Au Sable River, Borcher’s B&B to McMaster’s Bridge
13 May 2014
This trip was Ellen’s and my second to the Au Sable River, a Michigan treasure. We decided to go a little (well, actually a lot) further than we did last time we paddled this river, shooting for what my sister was calling a “marathon paddle”: 26 miles.
Our put-in was Borcher’s B&B in downtown Grayling, where we spent a night in our lovely room with a balcony overlooking the river and enjoyed a delicious breakfast. Borcher’s is great if you’re looking for a place to stay on the Au Sable–they’re some of the nicest people in Grayling; they have their own livery and also help with spotting if you have your own boats; and as a put-in spot, you can’t beat it.
We started our trip around 8:45 am in temperatures hovering around 50 and cloudy conditions. Through the day, the sun peeked out a few times and it got to be about 60; not bad weather for a spring paddle in the north country.
The river was fast! The Au Sable is spring-fed so it never gets too slow, but days and days and days of rain had made it noticeably high, even in town where it crept up the boards on folks’ docks. So the river was fast, and we sped right along on it. We averaged well over 4 mph the whole trip; before lunch, we covered over 15 miles in under 3 1/2 hours. This first part of the trip was consistenly fast. My GPS told me that we clipped along at 5 mph with little effort; if we paddled a little harder, we were in the range of 6 mph; and at several spots where the water was especially fast, we hit 7 and even 8 mph. For a couple of gals whose home river carries them along at about 3.5, this was heady stuff! The high water meant lots of barely submerged logs and rocks to steer around–and we also flew past about a dozen fisherman (but remarkably saw no other paddlers all day). By lunch, as you can see to the left here, we were exhausted–but ready to get back to it after eating every scrap of food we had brought along.
It’s hard to describe what I think is the most awesome part of the Au Sable, which is how tall it is. You’re in your boat floating along, and white pines and other trees line the river, just towering over you. It’s beautiful, and humbling, and something I get a taste of when we are on other rivers (since trees and rivers are old friends) but it’s different in the north woods of Michigan. I’ve tried to put together a slideshow of images that suggest something of what it’s like, but this vertical aspect of the river is really something you just don’t get if you don’t see it in person.
Though it was chilly enough out that we saw nary a turtle or heron, there was still much wildlife to be seen, and Ellen was wrangling the wildlife cam (as per usual) and got the excellent shots in the slideshow below.
The second, after-lunch part of our paddle was not as fast–this part included the section of the river known as Connor’s Flats, where the current slows down to about what we are used to, in the 3 m.p.h. range. The whole trip ended up being a little shorter than we expected–23 miles (so no marathon), and we managed it in just under 5 1/2 hours. This makes it, as the title of this post suggests, not quite our longest paddle (see the 25-miler we did on the Grand for that), but hands-down our fastest in terms of mph. (This might explain why, in the convenience store we stopped at after our trip, we contemplated buying two bags of potato chips, one bag of Cheetos, one bag of Cracker Jack, plus M&Ms. Rest easy–we put most of this stuff back on the shelf.) It was a super-fun trip, and without doubt counts as one of our epic journeys!
PS: The day before this paddle we went to visit the virgin forest at Hartwick Pines, which is always something to see. If you want a look at some trees over 350 years old, interesting fungi, inscrutable woodpecker craftwork, a brand-new baby fern, club moss (don’t miss the club moss!), and the skeleton of a coyote we stumbled across, take a click through the slideshow below!