Campus to Coast
A 151 Mile Scenic Michigan Adventure
A 151 Mile Scenic Michigan Adventure
The race requires that you finish within 57 hours. I will remain true to that as I don’t want DNF associated with my name, even unofficially. I began training for the race since the rivers frost opened here in Minnesota. When finished, the distanced paddled will shatter my prior record of 104.3 miles paddled during a single excursion.
To learn more about the race and route, I reach out to Kendall Uckele the Campus to Coast race director, Michigan’s DNR, and several county park managers. A special shout out to Kendall. Without his support my level of preparedness and confidence would not have been anywhere near as strong.
The forecast over the next several days was for temperatures ranging between the high 20s to mid 50s. Because the winds were forecasted to be strongest on the third day with gusts reaching the upper twenties, my plan was to push through and finish within two days.
Former high school classmates Sheila and Nancy agreed to shuttle me to and from the start and end of the race. We haven’t seen each other for about 40 years. The one hour trip to Lansing allows us to catch up on memories about school, play, and travel. It seems as if school years were just yesterday, not decades long ago.
On my last day the morning conditions were ideal for viewing wildlife. The wind was directly in front of me so the animals had their faces pointed in the other direction to catch any drifting scent alerting them of potential danger. The sun was directly behind me making it nearly impossible for anything to see me. When there was something I wanted to get close up to I would simply lift my paddle and drift as far as possible. At times I got within 10 to 20 feet of unsuspecting ducks, geese, raccoons and deer.
Along the way I came across only four other paddlers. As I passed by Saranac there was a father and son duo and a while later there was a father and daughter team. They were making their way down river to Forest Hills. As I passed I thought about how these father-child excursions will make wonderful memories. They may not know it now, but these types of special moments will be forever remembered and cherished.
THE VERY FIRST RIVER BEND NEARLY BREAKS ME.
I launch onto the swift flowing shallow waters of the Red Cedar River. With a slight turn to my left I wave goodby to Sheila and Nancy. I am so thankful for their friendship and support and look forward to seeing them tomorrow when I land on the sandy beaches of Lake Michigan, over 150 miles away.
Not much more than 100 yards is North Aurelius Road bridge. On the other side the Red Cedar splinters into several smaller tributaries before they all converge at the other end of Potter Park Zoo. As I pass under the bridge I see a log jam blocking the primary tributary. As I get closer I see there are several more blockages beyond that.
I look to my left. From what I can see, this small tributary which takes me around the outside is less blocked and should be easier to circumnavigate. Although it also has a log jam blocking the beginning, it looks like the better option. I decide to go this way.
After portaging the short distance around the first log jam I prepare to reenter from a small inlet. The reentry poses a slight challenge as there is a fallen tree that extends well into the river. Toward the end of the tree it rises above the river for about 6-8 feet. Its end was cut off to allow recreational boaters like me to make it around.
The challenge is I will have to paddle upstream against the swift flowing shallow river, before I make a quick turn to make it way around this fallen tree. If I don’t succeed, I risk being pushed against this fallen tree and possible swept underneath it. I assess the risks and determine while the odds are stacked agains me, I’m all jacked up and feeling lucky. I think, “Certainly, nothing will go wrong so early in my adventure.”
I push off from shore and almost immediately know I’m not going to make it. As expected I get pushed sideways against the tree. Able to maintain balance and remain upright, I work my way backward to shore.
I survey the shoreline downriver and see a less risky entry not to far away. But, I just don’t feel like taking the additional time and trouble of getting out of my kayak, walking through the mud, reentering and trying again. So instead, I jockey my kayak a few yards further upstream before attempting my second effort.
My plan this time is to start out as strong as possible, paddle diagonally upstream to make it well beyond the end of the cut off tree, then quickly bank left to make my way around.
I push off and immediately know I am not going to make it this time either. This time I am certain to hit the tree where it extends above the water. I expect I will hit it nearly straight on, then the back end of my kayak will swing around where I will flip over into the cold Red Cedar River.
As I head toward the fallen tree at a much higher speed now, I quickly put my paddle to my right and reach up with my left arm to grab onto this tree’s thick trunk. Even at that moment I know this isn’t going work, but it’s an instinctive reaction.
I slam into the tree hard. It doesn’t take but a fraction of a second for the river to flip me under in a violent motion. My left arm gets pushed up and behind me shoulder while my kayak is forcefully ripped away from underneath me. Thrown out and backward, I look up through the goldish water and attempt to gain my footing.
The water is cold. I stand and when my head first breaks the water’s surface I gasp for air, then leap forward to grab my kayak while knowing instantaneously I have lost my hat and new sunglasses. I pull my kayak to shore, then get out of the water to regain my composure.
I look around to make sure no one saw what just happened. No one has. Phew.
After collecting my thoughts and taking inventory, I sponge out the river water from inside my kayak. Although I am wet and cold, I decide to change only my long sleeve shirt, lightweight jacket, and put on a pair of lightweight neoprene gloves to act as a liner. Thankfully, my neoprene wetsuit and boots have kept me body mostly dry.
It was at the Portland Dam, 45.5 miles into the trip, where I cross paths with a friendly old gentleman. He takes interest in what I am doing and wants to know all about me, my kayak and plans.
Normally, I would welcome the opportunity and make the time to visit. But, it's 8PM and I am pushing it hard to make my way to the Webber Dam before dark and it’s seven more miles down river. Also, when I stop moving my sweat soaked shirt and river drenched wool socks creates a chill that begins to overtake my body during the cool evening hours.
I arrive at Webber dam much later than planned and under the cover of night.
I struggle to find the marked narrow passage on the right side of river which will guide me safely to shore. It’s unnerving and I begin to worry that I may not be able to find it at all. After a while I discover the two standing buoy markers much closer to shore than expected. I carefully make my way through and land on the pebbled riverbank.
I am relieved the first day is over. I am cold, wet, tired and stiff, and look forward to getting a good night’s rest.
As I work off the sleep in the morning I am greeting by a friendly park ranger. He drives up in his dark green pickup truck and asks, “How are you doing?” He tells me that they got a call that someone was sleeping in the park.
That would be me and with my kayak next to me. He can tell I am not an unwelcomed drifter. I unzip my mummy style sleeping bag, peek out and tell him, “I’m fine and I’ll be heading out in about 15 minutes.” He smiles, waves good by and says, “Be safe.”
I launch from Johnson Park in Grand Rapids at around 8AM and bout 35 miles from the finish. With reasonable luck I will finish the race within the allotted 57 hours, but much longer than I had originally planned. I need to hurry as the forecasted gale like winds are expected to hit Grand Haven around 3PM.
It is around 11AM when I enter the Bass River Recreation Area when the wind begins to notably strengthen. This was not unexpected, simply unwanted. I hug the left riverbank for relief from the strong winds and building waves. The wind is persistent and two hours later just before the Highway 231 bridge I slide into last boat slip for a lengthy pause. I take my time to rest, eat and catch up on correspondence.
As I pass under Highway 31 bridge and make my final run to Lake Michigan, I am hopeful the wind holds out just a while longer.
Knowing I am arriving much later than I originally thought and promised others, I take an incoming call to explain where I am. I can’t speak long as I need to continue paddling to maintain momentum and my balance.
I explain the towering stack is on my left and I will be making my way through the channel shortly. I quickly hang up, then dig deep as the wind has returned and is even stronger. The narrow passage with its cements wall on both sides creates greater chop and does not allow for a river exit if I were to spill.
There is no reason to worry as it simply does no good.
I dig deep and with each stroke I power my way through the strong head winds which are certainly pushing 30 mph now. When I make my last turn around JB Sims Generating Station I see the familiar Grand Haven Municipal Park with its retail shops and boat slips. I spot Pamela, a long time family friend and former neighbor. She is bigger than life and enthusiastically waves me in.
A GRAND ADVENTURE COMPLETED.
I finish the 151 mile Campus to Coast race within allotted time. It took me 54.1 hours, well over my expected time. But, because the race was cancelled and I was the only one paddling over the designated weekend, I unofficially claim first place for my division and overall.
IT WAS A WONDERFUL TRIP.
The Campus to Coast race ranks among my most favorite paddling adventures, certainly among my top five. My solo paddles across Lake Michigan and Superior, and the Seventy48 race from Tacoma to Townsend are certainly my top three.
This Campus to Coast adventure ranks so highly not just because of the over 151 miles of scenic views, abundant wildlife, and personal best distance paddled. It does because along the way I met up with best friends, former classmates, teammates, and former neighbors.
A SPECIAL THANKS
I must recognize those who supported me on this Michigan adventure: Sheila Hughes, Nancy Enell Hughes, Jack and Cathi Hoyle, Craig Van Dyke, and Pamela Caspari.
Without you, this grand adventure would neither been possible or nearly as spectacular.
Paddling our Major Tributaries
• Rum River 2017
• Rum River 2019
• Cannon River
• Superior Bay
• Upper St. Croix
• Headwaters of the Mississippi
• Namekagon River
• Kalamazoo River
Top Stops and Events
• Lower St. Croix - Taylors Falls, MN
• Lake Pepin and Lake City, MN
• Lake Hamlin, MI
• St. Paul, MN and Raspberry Island
• Stillwater, MN
• Tall Ships Duluth Festival
Objects of Interest
• Great Lakes Lighthouses
• Bridges of Stillwater
• Wisconsin Central Bridge Ruins
• Soo Line High Bridge
• Vertical Lift Bridges
• Railroad Bridges
• Tugs and Barges
• Locks and Dams
• Business and Industry
Subjects of Interest
• The Joy of the Journey
• Overhanging Branches
• Best of All It's Fall
• Get Off the River!
• Michigan's Prized Grand River
• Crossing Lake Huron
• Straits of Mackinac
• Crossing Lake Michigan #1 - 2016
• Crossing Lake Michigan #2 - 7.24.20
• Crossing Lake Michigan #3 - 6.11.21
• Crossing Lake Michigan #4 - 6.27.21
• Crossing Lake Michigan #5 - 7.13.21
• Crossing Lake Michigan #6 - 6.07-22
• Crossing Lake Michigan #7 - 7.15.23
• Crossing Lake Superior - 2017
• Campus to Coast - A 150 Mile Race
• Paddling the Pere Marquette
• ABC NEWS: Avid Kayaker Brushes Death
• The Whole Story
• A Narrow Escape
• A Wonderful Journey
• More about Mike Stout
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