Nearly 100 teams, from all over North America and as far away as Alaska, are expected to take their shot at the Au Sable River on July 30-31 during the 2022 Consumers Energy AuSable River Canoe Marathon.
Some will try to dethrone defending champions Jorden Wakeley of Grayling and Matt Meersman of South Bend. (Listen to the Me You Us podcast featuring Wakeley and Meersman here.) The duo’s time of 13 hours 54 minutes and nine seconds smashed the previous record held by race Hall of Famers Serge Corbin and Solomon Carriere’s mark of 13 hours 58 minutes and eight seconds back in 1994. Some teams are shooting for a Top 10 or 5 finish while others, especially those competing for the first year, are hoping to simply finish the 120-mile trek to Oscoda.
“What makes this race so special is that it means different things to different people,” said Matt Gabriel, who plans on being at the starting line for the 13th time in his hometown of Grayling. “It’s really a race within a race. Everyone figures out where they want to place and what they expect to get out of the race. Then we all come together in the end to celebrate.”
Some teams to keep an eye on this year:
- Steve LaJoie, 11-time champion from Mirabel, Quebec City (Canada), and Guillaume Blais, of Saint Boniface, Quebec City (Canada).
- Ryan Halstead former champion, from Grayling, and Wes Dean, runner up in 2021, from Traverse City.
- Mike Davis, of Homer, and Ryan Zaveral of Unadilla, NY.
- Danny Medina of Homer, and Colin Hunter of Grayling.
- Kyle Stonehouse, of Grayling, and Christophe Prouix, two-time champion, from Brandon, Manitoba (Canada).
- Logan Mynar, of San Antonio, TX, and Kyle Mynar, of Spring Branch, TX.
- Patrick Madde, of Scotia, NY, and Adam Gelinas, of Lemoinster, MA.
- Tad Hill, of Livonia, and Mary Schlimmer Willoughby, of Traverse City.
- Sarah Lessard, of Les Cedres, Quebec City (Canada) and Edith MacHattie, of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (Canada).
- Lynne Witte of Cheboygan, and Andrew Weeks of Battle Creek.
Phil Weiler, who has volunteered at the event since 1985, said every year the battle is the same: it’s every person against the Au Sable River.
“You never know what challenges the weekend will bring weather-wise,” said Weiler, who is also a spokesperson for the marathon. “The Au Sable River can definitely humble you at any moment. That’s why it’s such an exciting wide-open field. This year will be no different.”
Medina and Witte, who have been in their share of races, agree.
“It’s a beast of a course,” said Medina, who will be in his 10th race. “You really have to be on your game just to finish it.”
Witte, who will be in her 42 consecutive AuSable marathon, said she has seen it all during the race. Changes in the canoes that were wooden when she started racing in 1980 and going up against the grandchildren of people she raced against, but one thing remains the same.
“To expect the unexpected,” she said. “The weather is so unpredictable. Hail, rain, too humid or seeing your breath. We pretty much see it all.”
Medina said the weather is something he and his partner are mindful of and follow the week leading up to the race.
“We have no control over it, so we just try to control what we can,” he said, adding his team is gunning for a Top 10 finish.
“It would be nice to win the whole thing,” said Medina, who teamed up with Meersman in 2018. “But those are some tough teams at the top. Jorden and Matt will be tough to beat. But we will give it our best shot and see what happens.”
Medina, who has been in canoe races all over the country, said the Consumers Energy AuSable River Canoe Marathon is his favorite.
“I might be a little biased since it’s my hometown race,” he said. “But I definitely feel that way. It’s very well organized. Plus, you can’t beat the pageantry of the event. The energy all of us feed off from the huge crowd is awesome. It’s really second to none.”