MARQUETTE -Marquette native Shawn Huffman said that in 2005, he and a small group of friends took a trip out to the AuTrain River, in Alger County, to rent some canoes and spend the day paddling, enjoying the nice weather, and having a good time. It turned into an afternoon they have never forgotten and have been emulating ever since.
"When we first set our canoes in the water and began paddling away from the shore, I remember thinking, this has to be 'our' thing to do in the summer," he said. "Sun shining in the sky, frogs croaking, birds singing and none of us could wipe the smiles off our faces."
He said that it took a lot longer than expected to complete the river, and although everyone was tired, they were all fulfilled by spending the whole day in such a beautiful place. After that, they began coming back nearly every time they had a weekend off throughout the summer to canoe, camp out, and take in everything the place has to offer.
Josh Rouen, front, and Elizabeth Sprehe paddle their way toward the shoreline on June 21, during their annual AuTrain outing. The group has been doing this outing for the past nine years. (Journal photo by Justin Marietti)
Shawn Huffman gestures in celebration as he paddles his kayak on June 21. Huffman helped to establish this annual outing, which takes place every June. (Journal photo by Justin Marietti)
"We wanted to share this sacred spot with others," he said. "Our extended friends and family had to try this out. Sometimes, we'd have an enormous crew - other times, just a few of us.
"The one thing that has never changed is the peacefulness of the ride. Even though we weren't more than an hour from home, it felt like we were hundreds of miles away in our special place."
Huffman said that he believes the event became a well-established tradition for many reasons, but first and foremost would be the fellowship the trip offers.
"We get to visit and celebrate with people we often miss out on all winter long," he said.
Josh Rouen of Houghton met several members of Huffman's AuTrain crew while kayaking down the river six years ago and became friends almost immediately as a result.
"We quickly hit it off and had a great trip," he said.
Rouen said that many of their friends are working full-time and some don't live in the area, and the annual trip allows them to get together.
"It has basically become an extended family for most of us," he said. "Everyone is always welcomed with smiles, and it's a great time to catch up with each other."
Josh Musser of Ishpeming has also attended the annual trip for six years. He said it is one of the most meaningful events of the year for the entire group, and an excellent way to officially ring in summertime in the U.P.
"The experience of the river is our bond, and our bond is what keeps us coming back," Musser said. "When everyone is together, we can all truly be ourselves and delete the trash built up in our lives over the year.
"It's always been a bright spot to look forward to or look back on when times are bleak -because no matter what life throws at us, we know that for one weekend every June, all is well - because the river is ours."
Justin Marietti can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 245.