Grand Haven High School graduate Jared VanOordt, 21, is a member of Four the Water, a group of three Northern Michigan University students and one alumnus who paddled the big lake to raise awareness for the protection of the Great Lakes. They also worked to raise funds for the Superior Watershed Partnership and plan to create a documentary of their experience.
The foursome — VanOordt, Holland resident Ryan Busch, as well as Drew Etling and Karol Rajski — started their trip May 21.
On Thursday afternoon, they paddled across a calm lake and onto the sandy beach of Presque Isle. A patrol officer raised a yellow warning flag as the paddlers came into view between Middle Island Point and Partridge Island.
“It’s such a long trip and so many uncontrollable things could have happened,” Peter VanOordt said. But “they’re all healthy and doing well.”
Both Peter VanOordt and Jared’s mother, Deb Genautis, said they were disappointed not to be able to be in Marquette for the landing.
Genautis said she talked to her son Wednesday evening and he told her they planned to power through to the finish the next day because of the weather outlook. She was planning to be in Marquette for the end of the trip, but said she understood.
“The last few days they’ve just been hammered up there — wind and a lot of rain,” Genautis said.
The four men came up with the idea for the trip when they worked as guides for Uncle Duckys, a service that provides kayak tours on Lake Superior at the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.
“We were just kind of talking one day, playing out on the water, when we came up with this,” VanOordt said for an earlier story.
VanOordt 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 Michigan.
“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 handled 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.”
Representatives of the Superior Watershed Partnership were on hand to welcome the paddlers home.
“The SWP is proud of Ryan, Drew, Karol and Jared’s immense accomplishment of kayaking around Lake Superior with the mission of furthering Great Lakes education and preservation,” the organization said in a statement.
VanOordt said he felt great after completing the trip, despite spending the last day paddling more than 20 miles, most of it against the wind. Despite some long hours in the kayak, and most nights on a sleeping pad, he said he never thought about pulling the plug on the trip.
“As far as expeditions go and spending lots of time out in the wild, I think I would do it again,” he said.