A one-day, 50-mile paddling challenge
Michiganders recreate Hugh Heward's historic escape on the Grand River
I paddled my biggest day ever at the Hugh Heward Challenge. Fifty miles!
That's what the event is there for: to help everyday paddlers experience adventure paddling. It's not a race, but it is tough. And the longest paddle for many who first try it.
There are several layers to the story of the Hugh. It's held on the Grand River on the miles before, through, and after Lansing, Michigan. This year's edition, held April 28, will be its 13th.
The event gets its name from the first European explorer to paddle across the state. In 1790, Hugh Heward paddled between the villages of Detroit and Chicago with seven Frenchmen in two four-man birch canoes. As they reached the mid-state area, they met Indians fishing for sturgeon with whom they traded. When more Indians soon arrived the explorers sensed trouble - these were tense times, with recent Indian victories in Ohio battles. The next morning, on April 24, they paddled their biggest day, about 47 miles, to escape.
Michigan river historian Jim Woodruff, a busy 90-year-old, discovered the episode in Heward's journal and identified the likely locations of their put-in and take-out that day. Parks are now conveniently near both. Woodruff suggested that modern paddlers might enjoy the challenge of replicating this most arduous day.
Verlen Kruger, a famous long-distance canoeist, was one of Woodruff's friends and a neighbor on the river. In his late 70s, he organized and paddled the first three editions of the event. Kruger asserted that to commemorate the historic getaway properly meant recreating that 50-mile day. Here was a chance for citizen paddlers to see what a big day on the river was like.
And that is how the Hugh Heward Challenge became a low-key - if significant and significantly strenuous - outing.
The full story appears in the April 2012 print edition of Silent Sports. Don't miss an issue! Subscribe here.