Weekend of canoe racing to feature C-1 event on Saturday
Last year’s Spike’s Challenge C-1 race featured a record number of participants with 68 paddlers
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The 2019 Spike’s Challenge C-1 race – an event that starts in Grayling and ends at Burton’s Landing – will be held on Saturday night as part of a weekend of canoe racing.
Last year’s field – 68 total paddlers – established a new participation record for the C-1 event. The previous record of 64 was established in 2012 and 2014. The 2017 race – the 25th anniversary year for the event – featured 55 competitors. Forty-five paddlers raced in the 2016 C-1 event and 63 people – third most in the event’s history at the time – competed in the 2015 Spike’s Challenge.
Organizers are expecting large numbers again this year.
“The number of C-1 racers has been up at the other races this year so I would expect to have more at Spike’s also,” said Cheryl Lucey, one of the organizers for the Spike’s Challenge.
The 2019 Spike’s Challenge C-1 race will start at 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 20. The race begins at Joe Wakeley’s house, which is next to Borchers AuSable Canoeing. The race ends at Burton’s Landing.
Most competitors reach the finish line in 40 to 70 minutes.
Last year’s winners, Guillaume Blais (male) and Rebecca Davis (female), posted finish times of 0:41:24 and 0:46:32, respectively.
Spike’s Challenge weekend also includes a C-2 (two-person canoe) race and time trials for the C-2 event. The Spike’s Challenge C-2 sprints for starting position are scheduled for 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 20. The sprints start and end at the city park near the pedestrian bridge. The C-2 race features a running start with teams carrying their canoes to the river, and starting positions for the run are determined by the sprint competition.
The C-2 race starts at 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 21, at the Old AuSable Fly Shop in Grayling. It ends at McMasters Bridge between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Spike’s Keg ‘O’ Nails, a Grayling restaurant and tavern, started the Spike’s Challenge C-2 race in 1991 as a shorter daytime version of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon. The Marathon, a 120-mile race from Grayling to Oscoda, has been in existence since 1947.
Spike’s Challenge organizers added the C-1 race in 1993, creating a weekend of canoe racing with events on both Saturday and Sunday.
The C-1 event’s field usually features several AuSable River Canoe Marathon competitors plus a variety of other paddlers. Experienced canoe racers consider the Spike’s Challenge to be one of the premier C-1 events in the state of Michigan.
Paddlers and organizers cite the distance, the competition, and the course as reasons for the race’s popularity.
“This is a way for many people to participate that might not have found a partner or they are part of the feed team. It is also a short C-1 race that is all downstream and not very technical so people are not as reluctant to jump in and race,” Lucey said.
Davis said the race is good for both experienced paddlers and those just getting into racing.
“In general, C-1 requires a lot of self confidence, plus some strength. It is a natural fit for people just starting out, but it provides such great feedback on areas to improve,” Davis said.
Paddlers and organizers say the beginning can be one of the most challenging aspects of the race.
For the start, paddlers line up on both sides of the river in groups and leave in different heats. Starting positions are determined by random draw. With all of the canoes converging in the center of the river during the beginning of each heat, it can be a challenge battling for position.
“If you do not have a clean start you can be stuck behind someone that gets turned around or sideways at the beginning of the race,” Lucey said.
“It’s short, and the luck of the draw for starting position doesn’t let me plan my strategy until 15 minutes before the race, and once the gun goes off that can change in a matter of seconds,” Davis said. “Having the one or two spot is a huge advantage, but I started 13 last year and managed to come out on top, which makes for a more exciting race. It also is pretty technical, and hard to pass. A lot of women are really good at blocking, paddling in shallow water, and making good turns, so you really have to muscle it to get by someone.”