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!


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