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Munch completes epic stand-up paddleboard journey around Lake Superior

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Jared Munch (left) gives friend Andy Whiteman a quick spin on his stand-up paddleboard near 21st Avenue East on Wednesday afternoon. Munch was on the final leg of his circumnavigation of Lake Superior, ending at the Lester River. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 5
Jared Munch through the Duluth Ship Canal in windy weather around 1:15 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 5
Well-wishers reach over the north wall of the Duluth Ship Canal to congratuate Jared Munch on the completion of his circumnavigation of Lake Superior on paddleboard. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 5
Jared Munch (right) and three other paddlers come to shore along the Lakewalk near Beacon Point on Wednesday so that Munch could visit with a friend who had biked on the Lakewalk to meet him. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com5 / 5

Shortly before 1 p.m. Wednesday, Jared Munch hauled his stand-up paddleboard to the shore of the Duluth-Superior harbor near UMD's Aquatic Center. A brisk southwesterly wind buffeted Munch and his board as he prepared for his final leg of a 1,350-mile paddleboard journey around Lake Superior.

"This is the heaviest wind I've paddled in all summer," said Munch, 23. "But it's downwind. I'm excited."

He was headed out through the Duluth Ship Canal and another 4 miles down to the Lester River, where his circumnavigation of Lake Superior began on May 20. He stopped at the cobblestone beach near Endion Station, where his dad, his brother and friends joined him to paddle along the waterfront to the river mouth.

The party arrived there about 4:40 p.m., with Munch well out ahead, cranking out a stroke almost every second. That ended his 49-day odyssey on the big lake. A crowd of about 40 well-wishers greeted him as he paddled into a quiet lagoon.

Within minutes, he was conducting an informal paddling clinic for kids from Woodland Hills' Neighborhood Youth Services program, for whom he had raised money during his trip.

A surfer and a whitewater paddling instructor for the University of Minnesota Duluth's Recreational Sports Outdoor Program, Munch had planned his journey for at least two years.

"I did it because I wanted to challenge myself in an uncontrolled environment," Munch said during a break in Duluth on Tuesday. "If it had been easy, I wouldn't have been interested in doing it."

While stand-up paddleboards have become popular, particularly with lakeshore residents on inland waters, use of the boards for expedition travel is still in its infancy.

"It's a cool deal," Tim Bates, associate director of UMD's RSOP, said of Munch's trip. "It shows what can be done with a paddleboard. Most people use them near shore, playing around. This shows that somebody with high skills and knowledge can do some amazing things on a paddleboard."

Munch, a fifth-year civil engineering student at UMD, is believed to be the first person to paddle a stand-up paddleboard around the entire lake. While the actual lakeshore is about 1,800 miles long, his trip was shorter because he often paddled point to point across the mouths of large bays.

Along the way, he carried all his food and gear in dry bags lashed atop his 14-foot paddleboard. He camped most nights. He paddled clockwise around the lake along Minnesota's North Shore, the Ontario shoreline and back along the Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota shorelines.

He took a break of sorts last weekend to paddle a 14-mile stand-up paddleboard race on Chequamegon Bay at Washburn, winning his division.

On his journey, Munch rode waves as high as 4 or 5 feet, he said, and sat out five days when winds made paddling too difficult. He lost about 15 pounds along the way.

On his longest single day, he paddled 51 miles. Munch actually arrived in Duluth, at the Park Point beach, on Monday evening after a 42-mile day. He took Tuesday off, catching up on sleep and doing errands, then paddled from the far end of Park Point to the UMD's Aquatic Center on the harbor.

Munch's accomplishment comes as no surprise to Waylon Munch, Jared's older brother from Duluth.

"He's very focused," Waylon Munch said. "Very, very focused. When there's a task to be done, he can zero in on it, and there's no doubt it will be accomplished."

Munch's girlfriend, Jenny Schwietz, was at the Lester River to greet him Wednesday. She first learned of Munch's paddling plans when she saw a diagram of Lake Superior on Munch's whiteboard.

"He had a list of goals written," she said. "One was, 'Paddle to Canada.' No. 2 was, 'Paddle around Lake Superior.' I thought it was kind of far out."

She described Munch as "highly ambitious and highly motivated."

Jared Munch's dad, Bill Munch of New Auburn, Wis., paddled the final 4 miles with his son on Wednesday. He had seen Jared off at Grand Portage early in the trip.

"It was kind of a weird feeling as he paddled away," Bill Munch said. "I watched him get smaller and smaller and smaller until he disappeared. I have to admit, I was emotional. I choked up — because you never know."

Munch had tucked away $4,000 to $5,000 for the trip and says he spent all but about $100 of it, mostly on food and gear. Along the way, through pledges at the gofundme.com website, Munch raised about more than $1,600 for the Neighborhood Youth Services program at Woodland Hills.

Munch, who grew up in New Auburn, Wis., said the journey changed his perspective on Lake Superior.

"It used to feel like a black hole and you'd get sucked in and never come out," he said. "I did get sucked in, and now I don't want to leave. Now that I've gone all the way around, it feels more like home to me."

Upon Munch’s return to Duluth, the News Tribune sat down with him at the mouth of the Lester River and asked him some questions.

DNT: What did you think about, paddling every day?

MUNCH: I thought about food a lot, wondering when I’d get my next order of deep-fried cheese curds. And I’d daydream, envisioning the next great surfing storm on Lake Superior, hoping I’d be back for it.

DNT: What would you consider the most dramatic piece of shoreline on the lake?

MUNCH: The Canadian north shore between Thunder Bay and Terrace Bay. You’re paddling between all these islands two or three miles from shore. It’s really cool, like a miniature mountain range up there.

DNT: Did you ever fall off your board?

MUNCH: I only fell off one time, at the end of a 40-mile day. I looked behind me to check a map and both of my feet ended up on the same side of the board and everything tipped over. I was in the water 10 seconds, tops. I got back on the board. I felt sorry for myself for 2 seconds and started paddling again. It was a cold and foggy day.

DNT: You were seasick a couple different days?

MUNCH: I’ve always had problems with migraine headaches, which are caused by fatigue and sunlight and bobbing up and down. (Monday, coming into Duluth) I made 42 miles and threw up three times. It was not how I wanted my last day to be. But I wanted to reach Duluth and be home. When I felt like I was going to throw up, I’d find a sand beach, release everything and hit the water for another 5 or 10 miles.

DNT: On your journey, did you encounter things you didn’t expect to find?

MUNCH: There were a lot of people along the lake who were extremely helpful. I expected to camp every night. But across the U.S. and Canada shoreline, everyone offered me food or a place to sleep for the night. It was really good.

DNT: How did you decide which days were too rough to paddle?

MUNCH: It’s not the waves, it’s the wind. All the days I didn’t get out were not because of the waves but the wind. Either it was against me or pushing me to shore in cliffed-off sections. When I’m out there by myself, my decision-making process is much different than when I’m with friends. I don’t put myself in as extreme conditions when I’m paddling solo.

DNT: Talk a bit about the longest open-water crossing you made.

MUNCH: It was 25 miles in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan from the Huron Mountains to the Keweenaw to the town of Gay. I knew the wind wasn’t going to pick up. It’s nice out there, 10 miles from shore, kind of a cool feeling being surrounded by water. I didn’t anticipate being that far out, but as summer went on, I got the feeling of being on big water. I like it. It’s fun.

DNT: What was your backup system if you came off the board?

MUNCH: I have a leash (connected to one ankle). I would never be more than 10 feet from the board, connected by cable. And when I was far out, I did wear a life jacket.

DNT: What did you learn about yourself on the trip?

MUNCH: I learned what my boundaries are. After 50 miles, I’d get a little woozy. I also learned determination. I can do things most people think are impossible. That’s a really good feeling to have.

DNT: Do you think your journey translates to those who might not want to paddle a stand-up paddleboard around the lake?

MUNCH: I hope my summer and my trip doesn’t only apply to Lake Superior. There’s a lot of opportunity to paddle everywhere in the state. There’s no reason anyone couldn’t hop on a board and have a good experience on the water.

DNT: Did this trip give you any ideas for other expeditions?

MUNCH: Oh, yeah. It’s too soon to be announcing any plans, but there are definitely some plans brewing in my brain.

The Jared Munch Circumnavigation

Here are a few details about Jared Munch’s circumnavigation of Lake Superior on a stand-up paddleboard from May 20 to July 29.

The circumnavigation — About 1,350 miles of Lake Superior’s roughly 1,800-mile shoreline. Munch paddled the whole lake, but cut across many bays, shortening the overall distance.

Number of days on water — 49

Number of days windbound — 5

Average paddling speed — 3½ mph

Longest day — 51 miles, without breaks, from Whitefish Bay in Michigan nearly to Grand Marais, Mich.; 15 hours on water

The board — A 14-foot C4 Waterman

Weight of board — 32 pounds

Weight of gear/food lashed to board — 40 pounds

Munch’s weight loss during trip — 15 pounds

Longest open-water crossing — 25 miles, along the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Farthest he paddled offshore — 10 to 12 miles, along the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

Biggest waves paddled — 4 to 5 feet

Number of times he fell off board — 1

Editor's Note: To donate to Woodland Hills' Neighborhood Youth Services program through Jared Munch's circumnavigation of Lake Superior, go to gofundme.com/superioradventure.

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