|Smiling! The last feed!
The AuSable River Canoe Marathon is done for another year and we had a great time of it. My husband Tim and his partner PO placed 15th, out of 83 teams. It was a long and grueling night and the boys finished happy. The feeders went from panic to elation every 2 hours and also finished happy. The 120-mile race is considered America’s toughest, richest canoe race and referred to as “The World’s Toughest Spectator Race.”
9 p.m. – The start:A double rainbow dawns as the teams line up to start. They line up in the street and must sprint, carrying their boats on their shoulders, to the river and put in. Hearing and watching over 160 athletes and their boats thundering through the streets is amazing and fearsome. The put-in at the river is mass chaos with its usual tip-overs and boat-over-boat action.
But then there’s the feeders. In a few short minutes, we have to navigate our cars through a mass put-in on M-72 with streams of taillights as far as the eye can see. All with one eye on the road and the other on the clock. If we pick the wrong road to leave town on (there are a multitude to pick from, all of which dump out on M-72) it means we get to the first feed in good shape or all-out panic. They may have a 15-hour paddle ahead of them but we have to navigate the 10,000 fans, in the dark, every 2 hours, starting now.
11 p.m. – First Feed:All the tension from the start line is gone. In its place is a huge weight on our shoulders. If we can pull off this first feed smoothly, we will be handed our confidence for the night, powerhouses on the river in wet shorts and yellow tees. If we flub it up, the night becomes a catch-up game of second-guessing.
We scramble down the grassy steep side of a bridge, muck our way into the river, out around a deadfall in the water and hand them bottles of drink and a container of food and pain pills while a crowd roars above us on the bridge. It’s clean. They are on their way, in 15th position. We high five and skip back to the car.
1 a.m. – Nap Time:We are so confident after one successful feed, we break the rules. We are going to attempt sleep. Unheard of at this point in the night. We are still high from the adrenaline of the start, but I set the alarm for 20 minutes. We have an hour to sleep if we were really brassy. We aren’t.
We are parked where there is no light. It’s completely dark. Very few other feeders have arrived at the second feed yet, we are that on the ball tonight. The stars are out. I see a shooting star. It’s gorgeous.
We recline our seats 1 inch, the only space available against the coolers in the backseat. We close our eyes. I’m in the driver’s seat and Anais (PO’s girlfriend) is in the passenger’s seat.
Complete, precious darkness envelopes the car. Silence. Peace. Quiet.
“I am in heaven,” I say quiet in the dark.
“It’s amazing,” Anais croons from her shotgun seat.
“It’s better than I could have imagined,” I say.
“I could do this all night long,” she sighs.
A stillness comes into the car.
“Wait,” I say, quieter yet. “Are we still talking about sleep here?”
And the giggles begin. For the remaining 19 minutes, we make explicit and implicit comments. We laugh until we have tears in our eyes. Other feeders start to show up and before we know it, it’s time to go. While we didn’t rest, the nap was a complete success. Spirits are high and we’ve taken our relationship to a new level.
7 a.m. – The Banana Situation: It’s daybreak. It will be our 5th feed. While we wait to do our feed, standing in the water, we watch another feed team freak out. They are on walkie-talkies. One at the top of the dam, the other at the bottom with us. They are having their own polite but terse debate over what they should feed the team. They end the conversation with, “Let’s discuss the Banana Situation later.”
Anais and I look at each other. We can’t help laughing. Only here would a Banana Situation be apropos.
This feed gets a little hairy. Our team shoots past us at the put-in after the portage and we end up feeding in deep water, throwing shirts, water bottles and curses. It’s a bad scene. But as they paddle away, we note that they have their fresh shirts on, sorta, Tim has fished his bottle out of the water and put it in the boat and they are, once again, paddling downstream. It wasn’t pretty but we classify it a success. We wait until we get to the car to freak out on the near-miss.
The night wears on from there. We end up in a polite but terse debate with a parking guard over what exactly is “double parking.” We can not and will not be waylaid by a man with a glowing baton who thinks I can make it through a ditch in my little car loaded to the gills with Perpetuem and Hammer Gel. I leave the field with dirt and grass wedged in the hitch receiver. We later refer to it as the “Parking Situation.”
There are more stories shared and witnessed. We have a night of panic and celebration and finally, we are done with our last feed, eight in all.
Noon – The Finish.We spread out a blanket and wait for them to arrive. Anais is on her 4thdry outfit, I’ve given up and am trying to dry in the sun. We tried a total of three 20-minute naps all night. We think we actually got 8 minutes worth.
When they arrive, there is jubilation. Very quietly, though. They are hurting and tired. We carefully hug them, watchful of the wear points on their bottoms and hips and hands. We give them fresh clothes and half a sandwich. We give back rubs and ask how it all went on the river. They’ve paddled 15 hours and 39 minutes and some 500,000 paddle strokes.
But all the while, we are very barely containing the feeder stories we have to share. Enough about their marathon, we are waiting to tell them what we saw and did in the crazy, long night… and another year of rehash and war wounds begins!