This story was first published in Paddler Magazine May/June 2001 Issue.
I had the pleasure of being a member of the support team for one of the
few all-women teams for one of the most difficult races in North America-The Ausable River Canoe Marathon.
(Copyright Paddler Magazine May/June 2001)
"Apollo 13 Canoe Survives the Marathon"
By Norman Miller
For Abby Kingman and Lisa Salvini racing in the countries toughest non-stop canoe race was to be just that. Long and tough! However upon finishing the 53rd running of the AuSable Canoe Marathon, Kingman said " I felt we were the Apollo 13 canoe! Everything went wrong."
During the 120 mile course which runs all night from Grayling to Oscoda Michigan, Kingman and Salvini broke one paddle, knocked off there bow light, required a 12 inch gash in the hull, and broke the self bailer which empties water from the canoe. The 2000 Marathon boosted its largest number of entrants ever with 68 canoes. "The Marathon" as it is known draws North Americas top paddlers including Serge Corbin who was attempting his 5th consecutive win with Jeff Kolka.
Not only did Kingman and Salvini have to deal with there canoe taking in water, but with 8 hours of night paddling, log jams, six hydro-dam portages, high humidity and fatigue.
"Quitting was not an option" said Salvini. "Our pit team came a long ways to help us out and we were not going to let them down"
Racers have what are called "feeders" or "pit crews" who follow them downstream providing food, drink, and emergency items the paddlers may need. Team #72's support came from Todd Hanna from Oregon and Norm Miller from Utah.
"Once we found out they were taking in lots of water, the rest of the night became a logistical nightmare" said Hanna.
"We knew we had to help them as much as possible with our support. Especially the emotional support" said Miller. "We decided to show up at Wakely Bridge with the repair kit and spare light. They were not expecting us until McMasters bridge another hour away," said Miller.
"We were happy to see them" said Kingman. "We knocked off our light and were paddling blind trying to stay close to the canoe ahead that had a light"
Throughout the night and early morning Team #72 traded off positions with Lynne Witte and Karen Levitt, the only other all female team entered in the race. Witte is a record holder in the Marathon, having placed as high as 4th overall as a mixed team with Jim Meyers in 1988.
The six portages provided excitement for the fans as well as the pit crews. Paddlers get quite stiff from sitting so long that the portages provide some relief to their tired cramped legs. Kingman and Salvini jumped out of their canoe lifting it over head to drain water, urine, food and empty water bottles for the 1/4-mile run to the river below. Hanna would run next to the team and ask if they needed anything, while Miller waited below with the food and water jugs.
"It felt good knowing that after a fast pit your team gained 15 seconds on the next team" said Hanna.
At Five-Channels Dam more water entered the canoe causing Kingman and Salvini to duct-tape the hole. Witte and Levitt gained valuable time here. At the final portage at Loud Dam some 100 plus miles and over 16 hours of over 60 stokes per minute, Team #72 made one last attempt to patch the ugly hole and headed downstream. The support team of Miller and Hanna felt relieved that their part of the job was over and headed toward Oscoda.
"Shortly after seeing the women at Loud, the heavens unleashed a cold hard rain," said Miller. "We had there rain gear in the car and no access point to drop it off to them. After all they had been through, we were certain they would finish anyway".
The crowds at the finish had sought dryer ground as Kingman and Salvini crossed the line in 18 hours 8 minutes for 46th place. They were twenty-nine minutes behind Lynne Witte and Karen Levitt. Seventeen teams had dropped out during the coarse due to various reasons, but the Apollo 13 canoe battled through the tough times to finish North Americas toughest canoe race.
"Those are two tough women, I can't believe they stuck it out" said Hanna.