They came from all over the globe — Texas, New York, Canada, England and Australia -– to celebrate the AuSable River Canoe Marathon this past weekend.
Thousands gathered in Grayling on July 27 at the start of the race – sponsored by Consumers Energy — and again about 120 miles down the AuSable River at the finish line in Oscodathe next day.
They also packed places in between like bridges and the six hydros owned by Consumers Energy to cheer the men and women of this year’s 72nd annual race.
In It Together
“This is one of the most impressive things and craziest things I have ever seen,” said Shannon Robinson, 37, who attended her first race and lives in Massachusetts, “Everybody is in it together – just there to help each other out. It’s just really refreshing to see. It’s very inspirational. I will be back next year.”
Not even five minutes after the racers plunged into the AuSable River and rowed toward Oscoda, the sky opened up and it poured – yet another obstacle for racers to deal with along with decreasing temperatures, ever changing rapids and fatigue.
Some racers bumped into each other in the initial beginning, which resembled the start of a NASCAR race, sending some into the AuSable River.
But the crowd verbally picked them up with cheers to continue on – after all there was about 16 hours to go until Oscoda.
Lightning danced throughout the dark night as it turned to dawn. Some racers said it actually helped them find their way.
Shows Us the Way
“It showed us the way,” said Mary Schlimmer, 28, of Traverse City. She joined her partner Rich Lauth of Grosse IIe as the top mixed team.
Lauth, 46, was cooling down in a chair after the race with some water. He said it will take him weeks to recover from the daunting race.
“I will be recovered by December… maybe,” he said, admitting he was only half kidding. “Hopefully I have a few more in me.”
Andrew Triebold of Grayling and Steve Lajoie of Canada, won the race, finishing ahead of Guillaume Blais and Samuel Frigon who both hail from Canada.
There were many winners in the wake of the race: the two communities of Grayling and Oscoda saw an economic windfall; racers and their teams challenged themselves like never before and the spectators, who have grown to love the race like a family member who visits once a year.
Beth Annis sat in her lawn chair in front of her Grayling home as racers congregated at the beginning of the race.
Once it started at 9 p.m. they had to dash about the length of three football fields to reach the AuSable River.
“This is better than Christmas,” Annis said. “I’ve been around it for about 40 years and it keeps getting better and better.”
Jessi Helseo, Annis’ daughter, said she has been around the race in some capacity since she was born 28 years ago.
“I remember when they had 200 to 300 people watching throughout the town, now look at it,” she said motioning to the throng of thousands in Grayling to enjoy the day. “This is great and I have a feeling the best days of the AuSable Canoe Marathon are ahead.”