What is the AuSable River Canoe Marathon? At 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, July 27,2013, 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, approximately 50,000 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 down river.
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 24 through Friday, July 26. 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.
Other events surrounding the Marathon include youth canoe races, a quilt show, a 10k run, concert, antique car show, parade, concessions and an arts & crafts show. On Sunday, July 28, 2013, is The Black Bear Bicycle Tour. This is a 100 mile bicycle tour that winds through the beautiful forests of eastern Northern Michigan and follows portions of the AuSable River to finish the tour alongside the AuSable River near the end point of the Canoe Marathon. A complete schedule of events can be obtained by visiting grayling-mi.com
For more information on the AuSable River Canoe Marathon and to see a list of sponsors, visit www.ausablecanoemarathon.org