Perhaps a success and popularity of OABI ride inspired me to look at other islands on Detroit River that possibly could be circled around on a paddle board. Large, cultivated, and conveniently located Gross Ile was a natural choice. Even more tempting, the island has two canals cutting it through from one side to another, making it, technically, more than one island. While I don't think I'll see an SUP race around
he whole island any time soon (perhaps on a kayak?), but going around a half of the island looked like a reasonable challenge.
1. Some time in 2016
On my first attempt I just made it around a smaller part of the island, called Hannepin Point.
I started from Portofino Restaurant (3455 Biddle Ave, Wyandotte, MI 48192) located right on a river bank. I was supposed to go with a group, but nobody showed up at 10, nor at 11, so I decided to go on my own, launching right from the restaurant's parking lot. I don't know if this place can be, by any means, considered a legit public access, but nobody objected. I headed upstream to Point Hannepin, which is just about 1/2 mile away. As usually, it was rough around the tip, but on the other side of the island it was easy to go with the current. Staying close to the shore I made it down to the smaller canal's entrance - about 2 miles - in less than an hour. Inside the canal, of course, it was very calm and relaxing, but this canal is really short, and soon I was facing the big river again. This part of Detroit River is called Trenton Channel, and it's not too rough, so I bravely headed upstream hoping to have another easy 1.5 miles. Everything was nice and dandy until I noticed that, however hard I paddle, I don't really move. I stuck against the same point in the park on the Detroit side for good 20 minutes. A guy was waving to me from there, I waved back to him. He waved more frantically and shouted something, but I could not hear. I decided to disregard him, but I could not move from that point, and he kept waving and shouting. Finally I considered coming closer, and then I could hear him screaming:
- Don't paddle in the middle! Come to the shore!
Apparently, covert under the comparatively smooth surface, the current was strong there, and unbeknownst to me it kept me holding back all this time! After I moved to the shore I was finally able to proceed. Thank you, good Samaritan who kept trying to reach to me in spite of my arrogance.
Almost at the end of my little journey I saw several guys on boards moving my direction. They turned to be my group who finally showed up 3 hours later than planned. They were in a very festive mood, with coolers tied to boards and music running from speakers. The current was driving them fast by me, but they were in time to tell me that if I want to go through the bigger canal I should start from Elizabeth Park marina.
2. July 2017
Next summer I came to Elizabeth Park marina, armed with my heavy-duty board. That board is my curse and blessing at the same time: it's very heavy (40 lbs.) and bulky, it's slow and tends to go in circles, and yet, it's very stable and endurable. For what I was going to do it was, I thought, the perfect choice.
The marina has a huge parking lot and several launching decks; it's located right next to Grosse Ile Pkwy bridge, and the opening of the long canal is directly across the river. You can easily cross the river there in 10-20 minutes. The link below should take you to the magnificent view of the bridge, taken exactly from the boat launch of Elizabeth Park marina:
Watch for shallow spots, especially near the bridge's support spots where there could be piles of rocks; and of course be aware of the current. Altogether, the crossing is not too challenging, and the canal entrance is difficult to miss. Once inside the canal - just enjoy your no-wake journey for 3.5 miles. The scenery is sweet even if not outstandingly impressive; there are several local bridges and short canals, and perhaps a few notable landscapes. On my very slow board it took me about 3 hours to make it to the other end of the canal and back. All-in-all this route is very easy, pleasant, safe and beginner friendly.
At that time I did not dare to proceed to the river on the other side (besides that heavy board was making me work too hard), but I definitely wanted to return.
3. October 2017
Later that year, perhaps already in October, I return to Elizabeth Park marina and to my plans to circumnavigate 1/2 of Grosse Ile island, with two friends, Kerry and Pete. This time I paddled on my very light and quick - not terribly stable though - hybrid surf board. My friends had good boards and were ready for adventure :)
Leisurely, we paddled through the long canal, taking our time and stopping for pictures. On the other side of the island, with very favorable no-wind weather, we made it rather quickly (in ~ 1/2 hour) to the short canal. We still had to struggle with the current, but it was not too challenging. A large white mansion located on the tip made by the canal was a good orientation point to find the entrance. We hanged out there, enjoying the views, and then took it easy along the short canal. Hannepin Point, which is, due to this canal, an island on its own, is not populated, and perhaps not developed; the houses on the left side ended quickly, and the area turned into a back-country, quiet and beautiful with fall colors; but it was not too long before we were facing the big river again. Then the real challenge started - mostly because I had no real understanding on how long that last leg of our trip was. I guess it's important to know, that this part of the trip is the hardest, even though you go with the current, and it is FULL 4 MILES on Detroit River. In my imagination it was not longer than 2 miles. Good thing that my friends turned out to be great sport; they never complained about the difference between what I described to them and what it was in the reality, or on being tired, or on the trip taking longer than expected. We had to paddle non-stop, and with all our energy, for 2 hours straight, while it was getting darker and colder - because, you know, it was October :) The GPS from that trip shows a little more than 8 miles made in almost 6 hours. Apparently it was not a speedy ride, but a very intense one for sure.
4. July 2018
Surprisingly, next year I've heard from people in our Meetup group that they wanted to do this trip, too. Even more surprisingly, Kerry and Pete did not mind to do it again! This time we were better prepared to what to expect. On a bright July day we started at around 11 AM, and actually paddled rather energetically by the easy waters of the long canal. Everyone knew that there will be two tough segments on Detroit River, and was rather looking forward to it.
We had another trip on Detroit River earlier that year, and we already knew that the river was full-watered as never before. (The whole Great lakes system was on the way to a record water levels, in 2018). But, honestly, I did not realize haw much harder it would make paddling on the open river. The first - shorter one, which only about 1 mile long, - gave all of us such a hard time that I was worried that some people might chose to turn back to the safety and calmness of the long canal. Our group (that consisted of one guy - Pete, - and 5 women) got scattered, and, while I was concerned about those who were falling behind, nobody wanted to slow down to check on them (sorry to tell this! I think everyone was just committed to reach to that big white mansion on the corner and then wait for others). Well, we all made it there, and had a chance to catch our breath, eat snacks, take pictures. We did not linger there for too long, because mosquitoes were brutal; and also one of the women was kind of short of time... which IMHO is a wrong thing to do: if you go on a potentially long and challenging trip, give yourself enough time. In any case, the group rushed ahead. Since in the group's vanguard there was only one person - Pete - who's done this trip before, and as a man surrounded by women Pete did not have the right of voice (or did not dare to use it), when 5 of them reached the end of the short canal they rushed headfirst into the open river and went on to cross it right away. If you look at the map you would understand why this was a wrong move. The river there is almost twice as wide (compare to the spot where we crossed it during our first ride); so it immediately made the whole trip more than 1/2 mile longer. Another unwanted effect was that now they had to move not along a beautiful shore of the island, covered with trees and gardens, but along the nasty site of abandoned McLouth steel plant. By the time I was exiting the canal the main part of the group was already almost in the middle of the river. I didn't have a slightest wish to follow their route, and yet I did not want to be completely separated from them for another two miles - which, in hindsight, would be the correct, however unpopular, decision. And so, being torn between two evils I started moving diagonally from one shore to another aiming to eventually get reconnected with my group around the spot where the plant's property ends.
At first glance it was working: I was getting closer to the shore, and they were catching up with me (because I was moving diagonally I got ahead of them). Trenton Channel, as I said earlier, is rather shallow and not too rough body of water, the boaters' activities are not too annoying, and as long as you go with the current, it's all good. Even the fact that I was moving in the middle of the river did not concern me. I was approaching the bridge under Bridge Road (Grosse Ile Toll Bridge), when I heard a loud sound of a siren, which I interpreted as the one they make when a train goes through an intersection, and the boom barriers are going down. Apparently (I thought) a train is going on the bridge (LOL, what train would go to Grosse Ile island?). There was kind of a little island not too far behind the bridge. It looked like they planned to put a beacon on it but then abandoned; there was some railing and a rusty metal structure, and a ton of seagulls on it and nothing else. I decided to get to the "island" and take a little rest before making a final crossing to the shore. The very moment I stopped by the "island", holding to its railings, I saw something that made my heart drop for a moment: the bridge started turning around its middle support, - as it turned out to be a swing bridge, - and a huge section of it was going my direction, actually right to the point were I was: the little island apparently was its stopping point! My companions saw this all from a distance of some hundred yards - they did not reach the bridge yet - and were screaming on a top of their lungs: "Get out of there!" - but of course I could not hear them. After the first moment of panic I realized that all I need to do was to move away from the "island". I let the railing go, and the current rapidly drew me forward, away from the huge metal structure that was steadfastly coming my direction. Several boats were coming from that side, and, darn, I was right in their way now, so I pushed the paddle as hard as I could, and we managed to safely avoid a close encounter. Wow, that was quite a thrill!
The Wikipedia photo can help you to picture the scale of my predicament... and the rusty structure one the left is similar to the "island" I was trying to stick to (just mine is on the other side)... But, I mean, just looking at the bridge, can you guess that this is a swing bridge?
In another 30 minutes I finally made it to the shore, and in some 10 minutes my companions, one after another, reunited with me there, and from the point on we were paddling forward without any unexpected adventures. The most of this part of the trip I was able to stand up (VS kneeling), even on my little flimsy board.
This time the trip turned to be almost 9 miles long, but the group made it in a little more than 4 hours, even with a few stops.
When we were already back to the parking lot, loading our boards on the cars, some very loud and unpleasant sound cut the pleasant stillness of the summer afternoon. It was not immediately obvious what was the source of that metallic screech until we saw that the central part of the big bridge was turning. I've never know that this bridge, as well as the one under which I tried to "rest" were draw bridges. I think, that the summer of high waters made it necessary for the bridges to operate to let the boats through - something that was not needed in previous year.
All-in-all, everyone was happy with the experience... which, once again, makes me think about upgrading this ride to some kind of an open annual event... Once Upon a Time Around 1/2 Grosse Ile Island? OAGI1/2 perhaps?
Stand Up Paddling
Flat/Sheltered Water, River/Creek (Up to Class II)