Tuesday, July 28, 2009

LaSalle Relay Inaugural - Details, as promised.

(posted by Karen - written by the Topologist)

The LaSalle Relay Project has been launched by two intrepid bikers doing a 62 miler from St. Joe to northwest of Kalamazoo.
On Friday July 24 at 10:30 AM son Jim of Grand Ledge and his friend and fellow State worker Dale Turton of Kalamazoo took advantage of the first of Governor Granholm's mandatory unpaid furlough days to take off on their road bicycles from the Ft. Miami Historical Marker on the bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and the mouth of the St. Joseph River on a route designed to trace the great French explorer LaSalle's Spring of 1680 hike up the Paw Paw River Valley on his way across the Peninsula to Lake Erie.

On hand to cheer them on was a group of my late wife Elaine's relatives who live in St. Joe and Sodus plus my niece Patty Geisler and husband Geoff of Watervliet who hosted the bikers and had scouted out the route by car.

The bikers mostly followed county roads and crossed the Paw Paw River several times. On their way they traveled via Riverside, Coloma, Watervliet, Hartford, Lawrence, Maple Lake north of Paw Paw (where Dale's brother joined them), Almena and Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery ending at Dale's house northwest of Kalamazoo. The trip took them 6 hours.

LaSalle and the four Frenchmen and one Indian who accompanied him took three days to cover the same distance. They left Ft. Miami on the morning of March 24, 1680, spent a half day building a raft to cross the St. Joseph River (called by them River of the Miamis) then 2 1/2 days bushwhacking up the Paw Paw River valley. In his letter describing the trip LaSalle said "... we continued our march through the woods, which was so interlaced with thorns and brambles that in two days and one half our clothes were all torn and our faces so covered with blood that we hardly knew each other." After exiting the Paw Paw valley into "..woods.more open..." they camped on the edge of a prairie where they had an encounter with Pottawatomie Indians.

When white men explored and settled that area west of Kalamazoo they named it "Grand Prairie." That name survives today as "Grand Prairie School," "Grand Prairie Avenue," and "Grand Prairie Golf Course." When the bikers were traveling on the east end of H Avenue northwest of Kalamazoo they crossed the north end of that prairie.

The exact location of LaSalle's campsite where they were surrounded by Pottawatomie's can't be known but it was probably along highway M43 about a mile east of US 31.

I look forward to Jim and/or others road biking beyond Kalamazoo at least as far the Waterloo Farm Museum in northeastern Jackson County. From there on to Dexter the roads get so bad mountain bikes may be in order. Alternatively we may have to lay out a route that sticks to paved roads but deviates from LaSalle's route. The object is to get to Dexter where LaSalle's men built an elm-bark canoe and launched it on the Huron River.

The next leg of the LaSalle Relay would be by canoe down the Huron through Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti to French Landing with a stop at Belleville's LaSalle statue.

The final leg would be by land to Pte. Moulliee and up to Gibraltar where I am now convinced LaSalle had the raft built that would take him across the Detroit River to today's Ontario.
My ultimate hope with respect to the LaSalle Relay idea is to sucker at least six walkers into hiking from St. Joe to Dexter. I wouldn't object if they did it in stages.

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