Five friends set out to cross Lake Michigan — on stand-up paddleboards

Neal Rubin

It’s the sort of thought you have if you are strong and spirited and adventurous, and maybe if you’ve knocked back a couple of beers.

You stand on the shore of Lake Michigan, look across the water and ask yourself, “Wouldn’t it be fun to cross over to the other side?”

The notion had occurred, independently, to Andrew Pritchard and two of his friends from Traverse City.

Then they found themselves chatting at a party in December, and conversational threads became a tapestry, and they agreed that yes, they would challenge the mighty lake together ...

On stand-up paddleboards.

Assuming the weather cooperates, meaning no rain and an easterly wind, they plan to set out this afternoon from Algoma, Wisconsin, to Frankfort — 58 miles in a straight line they have absolutely no hope of maintaining.

A hardy group that has grown to five expects to paddle at least 60 miles all told, atop a lake that will frequently be more than 300 feet deep.

There’s a charitable component to the journey. Go to and you can donate to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, which has been pampering 54 percent of the world’s liquid fresh water since 1970.

“We love our lakes — the great ones and the small ones,” says Kwin Morris, a schoolteacher, yoga instructor and one of the original three conspirators.

But this is men against the elements. This is what made America great, even if Pritchard is a Scottish-born Australian.

Plus, after 20 to 24 hours on their boards, they’ll be greeted by friends on the Michigan side with refreshments.

“We paddle that far,” says Pritchard, taking things back to the beginning, “we’ve earned a beer.”

Unpredictable journey

Pritchard, 37, came to the United States at 19 when his father became senior pastor at Bloomfield Hills’ Kirk in the Hills.

He earned a degree in English at the University of Michigan, then migrated into marketing. When he’s not on or in the water — in Traverse City, he has even returned to surfing — he serves as digital marketing manager for Cherry Republic, the noted purveyor of jams, salsas and most any other food that can be made with cherries.

“We’re an active community,” he notes, awash in more hikers, kayakers, cross-country skiers and yes, stand-up paddleboarders than you could statistically expect in a city of 14,700 people.

Financial adviser Jeff Guy, the third originator, even owns a kayak and paddleboard rental business on Torch Lake.

Along with Joel Mueller and Joe Lorenz, they’ve been pushing themselves all year toward next week’s voyage.

They’ve done long jaunts up and down the Old Mission Peninsula, and 30-plus miles through a series of connected lakes around Elk Rapids and Bellaire.

There’s no way, though, to replicate conditions in the middle of Lake Michigan — or to predict them.

Achy, fun adventure

Three paddleboarders made an 80-mile Milwaukee-to-Muskegon crossing last summer, but they took alternating shifts on one board.

Jessie Hieb of Milwaukee took a shot at what would have been the first recorded solo crossing a few weeks ago on the same route the threesome followed.

He bailed out after 17 hours when the lake tossed up 9-to-10-foot waves.

“We weren’t looking to die over this,” he said astutely.

Like the earlier boarders, the five from Traverse City will have a support boat in their wake.

They’ll carry abundant food and beverages in drybags on their boards, take breaks sitting down, and hope for a clear overnight sky.

“If it gets cloudy,” Pritchard says, “it could get eerie out there.”

It will surely get achy, “but we think it’s going to be fun,” he says. “At least, looking back on it will be fun.”

As for the next adventure, that’s undetermined.

“We might not want to set foot on paddleboard for quite some time,“ Pritchard says.

But there are four other Great Lakes waiting to be conquered ... and there’s plenty of beer.

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