Tuesday, July 19, 2011

AuSable International Canoe Marathon

Finish

The AuSable River Canoe Marathon is coming up. Over on his blog, Great Lakes Guru, Tim Chilcote has an awesome article about the race:
Before I visited Grayling, I knew paddling to be a summer leisure activity, an excuse to drink beer and get a tan while floating down a river. Boy was I wrong. For competitors in the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, paddling is a year-round test of endurance. They race for the physical challenge, for the thrill of being on the water at night, and, in some cases, to punish themselves. Mark Koenig, a paddler from Woodstock, Illinois, explained in his 2008 racer bio: “It looked like it hurt a lot and I like pain.”

The AuSable River Canoe Marathon is 120-miles, from Grayling to Oscoda, finishing where the river runs into the cold water of Lake Huron. The race takes between 14 and 19 hours to complete, during which, for periods, paddlers will stroke as many as 120 times per minute. In 2004 the temperature dropped to 32 degrees in the middle of the night—in the middle of summer, mind you. If the cold doesn’t get to you, exhaustion or delirium might. Officials routinely pull racers from the river when their bodies fail them. Still some are able to convince the officials to let them continue, at which point they’re strapped into life vests in case they lose consciousness and fall into the water.

If they reach the finish line in Oscoda, racers arrive shell-shocked, tailbones bleeding from friction, and bodies torn by a race that takes them from the verge of hypothermia to near heatstroke. Their muscles visibly twitch and spasm as they drag their waterlogged bodies from the finish line to the recovery area. Over long stretches of race, if they have any fluid left in their bodies, paddlers routinely piss on themsselves to avoid stopping and losing time, which has to be washed off in Oscoda. During the early stages, before cold and exhaustion drill into their bones, racers seem to enjoy the crowd’s cheers. By the time they reach the finish, they’re lucky if they recognize their own families.

Sounds like an awesome race. Read the rest of Tim's article, No Sleep ‘til Oscoda: Following the AuSable River Canoe Marathon here.

Photo courtesy of Tim Chilcote

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