There were 15 people that started the 28th Annual Au Sable River Overnight from Grayling, Michigan. We all met after breakfast at the Old Au Sable Fly Shop www.oldausable.com on the banks of the Au Sable River in Grayling. As we unloaded our gear in the parking lot, the staff from the Old Au Sable Fly Shop came out to visit with us. Andy, Bear and Jeff were all very interested and helpful with our pre-launch preparations. We talked to them about previous trips and that this has been our traditional launch site since 1982.
I first launched here in February 1982 as a solo voyage. It was spring break at University but I was not a part of the party crowd. I had been canoeing since I was 10 years old but never in the winter. I always wondered what it would be like, and after being assured by Hal Southard, the proprieter of the shop at that time in Grayling that the river was open to McMaster’s Bridge, I decided to go.
It was wonderful. Although I was not as completely prepared as I would be on later trips, I improvised and adapted to the challenges. I got cold and quickly learned what worked and what didn’t. My years of camping and canoeing, even then, paid off in a safe and enjoyable trip. I knew I was going to be doing this a long time.
The next eight years were additional solo trips, until 1990 when I finally met another paddler who was willing to join me. In 1991 there were five of us, and in 1992 it turned into a full-fledged event. We have had as many as 28 persons on the river at one time since then, but the average is 12-18.
This year while we were driving back from leaving our vehicles at the Marathon station in Red Oak, it began to snow and would continue to snow the rest of the day and night. We launched everyone without incident and slowly made our way downstream.
Travel was challenging with the snow being whipped directly into our faces, but we just tightened the collars on our jackets and pushed on. Lunch at Burton’s Landing was brief in the continuous snow and before long we were heading back down the river.
We did have one capsize later that afternoon, but a local cottager offered hot coffee and dry clothes while the rest of us chased the boat downstream. The boat and wet paddler were reunited and he opted to get out at Wakeley Bridge with two other paddlers where we had left a contingency vehicle parked.
Saturday night in camp was busy as the fire was started and shelters were set up. By the time it was dark we began eating dinner and it must have lasted three hours. Every time the grill was cleared of cooked meat someone was putting more meat on it. We all shared steak, chicken, venison and moose, along with plenty of baked potatoes and homemade hobo pies.
Sunday morning dawned cold, crisp and clear, and the embers of last night’s fire only need a little coaxing and we had a fresh blaze going. It took a little longer than usual to break camp and launch but eventually we had cleared out and left only footprints in the snow.
We still had brisk headwinds on Sunday but the sun made for brighter paddling. There was lots of ice forming in the river, but we had continual flow all of the way to the take out in Parmalee. We loaded up our boats and headed for the Lone Pine Restaurant in Grayling for a post-trip lunch. We laughed and told stories about this weekend’s trip, and soon we will be planning the next one.