M2O a 32-mile race from Molokai to Oahu.

It’s 4,000 miles from Molokai to the Midwest.

For many, it would be the trip pf a lifetime to fly to Molokai, hire and escort boat, and paddle the M2O race along side the likes of Travis Grant, if only for as long as we could keep them in view. For others yet, it is beyond our capabilities or desires. You lost me at “shark repellent”.

But it’s nice to dream.

It’s hard to find stuff to get excited about during a world-wide pandemic. Netflix lost it’s luster quickly. Gratitude perhaps, but excitement is a stretch. When I first heard about the virtual M2O race, excitement was nowhere near my reaction. I just didn’t get it. Why would I pay $60 to paddle by myself for 16 miles?

Don’t get me wrong, I get virtual racing, it’s better than nothing, and I have enjoyed the Virtual Paddle League, quite a bit. The competition with folks I have never met has been entertaining and competing with the people I do know is almost as fun as in-person. However, a 16-mile race gives me pause regardless of virtual or not. The last race I did that long, I didn’t feel so hot for about a week after. It wiped me out. Distance, expense, fear of pain, wasn’t hearing a lot to get excited about.

But then people started to talk. People started to plan. Groups where popping up across the Midwest. And then people started asking me if I was going to join them. Maybe, just maybe, this could be fun, if for no other reason, just to spend time with my paddle family.

Then life got busy, 2 back-to-back race weekends with 4-5 hour drives each way, haven’t gone grocery shopping in weeks, and the water softener was out of salt. There was no way I was going to load up and drive a few hours, paddle 16 miles, and drive home. But still…It’s nice to dream of Oahu, or even just paddling with friends.

On Monday I changed my mind.

Hawaii has 750 miles of coastline. The Great Lakes has 4,530 of coastline. Michigan has over 11,000 inland lakes and over 51,000 miles of river. If I couldn’t find a place to paddle 16 miles without it being a trip, the problem is me.

However, this isn’t just my story. This is the story of groups throughout the Midwest, who just for a few hours, paddled from wherever they chose, all the way to the spirit of Oahu. For a few hours, they enjoyed their bodies, the water, the air, and if they were lucky, some good friends. Here are some of their stories.

The Grand River

Route: The Grand River in Michigan, from Grand Rapids to Allendale

Paddlers: Bret Schapman (a little under 2:30), Tom Wernette, Adam Rivera, Todd Miller, Renee Miller, Julie LeFeve, Jill Bloemendaal, Ryan Meade, Leslie Maclin, Laura Kinne, Kate Doezema, Dave Meade

Experience: Dave Meade – August 29th, what a great day for a paddle!  Since conditions on Lake Michigan didn’t really present themselves for an awesome open water downwinder, our crew of 12 (mostly) West Michigan paddlers decided to hit the Grand River for our 16 miles.  The weather was sunny and warm with the slightest bit of wind.  The river was flowing especially slow, but at least we were going with the current!  We put in a few miles SW of downtown Grand Rapids and paddled to Allendale…the route was exactly 16 miles!  Along the way, there were hikers, a few people fishing, cows watching us paddle past and a majestic Bald Eagle watching over us from above.

About half of our group got together on a regular basis to train in the weeks leading up to the event. Renee Miller stepped in and did an amazing job with both coaching and motivation.  Renee and Todd have both competed in longer races, such as Chattajack, and she was able to adapt her previous training plans to help our crew with training for the virtual M2O.

Bret made the trip from the east side and crushed the course in a time of around 2:30.  everyone else finished within the next hour.  I made sure everyone was safe and brought up the rear with a time of just under 3:30…I made sure to take the time to swim and relax along the way.  After paddling, we all gathered at a local restaurant for food, drink, and to talk about our adventure.

Great day for sure and everyone finished with a smile on their face!

Lake Michigan – North from Chicago

Route: Wilemette Harbor south 3.25 miles, then north 12.75

Paddlers: Joe Bechtold, Kathy Mcrae, Doug Vojtko, Bryan Block, Ofer Meged, Cheryl Perlis, Laura Knapp, Val Artamonova

Experience: Doug- There is nothing more exciting and energizing for me then a community of paddlers! Paddling combines nature and athletic ability in one experience! Group was 8 hard working paddlers, 4 gals and 4 guys. Times ranged from 3:17 to just under 4 hours. Special thanks to our waverrunner support “Barak” for water and snacks (a godsend as I was rationing my water pack as we got closer to the finish). Also to our shuttle captain “Steve” who ferried us back to the harbor to retrieve our cars.

Lake Michigan – Chicago

Route: Diversy Harbor south to Shed Aquarium, north past launch site, and south to start.

Paddler: Kirsten Lefeldt

Experience: Kirsten- After two weekends of fierce competitions in a row with the Midwest Paddle League, I opted to do this race solo on home “turf”. Although I did briefly cross paths with Melissa Modlinski who started a little later, yelling a quick “sorry, I cannot stop”. For me it was all about improving my time from previous long distance paddles. I started just past 5:00 AM and paddled from Chicago SUP at Diversey Harbor south past Navy Pier and on to the Shed Aquarium and Adler Planetarium. This time of the day there are almost no boats on the lake and the only reminder that we live in a big city is the majestic skyline always beside me. I did improve my time (3 hrs 18 min) despite some headwind, two falls – for no apparent reason but they did feel refreshing – and even stopping to pick up some plastic on the way. It felt great to be alone, yet feel connected to 1700+ paddlers in the world.

Lake St. Clair – Harsen’s Island to Grosse Pointe

Route: Lake crossing from Harsen’s Island to Grosse Pointe

Paddler: Tristan Patrona

Experience: Tristan: I had a small window of time to complete my M2O race.  I did a solo paddle on Lake St. Clair, Michigan on Friday morning July 24 at 8am.  I launched from Walkers Landing on the South Channel of Harsens Island and paddled down to Grosse Pointe, just off shore from the Crescent Sail Yacht Club.  I had a friend and family following me the whole time in a support boat.  It was so fun paddling in the middle of the lake.  It was a whole different energy out there.  I’ve never paddled that far from shore before.  The temp was 75 degrees, sunny and an 8 – 10 mph wind from the north northwest that allowed for a nice downwinder.  I caught a several really nice runners.  I completed the 16 miles in 3:14:53.  My goal was 3:30:00 so I was really happy with this time.  A big thank you to all the Paddle Monster coaches…Larry, Travis, Seychelle, Victoria and Chris.  I felt really prepared for the 16 mile distance.

Lake St. Clair – New Baltimore to St. Clair Shores

Route: New Baltimore to St. Clair Shores on Lake St. Clair

Paddler: Kevin Cansiani

Experience: Kevin- My Virtual M2O was a beautiful experience on Lake Saint Clair on the morning of Friday, July 24th. I began paddling almost at the moment the sun was rising over Lake Saint Clair. Since Lake Saint Clair is a fairly shallow lake, it kicks up pretty easily, so smaller winds in the 10mph range from the North build starting about a mile out from offshore. Swell was at my right rear for the entirety of my trek south. This was my longest consecutive paddle, ever. It was so peaceful out in the middle of the Anchor Bay portion of my paddle…only the sound of my board skimming through the waves and my paddle churning. This virtual race has just increased my desire to do more long distance downwinders here in the Great Lakes. I’m looking forward to more in the very near future!

Stoney Creek Lake

Route: 4 Laps of Stoney Creek Lake in Southeast Michigan

Paddler: Kevin Rice

Experience: Kevin: Thank God for SUP and the virtual Molokai to Oahu (M2O) experience! First things first – being a casual standup paddleboarder, could I condition for the M2O’s 16-mile distance? But before that, what is the distance of my normal lap around the lake at Stony Creek? The GPS purchased years ago for backpacking and hiking indicated my SUP route is roughly 4.5 miles. Gradually increasing my paddling distances was key preparation, and after just a month I began craving more waves and wind. This indicated my body and mind were becoming prepared for the M2O distance. Learning to hydrate and consume energy bars during my paddling was helpful. Reading articles about M2O, or waterman Duke Kahanamoku’s biography heightened my motivation. My training and M2O were done solo, other than knowing the SUP tribe around the world was conditioning the same way on their “Home” body of water. I enjoyed more than 4.5 hours of paddling, four laps around Stony Creek, for my virtual M2O experience

Lake Mendota

Route: Figure 8 west to east

Paddler: Nate Lepak

Experience: Nate- I did the M2O in Madison, WI on Lake Mendota. Ran it solo on an all around board and it was a challenge but so worth it. Hitting mile 16 felt so good and exciting to be a part of paddlers doing it around the world. Finished it in 4:50:00

Huron River

Route: Starting near Brighton, Michigan, downstream route including 7 lakes: Ore, Strawberry, Zukey, Gallager, Whitewood, Baseline, and Portage. Mid 80’s, sunny, slight breeze. Slow moving river with minimal boat traffic.

Paddlers: Ryan Baese, Harrison Withers

Experience:  Harrison- We met at the take-out  site at 7am to find the parking lot already full. We had to improvise and parked at a fishing access site a little farther downstream, before shuttling up the river to Huron Mills Metropark. We got on the water just a little before 8am. A section of the river early on was supper weedy and and shallow, and I worried for a second that river conditions were not going to cooperate, but thankfully those fears were unfounded, as the river opened up. We were even joined by an egret for a few miles. A great day on that water as we finished at 3:34. Was hoping the river would help us a long a little more than it did, but it went pretty fast.

Clear Lake

Route: 14 laps of Clear Lake in southwest Michigan

Paddler: Josh Flath

Experience: Josh- Yesterday evening I paddled the virtual Molokai2Oahu race! I paddle with 4the22 and I paddle in honor of my brothers and sisters. We lose 22 service members to suicide daily. I am a Navy veteran myself, and here at 4the22 we strive to bring balance to our veterans lives through paddling and community.

I completed my 16-mile paddle on Clear Lake in Allegan Michigan. I finished with a time of 02:53:37 there was a light wind 5 mph gusting to about 8 mph. The lake is pretty small (14+ laps) so the water was calm and it made for a good flat water paddle.

Bangs Lake

Route: 3.5 Laps of Bangs Lake in Illinois

Paddler: Bernie Isacovici

Experience: Bernie- Ever since I started paddling, the Molokai2Oahu crossing had my full attention. I made it a goal to one day cross the channel of skulls. Last year, I even looked at signing up and realized that the logistics were simply not possible. It would be one heck of an expensive race. Then came 2020, the year of cancelations. The opportunity to participate in a virtual M2O became a reality. On July 25, 2020 I embarked on my 16 mile journey. I did not paddle a downwinder or with a group. I paddled on Bangs Lake, in Northern Illinois by myself. Bangs lake is about 4.5 miles paddled all the way around. The wind was not in my favor as I was paddling into it quite a bit. It really became a game of mind over matter, especially after mile 9. I circled the lake 3.5 times (and added a bit of back and forth paddling to get the miles) and I did have people cheer me on after completing each lap. This was encouraging, as many thoughts start crossing your mind. The last mile was the hardest. The wind picked up and there were lots of boats out. I fought through the exhaustion and made it to the finish. I have paddled longer distances, but this time, the conditions made for a very challenging race. I am so happy to have been a part of this Midwest style by loving the conditions and going for it. Maybe one day I will cross the channel of skulls, but for now, I am happy with this accomplishment.

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