Ron Marinucci - September Column
by Ron Marinucci, Sep. 6, 2017
Provided by RunMichigan.Com
Riley McLincha surely must qualify as some sort of Renaissance Man. To begin, the retired skilled tradesman is an accomplished runner. He’s a member of the small group which has finished every Crim Ten Mile Run. The 66-year old sings professionally and writes songs, too. In fact, he performs his own work, Spirit of the Crim, to help kick start that race every year. He has a degree in biology and has tried his hand at writing memoirs and blogs of his running adventures and other athletic pursuits. Thirty years ago he memorized pi to 10,000 decimal places, at the time a Guinness Book record.
McLincha is familiar to many Michigan runners, too. They’ve seen him “drubbling” in races. “Drubbling” is a term he coined to describe running while dribbling not one, not two, but three basketballs. He explained, “I used to joggle,” juggling balls while running, “but I couldn’t break any world joggling records, so I invented ‘drubbling.’ It’s more complex than joggling.”
He also “runyaks,” another term he introduced. That’s a combination of running and kayaking to complete yet another adventure. “No way was I going to break records paddling, so I invented ‘runyaking.’”
Runyaking requires a little help, from his close companion Swiftee. Swiftee is his 9 1/2-foot kayak which he bought on Black Friday in 2004. “The price was 50% off,” he remembered. “I paid $185. I never planned to use him on the Great Lakes when I bought him.” Swiftee, then, has been with McLincha since day one of runyaking. He admitted, “He’s looking embarrassingly bad. I’ve recently been patching him with Flex Tape and hot glue.” He added morosely, “I need to replace him, but I don’t have the heart.”
McLincha’s runyaking adventures started with the Saginaw River Valley. Like the French fur trappers and traders of centuries ago, he explored the valley’s major tributaries from their sources to their mouths, including the Flint, Cass, Shiawassee, and Tittabawassee rivers. That ended with paddling the 22 miles of the Saginaw River.
Then he completed what he called “Horseshoe to Horseshoe.” Beginning at the source of the Flint River, Horseshoe Lake near Oxford, he runyaked to Horseshoe Falls, the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
Most recently, McLincha wrapped up Runyak for Liberty. Beginning at Horseshoe Lake, he paddled all the way to and around the Statue of Liberty on June 22, landing at Liberty State Park in New Jersey. From start to finish, he runyaked 2,431 miles, 1,230 running and 1,201 kayaking.
After he reached Niagara Falls in 2012, he recalled, “I didn’t want to stop. The Erie Canal was right there, so the next year, 2013, I began using it to get to the Hudson River and New York City.” He averaged twenty miles a day, ten in the kayak and ten running, “sometimes five days in a row.”
Tracing Runyak to Liberty is an exercise in geography. In Michigan, he paddled Horseshoe Lake, then the Flint, Shiawassee, and Saginaw rivers, before reaching Lake Huron. From the Great Lake, it was down the St. Clair and Detroit rivers with Lake St. Clair between. Lake Erie took him to the Niagara River. From there he paddled much of the Erie Canal to the Hudson, which led him to the Upper New York Bay and Lady Liberty.
He runyaked “only in the warmer months.” The journey took 116 days, over eight years and two months. He explained his routine, “Usually Swiftee was left at the last place I left the waterway. I’d then drive my van to where I’d end the day. Then I ran back to the kayak and paddle to the van.” Occasionally, “used much less,” he’d switch the order. Kayaking came first and then running back to the van. From there, “I’d go get the kayak.”
A lot of time was spent online, planning and preparing, “finding places to safely enter and exit the waterways.” Google Earth was a savior, he admitted. “I could see satellite images of places.”
Yet, things didn’t always go smoothly. “I got to places and there would be fences. One time,” he recalled, “my running route, a trail, was closed because of a recent landslide.” He shrugged. “I ran over the debris.”
One “rule” he had was always to run, never walk and never bike. But he conceded, “Three times the running rule was broken. I couldn’t run on bridges at the Michigan-Ontario border and the Ontario-
New York border. And on the last day, I would have liked to run to the Statue of Liberty, but, hey, it is on an island.”
There were, as might be imagined, dangers. He mused, “Why are the scariest moments the most memorable?” He remembered “getting lost in the marshes of Saginaw Bay” and “being flipped by a wave on Lake Huron, struggling to get Swiftee and me to a breakwater at Grindstone City.” He added, “Even though running was more strenuous, the frightening moments were while in the water, usually contending with waves.”
But “the biggest obstacle was being diagnosed with aortic stenosis.” An aortic stenosis is a narrowing, even blockage, of the aorta when it exits the heart. “It wasn’t a problem when kayaking,” he said, “only running. I began suffering in 2013. It progressively got worse.”
“Physically it was the hardest when runyaking the Hudson River Valley in 2015. Think Catskill Mountains. If I ran too fast I’d endure angina because of the stenosis.” He recalled, “At moments I was running twenty minutes a mile.” But per his rule, “I refused to walk, though. I’d come this far running and kayaking. I wasn’t going to add walking to the mix.”
In 2016, he had open heart surgery to replace his aortic valve and an aortic aneurysm. The journey continued.
Obviously, some memories are more vivid and pleasurable than others. “The most memorable one would be the actual day I paddled around the Statue.” He also remembered “a sad memory of being in Port Dover, Ontario, watching a beautiful sunset on the quay, wishing my wife was with me. For that one lonely moment,” he recalled wistfully, “I wished it wasn’t a solo adventure.”
McLincha surmised, “What I did could be duplicated. But never will anybody try it solo, in a 91/2-foot kayak.” He quipped, “Only one crazy person would do that.”
As is obvious, McLincha enjoys doing things others won’t try. “I’m always looking to set, not only personal records, but matchless world records. So, I do unique things that nobody else has ever done, which in effect, make them world records.”
He’s also motivated “to stay active. I’m getting older, you know. I can’t be laying around getting out of shape. I’m not much of a work-on-the-house-and-yard type of guy.”
He explained, “I just imagine things in my head, just like everyone else. In my head they might sound difficult, maybe even dangerous. I find once I give something a try, with a lot of hard work, it’s never as impossible as I believed it to be.”
And that’s how McLincha came up with his current adventure, albeit not a solo affair this time. “I was sitting on the steps of Tenacity Brewing in downtown Flint looking at the river. I knew Runyak for Liberty would soon be over and I had to come up with something to fill the void.”
Tenacity Brewing has a paddle launch to the Flint River and this is how “TenaCity to WindyCity” was hatched. It’s a runyak, or just a paddle for those who want to only kayak, from Tenacity Brewing in Flint to Chicago. Again, McLincha and cohorts will use the rivers to get to Saginaw Bay. Then it’s Lake Huron through the Mackinac Straits to Lake Michigan and on to the Chicago River. “Where we stop in Chicago is yet to be determined,” he said.
He stressed more than once, “This is not a solo expedition. All are welcome. We,” he emphasized, “started runyaking or just paddling for those not wanting to run.”
TenaCity to WindyCity began this past July. He’s planning on four paddling seasons to complete the 1,400-mile journey, half run and half kayak. “On the maiden launch from Tenacity,” he noted, “we had twenty-five paddlers. The second [launch] had only eleven. Besides the initial launch, we are averaging about eleven.” He added, “But we’re getting new paddlers to the expedition every time.”
Again he said, “All are welcome and can join in on any of the legs.” There is a Facebook group, “TenaCity to WindyCity Paddle,” to request to join. And McLincha has also established a blog: http://tenacity2windycity.blogspot.com/.
Much of the planning necessarily is done around everyone’s availability. He will try to keep legs at “ten miles paddling,” recognizing that “the paddle distance may be short for serious paddlers, but I have to keep it at ten miles to match the running distance for runyakers.” He suggested that “pure paddlers are welcome to go on ahead. We will eventually catch up.”
McLincha hopes he and his fellows reach Chicago in 2020. And with all he’s accomplished, who could doubt that?