Wednesday, May 13, 2009

May 4th - Hammond Marina to Chicago

Mark as usual was already up and had his tent down when I crawled out of mine. Normally Toby is up, but this morning he's still snug in his sleeping bag. Must be catching an extra wink because of the trains coming by every half hour last night. Dan likes his sleep and as usual was the last one up, but he's always ready to push off when it's time to go.

We took our time this morning for we had less than 12 miles to go. Again the water was relatively calm with only a slight breeze coming from the southeast which for one of the few times will helped while we've been on Lake Michigan.

For the last 2 1/2 days we've been able to see the skyline of Chicago. First with a dim veiw of the Sears building, then the beautiful sunset view of two days ago and now the whole city has jumped right out in front of us. Spectacular view from the water.

Again, not much conversation for I'm sure my fellow paddlers have many thoughts going through their heads as I do.

The last couple of days I've played back in my mind the many things that have transpired on this journey. All good. Even the bad weather days are good ones. What's jumped out most have been the people I've met. On all my journeys I've met so many nice people and this trip has been no exception. I think back to the beginning when Mel Herrera and Gloria Kelly treated us all to dinner the night before we pushed off. Then there was Ron Dean, Bryan Taylor and Chuck Amboy joining us for the first day of paddling. Bob Bradford, who'd I'd get to know better later was also there to see us off.

I think back to how we all started off together only to find myself paddling with Jon until about noon and then by myself until these last three days. I had a blast during that time, fighting the current of the Huron, meeting so many people wondering what I was doing as I bike-portaged parts of Ann Arbor. My cross country trip from Dexter to the Grand River - a view that reminded me a lot of the farm country of my home state of Wisconsin. The start down the flooded Grand River, twisting and turning through a mass of trees, but for the first time going with the current. All good thoughts.

Then came a very special meeting. I can still see Karen and Nancy escorting Karen's father, Jim Woodruff down to the water's edge when I was pulling into the Dimondale park. I've been looking forward to meeting Jim for it's been through his endless research of Hugh Heward's voyage in 1790 that we are retracing Heward's route from Detroit to Chicago. He'd been tracking all of us from the beginning with a running account of what we are doing and comparing it with the actual adventure of Hugh Heward. Just an amazing job . Now I had the honor of meeting the man. I remember introducing myself only to hear what sounded like my own father's direct way of talking telling me, "For gosh sakes man, what are you doing standing in that water with sandals on? Don't you realize you're in Michigan? Put some boots on!" (On my website at you can listen and see the entire conversation) That set the tone for a great evening and the beginning of friendships I will cherish from now on.

I continued to paddle towards Chicago thinking of the many other people I've met, especially during the Hugh Heward 50 Mile Challenge. Chuck Amboy graciously inviting all of us for lunch at the English Inn in Dimondale the day before the challenge. This allowed me the chance to reunite with Toby, Dan, Mark, Charlie and Jon for the first time since Detroit. Then there was Mike Lehrer who took his time to show me the town of Portland. I was able to met both he and his wife again at the challenge. Great people. Mike even thought I was a halfway decent paddler. I remember being in awe of Bob Bradford when I learned he was using the same canoe he and his partner used in setting the record for paddling the length of the Mississippi. Janet, Bob's wife, an awesome paddler in her own right, would paddle with him on this challenge. His son, Mike and nephew paddled one of, if not the fastest, racing canoes in the challenge. There were so many others. Nancy Anderson comes to mind. She seems to be everywhere helping in any way she can. Scott Smith, one of Dan's brothers comes to mind. What a great day I had visiting with him and seeing his Superior Canoe Shop.

For me, the 50-Mile Challenge was the number one highlight. For this was what the journey was all about - raising awareness and a few dollars for the Verlen Kruger Memorial. These group of people have worked hard at this project. Basically collecting a nickel at a time. No big sponsor, no big grants, no big money from the town treasury, just great people honoring a man that's meant so much to them. I never got to meet Verlen, but I feel I know him well. Anyone that enjoys the outdoors and dreams can truly appreciate a person like Verlen Kruger who lived his dream to the fullest. So I hope my little journal and blog may help in seeing the dream of Verlen's friends come true in the near future. Some out there may also like to see it come true, if so I hope you take the time to look at the Verlen Kruger Memorial website and possibly buy a brick.

You can go directly to the brick order form here:

We are now very close to the end of this adventure and I'd like to comment on the three men that allowed me to finish this trip with them.

Toby Nipper is 58 years old from Florida. He's only been paddling for two years. Back then he entered a canoe race on the gulf of Florida and promised himself if he finished the race he'd never go back to work. He finished and he's not been back to work since. In fact in a few days he will be off on another trip. By the way, he will give anyone a run for their money in a canoe. I believe we've become pretty good friends in the last few days and I hope to paddle with him again. Maybe some day in the Boundary Waters with a couple of my outlaw friends!

Mark Predwojewski is 39 years old from Irons, MI. As mentioneded before Mark has taken over Verlen's canoe business and is the person I bought my Kruger canoe from. He reminds me a lot of my son Eric. Eric is a talented artist who is very particular in what he does. Mark's craftmanship is very much the same. He also has a little of our son Dean in him. Dean is easy- going, nothing bothers him and that has been true with Mark. How he's put up with these three old men is beyond me. But, he's done an outstanding job babysitting us! Just a class act and world class paddler.

Dan Smith is also 58 years old from Portland, MI. The past three days he's shared a number of good times he and Verlen have had over the years. One being canoeing the Yukon River. I've come to believe no one misses Verlen more than Dan. Dan's a driving force behind the memorial and he will see it through. No one more than Dan wants to paddle the Grand River and look over and see the watchful eyes of Verlen. Dan, I know your efforts are sincerely appreciated by all.

Then there's Jim "The Topologist" Woodruff. If you have not read Jim's blog you are really missing something. He's a special man with a gift for writing, although his daughter and son must censor his pen once in awhile. Click on the following: It's a must read.

We've arrived. No fanfare other than Mike Smith and his girlfriend here to greet us. Mike will be shuttling Toby, Dan and Mark back to Michigan. My friend Jim McIntyre will be here soon to take me home. Can not thank Jim enough. He's been a trooper once again.

Before everyone packs up we will paddle a mile to the Chicago River. Dan, Mark, Toby, Mike Smith and his girlfriend will paddle down the river for a mile or two. I will not, for Jim will be here soon and I do not want him waiting around for another 2 or 3 hours. So I said my goodbyes to some very special friends and headed home.

Mr. Topoligist my friend, your "cat herding" is complete. Job well done!

The 2009 Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge Paddlers

Cat Herder Jim Woodruff Sr. A Very Special Friend!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May 3rd - A Day and a Half From Chicago

Just a gorgeous morning. In the 60's and a slight breeze. We were on the water by 7:30 - actually 6:30 for we are now in the Central Time Zone. Mark and Dan still go by Eastern Time.

The suggestion was made, "Maybe we could cut straight across to Chicago. It's only 32 miles." This is what Jon Holmes did a couple of days ago. Jon is the paddler I started with on the Detroit River. When I left the lake a few days ago he moved ahead and was a couple of days in front of Mark, Dan and Toby when I joined them two days ago. A friend joined him for this 30 plus mile journey. From what we hear it was not the easiest of crossings. They fought winds and were quite dehydrated when they reach Chicago. Good news is they made it and are safe. Congrats Jon! Wish we could have spent more time together on this trip, You can follow Jon's journey at

At about 11:00 we came to a spot on the lake where we needed to make a decision to either continue to follow the shoreline to the left or cut the corner to Gary, IN. Cutting the corner saves a good 10 miles of paddling. Did not take long for a decision. We are on our way to Gary, IN. Our aiming point is a steel mill we see 12 miles away.

Crossing was very easy for the winds stayed calm. Only real excitement was when I was taking pictures of the many lake trout fishermen fishing these waters, Toby takes off. By the time I got back to paddling he was some distance in front. Dan must have been feeling a little spry this morning for he took off after him. I promised myself at the start it was going to be an easy day of paddling. Of course that went right out the window and off I went.

After sometime I could see Dan right behind Toby, but Toby did not let up. He just kept going. When I reached Dan, he said, "Enough of this", and backed off. Of course I had to continue. Finally I caught Toby and paddled about half a canoe length behind him for a few minutes, thinking he'd slow down. He didn't, he just kept it going. I'd came to my senses and decided to wait for Dan and Mark. Later Toby stopped and joined us. I think Mark said something like, "Are you kids done now?!"

For the rest of the day we all paddled together, reaching the steel mill in the early afternoon. We now had about 7 miles to go to Hammond, IN where we hoped to camp for the night. That would leave us about 12 miles to go to Chicago in the morning.

Mike Smith, Dan's brother, has been helping us out the last few days by googling earth and seeking out possible camping spots for us. Dan would keep in touch by cell phone. Each day we'd decided on a camp spot and then change it at least twice. This was no exception, we must have called Mike at least 4 times. Each time we asked him to find something further ahead.

Thanks, Mike for your patience and especially thanks for today's stopping point. We ended up at a state of the art marina in Hammond. Mike had made arrangements with the management telling them of our arrival. When we got there we were each handed a key that allowed us entry in and out of the marina, plus more important, the facility that had the nice warm showers! Great job, Mike. Nest to the marina was a hugh casino, which meant a huge buffet. Nothing could be better unless one could win a couple of bucks at the casino. Mark, Dan and Toby were smart enough not to play. This Norwegien could not resist. Fortunately I only played for about a half hour and even walked out a couple of bucks ahead.

That evening we set up camp on the marina's lawn. Not a lot of conversation this evening. I think all of us have thoughts on finishing tomorrow and what's transpired since the start. My thoughts are with my brother who'd be 63 today. We lost him in a car accident in 1963 at the age of 16. Happy birthday, Don.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Saturday - May 2nd

Man, I was cold last night. I have a great sleeping bag (15 degree Feathered Friends) but I do not use a sleeping pad. Normally I have what's called a space blanket which is basically a small tarp with an aluminum coating on one side that does a good job blocking the cold of the ground from my sleeping bag. It fits perfectly inside my tent and on torrential rainy days keeps my tent totally waterproof. I've always put the tarp inside my tent. I found this to be better, for if you put it on the ground and then the tent on top, water can get between the tarp and the tent and you are one wet baby if that happens.

I mentioned being cold to the guys in the morning and Toby said, "Maybe you should carry more than a hanky in your pack!" Hmmm, the give and take has started!

To defend myself, I do travel light, which comes from hiking the Pacific Crest Trail where every ounce counts. Although my total pack weight, not counting food and water is about 20- 25 lbs I have all the essentials one needs. Although, I may rethink this after seeing all the comforts that Mark, Dan and Toby have. I wouldn't be surprised if they soon set up the TV satellite dish!

Can you tell I'm having a good time?

Anyway, the space blanket I forgot at home. It wouldn't feel right if I hadn't forgotten something. Just have to re-adjust this evening.

This morning the wind again was coming from the southwest directly into our face. It was a fairly strong wind causing for some rough water and if the wind stays we will not make many miles. Fortunately it died down by around 10 and by noon the lake was quite calm making for a very easy day of paddling.

Toby and I spent the day chasing each other. Not sure why, just two old guys pretending they were kids. Well at least one old guy and a supposedly one mature adult (Toby is only 58). Dan and Mark, by far the smarter, took their time and enjoyed the beautiful day. They didn't say anything to us, but I'm sure between the two of them there were some sly comments made about our actions.

Again we camped at about 6:30 just past Michigan City. Heck, I must be getting old, yesterday I was wondering why so early, today I was looking forward to it. Besides we'd made another 30 miles and if all goes well, we will be in Chicago in a day and a half. In fact we can see the skyline of Chicago from our campsite. Really a picturesque site as the sun sets directly over Chicago. I have some nice pictures of it which will be posted soon along with rest of the pictures I've taken on this journey.

Just another great day, paddling with 3 great guys. Time for bed. "Hey Toby, tomorrow I might let you pass me!"

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Friday - May 1st - I'm Back on the Water

Yes! Mark Przedwojewski called early yesterday morning, inviting me to join them. He assured me that they would love to have me join them. So, a quick call to Jim and I was off to Racine. And once again Jim would shuttle me back. Plan was to meet them this morning (Friday) at Van Buren State Park about 5 miles or so from where I left the lake.

We were at the Park at about 7:30 in the morning. I had everything ready. I figured that when they arrived they would not want to stop but just have me join them as they paddled by.

In about 45 minutes I could see them coming. I thanked Jim once again and told him I would see him in Chicago in three or four days.

I was right. It was too early for them to stop, so I quickly jumped into my canoe and joined them.

It felt good to be back on the water, especially knowing I'd be finishing with the group I started with.

We battled some rain and fairly strong winds in our faces all morning, which slowed our pace to about less than two miles an hour, according to Toby's GPS tracker.

Just after noon we arrived at St Joseph, MI. I was paddling a little ahead of Toby when I noticed he was heading to shore. Not quite sure what he was doing, I stayed where I was until I noticed Dan and Mark doing the same thing, so I paddled back.

Sail time! The wind had switched and now was slightly quartering us from the northwest. I had never seen a sail used on a canoe, yet alone done this, so I was all eyes. Mark and Toby would be sailing by themselves. Dan and I would catamaran together for I had no sail and would rely on Dan's. Very interesting set-up. Verlen Kruger designed this craft to allow for sailing. In order to do it you need to be catamaraned together or have outriggers when by yourself. Mark and Dan had the outrigger setup which is basically an aluminum pole that stretches out 5 or 6 feet on each side of the canoe with an inflatable outrigger on each side, giving the canoe the stability needed.

Once set up, off we went. Really cool! Right along with the wind pushing us we also paddled. Dan said with the right wind you could easily do 7 - 8 or more miles an hour and just sit back and relax. Our wind was not that strong or directly behind us, but with light paddling we were making 4 plus miles an hour.

Man, could I've used this system when I did my Atlantic to Pacific journey, especially on the big waters of the Missouri and Columbia Rivers. I liken this to my bike portaging. Difference being, biking can be harder than paddling but you can cover more distance on a road than a winding river.

We sailed right until 5:30 when Dan mentioned we should start looking for a campsite. I thought to myself, "Campsite? - It's 5:30 - Campsite at 5:30?" I usually start looking about 15 minutes before the sun goes down and then keep paddling because I figure there's a better one around the corner, so this is new territory for me.

Dan pulled in at about 6:00 near Warren Dunes State Park. We'd come about 30 some miles which was a great day considering the wind we paddled against this morning. Although, I must admit as we each set up camp, I felt we should still be paddling. I could hear my dad now, "What are you doing stopping? You've only put in a half day's work!"

Soon I settled down and found myself really enjoying being off the water and just plain relaxing. After supper we even built a campfire. I've never done this! Although, our time around the fire was short lived because we all were tired.

As I lay in my tent I felt good. I was back on the water and paddling with three great guys. I was hoping in these last few days I'd learn a lot about paddling and these guys are as good as they come. In our first day together I've already learned a ton.

Stopping at 6:00 - in bed without having to set up camp in the dark - campfire - Man, as Dan would say, "It doesn't get any better than this!"

Sorry Dad, but I agree!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Sunday- April 26th - Day after the challenge

Yesterday my good friend Jim Mc Intyre again drove all the way from Racine, WI to pick me up after the 50-Mile Challenge and take me back to Saugatuck, MI. I called Pat Paquette and told him we were on our way. Pat gave us directions to Spectators Bar and Grill. Once there, Pat treated us to one of the best steak dinners I've every had. What a nice place! Lots of room both at the bar and for dinner, plus a beautiful outdoor patio. Very clean and a great atmosphere. If you are ever out this way I wholeheartedly suggest you stop. Plus, Saugatuck is a beautiful little community and worth visiting.

Not only could we not pay for dinner, Pat had a room reserved for us at the Best Western. Can not thank him enough, for a good shower and nice bed was just what the doctor ordered.

Pat met us in the morning for breakfast with his business partner Clair and his son Alex. After breakfast he gave us a tour of the town and showed us the new football complex which was state of the art with synthetic turf and track. Unbelievable facility for such a small community.

It was now time to get back in the water so we drove down to the beach. Took a bunch of pictures and said my goodbyes to Pat and Alex. Jim was going to find a semi-pro baseball game to watch and catch up with me in a day or so. I'd stay in contact by cell phone with him.

What was just great was to see Pat and his son Alex again. He's done well for himself and again has made an old coach feel very proud.

When I pushed off from shore it was just beginning to rain and rain it did. It poured off and on for most of the day. Although I was snug in my canoe with the canoe skirt around me so no water could get in, it still made it a miserable paddle. Once when I crossed a bay and was some distance from shore, fog set in (see picture) and made it difficult to see the shore. This could have been a problem if it had stayed for I had no compass. In fact as I was concentrating on the shoreline a rolling wave that I did not see hit me and I thought I was about to flip. Not a good situation, but a lesson learned.

I continued to paddle until about 3:00PM. The wind was picking up which with the rain continued to make things miserable. I've been in this situation many times and did not mind it. In fact I usually enjoyed the challenge, but today was different. My heart was not into it. Maybe it was the feeling that I'd had last evening as Jim and I drove back from Portland. I felt I'd accomplished what I wanted to and from here on it was all anticlimactic. Maybe I just did not like paddling big open water for all you see all day long is the same sight, water. Mostly I think it was my thought that I should be finishing this with the paddlers I'd started with, Dan Smith, Mark Prezdwojewski and Toby Nipper. They were still about 3 to 4 days behind me and if I continue there's no chance of them catching up, even if I did lollygag a little, which is hard for me to do.

Whatever it was I decided to paddle to shore about a few miles from South Haven and call Jim. There was no real place to pull out and get to a road so I just pulled over and walked up over a mountain of a sand dune. I knocked on a door to see if it was okay if I got out here and used their driveway to get to the highway. Now this was not just your little rambler home along the beach so I was preparing for the answer "no". Instead, when they heard about my journey, the couple (did not get names) was like everyone else - more than willing to help. So I pulled everything up and over the sand dune, put my bike trailer system together to the astonishment of the two and was on my way. I did get hold of Jim and he met me along the road in about an hour. I told him I needed to think about this. Used the excuse that it was too dangerous out there by myself and would make a decision in the morning.

Next morning I awoke at 5:00, went outside and walked around thinking about what I should do. Weather was good with no wind so I could easily go, but I just didn't want to. Later, after Jim awoke, we went to breakfast. I told him I would start out again and see how things go. That changed quickly for the winds picked up and the weather report called for hazardous lake winds with no lake travel advised. My decsion was made for me. We headed home.

Actually I felt good about this. I will be back. Hopefully I will have the chance to continue with Mark, Dan and Toby in a few days. For days I felt this challenge should be finished with all of us together. Now it's possible, but if they would like to continue on by themselves I would understand. Then I would come back at a later time and finish, which I must do one way or the other.

Time to get out of here before I change my mind again!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Hugh Heward 50 Mile Challenge - Saturday - April 25th

The day started with a group of us going to Mike's at 5:00 for breakfast. By 5:30 in the morning, Nancy Anderson and her crew of volunteers were beginning to set up their registration table. They will be handing out maps for the challenge and collecting the $10.00 fee that goes towards the Verlen Memorial. Last year they had over 80 participants and hope for a hundred or more this year.

The Heward Challenge began a number of years ago by another organization (forgot the name) with just a handful of paddlers. In recent years Jim Woodruff (I believe) approached the Kruger Foundation about taking it over and developing it into a fundraiser for their project. They jumped at the chance.

The challenge will began approximately at 7:00. There's really no offical start time for it's a challenge against oneself. We will paddle towards Lansing, MI where we will need to portage around two dams. Soon after we come upon Jim Woodruff's home. Jim will be there along with family and friends to greet paddlers as they come by. Many will stop as I will for a visit and thank him for all the effort he's put into this event and so many others. He's an amazing man of 87 and sharp as a tack.

As we continue on we will come to one more dam in Grand Ledge, the halfway point. Also, the starting point for canoeists doing the 25 mile challenge. (Some will also join as for the last 10 miles). After the Grand Ledge portage it's clear sailing to Portland where we will finish at the site of the Verlen Kruger Memorial. We will be greeted with three blasts from a horn and applause upon our approach and given much needed food and refeshments.

When we got back from breakfast at 6:30 there were people all over and still more coming in. I hustled to get my gear and canoe ready. Because there was no official start time, canoes were starting to enter the water about 10 minutes to seven.

Some participants were there to see how fast they could do the 50 miles. Most were there just to enjoy the day. Also, there were a handful of racing canoes, both doubles and singles. They were using this challenge as a warmup for a marathon race later in May. I was told most would be starting about 2 hours behind us and would still beat us to Portland. Hummm!

Racing canoes are very different than a Kruger Canoe. They are built for speed - long, narrow and light. A Kruger Canoe is built for expedition canoeing - rugged and stable. Although designed to move well in the water, they are no match for a racing canoe or a top of the line kayak for pure speed.

I entered the water at about 7:05 and soon found myself paddling with Dan Smith, Toby Nipper and Todd Ceaser. Dan and Toby are two of the canoeists I started with back in Detroit. Mark Przedwojewski is starting later and will be paddling alongside Marissa and Hannah. Brian Weber, Marissa's father, will also be paddling with the girls. Brian asked earlier if Mark would be willing to give advice and tips to the girls as they paddle. Mark, as always on this journey, was more than willing to help.

As the morning wore on I found myself mainly paddling with Toby Nipper. We were enjoying the morning at a very comfortable paddle speed when two young guys came by in a canoe and asked if we were going all the way to Portland. Toby said, "We are hoping we can make it." One of the guys said, " Well, you look like you are doing okay paddling and if you keep it up you should make it".

As they paddled away Toby looked at me and smiled. I did not say anything and we continued on our way enjoying each other's company. Then about a half hour later I could see the two guys that had passed us a couple hundred yards in front. I told Toby, "I think I will go up there and play with those guys for awhile." Off I went. Soon they saw me coming and started to paddle faster. I would get close and when they started paddling harder I would back off, then pick it up again. We did this until we were within sight of the first dam in Lansing, MI. Then I picked it up and got to the landing at the same time they did. I could see they were a little tired and struggling as they carried their canoe around the dam to the put-in spot. As I put my canoe in the water and about to push off I looked over at the two guys. They seemed to have a look that was saying, "who is this guy!" I did not say a word - just smiled and went on my way. Never did see them again. (You know, everyone once in a while you need to prove to yourself your not ready for the rocking chair!)

This set the tone for the rest of the day. What was going to be just an easy paddle to Portland quickly turned into...okay, let's see how fast I can get there.

Even though I was on a mission I did meet and chat with many people on my way. Just past Lansing, I stopped at Jim Woodruff''s home. He was sitting in a lawn chair next to the river, greeting everyone as they went by. Many stopped as I did. I signed Jim's guest book, chatted for awhile and went on my way.

Later I started to see more canoes and kayaks in front of me as some paddlers were doing the 25 mile challenge while others were paddling the last 10 miles. As I paddled by many asked who I was and I would answer, "They call me Coach."

"Coach", they would say, "You're the one with the fold-up bike! Glad to meet you Coach." Felt good to hear that.

At 3:38 I arrived in Portland at the site of the future Verlen Kruger Memorial. It's a beautiful spot along the river. Already they have a small pavillion up and the boulder in place where soon a bronze statue of Verlen Kruger will face the river.

There were people all over and lots of food to eat. As a paddler approached, someone would announce his or her arrival by blowing a horn with much clapping and lots of handshakes. All in all over 100 paddlers took part in this Challenge. Very impressive, for it was not the greatest of days - it rained hard most of the atfternoon. But nothing could take away from the pride everyone felt in not only accomplishing the challenge but more important - raising money for the memorial.

Later, Jim Woodfruff arrived with his son and daughter. He handed me a Hugh Heward shirt with a big smile while his daughter took our picture. I left very touched and honored.

Now I could finish what I'd set out to do. I'd just completed the Hugh Heward 50 Mile Challenge and still had the remainder of the Ultimate Challenge to go. But purchasing a brick that will be part of the Verlen Kruger Memorial was the main goal for this trip.

Our brick will read:

Note: By the way, not all the racing canoes beat me to Portland!