New Year’s paddle a tradition on AuSable River
According to Marge Torongo, 79, of Roscommon, too much ice on the river is the only reason the Roscommon-to- Chase-Bridge trip has ever been cut the heavy aluminum canoes over the frozen spots, she said.
Torongo is the instigator of the annual trip, which began in 1989 as a lark with family and her many friends on the Tisdale Road/Esther Court loop in Roscommon where she has lived since the late 1960s.
That original band of 20 or so paddlers has waxed and waned over the years, with many new faces joining the group. The largest contingent anyone could remember was the 24 participants on the 2003 trip. And as for temerity, the award goes to Ned Wickes of Higgins Lake who made the trip in 2002 at the age of 85.
“I usually get up that morning and look outside before I decide whether I want to go,” said Linda Mesler, part of the original group. She is sitting on the fence yet again this year, as the unfortunate forecast is for 40-degree temperatures and drizzle.
Torongo, however, has never missed any of the previous 20 trips.
“No, never,” she said when asked. “One year I had a terrible, terrible cold and I knew I wasn’t going to go – but I went anyway. Ginger brandy kept me going.”
In fact, organizers won’t actually know who is going to make the trip until everyone meets at the river on Friday morning, Dec. 31. After a pre-paddle warm up – which doesn’t involve exercise – at one of Torongo’s neighbor’s, most will don their woolies and make the short walk to the canoe livery, while others are spotting cars and trailers at Chase Bridge for the trip home.
Upon arrival at the river, they’ll be matched with another paddler – no spouses or significant others are allowed in the same boat – and shove off for a couple hours of fun, to make new friends and see the river at a beautiful time of year.
The trip is purposely organized to take place early enough in the day so people, once they get off the river, can warm up and change out of their many layers of warm clothes and get ready for their evening festivities.
Canoes are generously donated every year by Brian Quinlan, owner of Hiawatha Canoe Livery, in Roscommon. Quinlan couldn’t come up with a good reason for why he never took paddle in hand and joined the New Year’s Day paddlers until two years ago, in 2008.
“But I can tell you that once you do go, you don’t ever want to miss a trip again,” he said.
Editor’s note: Irene Borak supplied the pictures for the story. She is also one of the group’s original paddlers.