Doing the S2S Paddle Twice In A Week? Are we crazy?
Every year, about a week before the Short’s to Short’s, a small group of SBC employees embark on an “unofficial” version of the event. We do this to check the conditions, test our gear, and gather insight for the year’s “official” event. This year’s pre paddle was on Easter Sunday. We closed Short’s for the day, allowing our employees who will be working during this year’s paddle a chance to experience what it’s like to kayak from Bellaire to Elk Rapids. So, while many of you were having Easter dinner, we were paddling. We couldn’t complain too much, though, because it was a beautiful 60 degree sunny day with calm conditions. Don’t believe us? Check out these pics: Matt’s pre-paddle gallery here and Joe’s gallery here.
The whole day was clear and although it began cool, it eventually warmed up to about 60 degrees. However, we still saw snow near the water and the last ice on Elk Lake melted only about a week ago. We all dipped our hands into the water and, yeah, it’s unbelievably cold. Be cautious out there, fellow paddlers!
During this year’s pre paddle, the water conditions were extremely calm, perhaps the calmest we’ve ever seen on Lake Bellaire, Clam Lake, and Torch Lake. But, as always, when we reached Lake Skegemog and Elk Lake, we were confronted with a brutal 10-15 mph head wind. The direction that we were trying to go was the exact direction that the wind was blowing from. In other words, the last few hours of the pre paddle were incredibly painful. Water was coming up over the front of my kayak and my spray skirt was essential, keeping a lot of ice cold water from ending up in my boat. The challenging aspect of this portion of the trip is reflected in the fact that Joe and I stopped taking photo and video footage during most of this portion of the day.
While we were paddling, we did a lot of thinking about this year’s event. We are super excited, but we were also reminded how big of a challenge this event really is. It should be taken seriously, and you should plan your day in advance.
Timing Is Very Important
Please arrive at the launch site (behind Fisher Insurance in Bellaire) by 7 a.m. After visiting the check-in station, we are going to ask that you self-stage your start time according to your kayaking skill level. We will have an area for novice paddlers, and area for intermediate level paddlers, and an area for expert kayakers. We would like less experienced paddlers to begin first. This will give them a little bit of a buffer and will help ensure that they are not left alone at the back of the pack. Also, this means that as more experienced paddlers come up from behind, they will be able to check on the less experienced paddlers to make sure they are doing okay and offer advice. We can’t emphasize enough that this is NOT a race. Rather, we want everyone to finish at roughly the same time. There are no points for finishing first. And, on the flipside, we don’t want folks lagging behind. We really want to keep everyone together as much as possible. Remember: this is a community event and we are interested in seeing how everyone works together to make this event a success, much in the way that everyone in our SBC family has pulled together to make the first seven years of our business a success. So please, help each other out. Use the buddy system. Make new friends. Lend a helping hand.
The updated event schedule for April 29th is as follows:
7:00 a.m. Pre-launch gathering and check-in
7:30 Photo shoot with all the paddlers
7:30-7:40 launching of notice paddlers and slower vessels (canoes)
7:40-7:50 launching of intermediate kayakers
8:00 a.m. launching of advanced kayakers
During the pre paddle, we left the launch site at about 8:20. It took us about 40 minutes to go from the launch site to the Grass River Natural area (far side of Lake Bellaire). About 45 minutes later, we reach the beginning of Clam Lake. We reached the Dockside Restaurant (where the river flows into Torch Lake) at 10:40. At that point, about half of our group packed up their kayaks and headed home for Easter dinner. They had seen some of the most beautiful scenery and simply had no interest in pressing on for another 7 and a half hours. So, if you want to have a really fun day, we suggest taking your time and ending at the Dockside.
We rested for about 20 minutes at the Dockside and then set out along the shore of Torch Lake, in ideal (glass-like) conditions. We made our way to Alden and reached there at about 12:45. We had a snack and our friend Dean decided to call it a day and head off to Easter dinner.
We departed Alden at just after 1:00, still in ideal conditions. We marveled at the crystal-clarity of Torch Lake and the Caribbean-like turquoise blue of the water. Simply breathtaking!
We arrived at the far south end of Torch Lake (Torch River) at 2:00 p.m. So, with a single stop in Alden, we spent about 3 hours on Torch Lake. This stretch is a lot more challenging if there is chop. Note: the Torch River Public Access Site (right before the Torch River Bridge) would be a great place to bail out and call for a ride. You could get a sandwich or a slice of pizza from Fabianos (just on the other side of the bridge) while you wait for your ride. Remember: if you decide to press on and enter into the Torch River, you have pretty much committed yourself to another 3-4 hours on the water. While there is a public access site on Lake Skegamog, it is quite remote and will require a decent amount of paddling to reach.
We had lunch on the beach at the Torch River Public Access site and shoved off from there at about 2:40. While everyone was enjoying a leisurely paddle (with the current), I realized just after shoving off into the current that my kayak foot pegs had fallen out of place and needed to be adjusted. Once in the strong current, however, it was a real challenge to find aplace to stop. I ended up paddling back upstream to the public access site, putting me several minutes behind the group. I then paddled like crazy to catch back up with everyone, rejoining them just before the Torch River enters Lake Skegamog. From there, Joe and I basically decided to haul ass, wanting to be done as soon as possible. The choppy conditions and headwind made it a real effort, and we were ready to be done. Everyone in our group finished between about 6 and 6:15, roughly 10 hours after we’d started. While we feel that this time is reasonable for anyone, we also note that you have to paddle with a certain amount of urgency all day long in order to stay on track. If your goal for the day is to relax and socialize, we strongly urge you to elect one of the drop out points and not try to go the entire distance. Trust us, we won’t laugh at you. We’ll probably envy your relaxed state of mind and overall sense of well-being at the end of the day!
Weather Forecasts – Don’t Bet Your Life On Em
With our apologies to meteorologists, Northern Michigan weather is tough to predict. On any given day, you might see rain, snow, thunderstorms, wind, sun, or anything in between. So please pack for any contingency. You can always peel away layers, stow rain gear, and put your gloves away.
1. Bring warm gloves, several pairs. I used my winter mittens for the first half, and it totally made the 30 degree wind much more bearable and the ride much more comfortable and enjoyable.
2. Dress for the weather. This time of year, many days start around 30 degrees and finish at about 55 degrees with light wind (10-15mph near the end). We suggest base, moisture wicking layers underneath a gore-tex fleece or windbreaker. Fighting wet and cold is essential to really enjoy this adventure. So dress appropriately so you can be comfortable and have a good experience.
3. Make cockpit adjustments before launch day. Sit in your vessel and decide where the most comfortable position is going to be for your ride. It’s a long ways, and being comfortable will really improve your enjoyment!
4. Pack a complete set of back up clothing in a dry bag. In a previous year, an experienced kayaker took on water because his rear storage compartment cover wasn’t tightened completely. In that compartment was his dry bag with back up clothing. He took on so much water he eventually began to sink and had to be picked up by a safety boat. Once the safety boat had returned him soaking wet to the next drop point, we discovered his entire dry bag was also full of water, posing a serious problem. So the moral of this story:
a. Fasten your compartments completely
b. Pack your dry gear correctly, especially your phone and camera!
c. Paddle with a Partner. I can’t emphasize how important this is. As the kayakers make it into the bigger bodies of water they tend to disperse. This can make it challenging for safety boats to monitor several paddles strewn about over miles of lake. It’s worse when the lake is rough. So find someone to paddle next to that fits your pace or plan to have a partner. Prior to launching, you will receive a packet containing a map and the safety boat locations and the captains phone numbers.
5. If you want to stop and grab a bite to eat along the route, there are some good places we suggest:
a. The Dockside (Clam River/Torch Lake): good food and beer
b. Fabiano’s on the River (Torch River): great sandwich’s and pizza
c. The Riverwalk (Elk Rapids) – This is where we are having a post-paddle party from 4-8 p.m. For a reasonable price there will be a picnic-style dinner and 5 kinds of Short’s Brew on Draft
6. Bring Sun Screen and a Hat – The sun was very intense during the pre paddle. Although I had sunglasses on, it still wasn’t enough. Bring a hat and sunscreen for your face. Several of us pre paddlers look like raccoons with crispy foreheads, noses and cheeks!
7. Life Jacket – Wear one. Better safe than sorry! If you fall into the water for any reason at this time of year, your body will very quickly become hypothermic. You will be disoriented and will not have much energy. Your life vest will keep you afloat until help can arrive.
8. Water and Snacks – Whether or not you plan on patronizing any of the establishments along the way, I highly recommend that you bring snacks and water. It’s a long day and you’re going to be burning thousands of calories.
9. Finish Reception — The finish will be at the Riverwalk Grill in downtown Elk Rapids (106 Ames Street). As stated above, there will be a buffet and plenty of Short’s Brew on tap. We will let the Riverwalk know that early paddlers might start to arrive at around 4, and that we will plan to have everyone there by about 6:30. We will hang out until about 8.
10. Plan to team up with another paddler to arrange transportation. Alternately, Kevin Karpinski of Green Planet Adventure Tours is offering transportation for a small fee. He can be reached at: [email protected] His website is www.greenplanetextreme.com.
We are going to have a Pre-Paddle reception at our pub in Bellaire on Thursday night, April 28th. Matt Drake, this year’s Paddle Coordinator, will be available from 6-9 p.m. to answer questions. Joe Short will be meeting with the Safety Boat Captains from about 6-7 p.m. This will be a great chance to meet other paddlers and plan for the next day!
Finally, if you have any last minute questions, please email [email protected] Our Official Short’s to Short’s release is located here. And remember, if you are coming to the Paddle, you are going to want to stick around for the Anniversary Party on Saturday. It is going to be the most epic Anny Party ever, and it’s the perfect way to nurse a sore body! See the Anniversary Party post, below, for all of the details!
See you this weekend!
-Matt Drake, S2S Paddle Coordinator