In 2009, when Joe Short opened a second Short’s Brewing Company facility in the northwest Michigan town of Elk Rapids, he realized that it was connected to the original brewpub in Bellaire by 27 miles of prime paddling. He’d been kayaking the top-shelf Elk River Chain of Lakes for years, and a lark of a weekend for brewery employees soon grew to an annual spring gathering attended by hundreds of paddlers.
The May 18 event begins at the Shorts Brewpub on the Intermediate River and winds through seven interconnected streams and lakes, highlighted by the Caribbean-clear waters of Torch Lake (blessedly free of jet-skiers at that early date). Most paddlers complete the Short’s-to-Short’s course in about eight hours, ending at the Elk Rapids brewery within sight of Lake Michigan. “It’s not a race,” says Short’s Matt Drake. “There’s no prize for getting there first.”
Unless you count lining up first at the taps at course-end, a prize in and of itself. Unavailable out of state, Short’s brews like the Huma Lupa Licious IPA and the Soft Parada rye ale have a cult following amongst Midwestern brewers.
Despite being organized by brewers, there’s no beer allowed on course, unless you count tying up at the Dockside restaurant on Torch Lake about halfway through the route for a pint over a burger and plate of fried pickles. Other nods to safety include five egress points for those who want to opt out of the eight-hour paddle early, and a new requirement of spray-decked kayaks of at least 10 feet in length.
The event costs $85, but any profits go to local waterway advocacy non-profits Three Lakes and Elk-Skegemog Lakes Associations. Kayak rentals are available for an extra $15.
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