Lazy summer weekends jolted by athletesWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer weekends in the North Woods of Michigan are generally pretty tame affairs.
Flatlanders from downstate take over their cottages and cabins. ORVers and motorcyclists buzz the forest trails in increasing cacophony and profusion. The deer, the grouse, the wild turkeys … and the occasional bear … cover their ears and run for cover in the forest undergrowth.
We drive into nearby Mio to stock up on supplies for the week. Breakfast is at the Branch Cafe, where the friendly waitress puts in our orders without asking. Make our weekly trek to the landfill — as there’s no trash pick-up around these parts. And then, if we’re lucky, there’s a music festival or craft show to drop in on.
But last weekend was something else: Two days of nonstop action rarely experienced here above the Tension Line.
It all started benignly enough with a kindly invite from our neighbors to a Saturday afternoon family reunion, birthday party and backyard barbecue.
Pati and Donny Davis, year-round Luzerne residents who manage to keep themselves backbreakingly busy repairing and restoring log cabins and painting and designing residential interiors, also happen to be very good people. Taking in rescue greyhounds, nurturing retired racehorses and, when time, work and Pati permit, Donny also plays a mean guitar with bands of world renown.
This particular reunion was guaranteed to be something very special, as Pati’s niece, Geena Gall, and her family were coming up from their home in Grand Blanc for the occasion.
Gall just happens to be an All American, two-time NCAA National 800 meter track star who graduated this year from the University of Michigan. She’s now a newly minted Nike signee, member of the Oregon Track Club Elite and has just completed her first European tour, winning and placing in Italy and Belgium.
In August, she’s going back to Europe to compete in the World Track and Field Championships in Berlin and has promised (time permitting) to send us exclusive reports!
As a frustrated athlete, I could hardly wait to meet her — especially as Aunt Pati has been keeping us appraised of her successes via e-mail and over our split-rail fence for the past couple of years.
When the Galls finally arrived (a little late due to Geena’s running in a benefit mile through the streets of Charlevoix), she was low key, lovely…and seemed totally unfazed by her amazing accomplishments. She’s also looking at several more years of top level international competition including the Olympics in 2012 … or so she signed her autograph: “To one of my biggest fans. See you in London in 2012.” I hope so.
Anyway, the planned barbecue had to be abandoned due to sudden torrential rains, so we all raced off down the dirt roads to the Ma Deeter’s eatery and drinkery, where we ate unhealthy food, danced to a rousing country band and returned in a fine state of afterglow!
Next morning, instead of a sleep-in Sunday like most sensible North Woodsmen, we were up at crack of dawn (6 a.m.!) to drive an hour to Cooke Dam on the Au Sable River to watch the Smuteks — owners of the local body repair shop in Luzerne — compete in the “world’s most grueling canoe marathon.”
The Au Sable River Weyerhaeuser Canoe Marathon is a daring and sometimes dangerous 120-mile dash through the night from Grayling to Oscoda along a thousand twisty, snaggy and often shallow water turns, with six tricky portages thrown in for good measure.
This year, some 90 two-person teams turned up from 20 states, including Alaska, three Canadian provinces and Belize, paddling 60 to 70 strokes a minute for 15 hours or more before 75 of them managed to reach the finish line.
We’re happy to report that all our Smuteks — father, son and daughter — completed the course. Patriarch Frank, who injured an arm in Mio but kept paddling for nine more hours despite his injury, finished in 57th spot. Not bad for a man 75 years young … and it typifies for us what canoe marathons are all about. Guts. Spirit. Hard training. An abiding love of competition. And camaraderie.
And that’s hard to beat.
E-mail Roger Holliday and Claudia Fischer at email@example.com.