Sunday, May 31, 2009

LaSalle's Walk on the Wild Side V

The long discussion of prairies in LWWS IV may have been a sleeper but very important to tying down where LaSalle and his men actually traveled. The following is from my "The Search for Route of LaSalle's 1680 Walk Across Michigan", the narrative/monograph of which LWWS is a condensation. (The parenthetical remarks are mine as of today. I would be delighted to debate them with anyone).

Many authors and historians have speculated on LaSalle's cross-Michigan route in books and magazines and newspaper articles. Many others have written about the journey without speculating on the route. Despite all that has been written over the years, there is but one primary source, LaSalle's single letter written to one of his investors in September of 1680.......

Strangely, the most recent authors' routes are farthest off the mark. By far the easiest to disprove are those in two 1992 publications. The most accurate interpretation in my opinion was one of the earliest, that of University of Michigan Professor Clifford H. Prator in the Spring 1941 issue of Michigan History Magazine, then a scholarly quarterly publication of The Michigan Historical Commission.

Volume III of Charles A. Weissert's Historic Michigan, published in 1928, contains an account of LaSalle's journey across Michigan. He states that "The explorer's route, as far as can be ascertained by notes taken during the journey, lay along the highlands between the Kalamazoo and St. Joseph River valleys" (Wrong). He contends that "there can be no doubt but that he crossed Prairie Ronde and Climax Prairie..." (Wrong again). He identifies the marshy wilderness through which the party waded as "...probably the long, flat tract in the lakes east of Prairie Ronde" (Still wrong).

In referring to LaSalle and his men J.S.Morton, author of Reminiscence of the Lower St. Joseph Valley,written in the 1930's says, "They were the first white men to follow the trail that became later the famous Territorial Road (Wrong).

The 1948 book Michigan--From Primitive Wilderness to Industrial Commonwealth, by Milo M. Quaife and Sidney Glazer, includes a map showing a route through southern Van Buren, Kalamazoo, Calhoun, Jackson and Washtenaw Counties. (Right counties but LaSalle traveled through the northern parts). Their route crosses the Huron River rather than following it and ends well upstream of the mouth of the Detroit River opposite Grosse Isle.(Does not allow for the 5 days down the Huron in a canoe).

In a 1949 article in the Lansing State Journal, history writer Birt Darling used Prator's 1941 Michigan History article in an attempt to show that LaSalle may have traversed southern Ingham County. (A real stretch. Birt liked to "localize" and "romanticize " and "popularize" historical happenings in or near mid-Michigan. I am forever grateful to him though, one of his articles led to my discovery of Hugh Heward and his journal).

In Michigan in Four Centuries, Dr.F.Clever Bald, then Professor of History at the University of Michigan, states that LaSalle's route is not known, "...but he probably passed through the second tier of counties above the the Ohio and Indiana boundaries." The book's map illustrating the route of various French explorers has LaSalle passing through the headwaters of the Kalamazoo, Grand and Raisin Rivers which are in the hills of Southern Jackson and northern Hillsdale Counties. (Way off).

Alberta Powell wrote a book for young Americans, LaSalle, River Explorer, published in 1954. She has LaSalle using a canoe to go up the Kalamazoo River.....(No wonder young Americans are lousy at history).

In his 1955 book, Michigan through the Centuries, Dr. Willis F. Dunbar, then Professor of History at Western Michigan University, states that LaSalle "...probably followed the Indian trail, slightly south of present US 12 as far as Paw Paw and thence to about present Ann Arbor by approximately the route followed by that road." (Wrong. Dr. Dunbar couldn't have read LaSalle's letter and come to such a conclusion.)

Then in his 1959 book, Kalamazoo and How it Grew, Dr. Dunbar says "His exact route is not recorded, but supposedly he followed Indian trails which led him through the prairie lands of southern Kalamazoo County" (Farther off than in his first book. LaSalle deliberately avoided Indian trails).

Certain recent history scholars have grievously misidentified LaSalle's route. In their 1992 book The Atlas of North American Exploration, Professors William A. Goetzman of the University of Texas and Glyndwn Williams of the University of London depict a route that avoids Michigan entirely! They show LaSalle's 1680 journey as following the Kankakee River in Illinois and Indiana and then along the Maume River from present Ft. Wayne, Indiana, to Toledo, Ohio, on Lake Erie. Furthermore, they show the route continuing across the open waters of Lake Erie to reach the Ontario shore. This route neither starts where LaSalle said he started, his fort at the mouth of the present-day St. Joseph River, nor reached where most other scholars and authors agree he reached, the Huron River. (This is an unimaginably bad piece of historical and geographical manure......).

In Anka Muhlstein's 1995 LaSalle, the explorer starts his cross-Michigan journey at Ft. St. Joseph, which did not even exist in 1680. Ft. St. Joseph was established upstream on the St. Joseph River near present-day Niles in 1691. This author also names Detroit, which was not established until 1701, as LaSalle's destination, rather than Lake Erie. However, the map in the book purporting to show LaSalle's route has him going to Lake Erie just north of Toledo. The map so distorts the locations and relationships of rivers that the headwater of the St. Joseph River is shown near Ft. Wayne, Indiana, instead of Michigan's Hillsdale County, an error of at least 60 miles. (Pitiful).

(Are you surprised that Dr. Rosentreter didn't include this part of my monograph in the "Michigan History" article? Most of these authors had PhDs in history).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

LaSalle's Walk on the Wild Side IV

Continuing with my 1999 article in "Michigan History".

LaSalle recounted, "When we had lit a fire on the edge of a prairie we were surrounded by (Pottawatomies), but the man who was on watch awoke us, and we placed ourselves each behind a tree with our guns. The Indians, who are called Ouopous, believed us to be Iroquois, and being convinced that there must be larger numbers of us, since we had not concealed ourselves as they are accustomed to do when they go in small bands, they fled without shooting an arrow". To reinforce the misconception that his band was an Iroquois war party, LaSalle used charcoal from their fire to place marks on tree trunks like those victorious Iroquois used in announcing the taking of scalps and slaves.

To determine LaSalle's route it is important to identify which prairies he and his men crossed the last few days of March 1680. According to the Presettlement Vegetation map, a prairie is an area dominated by prairie grasses and forbs (herbaceous plants) with a tree density of less than one mature tree per acre. One gets the impression from reading Michigan history that Prairie Ronde in southern Kalamazoo County was not only the largest prairie but the only one of real consequence. However, the Presettlement Vegetation map locates forty-nine prairies in the ten-county area it covers. Furthermore, the 1838 Gazetteer of the State of Michigan describes Gull Prairie in northern Kalamazoo County as "the largest body of prairie in the county".

After their escape from the Pottawatomie's, LaSalle's men set fire wherever there was dry grass to obliterate their tracks. In his account of March 29 LaSalle described the prairie they were crossing as being "...four or five leagues broad and so long we could not see the end of it." A league is about 2.75 miles long. This makes the prairie about twelve miles wide. In the early nineteenth century Prairie Ronde was only about five miles across. Certainly the prairies could have been bigger in 1680. They are primarily products of fires that burn off shrubs and tree seedlings, keeping forest encroachment in check. Fewer fires during the 120 years from La Salle's visit until the arrival of the surveyors might explain the difference in the prairies' size. There is another explanation that could justify LaSalle's estimates. Adjacent to Prairie Ronde, Gull Prairie and Grand Prairie were bur-oak openings and oak savannas. Next to those were large and small patches of oak forest. In the case of Gull Prairie, these were far more extensive than around Prairie Ronde. Even Grand Prairie, which was considerably smaller than Prairie Ronde, was surrounded by a significantly larger area of oak openings and savannas.

The Presettlement Vegetation map defines bur-oak openings and oak savannas as having a density of between one and fifteen trees per acre. To a traveler these would seem open and park-like. Some travelers, including James Fenimore Cooper in his "Oak Openings", have likened them to orchards. Even oak forests tend to be quite open and relatively free of underbrush.

If one includes bur-oak openings and oak savannas as part of the prairies LaSalle described, the open country in the Gull Prairie area measures about fourteen miles wide and more than thirty miles from north to south on the Presettlement Vegetationmap. The same exercise in the Prairie Ronde area only measures a width of about nine miles and perhaps twelve from north to south. The Grand Prairie area is about ten miles wide. Considering all these factors, the Gull Prairie area most closely fits LaSalle's size estimate of March 29, 1680.

Given that both Grand Prairie and Gull Prairie are reasonably on line with an easterly exit from the upper end of the Paw Paw River valley, LaSalle most likely did not travel through Prairie Ronde. To have done so would have required a sharp detour to the south.

NEXT: Crossing the Kalamazoo River

Friday, May 29, 2009

LaSalle's Walk on the Wild Side III

Continuing with my 1999 article in "Michigan History":

LaSalle's party, which included four coureurs de bois and one Native American, a Mohegan Indian named Saget, left Fort Miami on March 25, 1680. According to LaSalle, after crossing the flooded St. Joseph River (then called River of the Miamis) on a raft, the men "...continued our march through the woods, which was so interlaced with thorns and brambles that in two days and a half our clothes were all torn and our faces so covered with blood that we hardly knew each other."

Thanks to the efforts of three Western Michigan University Professors, we know what the nature and extent of the forest cover was like three hundred years ago in southwestern Michigan. In 1984 Lawrence G. Brewer, Thomas W. Hodles and Henry A. Raup from the Department of Geography published a map entitled Presettlement Vegetation of Southwestern Michigan. They created the map based on upon field notes of the early-nineteenth-century surveyors who moved through a wilderness little changed from that which existed in the late seventeenth century. As part of their job, the surveyors located and identified the types of trees and terrain that existed in Michigan before it was disturbed by the pioneer's axe or plow.

After two and a half days in the briars and brambles, LaSalle's party came out of the Paw Paw River valley and "found the woods more open". But where?

About sixty years ago (seventy now) University of Michigan professor Clifford H. Prator concluded that LaSalle broke into the open woods somewhere in the northwest corner of Kalamazoo County. Trying to follow Prator's suggested route today takes one into the extensive mucklands in the northeast corner of Van Buren County. In the late seventeenth century this was one big swamp. Furthermore, modern topographic maps and road reconnaissance show the party then would have encountered difficult "knob and kettle" terrain where level land is virtually nonexistent. On the other hand, road reconnaissance around the upper end of the north branch of the Paw Paw River about seven miles south of there leads to the area of the Wolf Lake state Fish Hatchery and east up to high ground--about where Highway M-43 climbs up the ridge known to geologists as the Kalamazoo Moraine. This is close to the Van Buren-Kalamazoo county line. The Presettlement Vegetation map shows that this was a transition area from a southern swamp forest to an oak savanna. This is consistent with LaSalle's account of emerging from the briars and brambles and finding the woods more open.

I believe LaSalle actually traveled through oak savannas and forests and the relatively benign terrain of what is now the northern half of Kalamazoo County's Oshtemo Township (approximately along the route of M-43). If LaSalle and his party were on this route, they would have reached Grand Prairie within an easy five-mile walk after leaving the Paw Paw River valley. Grand Prairie was located just west and northwest of present-day Kalamazoo.

Hunger and the abundance of game made the party careless. The sounds of their guns and the trail of partially butchered carcasses attracted an Indian war party, and nearly led to disaster.

NEXT: Surrounded by Indians.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

LaSalle's Walk on the Wild Side II

Continuing with my 1999 article in "Michigan History":

LaSalle's route across the Lower Peninsula has fascinated authors and historians for many years. There is, however, only one primary source documenting the trip - a letter LaSalle wrote to one of his investors in September of 1680. The text of the letter has been preserved in Pierre Margray's Memoirs et Documents Pour Servir a L'histoire des Origines Francaises des Pays D'outre-mer; Decouvertes et Etablissments desFrancais dans L'ouest et dans le Sud D'Amerique Septenrionale, published in Paris in the 1880s.

LaSalle clearly understood the difficulty facing him. Reflecting in that letter he explained,

Though the thaws of approaching Spring greatly increased the difficulty of the way, interrupted as it was everywhere by marshes and rivers, to say nothing of the length of the journey. . . and the danger of meeting Indians of four or five nations, through whose country we were to pass, as well as an Iroquois army, which we knew was coming that way; though we must suffer all the time from hunger, sleep on the open ground, often without food; watch by night and march by day, loaded with baggage, such as blanket, clothing, kettle, hatchet, gun, powder, lead and skins to make moccasins; sometimes pushing through thickets, sometimes climbing rocks covered with ice and snow, sometimes wading whole days through marshes when the water was waist-deep or even more, at a season when snow was not entirely melted----though I knew all this, it did not prevent me from resolving to go.

At the time of LaSalle's journey, the southern part of the Lower Peninsula, particularly the area between the Grand River valley and the St.Joseph river valley, was largely deserted. Many local tribes had left the area in fear of the rampaging Iroquois. According to LaSalle, it was a sort of no-man's land. "The Indians do not hunt there because it is situated between five or six tribes which are at war with one another, who, because they fear one another, dare not go to these parts without the greatest precautions; they never appear except with the intention of surprising one another, as secretly as possible."

LaSalle knew he had to travel approximately straight east to reach Lake Erie. He used a magnetic compass to determine direction and an astrolabe, which measures the angle of the sun or North Star above the horizon, to determine latitude. He was unable, however, to determine longitude so he did not know how far it was across the peninsula.

LaSalle was in a hurry. He didn't have time to build or acquire a canoe and take the longer route of going up Lake Michigan to Michilimackinac, then south through Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair and the Detroit River to Lake Erie. Going overland through prairies, open oak forests and oak savannas would make for easy traveling, but would leave them exposed to wandering war parties. So LaSalle chose to travel through the Paw Paw River valley. The Paw Paw flows from the east, there were no Indian trails following the river and the southern hardwood forests of the valley made inconspicuous movement possible. The disadvantage was that hiking conditions were atrocious.

NEXT: They are traveling

LaSalle's Walk on the Wild Side

In 1999 I wrote an article for "Michigan History Magazine" entitled "LaSalle's Walk on the Wild Side". That was not my choice of title. The title of my work of which the article was a condensation was "The Search for the Route of LaSalle's 1680 Walk Across Michigan", a perfectly respectable and understandable title, I thought. "Not jazzy enough"; said Roger Rosentreter, the magazine's Editor. When I objected, he said that I have to understand that in order for "Michigan History" to avoid the fate of "Michigan Conservation" magazine, once published by the Department of Conservation (now DNR), it has to attract a large and loyal audience and be self supporting. I guess he has a point. "The Michigan Historical Review" put out by the Historical Society of Michigan is a real sleeper. It's "Chronicle" is a little livelier but not up to "Michigan History". At least I got him to add LaSalle's name. His original title was just "A Walk on the Wild Side". He did a lot of other editing that I objected to and for the first time since college I pulled an "all nighter" trying to unfix some of his fixes in time to make the printing deadline. I can see why such Michigan history authors as Kit Lane, Larry Massie and Tim Kent self-publish so they don't have to deal with editors.

I am going to serialize that article and add comments and notes pertinent to the LaSalle Relay idea. The article was published in the March/April 1999 issue and is illustrated by a beautiful two-page spread showing the Portage Lake Swamp in the leafless season as it would have looked to LaSalle and his party in 1680. The photo was taken by Rosentreter at my suggestion from the bridge over the upper Portage River on Waterloo-Munith Road.

Here we go:

On March 24, 1680, after an exhausting three-week journey from a wilderness fort near present-day Peoria, Illinois, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle, arrived at Fort Miami. He had built the small fort the previous fall on a bluff overlooking the mouth of the St. Joseph River, then known as the River of the Miamis. An explorer and entrepreneur whose life's mission was to establish a French commercial empire in the interior of North America, LaSalle learned at Ft. Miami that the Griffon,
the sailing vessel he had constructed the previous year on the Niagara River, had disappeared. Desperate to know what had happened to his ship and its cargo of furs, the thirty-seven year old Frenchman decided to return to the Niagara country. LaSalle believed the shortest and quickest way to get there was on foot. Four weeks after leaving Fort Miami, LaSalle and his men reached Niagara. He never found the Griffon---it disappeared without a trace---but he became the first European to cross Michigan's Lower Peninsula.

NEXT: The route

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A refresher - how I do it

Since I am transitioning from stories of the Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge to stories of LaSalle's 1680 journey across Michigan (and a new Challenge) I think it's a good time to remind blog readers - and inform new readers - how I come to know what I know about LaSalle.

My retirement hobby for 23 years has been "topology," topographic studies of places in relation to their histories. I take a primary source describing someone's travel in and about Michigan centuries ago and - using my extensive topographic map collection, library research, and road reconnaissance - work out their route. Surprisingly in the process I prove (at least to myself) that most authors and history professors got it wrong. I'll expand on this in a later post.

All I or anyone else knows about LaSalle's 1680 walk across the Lower Peninsula is contained in a single letter he wrote to an investor back in France in September of 1680, describing his trek by canoe and foot from Ft Crevecoeur to the Niagara Country. For his walk across Michigan from Ft. Miami to the Detroit River I wrote what I call a narrative monograph, scholarly but not big enough to be a book but more than a booklet. I self publish and distribute mostly to historical libraries.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

LaSalle Relay - The "Corridor" II

After our disappointment over the condition of the roads of our previously laid-out bicycling route, it became sort of an adventure hunting up new ways to get across Calhoun County.

The corridor contains some very interesting country; lots of rolling forested hills, small marshes flanked by higher-ground knolls, extensive forested swamps, open and hilly farm lands and in the area of the headwaters of the Battle Creek River, large lowlands that would have been under water in LaSalle's time. Duck Lake is a typical Lower Peninsula lake surrounded by cottages cheek-by-jowl. Prairie Lake is not crowded for some unknown reason. Eastern Calhoun County is not as scenic as the western portions.

Actually, the tentative alternative bicycling route we have laid out is probably closer to LaSalle's actual route than the original. It contains a lot of zigs north and then zags back south but generally is closer to the straight-east line that I think LaSalle established after they ran out of prairie and oak forests where they could burn the grass to cover their tracks.

When we get into Jackson County, if the roads we have chosen on paper prove to be deteriorated we are going to be in tough shape. There are only two bridges across the Grand River and if the county roads leading to them are shot we are screwed. We can't make the bicyclists go cross-country and wade the swamps and swim the river. They might be willing but they would be trespassing on private property and I doubt they could get away with Neil Miller's "Dumb Canoeist" stunt.
Berrien and Van Buren Counties are a long way away and if the county roads closest to the Paw Paw River are not bicycleable (if that's a word) it would be a no go. Under such circumstances I would say forget the bicycling and stick with automobile touring.

Of course if we could sucker some people into walking like LaSalle and his troops did, bad roads would not be a problem.

I hope to get an opportunity to check out the Kalamazoo County roads for bicycling but intend to road tour myself under any forseeable circumstances.

As for Washtenaw and Wayne Counties, I am going to push for hikers and canoeists to finish the reenactment from the Portage Lake Swamp to Lake Erie regardless.

Monday, May 25, 2009

LaSalle Relay - The "Corridor"

There is a natural geographical west to east corridor across part of the Southern Lower Peninsula through which LaSalle and his men walked and waded in the Spring of 1680. It is bounded at the western end by Gull Lake to the north and the northern bend of the Kalamazoo River Valley to the south. In the central part it is bound on the north by Pleasant Lake and Duck Lake. At the south is Prairie Lake (much larger inLaSalle's day). Pointing naturally towards the west end of my imaginary corridor is the Paw Paw River valley and LaSalle's crossing-place of the Kalamazoo River at the present-day Kalamazoo Nature Center. At the east end is the Portage Lake Swamp (actually a large marsh). Beyond, starting about at today's Lyndon Center, is the Indian Trail that led to the Huron River at present-day Dexter.

LaSalle knew that the mouth of the Detroit River at Lake Erie, which was his goal, was at almost exactly the same latitude as his fort at the mouth of the St. Joseph River, thus as much as possible he wanted to travel straight east. He deviated from east only to avoid the Indian trails through the oak openings leading to the ford at the big bend of the Kalamazoo River and to get around the large tamarack swamp along that river's left bank north of the ford.

Once he got into what I call "the corridor" about at the location of present-day Richland, I don't believe he ever deviated from straight east. On my 1999 map with the Michigan History article I show him crossing the upper end of the Portage River. I now believe he never did but rather stayed north of the Portage all the way to what Neil Miller, Brian Prodin and I call the Schumacher Road Peninsula. If I could do that map over (and its enlargement that hangs in the Michigan History Museum) I would move the red line showing his route above the river. That would make the place where the two men got sick about at the location of the Waterloo Farm Museum, and have him wading over the marsh to about the Harr Road peninsula and shortly thereafter climbing to the higher ground. I think he would have sensed that higher ground was the divide between the Lake Michigan and Lake Erie watersheds. LaSalle's own words: "I went to look for some stream near which might fall into Lake Erie, where we wished to make a canoe, so as to relieve those who were wore out with toil."

Back to the corridor.

Son Jim wants to trace much of LaSalle's route by bicycle. We have laid out a tentative route using maps and he has been recruiting companions. On the Sunday before Memorial Day we decided to check out the Calhoun County portion on the ground by car. Wise decision.

Together with granddaughter Jessica, we headed down towards Battle Creek and pulled off M 66 at the road leading to Pennfield and the crossing of the Battle Creek River. This is where LaSalle would have left the higher ground and prairies and oak forests and started wading in the marshes.

After just a very few miles of following our mapped-out route - to our chagrin and dismay - what used to be smooth county roads turn into mile after mile after mile of deteriorating blacktop, unsuitable or even dangerous for bicycling. I don't know what the Calhoun County Road Commission plans do about that, but thus far all they have done is erect a lot of "Rough Road" signs.

After much of a day's exploration I would guess that about 75-90 percent of our laid-out route in Calhoun County is unuseable.

NEXT: Hunting for alternative routes.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Inaugural LaSalle Cross-Michigan Relay - Ideas for a new Challenge

In the spring of 1680 the intrepid French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, together with four other Frenchmen and a Mohegan Indian, walked from his fort on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan at present day St. Joseph to the site of present day Dexter, there built an elm-bark canoe to float down the Huron River but abandoned it five days later because of all the floodwood in the river, then walked the rest of the way to the Detroit River where it flows into Lake Erie.
A few of us who have been following the Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge are toying with the idea of a similar LaSalle challenge. Among us we have considerable experience in historical tours by automobile, long distance bicycle touring like the annual DALMAC tour from Lansing to the Big Mack Bridge, and organized canoeing on the Huron River.
Encouraged by the success of the 2009 UHHC and widespread interest in it, I have been cogitating as to what could be done to remember LaSalle's feat.
Try this for an itinerary:
1. Walk or ride golf cart from the LaSalle/Ft. Miami Historical Marker in St. Joe south along the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan past the LaSalle Memorial boulder to Broad Street. Then go down Broad Street to Clementine's restaurant at the Pier 33 Marina on the St.Joseph River.
2. Ride salmon fishing cruiser up and across and down the St. Joseph River to Riverview Drive marina in Benton Harbor.
3 (a) Automobile tour from Benton Harbor to: (a) Sarrett Nature Center on the Paw Paw River (briars and brambles in river valley) (b) boat launch site north of Lawrence on Paw Paw River (more briars and brambles) (c) Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery (more open woods) (d) Grand Prairie Golf Course (Pottawatomie Indian encounter) (e) Kalamazoo Nature Center (river crossing) (f) Gull Prairie at Richland (burning grass to hide tracks) (g) Battle Creek River at Pennfield (wading marshes) (h) Turkeyville. About 90 miles.
3 (b) Automobile tour all the way from St. Joe to Dexter. About ___miles.
4 (a). Bicycle tour from Turkeyville to Waterloo Farm Museum via Duck Lake, Springport, Tompkins Center, Rives Junction, Grand River (Berry Road bridge or Maple Grove Road DNR launch site--Mascouten Indian encounter) and Pleasant Lake. About 40 miles.
4 (b) Bicycle tour from Richland to Waterloo Farm Museum with meal stop at Turkeyville. About 70 miles.
4 (c) Bicycle tour all the way from St. Joe/Benton Harbor to Dexter. About ___miles.
5. Hike from Farm Museum across Portage Lake Swamp in Waterloo State Recreation Area to Lyon Center and via North Territorial Road and Island Lake Road (Indian trails) to Dexter park at Mill Creek. About 16 miles.
6. Erik Vosteen and Kevin Finney display their elm-bark canoe at Dexter park and maybe put it in the river.
7 (a) Canoe down Huron River from Dexter to French Landing with a stop at LaSalle's statue at Belleville portaging all dams. Two day trip. Possible camping or shuttle arrangements at Gallup Park in Ann Arbor.
7 (b) One day canoe trip down the Huron from Dexter to Gallup Park.
8. UHHC Challengers put their canoes and kayak into the water at Portage Lake and paddle downstream on the Huron River far enough to cover all sections wheeled around going upstream last spring.and do it all in one day.
9 Hike through Huron-Clinton Metropolitan Park system to Lake Erie MetroPark. About 18 miles.
At first this wouldn't have to be done serially or totally or with many participants. Various LaSalle and historical reenactment enthusiasts could do it in uncoordinated bits and pieces. Eventually one would hope for a coordinated, scheduled publicized annual affair like the annual Hugh Heward Challenge 50 miler (which has grown in 10 years from about 5 paddlers to well over 100).
I would sure like to hear anyone's reaction to these ideas. Meanwhile I'll keep cogitating and trying to con people into joining the project.
It occurs to me that this proposed LaSalle Relay is pretty much the reverse of the 2009 Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge only commemorating an event 110 years earlier and on foot rather than by canoe and using the St. Joseph and Kalamazoo River valleys instead of the Grand.. Thus I think you-all who followed the UHHC Challengers would be interested in following the LaSalle Relay if I can pull it off. What do you think?
Son Jim is already planning to do the bicycle thing and is trying to hook some DALMAC types into the project. I have been communicating with Ron Sell on the canoe part.
I would expect to have brief recognition ceremonies at St. Joe, Dexter park and LaSalle's statue in Belleville.
My reporting would include extracts from LaSalle's Setember 1680 letter in the same way I included extracts from Hugh's journal in the UHHC coverage.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Coach's latest adventures; Jon Holmes' log

I encourage you all to go to Coach's website and read what he has written about his UHHC experience. Click on Current Journal to read his blog, which includes his latest - and final - post about the Challenge, "May 4 - Hammond Marina to Chicago." You can also see where he will be going next. Now that we know Coach, we will be following his exploits with interest. 

I have been emailing Jon Holmes' log entries, and his account of the trip is also excellent and very instructive for those who may want to think about this or similar challenges. If you didnt' read the log entries in my emails, or to read the entire log from start to finish, click here.  Jon has also started a blog, where we will be able to follow his ongoing "Adventures on the Grand." Schedules for Jon's kayak instruction are available on his website,

I am encouraging the Intrepids to add their stories to the record of the UHHC 2009.

Jon Holmes, on the river

Nancy Anderson, Coach, Jim in Dimondale

Thursday, May 14, 2009

UHHC-Final Thoughts, Summary and Thanks VII

A reminder: You can see my 1790 narrative on line. Google "Across Lower Michigan by Canoe 1790".
Thanks again to the eminent Bob Bradford for honoring the Challengers at the Belle Isle start. His photos of the Challengers touching the wall at Hart Plaza over where Hugh and his crew started on March 24, 1790, give me particular satisfaction. Those and the photos of the Intrepid 3 paddling in the Chicago River really close the loop. With Neil Miller and Brian Prodin carrying a canoe and pack across the portage and swamp on the same day as the Challengers' start, nothing is left undone but to tell the stories. Verlen would have been proud.
A week ago today I joined son Jim for the soup bar at Mike's in Dimondale. I hobbled out into the kitchen to shake Mike's hand and thank him for feeding the troops the morning of the 50 Miler. He has a Hugh Heward Challenge T-shirt coming.
In the afternoon Pat Harrington and Robin Barfoot put Pat's ugly "stolen Winona" (he can tell you it's story) in the river behind my house for a run down to Grand Ledge. It was pretty funny to watch. To put it as kindly as I can, Pat's canoeing outfit is "colorful". His dog is shakingly averse to canoes and water so the launch involves getting Robin into the bow seat (with a double-bladed paddle and the bow pointing upstream), then Pat throws the dog in and Robin grabs his (or her?) collar. Then Pat tries to avoid doing the splits as he pushes off and jumps in as the current grabs the canoe and makes it do a 180. They're off!
Pat and Robin were responsible for setting up the refreshment stand at my landing on the day of the 50 Miler. The cluster of DALMAC flags that still decorate my river front are from Pat's garage. As I sat down there observing all the activity some canoers would stop and some would look over curiously but keep on going (the racers wouldn't even look up). Robin was acting like a sideshow barker trying to get them to come ashore. She would shout "strawberries"...."lemonade"...."Coors Light"...or "This is Jim Woodruff who started the Challenge..."  I kinda felt like she was calling to reluctant canoeists  "...come on in and see the old freak who started all this foolishness..." Again I thank them both.
Sincere and loving thanks from GPa to Karen's husband Ken and Jim's wife Deb and daughter Jessica for giving up the time and companionship it cost them to have my two kids supporting me in this great endeavor. 
I have about run out of thanks. Have I forgotten anyone? 
Coach is telling his story on his blog and as of this morning he has only to tell of paddling into the Chicago River to finish it.
Jon has told his story in three chapters that Karen has Emailed to you all, #3 going out yesterday morning. A compelling tale full of good information. I thought as I followed his spotter day by day from April 17 on that his lone-wolf approach would cost him much of the fun of the journey, but reading his story you eventually realize he wasn't in it for fun but rather as a test of himself, his chosen watercraft and his high tech gear. In my opinion he, his Eddyline sea kayak and his gear passed with flying colors, as the saying goes.
I had a long call  from Dan about at the end of happy hour last evening. He is anxious to tell his story but he is going to do the Bushwhaker 150 with his nephew first. He says he has some stories to tell about Toby's doings. I hope that motivates Toby to speak for himself.
Toby's tracker shows that he is paddling down the AuSable right now.. I think Charlie may be with him.
As of today, I don't know what Mark's plans are with respect to telling his story. As one of the "Big Dog" Intrepid 3 Challengers who made it all the way to the Chicago River we want to hear more than what is on his website. For example, did they really camp at Warren Dunes when Toby's Tracker stopped at Grand Mere State Park miles up lake? Tell us about the Marina/Casino campout at Hammond and about the Kruger Sea Wind parade to and into the Chicago River and its canyon. I heard pieces of the stories at our party at Frank's Press Box but I want to hear more.
One more guy I want to hear from is Mike Smith, the guy whose bad back kept him from becoming a Challenger. He bird-dogged the Mouseketeers around lower Lake Michigan and  is the one who arranged for the legendary Hammond Campout. Tell us how you did it, Mike. 
Final thoughts: As I sit at my computer the night before this is sent out I am thinking of Verlen. The leaves have come out so I can no longer see his gravesite from my place like I can in the winter. There are some special ties between some of the participants in the 2009 Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge and the legendary long-distance canoeist. 
That includes myself. He and I shared the special comradeship of the members of Tom Brokaw's "Greatest Generation"...children of the Depression...veterans of World War II. We both had a special love for canoeing, his physical, mine intellectual.
Dan Smith had a special paddling relationship with Verlen who took him canoeing in the Canadian wilderness and had him along on his 80th birthday cruise down the Yukon. Dan can tell us more.
Mark P was the canoe-designing-and-building wizard's apprentice and is his successor in the Kruger Canoes business. He can also tell us more.
Charlie Parmelee is Verlen's successor as the Rivermaster. He is Rivermaster of Grand River Expedition '10 and will be "herding cats" for 13 days down the Grand next July.  While I had to keep track of only five or six cats during UHHC, and they were all experienced paddlers, his herd will consist of 50 or 60 various and sundry watercraft, many with inexperienced paddlers...but at least he will have them confined to a single river.

Have I left anyone out?
And so it ends, everybody safe and somewhat amazed at what we pulled off. 

Sunday, May 10, 2009

UHHC 2009-Final Thoughts, Summary and Thanks VI

Continuing with the Portage & Swamp Trompers:
The pair had originally planned to take three days to make the crossing, but now they had a dilemma: They were drinking far more water than they had anticipated because of the rough going and if they camped out another night they would face Saturday with no water, so they decided to keep going.
They started wading across the big marsh (Portage Lake Swamp) from "island" to "island" (really not very high and not very dry places where at least they didn't sink in very deep), occasionally having to hack their way with their Gerber Brush Thinner. When they reached the higher ground by Harr Road to the south they were having difficulty avoiding posted private land full of tree stands (more banjo music)....Neil's words:" the November firearms season opener, it must be like the Stalingrad sniper  battles in 1942 except the deer aren't shooting back".
From the Harr Road peninsula they headed west and southwest across easier but still wet marsh, on one occasion even able to float the canoe for a while with the pack on board (and even get in themselves to paddle briefly) .At another time they could float the canoe but still had to carry the pack.
When I was working this whole story out from Hugh's journal back in the last century (that sounds weird, but it's true) I figured that the marsh crossing by the Frenchmen when Hugh had gone back to the settlements was made by "hawling" the canoes through the marsh with the gear and trade goods on board. Neil and Brian question whether they could have done it that way, but I contend that the higher water table then before white men's deforestation and agricultural drainage activities would have made it possible. Indeed, I  have noted instances in my 1790 narrative where all-water crossings of the divide were made by pirogue and canoe during flood times. But those crossings were made up near present day Stockbridge.
On the west side of the swamp is the Schumacher Road peninsula with a road, farm and corn fields, obviously private property but not posted on the swamp side. Our trompers were trying to sneak their way across cornfields and a downed fence to get to open water when they heard voices (banjo music). They froze but then they heard more voices (louder banjo music) then a tractor starting up (still louder banjo music) and approaching with two men on board (very loud banjo music). Trapped! ...So our heroes assumed the lost canoeist's defense position (standing by a canoe on dry land playing dumb).
Neil babbled something about historic portages and only wanting to get into the Portage River. The men pointed to Schumacher Road and indicated that as a way to get to the river without further trespassing. I don't know whether or not the farmers* were able to verbalize that but our heroes took the hint and off down the road they went until they could put in the river at the Waterloo-Munith Road bridge.
* Note that I did not use a derogatory term like hillbillies or cornhuskers. (Karen's note, supplemental: Gee, Dad, such restraint.)
I have used both the term "swamp" and the term "marsh" here. The definition of "swamp" is a wetland with trees. That of "marsh" is a wetland with grasses and sedges. Thus the state-designated Portage Lake Swamp is really a marsh. Got it?
I make light of their traumas and have enjoyed turning Neil's comprehensive and very professional report into some sort of semi-humorous TV script, but my admiration for these two guys is boundless. Too bad Verlen couldn't have seen them in action...maybe he did.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Coach's post on the 50 miler.

Don't miss reading Coach's blog post about the Hugh Heward 50 miler. Outstanding. 

Click here to read the 50 miler post.

Click here to read the whole blog.

UHHC 2009-Final Thoughts, Summary and Thanks V

Special thanks to Neil Miller and Brian Prodin. They risked their butts and heard banjo music as they finally filled the gap left by Verlen in 1990.
On April 17, the same day the Challengers left Belle Isle in the Detroit River, these two brave, foolish guys stealthfully left Portage Creek upstream of McIntyre Lake and waded and walked and sometimes crawled though bog, marsh and Tag Alder thickets to get to dry land so they could sneak across private property to a small chunk of State land known as the Unadilla Wildlife Resource Area. Keep in mind as I tell this story, Brian is carrying their canoe upside down on his shoulders and Neil is carrying a 60# pack. They weren't just crossing the portage they were trying to duplicate the 1790 Hugh Heward experience,
From the wildlife area they took Bowdish Road and Leeke Road south thus crossed the height-of-land between the Lake Erie watershed and the Grand watershed, eliciting stares from passing motorists and attracting the attention of a noisy, aggressive farm dog. At a big oak tree they had scoped out during an earlier recon they headed into the marsh. They tramped through alternating marsh and islands just as Hugh's crew did 219 years before, sometimes up to their ankles, sometimes up to mid thigh, battling brush that the Frenchmen did not encounter since portages were kept clear in those days. The pair had a Gerber Brush Thinner, a nasty looking weapon (Google it), 
to hack their way thru the puckerbrush. They marked their way with pieces of surveyor tape like Hansel and Gretal dropping bread crumbs. Neil said it was like being in a 40's African jungle movie. 

They came to an island with two chairs chained to a tree and Neil sat down to rest, pack and all, not knowing or not remembering that Charlie had "borrowed" a chair there the year before (he claimed he was only picking up litter on State land) to make himself comfortable at his next campsite (banjo music).
Hugh Heward, being the leader, didn't ordinarily stoop to carrying labor, leaving that to the Frenchmen, but if you will remember from his journal, he was carrying about 60# of corn on his back in a blanket coming up from the Ypsilanti settlement as the Frenchmen were making the carry across the portage and "hawling" their canoes through the swamp.
The burdened two crossed Topith Road and followed a two-track south  to the edge of the big marsh (Portage Lake Swamp). They would have been following the ancient portage path exactly at this point. I know the spot. It is the south end of the portage that Hugh and the French paddler Joe measured with a 100 foot rope and blazed trees on April 19,1790. They found it to be 14,100 feet to the north end. That means Neil and Brian had carried their canoe and pack the full length of the portage, approximately 2 2/3 miles. 
From that place at the south end of the portage you plot possible routes across the marsh and think you may see a low place on the horizon where you hope the downhill river begins.
Remember, Hugh had no map. I and Charlie and Neil and Brian had every possible topographic map, aerial photo and satellite photo and had reconnoitered on land, water and ice. Hugh's only advantages were he had been shown to the portage by an Indian guide and maybe there was a sort of visual path worn through the marsh. Sounds about even.
Tomorrow: The rest of the way across the big marsh. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

UHHC 2009-Final Thoughts, Summary and Thanks IV


My thanks to Ron Sell of the Unadilla Boat Works and the house on the Huron River upstream of Dexter.

He rescued Charlie at least twice last year, fed and beered him at the Side Track Bar and Grill in Depot Town in Ypsilanti when he was cold and wet and later put him up for the night at his house. Ron also put up the Intrepid 4 for a night this year when they gave up on going farther upstream on the Huron. I have yet to find out how much of the Huron Jon did.
I am plotting against Ron. He has an interest in the great explorer LaSalle's 1680 walk across Michigan and has run a couple of canoe trips down the Huron duplicating LaSalle's troubled trip on that river in 1680.
Before I did my Hugh Heward study I had done one on LaSalle's walk. Everything anyone knows about that walk was contained in a single letter LaSalle wrote to one of his investors back in France. A lot has been written in history books about that walk, most of it wrong I find. Anyway, I have worked out in great detail exactly the route I think LaSalle with four Frenchmen and an Indian took in the spring of 1680. I have written an article for "Michigan History" magazine about the walk and have done a couple of my so-called narrative/monographs on it.
The Lower Peninsula was hostile Indian country then so LaSalle and his party had to make a stealth crossing up river valleys and through swamps etc. When they got to the Huron at the site of present-day Dexter they stopped and built an elm-bark canoe hoping to float down that river to Lake Erie but the floodwood was so bad they abandoned their canoe about Belleville and walked the rest of the way to Lake Erie.
To make a long story short, I have given Ron a binder full of topographic maps with LaSalle's route highlighted in color in the hope that he will start a tradition like the Hugh Heward Challenge only instead of canoeists going down a river it will be cars, bicyclists or walkers going from St. Joe to Dexter, canoes down the Huron to Belleville, and then on land from there over to the Detroit River.....and I would like to still be around when it happens.
Coincidentally, my niece Patty Geisler of Watervliet lives on Paw Paw Avenue and the Paw Paw River runs behind her house. Also, she and her family own about a mile of the right bank of the Paw Paw River downstream of where it drains Paw Paw Lake (they also have a cottage on Paw Paw Lake). Further, she and her siblings have an annual reunion/golf tournament at the Paw Paw Lake Country Club known as the LaSalle Open..
When LaSalle and his party left his fort at present day St. Joseph on March 24 1680 they built a raft to cross the St Joseph River and bushwhacked their way up the left bank of the flooded Paw Paw River for 2 1/'2 days. In so doing they passed across the river from where Patty's house is now, which is where I was born and grew up. A few miles later they were going up the left bank across the river from where the family owns the right bank.They finally came out into open woods about where the Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery is now.
I have dangled the idea of a reenactment of LaSalle's walk before Patty (who has been following the UHHC) and she said: "Sounds interesting". Are you sensing a possible connection here? Ron and Patty will be hearing more from me on the subject.
I'll bet there are others among you who will read this teaser who might get hooked in. Speak up!
More tomorrow.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

UHHC 2009-Final Thoughts, Summary and Thanks III

To Jon Holmes. What a man! I had doubts about a sea kayak going upstream on the Huron, getting over all those dams and bushwhacking up Hell Creek, but obviously he did it and fast. I'll bet he used that two-blader more as a push pole than as a paddle going up the creek. Since he didn't communicate with me at all I don't know how he did it. I am hoping he will write the complete story and share it with us. He missed out on my beer and pizza party at the Damsite Inn in Hell but made it to Chuck's fancy luncheon at the English Inn. Maybe that's a sign of his discriminating taste.
I was reduced to following his Spotter which I did religiously. I admit to being a Luddite on GPS gadgets before this trip started. I didn't see why in hell any canoeist or kayaker  cared where they had been a half hour ago, but now I see it isn't for them, it is for us who are trying to follow and find out what they are doing and where they are. I am a convert. In Jon's case it turned out to be important when he and Rusty headed straight across the Lake for Chicago from Michigan City, a stunt that I thought showed more guts than sense. I followed them all the way and sensed that they were moving slower as they approached Chicago. It turned out that they had run into waves and had a real struggle getting to shore at the Planetarium. I was prepared to call the Coast Guard if they stopped.
Jon said he considered the trip a test of himself and was happy to be alone. He passed the test with flying colors but I think he would have enjoyed the companionship of the other Challengers. He and Coach sprinted out ahead on the Detroit River and took opposite sides of an island and never saw each other again. I don't know to this day who was ahead going up the Huron. Jon was the first into Chicago but at the Planetarium rather than at the Chicago River.
While Jon was going up Portage Creek he went through Hell only about and hour or two ahead of the Intrepid 4's arrival. Patty Pape was there to greet both and had photos of Jon on the water (including the one above).
We had a great time at the Damsite Inn. Lots of paddlers and family and locals. As is tradtional I picked up the tab. My thanks to the nice waitress who took care of us. She decided what kind of pizza we should have and was quick with the beer refills. We toasted Verlen and Hugh.
Daughter Karen is looking forward to choosing a man-sized kayak at Jon's shop for her large sized sons.
More tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

UHHC Party

L to R: Jim, Mark, Dan, Toby, Charlie

I got a call yesterday afternoon to join the Challengers at Frank's Press Box on West Saginaw at 5 PM for a get-together celebrating the successful conclusion of the 2009 Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge.
I did as I was told and arrived at Frank's a little before 5. It's only a couple-three miles from the River House and being a local I know enough to come at it from the east so that it is a right turn off Saginaw. Those who came from the west (during rush hour) had hell making the required left turn.
 When you go into Frank's from the bright sunshine through either the patio entrance or the front door it takes a while for your eyes to get used to the gloom and when you are as old as I am and use a cane it is even more difficult. The net result was that I made my grand entrance by stumbling through the waitress' alley and had to zigzag around the bar to get to where the customers ought to be. I looked around and didn't see anyone who looked like canoeists so I worked my way back to the Gunfighter's Corner and  took a seat at a table against the wall. Soon out of the gloom came Mike Leyrer from Portland to join me. Shortly thereafter his wife who I think is named Betty joined up.
If you have never been to Frank's Press Box let me describe it. Big and dark and smokey with big TVs all over the walls with all kinds of sporting events going on, even polo. And the waitresses..... I think the best job in the place would be that of whomever interviews and hires those waitresses, maybe one of the best jobs in Delta Township. Does that make me sound like a Dirty Old Man?
Mike and Betty and I are talking when the Challengers start arriving  That changes the whole tone of the party. Tables start getting shoved together and waitresses show up with pitchers of beer in each hand. No nursing of long-neck bottles for the Big Dogs.
Dan, Mark, Toby and Mike Smith arrived together. Then Charlie and finally my telephone-off-the-hook savior Bill Westen who also lives in Delta Township. Mike is the hero of the day since it was he who arranged the casino and marina campout at Hammond. They all swapped stories and filled the rest of us in on that memorable affair. I am counting on one of them to share that story by Email, also the story of the parade through the Chicago Canyon.
 I have received an Email from Coach Hoff this morning thanking all and expressing his appreciation for the experience of joining the Intrepid 3 for the finish of the Challenge.
When Charlie arrived he handed me a gift bag with a fancily wrapped package inside. I handed it to Toby who was sitting next to me and he pulled out one of the multiple shivs he carries (he makes knives as a hobby) and he slit it open with authority. It turns out to be a bottle of South African chenin blanc/chardonnay wine labelled "Herding Cats". That got a big laugh of course. You can be sure it will be a very special occasion when I open and drink from that bottle.
It was at Frank's over beer many months ago that the idea of the 2009 all-the-way Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge was hatched. I received a call to rendezvous at Frank's. I think Mark, Charlie and Dan (and maybe Mike?) were there. We talked about Charlie's 2008 Odyssey and someone, I think Mark, said lets go all the way this year. Since I didn't have to paddle I of course was all for this audacious idea. If my memory of this meeting is faulty, someone can correct me.
It was Charlie who invented the term Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge for his 2008 Lake Erie to Lake Michigan trek. We thereupon christened this year's effort Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge 2009. When Charlie later arranged for decals for the canoes the artist spelled Ultimate Ulitimate....that's why I call Charlie my Ulitimate son.  Now, like rare coins or stamps with upside-down airplanes the Ulitimate decals are considered collector's items and the Challengers who affixed them to their canoes refuse to exchange them for the corrected version.

Daughter Karen came in and joined the festivities and arranged to get the old man some food. The Challengers were showing no signs of slowing down. When they did eat you could see that they were used to consuming mega-calories per day. They dug into a large pizza and a mountain of nachos like predators on a fresh-killed carcass.
When the party wound down I went out into the parking lot to look at Toby's rig. I found that he uses one of those traveling junkyard trailer rigs like Coach does, only no folding bicycle.
It was a great party and I am honored to have been a part of it. Who knew when I issued that first Hugh Heward Challenge so many years ago how big a deal it would grow up to be?

UHHC 2009-Final Thoughts, Summary and Thanks II

To Nancy Anderson, the Mother-Superior and historian of the early Hugh Heward Challenges. She has a stable of paddlers to whom she regularly passes the word.
In addition to doing the word processing for my 1790 tome, for which I renew my thanks, she did the word processing for my little-known and vastly underappreciated "Cultural Anthology of Canoes & Canoeing, Poetry, Humor, Art, Romance and Song".
Nancy's husband Bruce usually hauls the trailer-mounted PortaJon sometimes known as the "Traveling Blue Loo" during the 50 miler.. I didn't see one this year so I don't know what the paddlers did to relieve themselves except at my place, where the men went behind the fence and the girls went up to the house.
To Kevin and Stacy Krause who always seem to be ramrodding the festivities and the feeding at the end of the 50 miler. I wish they would tell us how they do it and who are their helpers.
When you get to be my age you will recognize a lot of faces you can't put names to and in my case my bad hearing complicates things. About all I do at Thompson Field at the end of the 50 milers is to sort of set there like the Pope blessing incoming paddlers, receiving rewards and annointing big boulders with Holy Water. I also buy a lot of bricks.
To my black and white cat Felix who hangs around while I'm at the computer and helps with the loneliness. He sometimes sits in my lap (I can't hear him purring but I can feel it) and sometimes walks on the keys and messes up my hunt and peck typing. About 3 PM he starts lobbying me for his daily "treat" which he doesn't get until 5 PM when I stop for my daily dose of Coors beer.
To my son Jim who calls every morning to see if I am OK and comes over to do any heavy lifting or to undo what ever I have screwed up on the computer or printer that day
To my daughter Karen who calls every night to see if I'm OK. If it wasn't for her my daily Emails would only be good for lining the bottoms of bird cages after one day. She invented and runs my blog which preserves and illustrates my writings. She also tries to intecept my politically incorrect remarks and sand off the rough edges of some of my comments. Sometimes I deliberately sneak one out just to watch her reaction. If I am particularly insensitive she may go into what I call her "Mother Bear" mode.
To Bill Westen who came out to my house one day to see if I was OK when I left the phone off the hook and no one could reach me. We went over to the A&W on Saginaw for lunch. That's the first time I ever rode in one of those monster pickups where you have to act like some sort of Mountain Goat even to get up into the seat. Riding with him for a few blocks made me feel like "The Intimidator".

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Photos of the Intrepids in Chicago

Visit the Kruger Adventures blog for more photos!

UHHC 2009-Final Thoughts, Summary and Thanks

Well it's more herding more worrying about whether grown men are sleeping warm or are doing foolish things on the water...
In answer to a question from my niece Patty Geisler I said: I feel like the conductor of the Boston Pops at the 4th of July Concert who has been conducting the "1812 Overture" and "The Stars and Stripes Forever" while the fireworks are exploding all over the sky but the music is over and the last sparkles have fallen to the ground.....what now?
More about that later. But now my thanks:
First to Charlie Parmelee my hero and "Ulitimate" son, he made "Across Lower Michigan by Canoe 1790" happen. When he first saw my manuscript about Hugh Heward's adventures it consisted of about a half-bushel of Yellowdog paper scribbled on by dozens of #2 pencils. He said "I'll get that typed" and then conned Nancy Anderson into doing the word processing. I will thank Nancy later.
 Charlie is the physical Daddy of the Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge. I dream up ideas then get other guys to sacrifice their bodies to prove whether or not I am right. In Charlie's case I had kinda been nicking at him for years to try some of the things that Verlen didn't get done in 1990 when he proved out my theories as to how Heward's party got from the Huron River watershed to the Grand. He poked about in the Portage River Swamp in high water and on ice trying to work out how to do what Neil Miller and Brian Prodin did on April 17of this year, namely to cross the portage and wade the swamp (he and Doug McDougall tried it in 2008 but gave it up as too dangerous). More on that later.
Early last year Charlie asked me what day Hugh Heward started up the Huron in 1790. I told him March 28. Then he announced that he was going to put his Sea Wind into the Huron on that same day in 2008 and duplicate Heward's crossing of the Lower Peninsula to Grand Haven. He started alone in the snow on that date and ended up short of Lake Michigan because of an oil spill many days later. I have recounted the story of his 2008 Odyssey by Emails which are preserved in my
Charlie was one of the original Challengers this year starting at Detroit on April 17. His 2008 experiences going upstream on the Huron and Portage Creek and wheeling across the portage by county road were invaluable to the other Challengers as they acknowledged. He dropped out at Lyons in order to attend his daughter's graduation from Hope College. Daughter Karen has a sneaking suspicion that Charlie will be trying to fill the gap left between Grand Haven and Chicago some time later.
To Chuck Amboy, an elegant guy who owns a Sea Wind and paddled for a while with the Big Dogs on the Detroit River, Hell Creek and the Grand. Most importantly he hosts the luncheons for paddlers and hangers-on like me at the high-toned English Inn on the Grand between Eaton Rapids and Dimondale.
More tomorrow.

Monday, May 4, 2009


2:30 PM.  They made it, MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Call from Dan saying they have paddled into the Chicago River. They are at the Michigan Avenue bridge with all sorts of water traffic around them. Toby's Tracker says 504miles. Mike Smith with friend Darlene Lyons and Coach Hoff are there too. They are paddling in a sort of parade up the Chicago Canyon. Mike, who paddled through it in 1992 after his solo trip from the headwaters of the Missouri River, says it's awesome. Dan agrees. A Chicago Tribune reporter is trying to cover them thanks to Neil Miller.
Dan said they have toasted Verlen and they are going to toast me too. I'm honored.
The Intrepid 3 took 17 paddle days to make it from Detroit to Chicago. The Hugh Heward party took 26 paddle days to make the trip in 1790, 48 days overall.
Our congratulations to the Intrepid 3, Mark Przedwojewski of Irons, the builder of Kruger Canoes; Dan Smith of Portland, Chairman of the Verlen Kruger Memorial Association; and Michigan native Toby Nipper, of Ft. Myers, Florida, long-distance canoeist extraordinaire.

(Photo thanks to Google images)

UHHC Progress Report - Monday, May 4 - 6:43 a.m

Yesterday morning the Intrepid 3 + Coach informed Mike Smith and I that they were not planning to make the Chicago River until Tuesday. After some palavering Mike and I figured they should be able to make it by today, but they needed a place to camp last night, a daunting prospect given the industrial nature of that coast between Gary and Chicago.
I went to work with Live Search Virtual Earth which has Birdseye views. I followed along the shore locating every waterfront park and scoping the possibilities for camping, stealth or otherwise. I passed descriptions of each park to Mike and enlisted the aid of Neil Miller, one of the portage/swamp trompers. Eventually I got out of the loop by asking Mike and Neil to message each other directly. Smart move. I went down to the river and took a nap and when I got back up to the house and pulled up Toby's Tracker I saw that they were heading right for a casino and marina in Hammond, Indiana. All had been arranged by Mike and Neil.
 Go to Mark's blog to see how they were treated when they arrived and a neat picture of the place.
 Later There was a message from Dan on my answering machine saying that they only had 13 more miles to go to the Chicago River. Mike is on his way to Chicago this morning with his van and canoe trailer. Neil regrets that he can't be there too.
The Intrepid 3 will paddle up the Big Lake past Chicago's impressive lake front and into the Chicago River, finishing their mission. Coach and Mike will join them for a canoe parade through the Chicago "Canyon".
 I will put out a bulletin as soon as I know they have made it.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

UHHC Progress Report - May 3

Yesterday Jon Holmes in his Eddyline Sea Kayak went straight across the Big Lake from Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore just west of Michigan City and landed right by Chicago's Adler Planetarium. Read the story of his lake crossing below in this message.

Jon's trip was a Tour de Force and an accomplishment in its own right, but didn't trace Hugh Heward's route which was the whole idea of the 2009 Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge. So it is left to the Intrepid 3 to track around the southwest corner of Lake Michigan and into the Chicago River as the Heward Party did on May 9 and 10 1790.
According to Toby's Tracker the I-3 plus Coach camped last night just where Jon's Spotter showed he camped the night before. I hope poor Coach got a night's sleep. According to Mark's blog "...he froze his arse..." Friday night.
Coach Larry Hoff's journey across the Lower Peninsula is a special case. Although he left Detroit with the Intrepid 4 and will finish in Chicago with the Intrepid 3 Mouseketeers, his journal "Atlantic to Pacific Log" shows that his trip from the Huron to the Grand was entirely on streets and roads pulling his Sea Wind with his now-famous folding bicycle.
He paddled down the Detroit River, across Lake Erie and then up the Huron about to Ypsilanti, then took to the land. He by-passed the rest of the Huron, all of Portage (Hell) Creek, Heward's Portage, the Portage Lake Swamp and the Portage River. In bicycling along M 52 southeast of Stockbridge he actually crossed Heward's 1790 path.
Neither he nor I are sure where he got into the Grand since he used a State Highway map for guidance. He avoided the first launch site he encountered because of all the deadfalls in the channel of the Grand and entered at a second. I am guessing maybe he he got into the Grand about near Thompkins Corners in Jackson County.
I have already told the story of my family and Nancy Anderson picking him up at Dimondale and transporting him to Portland where we had an enjoyable meal at Jerry's. He interrupted his trek down the Grand and Lake Michigan to join in Chuck Amboy's luncheon at the English Inn and later to do the Ninth Annual Hugh Heward Challenge 50 miler.
I was having a good steak at my son's house when Dan called last night. I have difficulty understanding recorded phone messages but he confirmed that they were camped at Indiana Dunes (by a nuclear reactor) and that they could see the skyline of Chicago. If he said anything else important I will find out when Jim comes over and translates. He and his wife and daughter are going to canoe down the Grand starting from behind my house.

Jon's email to me upon completion of his journey:

On Sun, 5/3/09, <> wrote:
From: <>
Subject: The Challenge is complete!
To: "James Woodruff" <>
Date: Sunday, May 3, 2009, 12:06 PM

It is done!  What a journey and it didn't end quite like I had envisioned it.  I was unable to provide information this week, as my cell phone didn't work out on the lakeshore so I was out of contact until Saturday morning when I had access to Rusty's phone.
The big lake was pretty kind to me until Thursday afternoon, when a sudden squall kicked up 4 footers with driving rain and forced me into Grand Mere State Park.  It was just plain luck I was there as most of  the shorline in that area was all rock rip rap the locals are using to keep their precious lakefront property from washing into the system.  Set up a hasty tarp and planned on making New Buffalo but the wind and rain kept up all evening, so I spent the night in the woods there.
The next morning I paddled in front of the Cooke Nuke Plant, opting to stay near shore rather than go around the bouys which went about a 1/2 mile out into the lake.  Within 2 miles of passing the plant, I was "boarded" by the Coasties for violating Federally protected waters!  The crew was super nice and after issuing me a verbal warning, spent 10 minutes questioning me on the jouney, the challenge, and SPOT technology.  I have nothing but the best to say about our Coast Guard-They are very professional, but personable at the same time, unlike some other marine law enforcement divisions I've had contact with in the past.
So Friday's paddle took me to New Buffalo, where I was to meet Rusty in the afternoon.  It took so long to get there I swear I must have passed it!  Around 2:30, as I was approching their little pier, a kayaker approached me from offshore on the lake.  Turns out it was Rusty, who had arrived early and was out looking for me.  Apparently our small craft are hard to spot!
We pushed on to the Indiana Dunes, set up camp, and were treated to a spectacular sunset right over the silouhette of the great city of Chicago.  Seeing those three tall buildings was like a magnet and I was jumping up and down with excitement at being able to see the end of the journey.
We awoke to very good lake conditions and a great forecast.  As you can tell by our track, we did the 36.4 mile crossing.  Started in light sw winds with 1 foot chop and at the halfway mark, were paddling about 5 mph on glass.  Around 15 miles from Chicago we began noticing small swells in the glass, and I mentioned to Rusty that I saw no boats to have made them and we wondered where they were coming from.  At about 13 miles out that question was answered.  For 4+ hours we paddled into 20-25 mph headwinds and faced 3-5 foot waves.   We had no choice but to go foward, and I am so thankful that my wingman was there.  Can't say there was ever a time where we were scared, but faced with weaking bodies and strenghthing winds, there were moments where options besides paddling on were considered.  In the end, we dug deep, swore loudly at the wind and at a city the apparently didn't want us, and in the end won the battle.
Came ashore at the planatarium at 7:15 pm-11 hours in the kayaks.  Rusty abandoned his boat as he climbed on the seawall and collapsed, dehydrated and slightly seasick.  I hooked his boat up and towed it around to the beach where I clumbsily exited, found my legs again, and with the help of my wife, got our gear up to the parking lot.  Utterly exhausted, we've slapped a few high fives, enjoyed a beer over dinner on the drive back to GR and parted ways at 2:00 am this morning.
I wish the intrepids the best of luck in completing their journey and would have liked to been able to stay to see them come ashore.  I hope we can all get together in the near future and toast this journey.  I have an endless amount of respect and admiration for explorers like Heward who took these trips without the luxury of weather forecasts, gps, cell phones, technical clothing and camping gear, etc...  What really blows me away is that I am ready to settle back into the comforts of my everyday life, while Heward just traded boats and kept right on going. 
Thanks for making this challenge available and I look forward to seeing you guys soon.  I should get some pics up sometime this week and will likely continue to send thoughts and insights on my expedition as they come to mind.
To the Intrepids!

Heward's Journal - Paddle Day 26 (last day)

Concluding Heward's Journey:


Sunday May 9th 1790    A Wind from the South West inclining from the Land    loaded & set off    our Course in a Bend nearly Nore West    a Strong Wind from the South South West but we were covered a little it being off the land & went with poles    Arrived at Grand Calamanuck (Calumet Harbor) & afterwards at Little Calamanuck   the Course Nore West  & from there arrived by a North Course under reefed Sail    the Wind very strong & in Blasts    missed the Entrance of the (Chicago) River & were obliged to go about a mile past to land.

My Notes: On Monday May 10th Heward made a deal with Jean Baptise du Sable who had a trading post at Chicago River mouth. He traded the two canoes for the trader's pirogue and bought flour and pork and paid him with cotton cloth. He spelled pirogue variously Purogue and pereogue.

He didn't say how big the dugout was but it had to be quite sizable to hold eight men and all their personal and trade goods that had been carried in two 20 foot canoes. My speculation is that it would have been a whitewood dugout 30 to 40 feet long or longer. One made in Lansing in the next century to carry freight from Jackson was 44 feet long. Daniel Boone moved his family from Kentucky to the Missouri River in a whitewood dugout 60 feet long.

On Tuesday May 11th Heward hired five Indians to help his crew of seven carry the pirogue and goods over the portage to the des Plaines River. It was a showery day with a west wind. The carrying place was about a half mile long and they got over it by mid day. He paid the Indians with two hands-full of gunpowder each and then they were off down the des Plaines heading for the Mississippi.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Grand Rapids Press Article Sat. May 2

Don't miss the article in the Saturday May 2 edition of the Grand Rapids Press! Photos courtesy of GRPress.

Friday, May 1, 2009

UHHC Progress Report - May 1, 7:15 p.m.

7:15 PM Friday: Dan called. He said the Intrepid 3 plus Coach  camped at Warren Dunes State Park. But Toby's Tracker stopped at Grand Mere State Park which is a few miles north of Warren Dunes. Both are big parks with sand dunes and I don't suppose there is a welcome sign down at the waters edge. Mark's message from last night also says they were at Warren Dunes and has a very nice description of the park. Maybe the battery is dead in Toby's spotter. We shall see.
 I'll bet they had a fire on the beach like we did when I was a teenager in Berrien County, except no girls. Dan says its great to be out of the sight of all those million $ and multi-million $ McMansions that line Lake Michigan these days. I have looked at a lot them with Live Search Virtual Earth Birdseye View. Very pretentious and a lot of them even have swimming pools.
 Dan and Coach are catamaraned. Toby and Mark are using outriggers. All have sails but apparently they didn't do much good.
If you will look at Heward's Journal Paddle Day 24 which we sent out yesterday afternoon you will see his vivid description of their near disaster when hit by a thunderstorm. I think it happened at or near Warren Dunes.
Jon's Spotter shows that he has reached Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore just beyond Michigan City. He will probably make Chicago today. The 4 will probably sail into Chicago Sunday. Mike Smith is going to meet them there. Poor Mike has had to miss all of this Challenge due to a bad back. He paddled in what he calls "The Chicago Canyon" back in 1992 on his solo trip from Montana. Verlen ad Becky Taylor paddled on the Chicago River with him. He says it is a really impressive sight.