Wednesday, January 28, 2009

UHHC Breaking News!!

The UHHC planning group met today at Jim Woodruff's River House and, among other things, decided to loosen up the rules. We are eliminating the Kruger style expedition rules which required Challengers to be entirely self sufficient, carry all food and gear and get no assistance from land teams except at check points. The core group of five or six Challengers still intends to go the no-help Kruger way and camp out every night.

Thus we are inviting experienced canoeists to take up the Challenge and come along with whatever arrangements for land-team or family support, motel nights, take-out meals, car-top portages, home furloughs or any other amenities that might facilitate your joining the trek.

Mark Przedwojewski of Kruger Canoes will be passing the official word. The Challenge still starts April 17 at Belle Isle in the Detroit River.

Don't forget the Quiet Water Symposium at MSU March 7 and the Hugh Heward Challenge 50 miler on the Grand April 25.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Winter Paddling Trip 2009

We decided to do a winter paddle trip as a cold weather shake down run to help get us ready for the upcoming Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge. Originally we intended to do the trip on the Big Manistee River, but with the huge amount of snow on the ground in Northern Lower Michigan, we opted for a more southern waterway with less snow and easier access. The start date for the UHHC is April 17th, starting on the Detroit River, we want to be sure that we have a good handle on gear preparations just in case we start with cold, snowy conditions, this was a good warm up for any such conditions.
We put in below the dam in Grand Ledge, temps were in the mid to low 20's and a few of our rudder cables were frozen inside their channels, a quick warm up next to the shuttle van's tail pipe exhaust and a few quick kicks of the foot pegs and we were on our way. Often in the winter our rudder cables will freeze up and we have to work a little to get them thawed, we've tried countless different methods to either prevent this or solve this and depending on what we have to work with we can sometimes get delayed a little first thing in the morning. When all attempts fail we shove off anyway and revert back to the labor intensive paddle strokes of our for fathers, fun as they are, it does take more energy and in these cold conditions energy conservation was paramount.
Once on the water we had a nice two hour paddle down to Deer Camp Island. During hunting season, back when Verlen traveled these same waters, he often headed down river from his home in Delta Mills, over the Grand Ledge Dam portage, and on down to the island to meet the Smith brothers who have a very nice encampment set up for use during the autumn deer hunting season. Verlen did not hunt then, but used the time instead to get a good 30 miles in over a few day period and visit with a bunch of good friends. I don't deer hunt much either, so I joined Verlen a few times on his yearly pilgrimage down and back up this great stretch of river. It was always so much fun to follow Verlen up river. Before I met him I never really gave much thought to traveling up stream in my canoe. All of the trips I did were headed downstream with a shuttle issue either before or after the trip. After meting Verlen and learning this great art of upriver travel my shuttle concerns were solved for ever.
This trip had us going downstream only, which was good for the intended purpose, a good test run of our chosen cold weather sleeping, clothing and cooking systems. A big reason we choose Deer Camp Island as a base camp was because we knew there was already a large stockpile of dry firewood available which would add to our comfort in the possible subzero temps forecast for the next 3 days. Brian was planning on trying out a canvas tent and titanium wood stove combination to see how they worked and if it could somehow fit into our winter paddling/camping arsenal.
Brian was driving over from Wisconsin and met us on the water closer to the island, before long everyone was set up and we had fresh venison kabobs on the grill. The set up of the canvas tent was much quicker than I expected it to be, in fact I sat down by the fire to warm up a bit and before I knew it Brian had the entire rig set up with smoke billowing out the 4” stovepipe. When Brian first suggested trying out this rig I kind of thought it was lame, but after seeing the ease of set up, the fairly compact size and an open invitation to join him as a bunkmate I had a total change of heart. I figured since we will be retracing an historical route soon and we don't plan on re-enacting it as far as gear is concerned, now was my time to sleep in a floor less, leaky tent.
Those guys in the old days really must have been a lot tougher than we are now, it's hard to imagine the cold, wet conditions they put up with in their travels, I'm so thankful for my modern day gear. The canvas tent/wood stove combination, I think, is a bit heavy and bulky for average expedition paddling, but for use in a base camp type situation or to help make less experienced campers more comfortable it is a great choice and I would not hesitate to use it again just for those reasons.
The next morning we were up and on the water at the crack of 10:30. Again it took a couple of good pushes to free up the frozen cables, if we were smart we would have done some rudder maintenance the night before. Our plan for this day was a 16 mile paddle down to Thompson Field canoe launch, the future site of Verlen's bronze statue. The snow started just before we put in and fell off and on during the three or so hours we took to get downriver. We will be paddling down this stretch of river during the UHHC along with those taking part in the 55 mile Hugh Heward Challenge. I've always loved this section of the Grand River, it passes through the Portland State Game area and in parts passes tall banks with huge towering trees and lots of wildlife. We saw lots of deer, a few hawks, a fox and even a Bald Eagle graced the sky out in front of us a few times.
We had a prearranged shuttle waiting in Portland that took us back, up river from our base camp and we then paddled a few miles back down to Deer Camp Island. We snacked on venison roasts all evening and swapped lots of stories about past trips and heavily discussed the UHHC. So far we have only 4 confirmed participants and there was 2 of us along on this trip. I do think however that the conversation helped inspire a few others to seriously consider taking on the Challenge and going along for what is going to be a great trip.
The next day we decided to stay right in camp and enjoy the warmth and security of the nice campfire. The snow and wind started to pick up about 10 am as the temperature started to fall. The four of us that were up quickly gathered all available tarps and fashioned a very nice blue polypropylene tent over the fire. We ended up getting a few inches of snow during the remainder of the day and into the night and the tarp system proved to be a great asset in keeping everyone comfortable.
The next morning we were planning on breaking our camp and paddling again the 16 miles down to Portland, but with all the snow and subfreezing temps the river really started icing up. So we decided to get out of the water closer to the island. The spot we chose to exit the river was all uphill and it took a great American built truck to help portage all our gear up to our waiting vehicles.
Even though we did not get all that many paddling miles in on this trip we all considered it a great success. There are always so many lessons found within a cold weather adventure. Getting out in the cold and testing equipment and personal cold weather skills is so essential in the successful and safe completion of winter water trips. It also makes those warm weather trips that much more enjoyable and easy.
There is talk of another Winter Training Run yet this year, we will let you know as soon as it is planned.
Paddle paddle - Mark

Friday, January 16, 2009

Breaking News

The Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge 2009

The board and friends of the Verlen Kruger Memorial Association and Kruger Canoes are pleased to announce the Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge (UHHC) 2009.

We invite experienced and adventurous paddlers to participate in the retracing of an historic 1790 canoe journey from Detroit to Chicago via the Detroit River, Lake Erie, the Huron and Grand Rivers of Lower Michigan, and Lake Michigan. The trip will start at Detroit on April 17 2009 and end at Chicago approximately three weeks and 475 miles later.

The UHHC 2009 will begin at Belle Isle Beach on the Detroit River (a short way upstream of what was the Detroit waterfront in Heward's time - now under a landfill occupied by Hart Plaza), and finish at a marina close to the entrance of the Chicago River. This route differs from the 2008 challenge, which started at the mouth of the Huron and ended at Grand Haven. This time, UHHC pioneer Charlie Parmelee will have companions all the way – paddlers Mark Przedwojewski and Dan Smith are already committed. We believe we will have additional paddlers from as far away as Florida.

Last year's UHHC: On March 28, 2008 General Motors retiree and long distance canoeist Charlie Parmelee of Leslie started upstream on the Huron River from its mouth at Lake Erie in his Kruger Sea Wind expedition canoe. His intention was to duplicate Hugh Heward's epic 1790 paddle and portage across the Lower Peninsula from Lake Erie to Lake Michigan via the Huron and Grand Rivers. After much struggle and some set-backs (such as an unscheduled swim somewhere between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor) he finally arrived at Grand Haven on May 2 only to be prevented from reaching his Lake Michigan goal by an oil spill. It was mostly a solo journey. Charlie is the one who labeled it the ULTIMATE Hugh Heward Challenge to differentiate his journey from the annual Hugh Heward Challenge, a 55 miles-in-one-day canoe/kayak marathon run down the Grand River from Dimondale to Portland.

It is expected that the 2009 trip will take less time than Heward's, due to the advantages of modern gear and our superior knowledge of the portage route between the Huron River and Grand River watersheds.. It took Heward and his crew 47 calendar days to cover the distance, 24 of which were actual paddling days; we expect our modern day travelers will finish the trip in less than 24 calendar days, start to finish.

Heward's Journey: On March 24, 1790 Brtish trader Hugh Heward, together with seven French-Canadian paddlers in two birchbark canoes, departed Detroit on a trip that would take them to the Chicago Portage and then via the Des Plaines and Illinois Rivers to the Mississippi. Instead of following the usual exploration and trade route north through Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac then south through Lake Michigan, the Heward party went downstream on the Detroit River into Lake Erie, then upstream on the Huron River. They eventually worked their way to the divide between the Lake Erie and Lake Michigan watersheds, portaged their canoes and goods into a tributary of the Grand River and then paddled down the Grand to Lake Michigan. In effect, they took a shortcut across Michigan's Lower Peninsula. Once in Lake Michigan they coasted the east and south shores of the big lake until they reached Chicago. The Heward party arrived at the Chicago River (which then flowed into Lake Michigan) on May 9, 1790.

For a preview of the journey, "fly" Google Earth to Detroit then use the direction and tilt arrows to follow down the Detroit River, up the Huron River and Portage Creek (through Hell) to the Portage Lake Swamp near Stockbridge, then down the Portage River and the Grand River to Lake Michigan, then along the Lake Michigan shoreline to Chicago.

This is not a trip for inexperienced paddlers. The Huron has very difficult stretches, as Charlie can attest. There are many dams to get around and the portages are not easy. Portage Creek is often called Hell Creek for good reasons. The portage between the Erie and Grand watersheds can be several miles long depending on spring water levels. Good canoe wheels are a must. The Upper Grand has many log jams. You can expect snow or rain and cold weather, especially in the early part of the trip. Charlie started out in the snow and ran into ice on Ford Lake. The Heward party had snow-day delays.

For paddlers going all the way Kruger expedition style rules will apply:
Expedition-ready canoes able to handle big open water and upstream travel
Self supported at all times
Carry all your own food and camping gear, including canoe wheels.
No shore assistance except at the two Check Points, Portland and Grand Haven
Sails and open water gear can be picked up at Grand Haven.
Challengers should discuss these rules with Mark when you register.

Casual canoeists or kayakers are welcome to paddle along for a couple hours or couple days or more. All are invited for beer and pizza at the Damsite Inn when the Challengers go through Hell.

Entry information: Due to the recent economic slowdown we are waiving any entry fee for this event. A trip like this takes a significant financial commitment due to gear, food and time off from work, we are inviting any and all that want to take part in this extreme event to use any moneys that would otherwise be spent on an entry fee to plan and execute a successful trip.

Although there is no entry fee, we are asking participants to register by sending an Email with their contact information to Mark Przedwojewski, or by phone at 231-266-2089. We are requesting registrations by March 15, 2009. Late registrations will be happily accepted, but it is helpful to our planning to know the number of paddlers that will be participating.

The Verlen Kruger Memorial is still accepting donations towards the cost of installing the Verlen Kruger commemorative statue and plaza by the Grand River at Portland. Please forward any donations to the Memorial. For more information on the UHHC, the Memorial, or the annual 55 mile Hugh Heward Challenge, visit

We have available autographed copies of Jim Woodruff's narrative monograph "Across Lower Michigan by Canoe-1790" (the research paper that inspired the original Hugh Heward Challenge), for a small fee of $15, including postage. This is a detailed, illustrated study of the expedition based on Heward's own journal. All proceeds from the book will be donated to the Verlen Kruger Memorial. You can obtain a copy from Mark at Kruger Canoes. Mark can be reached by phone at 231-266-2089 or email at

You can also see Jim's monograph on the internet thanks to Bob Coller's blog "River Thoughts".

Paddle on.........
The Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge planning crew,

Charlie Parmelee
Mark Przedwojewski
Dan Smith
Jim Woodruff