June 1, 2015 – Today’s the day we were paddling from Bellaire to Elk Rapids, Day 2 of the Paddle Antrim Festival kayak event and I could not wait. After paddling Day 1 two weeks earlier, I was eager to take on the new challenge of 27 miles, longer than I have ever paddled in the past. The crew included Paddle Antrim president/COO of Short’s Brewing Company Matt Drake, other great folks from Short’s and another paddling friend, most who had done the route numerous times. While in September there will be plenty of safety boats to point the way paddlers on the route, I was happy to have a crew of who knew the route well to keep us on track.
We met at the Ohio Street launch in Bellaire and were on the water by 8:30. The sun was shining, it was a comfortable 60 degrees and as we set out for our adventure. We quickly paddled through the Intermediate River and entered Lake Bellaire where a pair of loons greeted us by popping up right in front of our kayaks. We stopped paddling for a moment and watched in wonder, having never been that close to a loon before. They seemed completely unbothered by us as they went on their way. We continued across the calm lake to the entrance of the Grass River Natural Area, a great place to hike and just as amazing in the water. In Grass River, we watched as three deer pranced through the wetland and took a quick break near the mouth of Cold Creek to enjoy the tranquility.
The waters continued to be calm as we headed out into Clam Lake where we were greeted by swans this time. After 7 miles and about 2 ½ hours, we decided to stretch our legs at the Clam Lake’s DNR boat launch. By 11 am, we passed the Dockside Restaurant, Checkpoint #1, and entered Torch Lake. The crystal waters were beautiful and only small waves lapped at our boats as we made our way down the shore. At a little after 12 pm, we stopped in Alden, Checkpoint #2, for a needed rest and some lunch. After 14 miles at a good pace, it was a great paddle so far.
After a great break, we were all refreshed and ready to continue down Torch Lake. As the winds were picking up slightly, we put our spray skirts on to keep us dry from any small splashes. We enjoyed the open waters of the southern portion of Torch Lake, Michigan’s second largest inland lake, ending in the shallow waters of the Torch Lake Sandbar. At 2 pm, after another hour on the water, we passed the Torch River Bridge, Checkpoint #3, and the crystal waters continued into the Torch River. The waters were calm as we chatted, enjoying the different docks and boats along the shore. When we entered Lake Skegemog, we are once again alone in nature in the Lake Skegemog Wildlife Area. We are careful to follow the boat channel as to not get stuck in the stumps as we made our way through. We could feel the headwind picking up slightly as we make our way toward our last checkpoint. As we did at every checkpoint, our group checked in to make sure we were all comfortable and ready for the next leg of the journey. As an event to celebrate the water, our attitude is any day out on the water is an awesome day, whether you paddle 5 miles or 27 miles. We were all still feeling good so at 3:30 we paused near the Chippewa Trail Extension boat launch, Checkpoint #4, to adjust our gear and stretch before the final six miles. While we paused, we saw more amazing wildlife as a fawn peeked out through a tree and a swan with seven small cygnets swam by.
As we headed out onto Elk Lake, the winds and waves continued, making for a fun challenge. We took our time and steadily make our way up the lake into Elk River. At 6 pm, we make our way to the end in Elk Rapids. As we stretched and loaded our boats in Elk Rapids, we are all tired but feeling good. We talked about how each trip is such a different experience depending on conditions but every time amazing. While tired, I was thrilled I was able to experience the entire route, each portion so different from the others. Whether you are looking for a 5 mile or a 40 mile adventure, we look forward to sharing this amazing experience with you in September!
Deana, Executive Director