The last weekend in July has been circled on the calendars of Rob and L.J. Bourgeois for more than a year.
It’s a second opportunity for the brothers to join forces for an adventure like no other: the adrenaline-fueled, emotionally draining and world-renowned Au Sable Canoe Marathon.
The two have been relishing the opportunity to compete in two different roles during the 120-mile race. It starts in downtown Grayling at 9 p.m. July 27 and ends about 19 hours later in Oscoda – with lots of paddling in the moonlight.
“It’s all I think and talk about,” said L.J., the younger of the two brothers who will race in the event. “I’m sure I drive people crazy, especially my wife. But it’s almost here and I can’t wait.”
Rob Bourgeois is a Consumers Energy employee who will not only be volunteering at the world-class race, but also will be a “feeder” for his brother. That role provides the nourishment and encouragement to an assigned racer at various designated stops along the way.
Rollercoaster of Emotions
“You get excited and you get pretty emotional,” said Rob, 46, who also was a feeder for his brother two years ago. “It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. It’s an adventure that’s for sure.”
In 2016, Rob gave food and supplies to his brother at a dozen stops along the way, including an extra paddle that was needed after one broke.
“Besides giving him peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other nutrients, I had to monitor his health, since he’s exhausted, it’s the middle of the night and he’s wet. It’s very easy to get hypothermia.”
L.J., 42, said he’s had crippling aches and pains during the marathon that he has never experienced in other high intensity activities. And that includes training in the Marines and for mixed martial arts matches.
“There are times that you are in agony and question why you are doing the race,” L.J. said. “Your hands hurt and your fingers don’t want to bend. Then you feel pain in another area like your leg and all of the sudden your hands and fingers feel better. It’s really a crazy sensation.”
To get ready for the competition, L.J. paddled in a canoe three times a week for 10 miles each day. He also jogged three to four times a week for a total of 20 miles.
“I am in the best shape of my life,” he said. “Hopefully the third time doing this will be the charm.”
His partner is Rod Matthews, 64, and their team number is 29. They will be joined by a little less than 100 racers for the highly anticipated race.
The brothers said the best part of being in the race is to watch the racing teams and spectators who bring life to it.
“It’s amazing the bonds that you make with other racers and feed teams,” said Rob. “They are everlasting.”
During one race, Rob witnessed a racer in her 70s cramping up during the competition with her grandson.
“You can just tell she didn’t want to let him down,” he said.
Rob led the chant of “let’s go grandma” with other spectators and racing teams.
“She battled through it and finished,” he said. “That’s what this race is all about. People and perseverance.”
The Next Generation
Rob said his brother is constantly trying to get him to join him as his partner.
“One of these years, I will get him to race,” L.J. said with a laugh.
But Rob has no interest in being in the canoe. “That’s not going to happen,” said Robert with a chuckle. “My vision of canoeing is floating with a beverage in my hand – not the same as his.”
Rob said he will continue to be a feeder as long as his brother will have him.
“It’s nice to have your brother’s trust,” he said. “This year I am very much looking forward to hugging him at the end of this race and celebrating with a bon fire and a nice big feast.”
L.J. is hopeful another family member will consider joining him in about nine years: his daughter Avery.
“She’s seven now and she’s been awesome, really supportive of me doing this,” he said. “Hopefully if she takes me up on being my partner, the tradition will continue with her and her family one day.”
To learn more about the marathon visit www.ausablecanoemarathon.org
To help make the 72nd Au Sable Canoe Marathon a success we need your help! There are a range of roles available including set-up parking, crowd monitoring, merchandising sales, tear down and more. Contact Kathy Erickson at email@example.com if you are interested.