Virtual Chattajack In The Great Almost-White North

October 17, 2021 – It’s deep fall in the northern Midwest. The weather is unpredictable at best. 70-degree days are becoming a rarity as the north pole is off-axis to the sun. It can be a sad time for the Midwest watersport enthusiast who isn’t ready to give up paddling for the year. In typical year, the most dedicated of us seek paddling adventure in warmer climates to get our fix. Traditionally, ChattaJack is an oasis of paddling promise capping off a year of competition while still being a reasonable driving distance. In a typical year…

Nonetheless, the Midwest paddler is made from a hearty stock, and we will not be denied our chance for one last dose of competition before our water freezes, even if it means accommodating what nature brings. Virtual Chattajack provided the excuse, the Midwest Paddle League Community brought the fun. Here are three stories of Midwest paddlers loving the conditions and getting in their best times for the virtual competition.

The SoloJack Overachiever – Wisconsin River

Karl Eugster is a machine. He is five foot nothing and a hundred something pounds of paddling power that never stops. He did every single race on the Midwest schedule, won the men’s title, and still wasn’t done for the year. Karl is also smarter than most of us. He did his virtual Chattajack on October 11th, while the trees were still mostly green and the water warm-ish. Karl stayed close to his home Near Milwaukee and choose the wide and straight, but shallow Wisconsin River. Without the benefit of a drafting partner, Karl was able to cover the 31 miles between Arena and Muscoda in a brisk 5:10. Temps were in the high 60’s with a slight breeze. And just because paddling 31 miles isn’t enough for Karl, he rode his bicycle 31 miles back to the start.

CHEDDARjack – Fox River

It’s ok to laugh, it’s cheesy. They take their dairy seriously in Wisconsin. On October 10th, a group of 7 paddlers set out on the Fox River for a 16-mile adventure. Doug Vojtko, Kathy Mcrae, Joe Betchold, Cheryl Perlis, Vala Artamonova, Laura Knapp and Ofer Meged, set off near Wheatland, Wisconsin on the Fox River Water Trail and headed south into northern Illinois. Paddling mostly as a group, they all finished around the 3 hour mark, celebrating the day with food and drinks at the Bridgeport Inn.

NovakJACK – Manistee River

Organizer and prolific waterman Dan Novak has literally paddled the entire 182 mile length of the Manistee River in Michigan.  Dan put his extensive knowledge of the river to good use, selecting the fastest section of the picturesque narrow river for what turned out to be what I will claim to be the northernmost, coldest, and fastest running Virtual Chattajack event in the world.

On October 17th, 15 paddlers showed up to launch at the Baxter Bridge State Forest Campground to tackle the challenge. It had snowed the night before in nearby areas, and it was barely 30 degrees at the 10am start. Undeterred, the group lined up together and counted down.

The river was flowing heavy, as paddlers made there way through deep gorge of the Manistee. The course was extremely curvy with close to 100 turns if not more. Trees where in peak colors with fiery shades of bright red and yellow, serving as welcome distraction to the exertion and cold that never got much above 40 degrees. The last 4 miles proved especially challenging as a heavy headwind picked up in a particularly unsheltered part of the river, but all persevered and completed the entire 31 distance, and did so with amazingly fast times.

Name Craft Time
Robert Hartman Surfski 3:42
Dennis Paull Surfski 3:46
Yvon Dufour Surfski 3:54
Nate McLeod Surfski 3:55
Weston Willoughby C1 3:57
Mary Schlimmer C1 4:13
Billy Bellinger Surfski
Daniel Novak SUP 4:19
Alex Sandler SUP 4:22
Zack Rohrer Kayak 4:42
Harrison Withers SUP 4:44
Steffen Mueller SUP 4:45
Mitch Treadwell C1 5:15
Tom Wernette SUP 5:08
Josh Flath SUP 5:57*

*paddled distance with dog RUBY on board!

The weather continued to deteriorate as the last paddlers finished, temperatures plummeted, and the wind kicked up to a roar. Many of the day’s paddlers huddled into Yvon Dufour’s pop-up camper and enjoyed some hot chili and stories from the day.