It Would Have Been Year 30: Instead, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Spikes Challenge has been cancelled
Mon, 07/13/2020 - 2:02pm caleb
Race started in 1991 as a shorter daytime version of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
The Spike’s Challenge C-2 race – an event that organizers created in 1991 as “a mini daytime version of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon” – has grown significantly since its inception, adding a C-1 race in 1993 and a C-2 sprints for position event in 1994 to create a full weekend of canoe racing action.
The C-2 event – at first held in early July – had its course shortened a couple of times before settling on Grayling to McMasters Bridge.
Many AuSable Marathon paddlers use the Spike’s Challenge C-2 event as a warm-up for the 120-mile Grayling to Oscoda race. The C-1 race has maintained steady popularity over the years by offering a short, competitive event that appeals to both seasoned canoe racers and other less experienced paddlers.
Like many spring and summer events in Michigan and throughout the nation, the 2020 Spike’s Challenge – originally slated for July 18-19 – has been cancelled due to concerns involving the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2020 race would have been the C-2 event’s 30th.
“Your chance to watch the Daylight Version of the first five hours of the famous AuSable River Canoe Marathon,” said an advertisement in the June 27, 1991 and July 4, 1991 editions of the Crawford County Avalanche.
The Spike’s Challenge, during its inaugural run in 1991, was held in early July. The event was “billed as a mini daytime version of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon,” according to the July 11, 1991 edition of the Crawford County Avalanche, and it ran from Ray’s Canoe Livery in Grayling to Camp 10 Bridge. It started at 9 a.m.
Two northern Michigan paddlers – Jeff Kolka and Bill Torongo – won the first Spike’s Challenge.
“Jeff Kolka of Grayling and Bill Torongo of Roscommon were the winners of the ‘Tougher Than Nails’ Spike’s Challenge professional canoe race, held July 6. Kolka and Torongo made the trip from Ray’s Canoe Livery to the Camp 10 Bridge (west of Mio) in 4:41:38, nearly two minutes ahead of the next team,” according to the July 11, 1991 edition of the Avalanche.
The first Spike’s Challenge featured two women’s division teams. “Lynne Witte, Mount Clemens, and Connie Cannon, East Lansing, finished in 11th place, and Brenda Carlson and Connie Swander, both of Grayling, placed 19th,” according to the July 11, 1991 edition of the Crawford County Avalanche.
Organizers and sponsors said the first Spike’s Challenge went well.
“Kathy Ashton, owner of Spike’s, said that spectators liked being able to see the teams, as the entire race took place in daylight. She said the paddlers liked the race, too, and were pleased with the $2,000 purse and the banquet following the event. Ashton added that she hopes to sponsor a second Spike’s Challenge canoe race,” according to the July 11, 1991 edition of the Crawford County Avalanche.
The second Spike’s Challenge in 1992 featured a different type of running start.
“All teams started at Ray’s Canoe Livery where one paddler stood by the canoe at the edge of the river and the other team member sprinted from Peninsular Street,” according to the July 9, 1992 edition of the Crawford County Avalanche.
The third Spike’s Challenge event featured a shorter course, Grayling to Mio, according to Avalanche coverage.
The Spike’s Challenge event added a C-1 race in 1993. Calvin Hassel took first place. The race was held on July 4. The course ran from Penrod’s to Stephan Bridge, according to Avalanche coverage. Forty-eight people finished the first Spike’s Challenge C-1 event. The C-1 race is shorter now, running from Grayling to Burton’s Landing.
For year four, 1994, organizers added a “sprints for position” event for the C-2 race. Sprints were held on the city pond on Saturday, July 9, and the C-2 race was held on Sunday, July 10.
“The sprints will determine the position of canoes for the LeMans start of the Spike’s Challenge,” according to the July 7, 1994 edition of the Crawford County Avalanche.
“As the Spike’s Challenge continues to grow, it is becoming more than a pre-Marathon warm-up. The race is run entirely in the daytime, making it well accepted by spectators who enjoy watching this part of the Marathon course run in daylight. The finish of the Spike’s Challenge is at the Mio Bridge, following an exciting portage at the Mio Dam,” according to the July 7, 1994 edition of the Avalanche.
The 1994 C-2 race ended up not having the running start due to efforts to combat flooding on the AuSable River.
“The race, held Sunday, July 10, ran the high waters of the AuSable from Ray’s Canoes in Grayling to the Mio Bridge. The traditional LeMans-style run to the water’s edge at Ray’s was cancelled, with sandbags still piled high on the dock at the local canoe livery as a result of severe storms earlier in the week,” according to the July 14, 1994 edition of the Crawford County Avalanche.
In 1995, organizers scheduled the Spike’s Challenge for later in July and shortened the course to its current length, Grayling to McMasters Bridge.
“This year, the Spike’s Challenge canoe race will be held July 22-23, tying in closer with the AuSable River Canoe Marathon. By scheduling the race closer to the Marathon it is hoped to attract more paddlers to the race,” according to the July 13, 1995 edition of the Crawford County Avalanche. “The course of the race has been shortened from approximately five hours (finish in Mio) to approximately three hours with the finish at McMasters Bridge.”
Serge Corbin and Jeff Kolka won the Spike’s Challenge C-2 race five consecutive times in 1996 through 2000. Their winning time in 1996 – 2:31:40 – still stands as the all-time record for the event.
Andrew Triebold and Steve Lajoie won back to back Spike’s Challenge championships in 2003 and 2004.
In 2005 through 2007, Triebold and Matt Rimer won the race three consecutive times.
Triebold and Lajoie reunited for eight consecutive Spike’s Challenge wins in 2008 through 2015.
For the Spike’s Challenge C-1 race, the 2012 and 2014 events established the current records for most competitors in the race’s history with 64 paddlers.
In 2016, the Canadian team of Mathieu Pellerin and Guillaume Blais won the C-2 race. The 2016 Spike’s Challenge featured 84 teams, the most in the event’s history so far.
Blais won again in 2017, this time with Lajoie.
Triebold and Lajoie won together in 2018 and 2019, adding to their record number of victories. Triebold and Lajoie have won the Spike’s Challenge together 12 times during the race’s 29-year history. The next closest team is Kolka and Corbin with six Spike’s Challenge C-2 victories.
Individually, the paddlers with the most wins in the Spike’s Challenge C-2 race are Triebold with 15, Lajoie with 13, and Kolka with nine.
Only 13 different paddlers have won the Spike’s Challenge C-2 race in the event’s history.
In the Spike’s Challenge C-1 race, Triebold, Lajoie, Hassel, Torongo, Kolka, Ken Kolonich, and Ryan Halstead have all won multiple championships.
Connie Cannon has dominated the C-1 women’s division, winning the event 16 times in 17 years (1999 through 2011 and 2013 through 2015). Rebecca Davis won the C-1 race’s women’s division three consecutive times in 2016 through 2018.
The 2020 C-2 race would have been the 30th in the event’s history. Instead, the race has been cancelled for the first time ever.
“The Spike’s Challenge canoe race series has been cancelled for 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic, event organizers announced on Monday, May 11,” according to the May 14, 2020 edition of the Crawford County Avalanche.