Updated: Feb 19, 2020
I originally wrote this in 2016 while sitting in Texas hotel room missing the river. Multiple Texans had offered to paddle with me while I was down there. My confidence level, being new to the sport, kept me from taking up their offers. Now I'd jump all over a chance to get out on the San Marcos River and the Texas Water Safari is high on my list of events to participate in. At the request of a few fans I've started to recover some old musings. I'm thankful that Fast Eddie took a shot on a completely unknown stern paddler in 2015. It was a life changing experience.
I hope you enjoy "Train for the finish" I've decided to start writing a little bit about my AuSable River Canoe Marathon experience last year. I'm staring at hotel room walls for another couple weeks down in Texas and miss the river. Had fully intended on doing some paddling down here, but it doesn't look like I have much extra time, and frankly, when I'm done for the day, I'm pretty well shot, but then 12 hour days will do that in Texas I suppose. The Marathon Start: I was up at 5am the day of the Marathon. Nervous might not be the right word. More edgy. Ready to go. Let’s do this. No worries though, I can sleep during the day. Except for one little minor detail. They hold a parade for the canoe marathon. And for those of you that don’t know where I live, it’s right on the parade route. Good luck sleeping through that. Didn’t sleep at all. Might have been one of the only paddlers to actually watch the parade. Let’s just say I remember certain things crystal clear, and others are just a blur. I remember people coming up and wishing me well as we picked the boat up from the gymnasium. Vague faces. People I know that I know, but in that moment, they were simply a blur. I apologize to any of you if I looked a little out of it. It’s time to walk the boat down to the starting line. It’s a cluster of people, shaking hands, good lucks. I beeline many rows forward from the back where we’re at to wish friends good luck. As I move up through the rows, the paddlers get faster and faster, but the message is the same “good luck, stay calm, you can do this”. It’s a sea of tension and positive vibes all in one. In a matter of minutes, we’re going to start a 120 mile voyage, via racing canoe, from Grayling to Oscoda. I’m back at the boat. Somewhere on the wrong side of Michigan Avenue so close to the back that I can taste Bear’s Den in my mouth. It’s time to go. I gingerly test my right foot, months earlier I smashed it with an axe, and I haven’t really been able to run on it at all since. All I can remember thinking is this is what I trained for. This is what I swam in an ice cold river for. This is what I spent countless hours away from friends and family for. This is what I completely changed my life for, losing 50 pounds, quitting smoking, eating better, training for hours and hours relentlessly, pushing my body harder and harder mercilessly, straining friendships and lowering bank account levels. 'This is what I trained for' is exactly what I thought as I stood on that line, moments before the gun went off. And I’ve never been so wrong in my entire life. You see, you don’t train for the start of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon. The start is easy. You train for 4am, when you’re past Mio, alone, the crowds are gone, it’s dark, you won’t see the sun for a couple more hours and everything hurts. You train for 2 o’clock in the afternoon, when the same sun that brought you a boost of energy at daybreak is now scorching you in the middle of a wavy pond. You train to hear the music play at the end, as you round the last bend. You train for a little coin, and a pullover jacket that will forever bring back memories of both pain and ecstasy. You don’t train for the start of the Ausable River Canoe Marathon. You train for the finish. (Bill Mahaffy)