Sunday, April 26, 2009

UHHC Progress Report - Thurs. April 23 to Sun. April 26

How best to share the events of the past two or three days? Perhaps to relate my involvement and that of my family's.

Thursday the Intrepid 4 made the passage down the Portage Ditch and into the Grand which is flooded even higher than last year when Charlie and Doug McDougall went thru on the 2008 Odyssey. This made paddling thru the woods to avoid log jams and deadfalls easier than last year. They pulled out of the Grand at the Gale Road launch site near Kinneville, Charlie headed home for a good night's sleep (he thought) and the rest camped.

Friday at noon was Chuck Amboy's second annual luncheon-for-paddlers at the English Inn, a high-toned establishment with beautifully landscaped grounds on the Grand between Eaton Rapids and Dimondale.

The Intrepid 4 had paddled down from Gale Road, Coach Hoff was driven in from Holland by one of his former football players who has a restaurant in Saugutuck, various relatives and friends were there and daughter Karen drove me to the affair. It was a fun luncheon even though the canoeists were roughly costumed as compared with the Inn's usual clientele. As usual, we toasted Verlen.

Meanwhile Jon Holmes is downstream, having gone thru Eaton Rapids, Dimondale and Lansing, and pulled out at my back yard landing late in the afternoon.

He palavered with Karen and myself, showed us his high-tech gear at my request, discussed kayaks with Karen (who needs a kayak stable enough to handle her large-sized sons when they visit her cottage on Black Lake - Jon is the store manager at Bill and Paul's Sporthaus in Grand Rapids) and declined my offer to camp here. He also relayed the disturbing news that the City of Lansing had blocked off the Brenke Fish Ladder launch site.

After he went on his way again Karen and I headed for Old Town to check out the situation. What we found caused me to PANIC!

The City had erected a high wooden barricade to blockade the launch site and I've got dozens of canoes coming down the river in the morning. I had visions of some sort of log jam of canoes stacked above the dam with no place to get back on the river. Well, my first instinct was to confront the Police Department and do a Ronald Reagan-in-Berlin type speech where he said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear  down this wall!" Daughter Karen (who used to work for the City Council) pointed out that it probably was the Parks Department, not the Police, who put up the barricade and that they were worried about liability with the collapsed landing and the river roaring thru as it was.

So I went stumping up the Riverwalk with my cane looking for an alternate launch site. After Karen had corralled me up by the Turner-Dodge mansion and got me back in the car, my children took over. First they banned me from email and cell phone and then banished me to the lower level of the River House where I do all my research and communicating. Then they started telephoning. I'm not sure what all calls were made (Karen's call to Charlie woke him up) but the Dimondale campout was alerted and calls came back from Charlie, Dan Smith, and Pat Harrington for me to "cool it."

Saturday morning Robin Barfoot and Pat Harrington set up a lemonade, strawberry and Coors Light stand at my landing to refresh passing canoeists. I learned from some of the early stoppers (racers never stop or even look up) that when confronted with the barricade the canoeists swarmed over it like it was just another deadfall in Portage Creek. Oh me of little faith!

To those that stopped at Woodruff's Landing I pointed out the big evergreen tree across the river in Hillside Cemetery over Verlen's gravesite which is visible from my landing and deck when the leaves are off. I also told them to wave to Jenny Kruger as they went by the Kruger Canoe Base about 450 yards downstream on the right bank.

All of the Intrepid 4 plus Coach Hoff stopped. Mark P. escorted Marissa Weber and Hannah Grow, two young girls from Wisconsin and Illinois respectively, on a pilgrimage to Verlen's grave.

When the last of the HHC paddlers had gone by Robin and Pat closed up shop and took off to register paddlers at Charlotte Hwy, leaving son Jim an ugly once-stolen-and-then-recovered Winona(??) canoe to try out. (Daughter Karen said it was the height of "Shabby Chic" fashion.)

Jim and his daughter Jessica paddled it to Grand Ledge with no problems.

Karen drove me to Thompson Field in Portland in the rain where I huddled with canoeists, family and friends under the park shelter as the paddlers came in by ones and twos. If you have never been there, there are watchers down by the river and whenever a canoe or kayak comes into sight they blow a boat horn for each to alert the crowd. Then the paddlers come racing in on the current trying to do a neat left turn into the bank - not always successfully - with people waiting on the shore to help them pull the canoe or kayak out of the river. 

You never saw such a conglomeration of paddling costumes and rigs as those that land on that bank, and when they have been rained on on the way down river, even stranger. As each of the Intrepid 4 came ashore Karen or I showed them the Kruger Memorial brick that has been inscribed in honor of the Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge 2009, Detroit to Chicago, with their names.

I also purchased a brick in honor of the historic journey of Brian Prodin and Neil Miller, who on April 17 took on the portage across the Lake Erie/Lake Michigan divide and the wade through the Portage Lake Swamp, duplicating what Hugh Heward and his crew did in 1790. You can read all the details on my blog - search on "big news" and that entry will pop up. Neil and Brian presented me with a marvelous notebook they made, with handcrafted maps of their journey step by step. I will spend many happy hours pouring over it.

Mark P., escorting Brian Weber from Wisconsin with daughter Marissa, age 12; and Tom Grow from Illinois with daughter Hannah, age 13, were the last paddlers to come in. There have been younger riders, on the HHC, but Hannah and Marissa are the youngest ever to paddle the 50 miler as far as anyone can recall.

The Intrepid 4 surprised me with a final ceremony once Mark P and his crew settled in. They had been collecting water from each of the waterways along the Hugh Heward trail (as Charlie calls it), and asked me to use it to christen the rock that will form the base for the Verlen Kruger statue when it is installed.

Karen posted a video of the impromptu ceremony on my blog.

Coach completed the 50-miler, then returned to Holland to finish the last leg of the UHHC. His pal Jim from Wisconsin is following along on land, catching some minor league baseball games on the way. Coach plans to phone in with updates daily and he posts to his own blog when he can find public Internet access.

Jon Holmes passed through Portland between 2 and 3 p.m. Saturday and continued on his way. It looks like he camped southeast of Lyons near the terminus of Pekins/Webber Road last night. From his SPOT tracker, it looks like he is just past Ionia State Park.

A successful 9th Annual Hugh Heward Challenge. The Intrepid Four will take off again Monday.

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