When Nashville Paddle Co. was just getting started, a visitor rented a board because he was training for OABI, a race that circled Once Around Belle Isle, an island in the Detroit River. He sold me on how awesome this race was, that you got to see the Detroit skyline, the Windsor, Canada skyline, all sorts of wildlife, paddle through different conditions, and that Belle Isle is an epic park. (Brian, if you’re out there, thank you!)
There is no shortage of places to paddle in Michigan, of course, and some, like Torch Lake and Pictured Rock National Lakeshore, that are supposed to be beautiful and I considered those as I planned my paddle, but I’ve always had a soft spot for Detroit. As a kid, I fell asleep at night listening to the soundtrack to Disney’s “The Happiest Millionaire” on vinyl, and Detroit is important plot point and song in the movie, so OABI it was.
I had read that the side closer to Canada was the more difficult paddle…and, yes, those conditions were challenging; lots of wind and chop from barge traffic. It was one of those paddles where it seemed like I was paddling into the wind in all 4 directions. The first 5 miles of this paddle took me about 2.5 hours; the last 2 miles took about 35 minutes.
I have exciting plans with friends and family for the last three states, but I realized driving to Detroit that this would be my last solo paddle of the 50, and that was bittersweet. This project helped me become a more confident solo paddler (relax: I had safety gear, including a traditional PFD and two different friends were able to track my location in real-time, and the good thing about a paddle around an island, is you are always close to shore). To keep myself focused and going in the middle, I sang the song “Detroit” from “The Happiest Millionaire” to myself, and I’m a terrible singer, so it truly is a good thing I was alone.
Belle Isle Park is something else. It is an old-school idea of a park. Like downtown Detroit, with its wide boulevards and amazing sculpture and architecture, Belle Isle Park feels like a movie set for a park, with fountains and beaches and museums and conservatories and lighthouses and, again, amazing sculpture and architecture.
This is the paddle where I felt like I might actually finish this project. As John Davidson sings in “The Happiest Millionaire,” “I’d make all my dreams realities in Detroit.”