Courtesy of Don Mueggenborg

Courtesy of Don Mueggenborg


Don Mueggenborg has paddled the DesPlaines Canoe Marathon every year except once since 1969. He’s been a race volunteer since 1994, Chairman, and Registrar the last 10 years.

This is the story of his first canoe race.

"Hey, Mugs, there's a canoe race up north on Sunday. Want to see what it's all about?" Dave Andersen, now known to many as Peanut Butter, had started something. Of course, I said, "Let's go!"

Five of use started out with two old canoes, the lighter one weighed about 150 pounds, a canvas and fiberglass Old Town about 87 years old. We packed lunches, got out the camera, radio, some soda, paddles, lifejackets and we were of off to see what canoe racing was all about.

The first hint that this was something special was the sight of cars jammed up on Oak Spring Road and canoes everywhere. I don't think I ever saw as many canoes and kayaks all together in my life. A state of somewhat organized confusion existed and we were about to add to it.

Dave suggested that our best chance at a trophy would be for me to go with Bruce Mauer, a big high school boy. We would take his new racing paddle (6 feet long, 20" blade as I recall.) Dave, his son Tom, and neighbor Bill Wofield would take the other boat.

"Number 424, get to the starting line!" That was us. Bruce, in the bow, reached for the rope hanging down from the bridge. Fortunately someone said "The stern paddler holds the rope! (They did not add – you dummies) Banging gunnels as the starter's gun sounded, we were off and soon behind the lead boat in our heat. Well, at least we were not last in the heat.

It was a pretty river and many bends to make it more interesting.

Courtesy of Don Mueggenborg

Courtesy of Don Mueggenborg

We felt good, passing more canoes than passed us (not realizing that most of the more competitive paddlers started early).We wondered what those racers must have had for breakfast since they were moving so fast. Could hardly make a decent J-stroke at that rate! The also talked funny calling out something like huh or hud or hut.

Ryerson Dam was ahead. (The dam has since been removed –Eds.) Better portage so we don't tip and get wet like the canoe ahead of us. Portage, drag the boat around the dam (by now it must have weighed 200 pounds or at least felt like it.) A couple of boy scouts were having trouble getting into their canoe. We were impatient and bullied out way between them and the dam. Back into the water. Too close to the dam! "Look Out!" Too late. Our boat began to fill with water pouring over the dam. DAM(n)!

We jumped or rather fell out, swam the boat to shore, wrestled it over on its side, dumped most of the water, wrung out our soggy sandwiches, squeezed water out of our wallets, drained the camera and started out again.

Our losses: One paddle (caught under the dam, never did come up, probably still there), soggy sandwiches, one radio that never played again, and some pride. I paddle, Bruce sits, turn around, Bruce paddles, I sit. Thanks to an unknown Boy Scout who gave me his sweatshirt, and someone else who gave us a paddle to use at Dam # 1, I survived and we finally finished. Our time 4:24 – same as our boat number. And Dave right behind us.

Enough to make you want to quit! That was 1969. Each year will be our last, I vow – but not before we win that little voyageur they give for 1st place.

And by then, I have had so much fun on that river, in that race – maybe I never will quit even if I never see the little voyageur again.

Courtesy of Don Mueggenborg

Courtesy of Don Mueggenborg