GRAYLING — Pete Mead’s training for this year’s Au Sable Canoe Marathon began with a ton of snow on the ground, standing on a pair of cross country skis.
That’s a far cry from the conditions of the past few days.
Hot weather and little rainfall have left the river in less than stellar shape with one week to go before more than 70 paddlers hit the water for the marathon. Before that, though, competitors will get a taste for how the river is going to be for Saturday’s Spike’s Challenge preliminary race.
“It lets you know how your fitness is going in before a 122-mile adventure,” Mead said of Spike’s Challenge. “It’s pretty much the same start as the marathon, but we only go 2½ hours down. It’s a pretty good indicator (of how you’ll do in the marathon). Some teams take it extremely serious, others do it to learn the upper stretch of the river and really don’t care how they place. If you do well in the Spike’s, you’re going to do well in the marathon.”
Mead, who will team with Mike Davis of Homer, is one of five area paddlers from the area who will be putting their physical and mental toughness to the test. Traverse City’s Amy Solak and Nate Winkler and Interlochen’s Tim Chapple and Lauren Chapple are entered as well.
Mead, 32, is doing the marathon for the 14th time and is coming off an 11th-place finish last year.
“Placement-wise, if everything went great, I’m hoping for a top-five finish,” he said. “Worst-case scenario top 10. I’ve never been in the top five, but I’ve been in the top 10 several times.”
Tim Chapple, 39, and in his ninth marathon, is hoping to place in the top 10 after a 13th-place finish a year ago. Chapple is teamed with Canadian Pierre-Olivier Quesnel, who is only in his second Au Sable Marathon, but has an abundance of experience on the water. The two teamed up in the General Clinton Canoe Regatta in New York over Memorial weekend, finishing 13th.