2010-12-30 / Outdoors

New Year’s paddle a tradition on AuSable River

PICTURE-PERFECT This year’s forecast calls for 40-degree temperatures and drizzle, but most of the 20 previous trips taken by these winter paddlers have been picture-perfect, like the scene above. PICTURE-PERFECT This year’s forecast calls for 40-degree temperatures and drizzle, but most of the 20 previous trips taken by these winter paddlers have been picture-perfect, like the scene above. Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor hail will keep these hearty souls from making their annual New Year’s Day paddle down the South Branch of the AuSable River. issue.

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.

TRICKY TAKEOFF Getting out of the ice-filled lagoon at Hiawatha Canoe Livery in Roscommon, and onto the river, is somet imes the trickiest part of the trip. TRICKY TAKEOFF Getting out of the ice-filled lagoon at Hiawatha Canoe Livery in Roscommon, and onto the river, is somet imes the trickiest part of the trip. Recent trips have included more outof town participants who have heard about the trip and decided they’d like to try it – at least once.

“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.”

ORIGINAL PADDLERS Bob Borak of Roscommon (left) and Caryn (Torongo) Cleland, of Traverse City, were paired up for the winter trip in 1999. Both are part of the original group of paddlers who have been making the AuSable River canoe trip on the last day of the year since 1989. ORIGINAL PADDLERS Bob Borak of Roscommon (left) and Caryn (Torongo) Cleland, of Traverse City, were paired up for the winter trip in 1999. Both are part of the original group of paddlers who have been making the AuSable River canoe trip on the last day of the year since 1989. She has threatened to quit for the last several years but said that the year she doesn’t go, she knows she’ll regret it. This year? “I may be in the U.P.,” she said.

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.

TOUGH TRIP 1993 was one of those years when the AuSable River’s south branch was loaded with ice, making these Roscommon paddlers’ annual New Year’s Day canoe trip a strenuous one. On years such as this, the trip, which normally traverses from Roscommon to Chase Bridge, has been cut short. TOUGH TRIP 1993 was one of those years when the AuSable River’s south branch was loaded with ice, making these Roscommon paddlers’ annual New Year’s Day canoe trip a strenuous one. On years such as this, the trip, which normally traverses from Roscommon to Chase Bridge, has been cut short. 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.

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