The Consumers Energy AuSable Canoe Marathon has a reputation of being the ‘world’s toughest spectator race’. After the start, spectators quickly scramble out of town to catch the racers in action. Novice spectators often hop from bridge to bridge throughout the night while the more veteran spectators visit the less obvious viewpoints on the river to cheer on the paddlers. Many spectators follow the race throughout the entire night without sleeping for a total of 14 to 19 hours of nonstop excitement! Fans often rely on the live GPS tracking map to see what place their favorite team is in and to provide a better idea on arrival time at a specific viewing location.
What Every Spectator Must Know
Watching the entire Marathon takes up to 19 non-stop hours and covers 120 miles. The race starts at 9:00 pm in downtown Grayling on Saturday and ends Sunday afternoon in Oscoda.
The completely equipped spectator will have:
- A Marathon program book and spectator guide with racer and course information
- AuSable River Course Map
- Lawn Chairs
- Insect Repellent
- Soap, towel & toothbrush and personal items
- Toilet Paper
- Washcloth (wet in baggy)
- Rain Gear
- Change of clothing, if needed for awards banquet in Oscoda
- Cooler with sandwiches, pop, energy bars etc.
- Flashlight for finding your way to river in middle of night
Spectators start to locate prime viewing spots on the banks of the Old AuSable Fly Shop six hours before the start. Pre-race activities will begin at 6:30 p.m. that will include the introduction of Paddlers and singing of national anthems along with some entertainment. Spectators should pre-position their vehicles to leave the start as soon as possible to get to the many of the viewing points along the river.
As 9:00 pm draws near, the excitement and anticipation of the crowd builds. When the race starts, the spectators closest to the start of the four block run will initiate a cheer that culminates with thousands applauding the 90+ teams as they try to enter the AuSable in the same place at the same time.
The table to the right represents the approximate times the leading teams will reach sites along the race course. Between these sites are many places to observe and to meet fellow followers of the race. Places near Grayling, like the Rayburn Property and roads that end at the river like Keystone, offer excellent viewing opportunities early in the race.
As the race travels its course, official timers report on the exact times that racers pass to the race office in Grayling for official documentation and updating the website. The timers also provide reports on who is moving up through the pack, who is falling back, which teams are having problems, and if any teams are pulling out of the race. Several radio stations will also carry updates on the race throughout the night.
The 6 Dams Along the Marathon Route
For spectators, the dams provide convenient locations along the river to view the action and cheer on the competitors.
To competitors, the dams are destinations to mark progress, stretch their legs, and accept much-needed nutrition from their feed teams.
Mio Dam – Provides the first opportunity for the paddlers to walk, run, stretch, and get energized by the roaring greetings from appreciative fans.
Alcona Dam – Known for its thick fog and breathtaking sunrises, marking the end of a long night of paddling.
Loud Dam – Entry and parking are limited to team feeders and race officials with parking passes for the dam.
Five Channels Dam – Provides significant race viewing opportunities at the canoe portage and the old M-65 bridge.
Cooke Dam – Provides ample race viewing opportunities at the various upstream and downstream recreation sites.
Foote Dam – The water behind Foote dam is known for its stiff winds and waves, which can pose challenges for the paddlers as they near the end of their 120-mile journey. This dam provides spectators a great opportunity to view the race from the recently renovated Foote Tailwater recreation site.