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'It's the most grueling thing I've ever done'



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July 28, 2010 - After more than 16 consecutive hours of paddling covering 120 miles on AuSable River from Grayling to Lake Huron—Jeff Caryl was ready to hang it up.

Almost.

"The last two-and-a-half hours (of the race) I was feeling it," he said. "I could not raise my arms, I had blisters on my hands. I said I was going to retire—no question."

With more than 300 hours of training, 57-years-old, Caryl teamed up with Fenton resident Mike Taylor, 55, and paddled against more than 90 teams from all over the United States and Canada to participate in the 63rd annual AuSable Canoe Marathon. The Le Mans style run to the river started at 9 p.m., Saturday, July 24, in downtown Grayling with many teams getting to Lake Huron on Sunday afternoon.

Caryl and Taylor completed the race in 16:32:54 finishing in 47th position of 86 canoeists in the race.

"We had to have realistic goals," said Caryl. "We'd strived to finish in the top 30, but many of the racers are really fast."

Both men have participated in a host of canoe races, and Adams has paddled the AuSable Marathon twice.

"After the run through Grayling to the canoe you get in and start at 60 strokes per minute for 16 hours straight. There was no let-up in the paddling. I just pushed as hard as I could."

"I was overwhelmed with the popularity," he said. "Over the course of the race there are spectators on the banks, with signs to encourage racers. It really helped that fans were yelling your name and canoe number along the river."

After nightfall, racers switched on boat lights to help illuminate the river. Along the shore, feeders or bank runners follow the team providing water, food and medication, yell out the canoe number when they pass a designated area.

"The feeders create a pit stop for us," he said. "Everything went very smooth at night. We spent some time drafting—riding about three feet behind another canoe. It's hard to do, but it is about 20 percent less work. We also rode the wake alongside other canoes—that's also difficult. The water pushes your canoe away."

The pair traveled in an 18-foot, 6-inch Kevlar canoe that weighs about 34 pounds, with paddles weighing less than 10 ounces each.

"It's nice to have visuals, like other canoes ahead of you. It's not as competitive as you might think. You're not trying to knock the others' paddles out of their hands."

"It's the most grueling thing I've ever done," he said. "The finish was great—I could hear the loud speakers when we were near Oscoda. I guess I'm ready to get back in there," he said..

Caryl plans on two more races— Mio's "First Dam Canoe Race" on Aug. 28 and the Paradise Tahquamenon Wilderness Canoe Race.

"I figured I paddled about 600,000 times during that race—it's hard to imagine."

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