Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Halfwhacker 2011

This past weekend, I participated in the "Halfwhacker" paddling event.  This event is the first half of the 150 mile Bushwhacker, and annual event sponsored by the Verlen Kruger Memorial.  The event begins in Lumberjack Park near Riverdale, MI on the Pine River.  Many of the paddlers, including myself, camped by the river on Friday night before the race.  We sat around a campfire swatting mosquitoes and telling paddling stories before finally heading to our tents.  On Saturday morning, we all enjoyed an excellent pancake (and sausage, ham, egg, etc...) breakfast provided by Lumberjack Park, what a great way to start the day!

After breakfast, I finished packing up my stuff and got the boat in the water to prepare for the start.  A new addition to the event this year was the Backwhacker, which is the Bushwhacker in reverse.  We had a great idea to start the Backwhackers downstream of the Bushwhackers, which meant we would have to pass each other after the gun went off.

It sounds confusing, but it was a lot of fun!  The first few miles went by quickly and the paddlers spread out.  We encountered the first deadfalls fairly soon.  The first few I could go over or under, but before long, I had to get out of the boat and drag around some large downed trees.  This pattern continued for about 30 miles, until the backwaters of the Alma Dam.

The first portage is around the Alma Dam:

The put-in on the other side of the dam was not very boat friendly:

Fortunately, a friend of a fellow paddler was nearby and helped me carry the boat down to the water.  The next few miles to the St Louis Dam were uneventful, I was very thankful that the deadfalls were finally gone!  The only "obstacles" were some fairly low bridges which required me to lean all the way back when passing beneath them.

I portaged around the St Louis dam quickly and continued downstream.  With the slightly greater current and lack of deadfalls, my speed was quite a bit faster than in the first half; I was able to keep the boat moving at about 5 to 6 mph for most of the duration.  A highlight was Carl Cole greeting me from the Magrudder Rd bridge.  Carl paddled the full Bushwhacker last year, but was only able to do the 10 mile Sprint this year.  He let me know where some of the other paddlers were and offered some encouragement.  A few miles later, I started to feel tired and was losing my energy.  I ate and drank something, but what really kicked me into gear was a Starbucks Doubleshot.  This provided the kick I needed to finish the push to the finish.  Finally at about 9:30, I stopped and turned on my headlight, a 2 D-cell LED Maglite, which worked very well.  I also had topo maps programmed into my GPS so I could anticipate the turns of the river, then pick them out with the light.  I only hit a couple of rocks...  Finally, at about 11:30pm I passed the Chippewa Nature Center River Overlook building.  I was really close!

The "finish line" was the canoe launch, which I knew was a little ways past the confluence of the Pine and Chippewa Rivers.  I picked my way very slowly down the right bank, but still almost missed it.  I pulled the boat up and took a picture of the final stats:

The next surprise was when my phone rang, it was Emily.  She had been watching my SPOT and decided to stay up and watch me finish.  We chatted for a while while, then decided it was time to sleep.  I set up my tent, turned over the boat and went to sleep after a long, exciting day.


  1. Great story Ben, and great paddling.

  2. Wow! Those times and speeds are amazing. More than double my longest day on any trip and your max speed and average speed are great! I can sprint my kayak up to 6 mph but you can move your big Kruger even faster.

    Thanks for sharing your great day!