I don't canoe, kayak or tube down rivers. I live on the Lake. Rivers are not me and I simply could not understand the appeal of a river, much less a canoe race. I can recall the eye-rolling, shoulder shrugging moment when I heard about the AuSable Race. Really what that meant for me was traffic, and some inconvenience, should I want to drive through town. A canoe race? Old dudes with metal canoes and wood paddles, huffing and puffing down a river. No thanks.
Hokeyspitballs was I off. Not. Even. Close. So the Weyerhause Au Sable Canoe Race is one part of the canoe triple crown (ok who knew this? anyone?). I won't go into the history here; you can read it over at Wikipedia. The race runs from Grayling to Au Sable THRU THE NIGHT. Complete with portages around dams, a time clock and bragging rights. The money is paltry, like $5k, for what these athletes do. Those canoes? Lightweight fiberglass covered in sponsors. The canoers? Serious athletes who train for these races during the year. Oh, and those paddles aren't cheap either.
One of the funniest moments for me was when I realized (and observed)the update board is all done by hand. It cracked me up. No spreadsheets. No computers. Spotters with short wave radios and people on the ground calling in updates. Ha. I loved it. And these were some serious women. The stream of people checking the board was substantial, too.
So I let Paul talk me into being at the finish line. We had walked around the grounds the day before, talking to a few of the sponsors. One of the guys said the pace would have the first place finishers crossing the line around 11:15. He was right on the money. At 10:30. we found a place amidst the throngs of people. People with t-shirts for their teams, yes, their teams; people with flags and banners to cheer the racers across the line.
There were hundreds of fans waiting to meet thems. Up and down the banks of of the Au Sable river, people were lined up- on blankets, in chairs, some on the grass.
We had an update on the last portage and an approximate finish time from the announcer (the entire thing was broadcast on the radio) and about 11:15 AM, the winners came around the bend. The banks and bridge lined with men, women, children of all ages were up and on their feet. Cheering, clapping, yelling, screaming, jumping up and down. It was loud. It was crazy. The excitement was seriously on par with a Red Wings hockey playoff game. I had my camera on continuous and with my lens at 3oo, and I got some great shots. And when the winning team got close to the finish line, I put my camera down and started to clap, too. I kept thinking, "this is a canoe race ..."
Indeed. A canoe race. A fabulous experience in a small town and I will tell you that I won't miss it again.