Tic toc, tic toc, - Boo and I leave for the Tip of the Mitt on Thursday.
When veteran paddler Bob Bradford embarks on a 150-mile canoeing adventure from Mackinaw City to Manistee on Friday, he won’t be alone.
Far from it.
The 68-year-old Lapeer man will be joined by wife Janet, 66, his frequent companion on the water. The two compete in about 10 races a year together. They wrapped up the 23-mile Black River Canoe & Kayak Race in Port Huron last weekend, and were to participate in the 12-mile Huron River Canoe Challenge in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
In addition, the retirees will share a boat with six other canoeists as they set out on Lake Michigan. Some are friends, and others they haven’t met.
Despite the often wild variability of Lake Michigan’s waters and the potential challenges, Bradford is confident chemistry won’t be an issue.
"We’re pretty easy going," Bradford said. "This is a fun thing for us to do."
When the couple paddled the 300-mile Everglades Challenge in 2010 from Tampa Bay to Key Largo, Fla., they were joined by four friends in a six-person Hawaiian outrigger. Bradford was captain.
"It’s all about making sure everyone’s needs are met," Bradford said. "We started out friends, and we ended up friends."
Bradford isn’t without a competitive streak, but it’s unlikely to surface during this event, he said. The inaugural Tip of the Mitt Adventure, organized by the Portland-based Verlen Kruger Memorial group, isn’t considered a race, per se.
Sure, the usual band of diehards that regularly steer the group’s events will strive to push themselves to the limit, though not in search of medals or glory. To them, it’s more about self discovery, communing with nature -- virtues extolled by the late Kruger, a paddling icon known for logging some 100,000 water miles in his career.
Mike Smith, 61, of Portland, is one of those guys.
He will captain an eight-person team, which will float out on Gabagouache, a 26-foot fiberglass replica of a birch bark freighter canoe owned by Great Lakes maritime history organization Project Lakewell.
Smith is an accomplished long-distance paddler. He completed the 490-mile Shore to Shore and More event in October. His longest trek is a 3,200-mile journey from Montana to Michigan.
He praised his friends’ abilities.
"They’re real strong paddlers, and it’s always great to have them around," Smith said, adding that Bob can "beat most young kids out there."
The rest of the crew is comprised of Toby Nipper, of Fort Myers, Fla.; father-and-daughter team Brian and Marissa Weber, of Lake Mills, Wis.; Lynn Johnson, Project Lakewell director; and Mike Doty, 36, of Grand Ledge.
Between 20 and 30 signed up as of this week to paddle the full, roughly 300-mile route, Smith said. A trek from Oscoda to Manistee tracing the mitten and an interior paddle along the Au Sable and Manistee rivers that is 20 miles shorter are the longer options. There is another 150-mile half route from Oscoda to Mackinaw City.
Figuring the mileage on Lake Michigan is a guessing game, Smith said. Foul weather easily could add an additional 25 miles.
"There are a couple who are gun shy about going out on the big pond, but it’s about making judgment calls," Smith said. "Wind and waves dictate your moves every day."