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Hugh Heward Canoe Day 2010: lotsa gungho paddlers and exotic boats
May 14, 2010

The Hugh Heward Canoe Challenge has come and gone so I thought it was high time I posted some pics and info from our day on the water.

Local pal Chris McCarus and I paddled the 13-mile option starting at the Charlotte highway bridge. This route featured the Portland State Game Area and finished in downtown Portland like the other 2 routes.

There were 25- and 50-mile routes as well.

This event commemorates the day in 1790 when trader/explorer Hugh Heward and his crew paddled through the same area in 2 4-man birch canoes. His journal reported the locations of the start and finish of his "big day," but until local historian Jim Woodruff talked Verlen Kruger into testing the matter no one knew if it was really possible that they paddled so far in one day in such boats. It's now the 10th running of the popular event.

Chris and I hadn't had any prep time in canoes so we opted for the shortest day, thinking that all the routes would be merging together about then anyway. I was surprised to hear from the organizer that my hunch was wrong as to the popularity of the various routes. I figured that the shortest -- which is still a sizeable outing -- would naturally have the most entries. With the extremely long day having the least, because who can paddle 50 miles in one shot, after all? It turned out that about 30 boats signed up for the 50-mile, 15 for the 25-mile and 3 for the 13-mile! (I heard various figures but the totals played out in ratios like that.)

I guess an event like this just brings out the hard-core types. It's possible that casual family-type paddlers just don't have an interest or don't know about such events.

I was lucky to borrow a super boat from pal Tom Cannon. He has a dandy Wenonah Minnesota II big, long, light kevlar touring boat. It was just right for me and husky lad Chris. We could've done it in a tub-boat but it's always nice to use a canoe that glides.

We had considered paddling the whole way in my old stripper pro boat but that would've required training just to stay upright -- which never happened. The boat is fast but might not've been buoyant enough -- it has a low waterline that seems better suited to thin types.

Then I thought if we got out a few times anyway that we could still do the Half Hugh. Nothing happened. So we did the shortest. Which was fine, at 3 hours in our streamlined craft.

We had a cool, overcast day that threatened to rain but never did.

Chris is a reporter for public radio with his syndicated series, So he had his big foam microphone out and in action taping content to edit for some show down the road. And he had his mini-cam out to cover his bases for the pics needed for the web-side of a radio show.

At the put-in we met a couple retired ladies who were taking a break as they paddled the 25-mile Half Hugh in kayaks.

...I note that one of the hale'n'hearty gals is *85* years old! (Shown in photo.) Wow, that's gumption. I mean, it's perfectly natural. If you keep using it, that has to help a lot toward not losing it... Too bad I didn't get her name. Chris knows it and might have more to add to the story.

The ladies are volunteer historians for the route and they told us a lot about the Native American heritage of the area, about how the various villages moved into and out of the highly desireable vicinity now within the Portland State Game Area over the years, with changing social-climates as a local man introduced whisky to the area, which made it less "family friendly" and not desirable any longer to Chief Okemos for a settled village. Then finally there were the Resettlement Laws of the 1850's, when folks who'd bought land and built cabins on a big chunk of land overlooking the river were evicted and their land taken. You know, land with deeds and all, it sounded like.

The ladies handed us waterproof maps highlighting key historic features of the area the HH passed through.

The maps are part of an event called the Grand River Expedition which is rolling down the whole river for 10 days in July. There are full-length options and portion-days that people can participate in. The project has published this series of annotated maps to cover each chunk of river, offering a wealth of info about this essential central Michigan region and watershed:

If you want to join in on the event, the Trailspotters guy is running a shuttle down the length of it to help anyone who is coming or going for any portions to get back to their vehicle. Check him out at:

The Grand River is also now being used as a hub for enviro-ed programs in the schools:

So we got paddling and had a dandy time. I wanted to show Chris some basic canoe how-to beyond what he might already know about as a casual paddler. But I've found that paddling stern makes for a terrible position to show a bow-paddler anything. That's why years ago when I was learning Tom ran the race boat from the bow, so he could show me what to do. Of course, I tipped us over fairly often as well.

After an hour or so some race boats started to pass us on occasion, just blazing away. One time I looked back and saw some lady paddlers I knew gaining on us awful fast. Their boats also looked VERY close together, the paddler were so close to each other. Well, that happens when boats draft, but this seemed extreme. As they got closer I saw that the 4 paddlers were all in ONE canoe! It was a huge kevlar Wenonah 4. It's made as a family tripping boat, but it's also very fast and is used in at least one special event in upstate New York. They looked to be having fun as they glided by.

Near the end we came upon a 2-foot across rock in the middle of the river. We hadn't seen hardly any turtles all day but on this rock were about 20 of them! We almost got a photo before they tumbled off... Want to see a photo of bare rock?

In the end we finished our short route before most paddlers on the longer routes. So we hung out in the park and enjoyed chili and brownies and watched everyone come in. It was great fun seeing the huge diversity of boats.

There were fast and exotic kayaks. And a custom carbon super-long race boat. And a big, versatile adventure craft made for both paddling and sailing that the young couple who built it were planning to use in an upcoming Water Tribe event -- the guy had already done a WT race in it and had a good time (he's "Macatawa" at

...And LOTS of Kruger boats in all their variations.

The event is a fundraiser for the bronze Kruger Memorial Statue to be installed soon at the park in Portland. There's already a nice pavilion with crossed paddles and Verlen's Monarch butterfly symbol.

These authentic birch canoes were built by Kevin Finney of I like the visual mix of Kruger boat and birchies...

Check out the variety of boats at the finish. The carbon boat was custom made for a crazy race called the Bushwacker 150 here in Michigan -- it's a small-creek thing set for 5/22: You can see the 4-man canoe on top of the van in the background.

Here's Chris doing his interview thing at the put-in for the 13-mile at the Charlotte Hwy bridge, a rest-stop for everyone else. He's chatting with an 85-year-old volunteer historian lady who was paddling the 25-mile in a kayak.

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