The 67th edition of North America’s toughest, richest canoe race – a grueling 120-mile overnight non-stop marathon from Grayling to Oscoda, Michigan – takes place this weekend. The AuSable River Canoe Marathon – presented in 2014 by the Michigan Army National Guard and Consumers Energy – is the middle leg of the Triple Crown of Canoe Racing and is also widely recognized as one of the greatest canoe races on Earth.
The AuSable River Canoe Marathon is exceptional among endurance sport competitions in many respects. More than 80 professional two-person canoe racing teams from throughout the U.S. and Canada are entered. They will paddle at an amazing rate of 50-80 paddle strokes per minute for 14 to 19 hours in sleek hi-tech carbon-fiber racing canoes that weigh less than 30 pounds, some costing $5,000 or more.
The teams battle the darkness, river obstructions, frequently adverse weather conditions and sheer exhaustion during the course of the 120-mile race that includes six running portages around hydroelectric dams. At various locations along the way they receive food, drink, clothing changes and other support from “feeders”, or pit crews. The top teams vie for a share of the $50,000 cash & prizes purse, the richest in canoe racing.
Thousands of fans follow the action from the frenzied LeMans-style running start to the river that begins the race, on to viewing locations at bridges, public access points and dam portages to cheer on the teams throughout the race. Thousands more fans encourage the competitors from riverfront cabins and homes along the fabled AuSable River, many being the site of Marathon parties where family and friends gather to catch a glimpse of the action. Up to 50,000 fans are expected to view at least some part of the race.
Michigan’s Andy Triebold and Quebec’s Steve Lajoie are almost universally considered to be the team to beat. Triebold, 38, of Grayling, Michigan and Lajoie, 38, of Mirabel, Quebec have six consecutive AuSable Marathon victories and seven overall. They are also six-time Triple Crown of Canoe Racing Champs, having won every single Triple Crownevent from 2008 to 2013; they are the winningest team in Triple Crown of Canoe Racing history. New York’s General Clinton Canoe Regatta, the AuSable Marathon and Quebec’s la Classique Internationale de canots de la Mauricie comprise the three stages of canoe racing’s Triple Crown.
Among the record-tying 21 Seniors-Division (50+) teams entered are “Amazing” Al Widing, Sr., 89, of Mio, Michigan and his son Al Widing, Jr., 61, of Linden, Michigan. At a combined age of 150 years, they are the oldest team to ever compete in the Marathon. Amazing Al is a clearly a fan favorite and his example has served as an inspiration for many folks in all walks of life. He is racing in his record 41st AuSable Marathon, has more finishes (33) than any other paddler and he has crossed the Finish Line in six different decades.
The main event pre-race program kicks off at 6:00 p.m. Saturday, July 26, in Grayling. The race gets underway with the running start to the river signaled by the crack of the starter’s pistol at 9:00 p.m. sharp. Thousands of fans will cheer on the racers throughout the night in into the afternoon on Sunday. The leaders are expected to arrive at the finish line in Oscoda shortly after 11:00 a.m.; teams must finish within 19 hours (by 4:00 p.m.) to be considered an official finisher.
For more information about the AuSable River Canoe Marathon: