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What is the AuSable River Canoe Marathon?
At 9:00 p.m., two-person teams will begin North America’s toughest, richest, non-stop canoe race. At the sound of the gun, the teams, carrying their canoes on their shoulders, race several blocks through the streets of Grayling, Michigan to the AuSable River in front of The Old AuSable Fly Shop. The fourteen to nineteen-hour, 120-mile race, runs throughout the night, finishing in Oscoda at Lake Huron. Considered to be the world’s toughest spectator sport, over 10,000 fans will cheer on the competitors at various points throughout the race.
Race fans are an integral part of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon. They cheer and motivate their favorite teams throughout the night. They must find access to the river in total darkness, navigate among thousands of other fans in order to get a glimpse of their favorite team, and then move downstream to another public landing, bridge, or Consumers Energy hydro portage. Fans will drive, wait patiently for their team to appear at each point in the river, and cheer madly for 14 to 19 hours as the contestants move downriver.
Racers must portage the six dams and battle darkness, the river’s natural obstructions, weather conditions, and sheer exhaustion brought on by paddling their lightweight canoes at a torrid pace of 50 to 80 strokes per minute, non-stop to finish the race. They receive no aid except food, drink, and perhaps a dry shirt passed to them by their “feeders” at points along the course. During the eight hours of nighttime paddling, they receive little assistance from the moon in avoiding the river’s natural obstacles and are allowed only a small light on the front of their canoe. The race committee does encourage all teams to use GPS to assist them with navigating the river during night-time hours. The racers must be in top physical condition and most participants cross-train in other sports all year round.
The racing action gets underway at Penrod’s Canoe Livery (Maple Street Bridge in Grayling) with the AuSable Marathon Time Trials for starting position on Wednesday, July 26 through Friday, July 28. The Time Trials are much like “Indy 500” qualifying: each team paddles a short looped course with their lap time determining their starting row position for the LeMans’ style run to the river on Saturday.