heard some female voices behind us. I thought it was Amy Solak and Lisa Tambussi who I knew would be someone we would want to follow if they caught up with us.

After this pit is when I realized that it was Lynne Witte and Connie Cannon’s voices that I heard. They went passed us when we got our pit but we caught up to them. Our plan now was just to follow them down the river in the dark. There was one time Bill and I were actually a head of them, but I told Bill that I didn't like where we were positioned. I didn't know if there were any cuts up ahead and I didn't want them to rub us off. That’s when I heard them say, we wouldn't rub you guys off. Well, at that point I didn't know if they were telling the truth or not. We moved back behind them.
Fred Rayman told me another story when he was paddling next to Connie Cannon and I believe her partner was Lynne Witte. He wasn't paying attention to where he was at, but it was just before the Indian cut. Connie's canoe started to slow down and she acted like she was doing something in her canoe like getting something to eat. The next thing he knew Connie they took a hard left and went through the cut. Of course, Fred missed it even though he knew where the cut was located, but he just wasn't paying attention.

We continued to paddle with Connie and Lynne when about 4 other canoes caught up with us. There was one canoe that had a very bright light. Connie told him to turn it off when they were directly behind her canoe. He tried to turn it off but it wouldn't shut off. Eventually he got behind us with that annoying light. I said to him, so you can't turn the light off. That was my polite way of saying, please don't paddle behind me with that irritating light. I then tried to stay away from that canoe.

We all made it through the Mio cuts. There were probably about six of us. We then went through the stump field. I noticed that Connie and Lynn were taking us much closer to shore than the normal way through this area. I spoke to Connie after the race and she told me they scouted this before the race and it was ok for one canoe to go the way they did but not 5 or 6 canoes.

While going through the stump field we passed Nick Lyesiuk and Chuck Baxter who had flipped. Bill and I were following the canoe in front of us but I must have been a little to the side because we ran directly into a stump that stopped all our forward progress. At least we didn't flip. There was another time we rode up over another stump but again we stayed upright.

We now could see the lights to the Mio Dam in the distance. We all approached the wall to the dam at about the same time. Bill and I got out on top and reached down to grab the canoe. It had been over six hours in the canoe and my legs were stiff. We were running down hill and Bill kept running a little faster. I yelled to Bill that I couldn't run that fast but he didn't hear me. Chris Gerwing who was running along side of us also told Bill to slow down ,but he didn't hear Chris. Well, shortly after that I fell when we were making a slight right turn on the downhill. I went into the crowd while Bill held onto the canoe. When I got up I saw another person a ways from me who appeared to have fallen also. Later, Dave Timmerman told me he fell on the portage. He told me I didn't cause him to fall. I don't know if two or three of us fell on the portage.

I got back up, grabbed the canoe and finished running down the portage. We got in the canoe and I didn't see Fred Rayman any where in sight with our pit. I sat in the stern and was yelling Fred's name several times like a lost child. Eventually, Chris came to us and gave us back our mostly empty bottles. In fact, Bill and I each received each others bottle.

We now were paddling by ourselves. Bill attempted to turn on our bow light, but he couldn't get it turned on. It was working earlier in the night. We had to paddle down the river without a light. Bill told me he was able to see but I couldn't see very much at all. I told Bill he needed to tell me where to go a few times. It was a good thing the river wasn't like the upper section from the start of the race to Mio. There was one canoe that caught up with us as we went downstream. I think this was Chuck Baxter and Nick Lyesiuk who had flipped in the Mio pond in the stump field. Dave Timmerman and Mark Koenig joined us. Amy Solek and Lisa Tambussi also joined us.
We all paddled down the river and someone mentioned that it would be light in about 15 minutes. I looked at my watch and it was 0518 am.

Bill and I would paddle with or near Chuck and Nick, Dave and Mark, and Amy and Lisa for some time.

Eventually when there weren’t any more cuts that we were aware of we started paddling a little harder. We took some time at the Alcona Dam portage and several of the teams that we were with past us. We eventually caught up with these canoes over the remainder of the race.After we moved a head we could see one to two canoes up ahead to give us a reference on where to go on Cooke Pond and Loud Pond. I was watching the GPS and it appeared these canoes were following the same track through the ponds.

When we arrived at the take out points at the dams we had to use some coordination to keep the canoe upright. We would grab the wall while standing up in the canoe. We would exit the canoe at the same time, then reach down and pull the canoe up. There were three dam portages where we got to the top of the berm and just pointed the canoe downhill and let it slide down the hill on its own.

When Bill and I were approaching the finish line the announcer told the crowd that canoe #79 was approaching the line. Well, it was us, canoe #75, not #79. They went on and on about Doug and Josh Moggo about to cross the finish line. It wasn’t until after we crossed the finish line, pulling our canoe out of the water and out of sight of the finish line when they announced our names.

Bill and I crossed the finish line in 34th place with a time of 16:20:17. I actually was feeling pretty good compared to how I was feeling in 2000. I believe a big part was due to the Hammer Nutrition products I used. I used Perpetuem, Sustained Energy, Heed and Hammer gel. I had very little solid food. I had a couple bites of a bagel with peanut butter and a couple small pieces of banana.

Fred Rayman and Chris Gerwing took care of the canoe while Bill and I walked around doing nothing.

We checked in at the Aspen Motor Inn across the street. I rested/slept for a couple hours before heading over to the post race meal /banquet. This meal was much better than the pre-race meal. I saw Connie Cannon and Lynne Witte and thanked them for showing us the way through the cuts. Connie told us that they appreciated that we never got in their way during the night or caused them to adjust their paddling. They told us they hardly knew we were around them. We also talked about the guys with the bright light and the two guys wearing white shirts.
The next morning we went over for the racers breakfast. We talked with Bob Bradford and his large family group/pit crew during the breakfast. The restaurant had many old photos, paddles and canoes related to previous marathons.

I had a very good time while in Michigan. The drive to and from the event went fairly quickly. The people in Grayling really get behind the racers and the race. I'm amazed of all the people who follow this race from the start, all along the complete course and at the finish. There were many times we would paddle pass different groups of people after many hours of paddling where they would be standing while clapping and shouting words of encouragement. The people were great throughout the race course. If you ever get a chance to race or pit for this race do it.

I enjoyed paddling with Bill Briggs and I can’t thank Fred Rayman and Chris Gerwing enough for all they did during the race. Thank you, Guys!

Chuck Ryan
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Meme said...

awesome pictures! what kind of camera were you using?

CIIcanoe said...


The camera is a Nikon D-80. Most of the photos on this post were taken by Chris Gerwing who was on my pit crew, since I was doing the race.