First Annual Hills 2 Forest Kayak Race

First Annual Hills 2 Forest Kayak Race
Some of the racers from the 1st flight (closest to camera) Mitchell Erickson from Ericson. Behind him is race volunteer, Brian Harmon from Omaha, Photo: Terri Licking

THEDFORD–Nebraska has more miles of river than any other state. Thirty-three miles of the Middle Loup River west of Thedford to the walking bridge over the river at the Nebraska National Forest near Halsey was either kayaked or canoed by 40 adventurous men and women on Saturday, September 14 in the 1st annual Hills 2 Forest Middle Loup Kayak Race.

Cay and Stephanie Ewoldt, Lincoln, run Sandhill River Trips out of Ewoldt’s Grocery in Thedford. Cay’s father, Allen and wife, Velma own and manage the store, as well as take guests to and from the river. They, along with kayak race enthusiast, Brian Harmon, Omaha, organized the logistics of the race, while co-organizer, Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway (SJSB) did the marketing and promotion aspects, as well as provided the numerous volunteers needed that day.

All organizers were well pleased. The initial goal was 20 entries, with 40 people participating on September 14. Out-of-state communities represented included Denver and Rapid City.

Some of the Nebraska communities included Alliance, Omaha, Grand Island Norfolk, Ericson, Shickley, Valentine, Broken Bow, and a local lady, Bobbi Scott from Thedford. The Shickley participant was a 2009 graduate from Thedford, and while Treva Nutter raced, her mom Linda held a garage sale in town where she grew up. Treva is now the K-12 P.E. teacher at Shickley, track coach, and an assistant basketball coach.Nutter and Scott, completed the race in 6 hours, 52 minutes and 6 hours, 59 minutes. respectively.

Categories were men’s kayak, women’s kayak, and canoe.

Calvin Hassel, Grand Island, won the canoe division, a rowing machine finishing the river in 4 hrs. 15 min. 27 sec. He was given his awards after he left the river, as he was headed to the Niobrara River by Valentine to canoe that one also later that day.

2nd in the canoe entries was on a paddleboard, and he went the distance – Marek Uliasz, (town unknown). He paddle boarded it in 6 hrs. 21 min.

3rd place canoe was MJ Bosiljevac from Omaha. She was one of the hard luck winners, as right after she began, she capsized – this was at 7:40 a.m. when temp was in low 60s, so though the temps got to above 90s, she was soaked until the sun came out.

Helen Forster, Broken Bow, in her kayak also capsized at the beginning. They helped right each other’s vessels, and Helen also received a hard luck prize.

Men’s Kayak winners – 1st – Mike Huggins, 2nd Mike Larson and 3rd – Patrick Wellner. Their times respectively were 5 hrs, 42 min., 5 hrs 53 min and 5 hrs 59 min. There was a total of 18 in the men’s division.

Women’s Kayak winners – 1st – Kassie Sheiffermiller, from Rapid City in 6 hrs.14 min and 37 sec. 2nd was Daisy Staab, from Broken Bow in 6 hrs 15 min. 16 sec. 3rd was Mitzi Klimek in 6 hrs 36 min. 8 women competed in the kayak division.

The Middle Loup is the second fastest flowing river after the Dismal in the state. They and the other branches of the Loup, the North and the South, form the Loup River system and are the world’s most constant flowing in the world – meaning their depth fluctuates the least because their source is from underground springs of the Ogallala Aquifer.

Racers had to portage around one bridge, travel under several fences and other bridges and either catch the river channel the last few miles or drag their vessel over sandbars much of the way. Landowners Richard and Tami Jameson and Mark and Marian Nutter offered two opportunities to leave the river if they did not want to go the distance. No one left the race until the end.

All participants received a handmade clay medallion and first place winners received a larger one as well. Linda Lacy, past president of the SJSB and artist from Ashby, (CaLinda’s Pot Shop and Art Gallery) donated her time, labor and talent in making them. T-shirts were given or will be mailed to the racers. Meal after the race was at the lodge on the State 4-H Camp, catered by Allen and Velma Ewoldt, with a slide show of photos taken by Terri Licking and Linda Teahon looped during the meal.