Community members attempt to cross Michigan by river

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By Isabella Shaya
Meridian Times staff writer

In the freezing, snowy morning of April 5, 42 people in 22 teams attempted to travel 160 miles across Michigan by canoe or kayak — only eight teams finished the race.Campus to Coast

The Campus to Coast canoe and kayak race was hosted by the Michigan State University Outdoors Club, for anyone interested in being outdoors and on the water.

Racers competed for a pint glass, to raise money for the club and enjoyment.

The race started in the Red Cedar River in Okemos’ Wonch Park, and finishers qualified if they reached Lake Michigan off the coast of Grand Haven, Mich. at set times from April 6 night to the evening of April 7.

Teams were made up of at least two people, and the top finisher took 34 hours and 50 minutes to finish.

Dams forced racers to portage, which is when someone carries someones’ boat on land to get around an obstacle, said Florian Figge, MSU graduate student, member of the MSUOC and volunteer.

MSU alumnus Clinton Adams, MSUOC’s alumni advisor, said the Campus to Coast race started in 2010 as a members-only race by a past president who attempted the course during Thanksgiving weekend.Campus to Coast Map

Though the weather was too cold and the water too low and the teams were not able to make it past Grand Rapids that first year, Adams said between March 29 to April 1, 2010, 11 people attempted the course and five finished.

“This year we decided to open the event as a race to raise some money for our club, as well as some awareness about the Red Cedar and Grand River,” Adams said. “We also took it upon ourselves to improve parts of the river by adding portage signs at dams which had none.”

The club set up seven checkpoints along the course and three camping opportunities for racers, who are not required to stop, Adams said.

T.J. Jepsen, an environmental studies senior, was the first college finisher in this year’s race at 57 hours and 11 minutes. Jepsen said his team, We Just Really Like Beer, had two fast kayaks, which helped propel him to the finish line.

“I thought it was really fun (and) I would do it again,” Jepsen said. “It was tough, but it wasn’t terrible.”Campus to Coast

Jepsen said the hardest part was the third day when he was really tired and about five miles from the coast.

Adams said he has no idea why people compete in Campus to Coast, despite the hardships.

“Beyond just saying they did something few have ever done, they all must have their own personal reasons,” Adams said. “I think most are just crazy and want to have a good time down a river.”

Adams has competed twice, and said he is still not sure why he did it.

“In the wilderness they say you truly find yourself and I really believe in that, and many people simply don’t know how beautiful the river really is,” Adams said. “You get a lot of time to think out there, and you really push yourself mentally, I feel.”
Campus to Coast
All finishers received a finishers pint glass, and the money went to support the club, and to replace old gear.

The club has a gear room at MSU, which houses tents, bikes, sleeping bags and climbing harnesses, available for any member to rent, said club member Celina Wanek, an MSU prenursing junior.

The club is dedicated to the outdoors, and members do trips throughout the year, including white water rafting in West Virginia and ice climbing in Munising, Mich. and Canada. Everyone is welcome to join the club.

The race was going to start at the Rock on MSU’s campus, but the university does not want to be part of the event, Adams said. “The MSU officials who look after such things find our event risky and dangerous and worry about the possibility of a lawsuit,” Adams said.

Organizers had to stress that the race is not affiliated with MSU.

Adams said the club will ask the university again next year about starting on campus.

MSU English literature senior Audrey LaPorte and MSU economics sophomore Kelly Christopherson stopped after 105 miles due to the cold weather.

“It was really cold Friday night and it got wet with all the rain Saturday,” LaPorte said. “I think I could finish in better conditions.”

Adams said he was surprised Christopherson and LaPorte did not finish because they were well prepared.

“Generally you make it past the first day you are going to do it,” Adams said. “They were really close to their second camp, they just didn’t know how close they were.”

Adams said the main reason most people dropped out was because they were not dressed warm enough.

MSU environmental engineer junior Paul Gibson’s team finished in 60 hours and 18 minutes. Gibson also will be one of two people in charge next year.
Campus to Coast
“It was a really good experience overall, a physical and mental challenge to keep pushing,” Gibson said. “It was awesome just to paddle through all the cities, (and) people on the piers were cheering us when we finished.”

Gibson said he is excited to help with the race next year, hopefully with better weather.

“I had a positive experience, so we want as many people as possible (to sign up),” Gibson said. “I think we will have a good turnout.”

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