Annual Paddler’s Tribute C-2 event to be held on Sunday morning as part of weekend of canoe racing
Caleb Casey | Managing Editor
Last year’s Spike’s Challenge C-2 Paddler’s Tribute race featured a record field and a one-second difference between the top two teams at the finish line. It was the event’s 25th anniversary. Can this year’s C-2 event possibly top last year’s?
Event organizers are not expecting as many teams this time around.
“I’m thinking we should be around 75 teams this year,” said Cheryl Lucey, one of the organizers for the Spike’s Challenge.
The 2016 Spike’s Challenge C-2 race had 84 teams, a new all-time participation record for the event. The previous record for most teams – 82 – was established in 2011. There were 81 teams in 2010 and 79 teams in 2009. The 2015 Spike’s Challenge had 77 teams.
In the last 10 Spike’s Challenge C-2 races, the event has had an average of 75 teams per year.
The 2017 Spike’s Challenge C-2 race will start in Grayling at the Old AuSable Fly Shop and it will end at McMasters Bridge. The start time for the event is 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 23.
In general, Spike’s Challenge C-2 teams reach the finish line in 2.5 to four hours, approximately.
The Spike’s Challenge C-2 race got its start 26 years ago as a shorter, daytime version of the AuSable River Canoe Marathon, a 120-mile nonstop race from Grayling to Oscoda. At first, the Spike’s Challenge was held in early July. Now, the race is traditionally held one week prior to the AuSable Marathon.
Many AuSable Marathon teams use the Spike’s Challenge as a warm-up race. It gives fans, feeder team members, and race organizers a daytime look at the paddlers on the first part of the Marathon’s race course.
“The spectators enjoy watching the race because they get to see the teams race the top section of the Marathon course, while Marathon night they only get to see them when they emerge out of the darkness for a few seconds before they once again disappear into the darkness,” Lucey said.
“It can teach you a bit about how to paddle the upper part of the river,” said Michael Schlimmer, a nine-time AuSable Marathon competitor from New York. “But be ready to get beat by locals who know the technicalities of the upper part of the river well.”
“Spike’s Challenge is a great tuneup for the Marathon,” said Eric Batway, who’s competed in both the Spike’s Challenge C-2 race and the AuSable River Canoe Marathon. “It is the only other race with both pre-position sprints, a mass street start, and run to the river. So, for many it is the practice race for the Marathon the next week. I’d say it would be a tremendous opportunity for anyone thinking they want to try a Marathon next year. Get your boat, equipment, partner, and some training and give Spike’s a run this summer. Just that taste will help you stay motivated through the winter and into next season.”
“We always have many feed teams that jump in and race Spike’s. Some do it to see if they would like to do the Marathon the next year,” Lucey said.
The Spike’s Challenge is significantly shorter that the AuSable Marathon, but it can still be a difficult race for many paddlers because they will try to sprint more as opposed to the steady grind required to finish the Marathon.
“For the paddlers it is a hard race,” Lucey said. “It is really a three to four-hour long sprint. The course offers many challenges from cuts, shallow suck water, to deep runs and lots of eddies to survive.”
There are many similarities between the Spike’s Challenge and the AuSable Marathon. Both events conduct a sprint for position event to determine placements for the starts of the races, because neither race begins in the water; both of them start on pavement.
Paddling teams in both the AuSable Marathon and the Spike’s Challenge have to run with their canoes through the streets of Grayling to the river. It can be a challenge for both sets of paddling teams getting to the water and getting into the river due to the large number of competing teams and the limited amount of space. It can be a significant advantage to start near the front since it is less congested, especially in a race like the Spike’s Challenge that takes only a few hours to complete.
There is one major difference between the sprints for position for the Spike’s race and the AuSable Marathon’s time trials: a different course.
The Spike’s Challenge C-2 sprints are held at the city park. During sprints, teams paddle a looped course, going upstream first, then downstream, paddling under a railroad bridge twice, and finishing near the city park’s pedestrian bridge. Finish times usually range from 4.5 to 7 minutes.
This year’s Spike’s Challenge sprints for position event will start at 9 a.m. on Saturday, July 22. It takes several hours to complete all of the sprints. There are breaks between heats to allow upcoming sprinters a chance to practice on the course for a few minutes.
Times at the sprints for position event on Saturday usually provide a strong forecast of which teams will finish in the top places during the C-2 race on Sunday.
Last year, 12 of the top 13 teams at sprints also finished in the top 13 during the Spike’s Challenge C-2 race. In 2015, 14 of the top 16 teams at sprints for position also placed in the top 16 during the race. In 2014, 10 of the top 11 finishers in the C-2 race also placed in the top 11 during the sprints for position event. In 2013, 13 of the top 14 Spike’s Challenge finishers also placed in the top 14 during the sprints for position event.
The 2017 Spike’s Challenge C-2 race will start at 9 a.m. on Sunday, July 23. Teams will line up with their canoes on Ingham Street and run to the water at the Old AuSable Fly Shop during the start of the C-2 race. Based on past results, most teams will reach the finish line at McMasters Bridge between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.
Because of ongoing work at the new restaurant at the Old AuSable Fly Shop, Spike’s Challenge organizers are asking that all spectators viewing the start of the C-2 race do so on the other side of the river.
“They are still doing work at Ray’s so if people could please watch the start on the hillside that would really be appreciated,” Lucey said.
Spike’s Challenge weekend also features a C-1 (one person canoe) race. The C-1 event, which runs from Grayling to Burton’s Landing, is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 22. It begins at Joe Wakeley’s house, which is located next to Borchers AuSable Canoeing.
Lucey said Spike’s has been a supportive sponsor for the Paddler’s Tribute races over the years.
“Please stop by Spike’s and thank Darcy and Jeremy Bowers for all their support for the last 26 years,” Lucey said.
Only 13 different people have been Spike’s Challenge C-2 champions
It’s an exclusive club. In the first 25 years of the Spike’s Challenge Paddler’s Tribute C-2 race, out of the hundreds of paddlers who’ve competed in the event, only 13 different people have finished in first place. Andrew Triebold was the winner 13 consecutive times (2003 through 2015). Steve Lajoie has 10 Spike’s Challenge championships.
Jeff Kolka and Bill Torongo were the winners of the first Spike’s Challenge in 1991. Kolka won the event eight more times for a total of nine first place finishes.
The record for most wins by a team is currently held by Triebold and Lajoie, who placed first in the Spike’s Challenge 10 times as a duo.
The first Spike’s Challenge started at Ray’s Canoe Livery in Grayling and ended at Camp 10 Bridge. (Ray’s Canoe Livery is now the Old AuSable Fly Shop.)
In 1993, the third year for the Spike’s C-2 race, organizers changed the start format to a “Le Mans style,” meaning that competitors had to carry their canoes to the AuSable River. Also, organizers changed the finish line from Camp 10 Bridge to Mio Bridge.
In 1994, the C-2 race added the sprints for position competition to the weekend of canoe racing.
In 1995 – the fifth Spike’s Challenge – organizers changed the finish line again, this time to McMasters Bridge, and they changed the date of the race to the weekend prior to the AuSable Marathon. In the first few years of the Spike’s Challenge, the C-2 race was conducted in early July; the first one was on July 6, the second was on July 5, the third was on July 3, and the fourth was on July 10.
Last year, during the race’s 25th anniversary, a record field of 84 teams competed in the annual event.
Spike’s Challenge Paddler’s Tribute C-2 Race Champions
Year, Pro Class Winners, Time
1991 Jeff Kolka Bill Torongo 4:41:36
1992 Ken Kolonich Steve Kolonich 4:43:04
1993 Jeff Kolka Bill Torongo 5:00:41
1994 Bruce Barton Tim Triebold 4:45:08
1995 Calvin Hassel Bill Torongo 2:37:43
1996 Jeff Kolka Serge Corbin 2:31:40
1997 Jeff Kolka Serge Corbin 2:36:50
1998 Jeff Kolka Serge Corbin 2:36:38
1999 Jeff Kolka Serge Corbin 2:37:28
2000 Jeff Kolka Serge Corbin 2:40:20
2001 Calvin Hassel Jeff Kolka 2:44:09
2002 Jeff Kolka Serge Corbin 2:39:27
2003 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 2:40:20
2004 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 2:39:01
2005 Andrew Triebold Matt Rimer 2:35:58
2006 Andrew Triebold Matt Rimer 2:38:46
2007 Andrew Triebold Matt Rimer 2:42:43
2008 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 2:34:56
2009 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 2:39:06
2010 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 2:39:47
2011 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 2:38:26
2012 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 2:40:07
2013 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 2:38:11
2014 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 2:36:25
2015 Andrew Triebold Steve Lajoie 2:34:53
2016 Mathieu Pellerin Guillaume Blais 2:39:51