Marit Haug launched her kayak into the trickle of Wisconsin River in Lac Vieux Desert in far northern Wisconsin on June 9, 2022, with 430 miles of paddling ahead of her to sort out her sense of loss and grief.
She told her story to 54 people attending the NEWP annual meeting Nov. 11 at UW-Green Bay’s Richard Mauthe Center.
Marit had lost her husband the year before. His name was Jake Stachovac (pronounced Sta-HO-vee-ak). He was a widely known kayaker, instructor and guide. He later proved to be a natural as a high school tech ed teacher in Wausau. In 2010, he paddled 5,740 miles to complete “The Great Circle Tour” (the Wisconsin River to the Mississippi, out into the Gulf of Mexico, around Florida, up the East Coast inland passage and the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes and back to Portage, WI.).
Jake died of cancer at age 46. Marit struggled with the loss of this generous and upbeat man she thought would be her life partner. She decided to paddle the full 430 miles of the Wisconsin as sort of a memorial and tribute to Jake.
“It really sounded like something amazing to do, and a way for me to connect with him,” she said. “It was.”
She secured a sturdy kayak and a lightweight canoe, collected maps, lined up some logistical support along the way and got ready to go north.
Her mother was concerned about the number of dams she would encounter (26), each requiring that she find the take-out, just above a dam. “I’ll be fine,” was always her answer.
The challenges came immediately.
“Literally, when I got into the river, I went the wrong way.”
Once Marit got her bearings, she was surprised by what she found. “The water was crystal clear,” she said. The sandbars on the lower Wisconsin offered “gorgeous camping.” Wildlife was her frequent companion.
On the downside were steep and rugged portages, high winds and “creepy bugs.“
She averaged 20-30 miles a day and spent 21 days on the water from June 7 to July 1 in 2022.
“I was the only one on the water, but you never do these things alone,” Marit said.
Most importantly, the challenges and solitude of the trip did make her feel a closer connection to Jake.
“I definitely felt his presence,” she said. “Nature is healing.”