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.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Paddling in Holland

After becoming involved with the planning of the Verlen Kruger Memorial paddling events, I decided to participate in the "Halfwhacker" which is the first 75 downstream miles of the 150 mile Bushwhacker Challenge.  At first, I planned to paddle my SOF folding kayak, but Mark P. of Kruger Canoes very generously offered to let me borrow his Sea Wind for the trip.  I brought the Sea Wind home after last weeks Hugh Heward event, and I have been paddling it as often as possible since then.  My first trip out was a night-time paddle; I chased the sun to the west and got a couple of shots of De Zwaan before the sun went down:

I paddled back in the dark, which was fine except for the fish that kept swimming into the boat.  I could see them swimming just below the surface, and a few of them actually swam into the boat; weird.

I got out again this morning for a little while in Lake Macatawa.  It was nice paddling in the daylight, and also nice experiencing some wind and waves (well, boat wakes...) I paddled with my friend Dan who was paddling his SOF Sea Ranger.

It was a great outing on a beautiful day.  I can't wait to get out again!

Oh yeah... and I have not forgotten about my folding kayak.  I have the deck completed and I'll be working on the cockpit coaming next.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hugh Heward Speed Profile

Hugh Heward 25

This past Saturday, Emily and I participated in the 12th Annual Hugh Heward Challenge.  We paddled the 25 mile "Half Hugh" from Fitzgerald Park in Grand Ledge to the Verlen Kruger Memorial at Thompson Field in Portland, MI.  We had quite a bit of rain preceding the event, so the river was high; not quite at flood stage, but it was really moving!

We were again thankful for the "carspotting" services of Trailspotters of Michigan.  Using this fantastic service, I could drop the boat off in Grand Ledge, drive the trailer to the finish in Portland, and Trailspotters drives me back to Grand Ledge.  The only issue was that Emily had to wait around for a while in Grand Ledge and got kind of chilly (it was about 45 degrees).  A few boats left while I was carspotting; Mike Smith among them:

 Here are a couple shots of the water coming over the dam just above the launch point:

Some of the other boats at Grand Ledge:

We finally got on the water at about 9:50am.  The current below the dam was very strong, and I was not used to paddling without the rudder.  We just barely got past the tree on the left bank; we took out a few branches, oops!  The paddling was very fast and fun!

Before we knew it, we were at Charlotte Bridge, the start of the 13 mile "Quarter Hugh"

At about 20 miles (5 miles to go) we were caught by a fellow Watertriber "Cliffjumps"  He was paddling the full 50 mile route, and was the first (and only) 50 miler to pass us:

We chatted a bit, and then he pushed on ahead.  There was no way we were going to keep up with him in his Epic 18X.  We finished about 20 minutes later, with a total paddling time of 3 hours, 38 minutes.  Our average speed was 6.8 mph and we didn't stop once.  Our only breaks were to munch some snacks and drink.  Our maximum speed was 9.1 mph below the last bridge, were I saw some kayaks catching up to us and was determined to not let them pass us!

The finish was fun, chatting with other paddlers, checking out the boats, and cheering for the finishers as they continued to arrive.  Some highlights:
Gabacouache, a 26ft Vouyager canoe

Jon Holmes and Larry "Coach" Hoff, veterans of the 2009 Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge
Verlen's "Old #10" racing canoe

A little something Mark P picked up out of the river...

The memorial statue of Verlen Kruger

Well, that's all for this year.  Emily and I are hoping to paddle the full 50 mile route next year, probably in our folding kayaks.  More to come on their progress in the next couple of days.