It’s called Paddling

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t get very excited over sporting events. Last night, however, I witnessed an event that totally astonished me and I can’t seem to get over what took place. This was the most fantastic sporting event I have ever attended.

When I called last week to reserve the site at the campground we are currently at, I was asked if we were coming to town to watch the canoe race. I replied that I didn’t know what he was talking about. The guy from the campground just snickered and proceeded to explain that it was a canoe race from Grayling, Michigan to Lake Huron along the Au Sable River. I thought it would something fun to see if we had nothing better to do.

When we arrived at the campground my wife picked up a brochure about the race. It said the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon was a 120 mile race on the Au Sable River. It would take the contestants 15+ hours to complete the race. The Marathon started in Grayling at 9 PM with the canoes staged downtown in the street. We decided to head over and check it out. We arrived in town to find thousands of people waiting for the race to begin. Shortly after we got there the starting gun was fired and the paddlers picked up their canoes to make a mad dash for the river. The Au Sable River at this point is only wide enough for about 3 canoes. The contestants bumped and crashed as they try to enter the river at the best possible spot.

The crowd roared as the last contestants set their canoe into the river. This was definitely the home town favorite. It was Al Widing and his partner, 21-year-old Hailey McMahon of Grayling. At 87 years old, this is Al’s 40th attempt. Al currently holds the records: Most Marathons Entered, Most Marathons Finished, Oldest Paddler to Compete, and the Oldest Paddler to finish in the top 10.

This event is advertised as” North America’s Toughest, Richest Canoe Race and the World’s Toughest Spectator Race!” The contest pays out over $50,000 in cash & prizes. The contestants come from all over the world for a chance to compete in this distinguished event.

To get an idea of how fast they paddle down the river, we made a trip on the Au Sable earlier that morning that lasted just over 3 hours. The pros get down that same stretch of river in 1 hour 8 minutes. This is amazing.


Back in Mio we woke from a brief cat nap to go down to the dam to wait for the Paddlers. This was spectacular. There were crowds of people waiting for the paddlers. The canoes were approaching the Mio Pond in total darkness. Some had a small lamp but others had nothing at all to guide them through the obstacles in the river. We have a hard time avoiding these things in broad daylight. The only thing to alert us of their arrival was the faint sound of paddles entering the water and an occasional ” Hup!”

I really can’t belive that I have lived in Michigan all my life and never head about this event. While the world watches Olympics events like Synchronized Swimming, Trampoline, Badminton and Ping-Pong, we have the grand-daddy of all canoe races right in our back yard. Next year give yourself a treat and check this out. It will be an experience that you will never forget.

To find out more about this great event go to


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2 Comments on “It’s called Paddling

  1. Nice article. I have raced the “Marathon” 11 times, and watched it countless times while growing up in northern Michigan. One of the best things about the race is it is FREE to watch. In a world of huge ticket prices and distant athletes, the Marathon gives everyone an opportunity to see a world class race with world class athletes for free. There are many chances to talk and interact with the paddlers though out the weekend too. For everyone out there, bring the family to the race and you will be hooked!!!!!

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