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Local men plan summer kayak trip around Lake Superior

Becky Vargo • May 19, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Four young men who met while working as kayak guides in the Upper Peninsula plan to paddle around Lake Superior this summer to bring awareness and work for the protection of the Great Lakes.

Former Grand Haven resident Jared VanOordt, 21, and former Holland resident Ryan Busch, 24, will join fellow kayak guides Drew Etling and Karol Rajski in the adventure, which they are calling Four the Water (www.fourthewater.com). They plan to start Monday, May 21, from Marquette.

The Northern Michigan University students and one alumnus plan to create a documentary of the trip, with commentary from the paddlers and the people they meet along the way.

They will also be raising money for the Superior Watershed Partnership, as well as continue to accept funds for supplies for their trip.

“We were just kind of talking one day, playing out on the water when we came up with this,” VanOordt said.

The son of Peter VanOordt and Deb Genautis said he and his friends have always enjoyed being on Lake Michigan and that their love for the water pulled them all north to continue their education at NMU.

Busch said he had never crossed the Mackinac Bridge before deciding to go to college in Marquette.

“I’ve always wanted to go up north and they had my degree in the arts,” he said. 

The former tennis athlete is the son of Dave and Amy Busch, who now live in Bend, Oregon.

Over time, the men eventually ended up working as guides for Uncle Duckys, a service that provides kayak tours on Lake Superior at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

VanOordt, who also worked three seasons at Grand Haven’s Ski Bowl, said taking the Lake Superior trip is also a way for them to get more experience for their majors and career choices. Also an active surfer and paddleboarder, VanOordt is pursuing an environmental science degree at Northern.

“I have been guiding sea kayak tours at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore for three years now,” he said. “I’ve been inspired by Lake Superior and the many adventures and beauties she holds, which has sparked us to help protect and explore this unique and fragile ecosystem.”

Busch is handling the documentation duties for the trip as an opportunity to expand his film audience.

“I also studied at Northern Michigan University,” he said. “I dropped out of school to live in Colorado and the outer banks of North Carolina before realizing the Great Lakes have impacted my life more than I could imagine, so I moved back to Marquette to finish school.”

Busch said that he is very driven to give back to his roots and “continue to motivate the Midwest for how fortunate we all are.”

While the early spring weather wasn’t conducive to training for the trip, VanOordt said last week that they were finally able to get out around the icebergs, and he hoped most of that would be gone by the time they shoved off the beach next week.

VanOordt, who noted that it was 70 degrees in Marquette on Monday and that Lake Superior was relatively calm, said the weather would play a big role in what day they actually left.

The tour is scheduled to be a three-month event. The paddlers will travel east from Marquette with a goal of reaching Laughing Whitefish Point on the first day.

They plan to take their time, establishing a rhythm and building up strength before pushing too hard, VanOordt said. The group plans stops in towns along the way such as Munising and Sault Ste. Marie, where they will spend time talking to residents and visitors, and re-stocking supplies.

VanOordt said they would normally carry about 7-10 days worth of food, with each meal packaged separately in case they get wet or some gets lost. The paddlers will also have a lot of safety equipment — including wet suits, spray jackets, gloves and spray skirts, extra paddles, tow ropes, bilge pumps, walkie-talkies, rain gear, batteries, solar power, cookware, journals, and camera equipment. They’ll also have tents, sleeping bags, hammocks, pads and tarps.

“We’re kind of preparing for going to sleep cold and wet and waking up cold and wet,” VanOordt said. “We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.”

The paddlers will be carrying GPS equipment so that anyone interested can track their progress. That link will pop up on their website. For VanOordt and Busch, the link is https://share.garmin.com/ryanjared. Spectators can also follow the group’s progress on Facebook and Instagram.

The paddlers have been using their website to blog about their adventure, and will continue to do so along the way.

So, how do these young men have time to participate in such an adventure? Etling explains in this excerpt from his May 8 blog post:

“In the last week Buschy Boy graduated with honors in Digital Cinema from NMU, congrats Busch! So his skill will be put to the test and his first career of keeping his camera dry(ish) for 3 months will start very soon. Jared just finished up his senior year and his geographic research proposal for his degree capstone is written based around this trip. Not sure what that is... but it’s scientific!! Ask him about it! Karol has zipped up his school year and his job as a Sous Chef at ‘The Marq,’ a farm to plate restaurant in town. They hosted an amazing dinner with the Superior Watershed Partnership and Iron Fish Distillery, which we were very fortunate to be a part of. Finally, I finished up ‘The Kitchen’ at Uncle Tom's house. In other words, it's all happening! We've got our food, gear, kayaks and paddles, and we can't wait to greet the water and the people of Lake Superior. And we are so very thankful for all of it!”

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