The Double Damn River Raid on the White River
Story and photos by Charles Chandler
On Saturday June 15th one of the key events at the Rocking the Trails Celebration kicked off at 7:30 a.m. in the White Cloud Rotary Park. It was the Double Damn River Raid a 27.5-mile White River paddle event. The race began at White Cloud Rotary Park kayak launch located below the Pond dam and finished at the Island a few yards from the Hesperia dam. The race sponsor was White Cloud businessman Keith Payne owner of ZzWild located in downtown White Cloud.
The race logistics were straight forward. After the participants entered the river in the White Cloud Rotary Park, they would note their progress down the Kayak Trail by texting Payne at each road crossing. They were also required to take a mandatory rest stop at the RoadSide Park on Highway M 20. The Park was the halfway point of the race. It was estimated that the participants would take between eight and nine hours to complete this endurance race.
Around 11:00 a.m. the Near North Now contributor receive a cryptic text from Race Sponsor Payne stating that things were not going as planned. Race participant Tim Groenhof apparently was on a five mile per hour pace and his estimated time of arrival (ETA) at the Island in Hesperia was now around 1:00 p.m. First response was “are you kidding me” because N3 Correspondent was sitting at the North Country Trail display table in White Cloud County Park. The Race Finish Flag, assorted cow bells and other stuff that was necessary for the end of race celebration were, of course, out in the truck.
By the way those who have paddled through the twist and turns and narrow opening of the Kayak Trail down to Hesperia know that this is an unimaginable pace. Clearing White Cloud around 11:45 a.m. another text arrived, apparently phenom Groenhof had picked up the pace and now his ETA at the Island was around 12:15 p.m. HOLY SMOKES BatMan. If he maintained this pace, he would finish the 27.5-mile course in under five hours, now we are talking super paddling powers. The race to the Island to welcome the participants was on.
First place paddler Tim Groenhof casually nosed his sleek Kayak into the island at Hesperia at 12:11 p.m. His elapsed time was 4 hours and 41 minutes. He was met by Mark Kraus the Membership and Tourism Director of the Hesperia Chamber of Commerce.
The N3 news crew and Race Sponsor Payne arrived as Groenhof was stepping out of his kayak and on to the Island. Second place finisher Keith Disselkoen hove into sight about 30 minutes later and was greeted by flag waving, cow bells and cheers. Their times were amazing and they were amazing. These two guys had just bested a beautiful but pushy river, maneuvering through twist and turn and over and around obstacles and had not broken a sweat. They looked like they had just finished a Sunday paddle in one of the local lakes. Amazing.
Race Sponsor Payne congratulated the winners and presented the 1st and 2nd place awards and the prize money.
Winner Groenhof is from the Grand Rapids and enjoys doing wilderness camping and kayaking. He is a member of the Western Michigan Chapter of the NCTA association. He also had won first place in three of the three-mile races at previous Trail Town events. He had learned of the 27.5 mile paddle through the Chapter and thought this year he would give the long race a try rather than the short race. He thought the race was challenging.
“I really had to focus because each turn or obstruction in the river was like a puzzle that you had to solve.”
Groenhof only made three portages and being out in front and alone he saw a very shy Bald Eagle, Blue Herons, Ducks and White Tail Deer. He thought the event was well run and organized and said the River is the big attraction
“It’s important to spread the word and grow the race because it has a lot of potential.”
Both Groenhof and Disselkoen said they said that they wanted to bring their friends back next year.
After the awards ceremony Keith Payne had a few minutes for the press before the third-place finisher Linda Cunningham would round the bend. His interest in sponsoring the Double Damn River Raid was to promote the opening of a kayak trail from White Cloud to Hesperia. And to promote cooperation between White Cloud and Hesperia who share this beautiful pristine natural resource, the White River.
This first event was a learning experience for all. This year the river was high and really fast and there were a few obstructions. The big surprise was the pace that Tim Groenhof and Keith Disselkoen were paddling. Early on I saw the participants divide into two groups, one group was competitive and up for the challenge and their race times were obviously important. The second group's goal was to complete the 27.5 endurance paddle.
All who I spoke to enjoyed the river and the paddle. Noting how quickly the group separated Payne stated that next year he would ask for volunteers with emergency services training to provide sweep from the Roadside Park on Highway 20 to the finish at the Island in Hesperia. By doing so he could focus on the racers as they neared the finish.
The Hesperia Chamber provided refreshments for the paddlers. When asked about the race and the Chamber’s participation, Kraus said the “Chamber was really happy to have the section of the White River from White Cloud to Hesperia open for kayakers. Mark mentioned that the Chamber now has about 40 members, and is under new leadership. They are also exploring ways to partner with others like the River Country Chamber. They would like to bring more events like the Trail Town Celebration to Hesperia.
As far as next year?
“Now that we have some experiences and accurate paddle times, we can better plan for the finish at the Island,” said Kraus. “ We want to make this a very special event for Hesperia.”
WOW 27.5 miles in under five hours.
Holy Smokes, who would have thought?
Shuttle services for the first 27.5-mile Double Damn River Raid paddle event were provided by Wisner Rents Canoes in Newaygo.