Now Is Your Chance to Support The Grand Tour to Benefit Leader Dogs for the Blind


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For a few days in August each year, a group of dedicated PWC riders and support crew embark on the Grand Tour to Benefit Leader Dogs for the Blind; a 350-miles-in-three-days endurance ride from Mackinaw City to Holland Michigan.

Every PWC rider has their favorite ride, the one ride that holds the title of “Best Ever,” and for tour riders, it is no different. The GT Facebook group comes alive around January each year, with posts and pictures popping up more frequently as the anticipation builds. This year, we add a new twist, several riders have GoFundMe pages, to make donating easier.

Both riders and Land Support crew have fundraising requirements to meet in order to participate in Grand Tour. We pay our own expenses for travel, lodging, fuel, and some meals. All donations go directly to the organization.

The ride attracts those who enjoy a personal challenge, who feel in their hearts that this is a path to help others; and, frankly, those who want bragging rights. “Riding your WaveRunner 350 miles is bad ass,” says Tour veteran Jim Lueck. “I love to see the look on people’s faces when I tell them what I’m going to do.”

Lake Michigan challenges us every year, and the weather either cooperates or not. Last year was three days of the flattest water and best weather in 17 years. In 2012, conditions ranged from sunny and relatively calm water; to iron-gray skies, 10-foot waves and 50 degree water; back to sunny skies, even colder water, and more big waves.

“It’s not for everyone, as both rider and watercraft need to be prepared,” says Event Organizer Mike LaBelle. “We ride in every condition except lightning. Waves, rain, wind, cold are ok, unless we decide it’s too dangerous. Even a Small Craft Advisory won’t necessarily stop us.” In the history of the tour, only twice has the ride been called for weather or water conditions. It’s never been totally cancelled, and as soon as it’s ‘all clear,’ riders are back on the water – earning those donations.

Logistically, the tour is a well-organized machine. Watercraft are loaded into a semi-trailer in Holland on Wednesday morning. Our tow vehicles remain at Dunton Park in Holland until we retrieve them at the end of the ride. While the skis are being hauled to Mackinaw City, riders and crew are on a comfortable tour bus to the same destination. We meet the truck at the Mackinaw City Marina, where the driver backs the box into the water. Tourists and locals see the spectacle and get excited—they expect to see a beautiful yacht unloaded. To their surprise, a bunch of PWC’s spit out the back of the truck into the water, and tie up for the night.

Thursday, it begins. As we pass under the Mackinac Bridge (aka the Mighty Mac), we slap wet handprints on the bridge pier — temporarily tagging it to prove we were here. After lunch in Charlevoix, we’re off to Traverse City for pizza, hot tub and much needed sleep. Friday is the long day, 150 miles, and we start at dawn. We ride past miles-long sand dunes, stop for lunch in Frankfort, and finish the day in Ludington. Saturday brings us back to Holland, where we trailer-up and have a grilled lunch, then head to our final hotel, and the evening celebration banquet and party.

Through all of this, we do radio checks, stop at marinas for fuel, and make sure everyone is ok. How? Two words: Land Support. In several vehicles with double trailers (hopefully empty!), this amazing crew paces us, watching and waiting to see if anyone needs help. They follow weather reports, shuttle riders, schlep gear, provide everything from Band-Aids to Gatorade, and generally do all the hard work.

At our celebration banquet, a Leader Dog recipient tells his or her story, and that of their Leader Dog. Each year we hear new stories of how these dedicated service dogs provide greater independence for the visually impaired; motivating and inspiring us to return again and again. The specialized training required for dog and human is provided by Leader Dogs at no cost to the recipient.

In the Grand Tour’s 17 years, we’ve raised more than $295,000, and will surpass $300,000 in 2015. Leader Dogs is a private organization, and does not accept government funding, making our efforts vital to the organization’s success.

So, join us! The ride is Thursday-through-Saturday, August 6-8. Contact Event Organizer Mike LaBelle at (248) 808-4664. You’ll need to be in Holland Wednesday morning, August 5. Ride your watercraft, join our land support crew, or make a donation to the Grand Tour to Benefit Leader Dogs for the Blind. For more information and details, visit our website at www.grandtour.org, www.leaderdogs.org or find us on Facebook in the Grand Tour group. To make donating easy, several riders have GoFundMe pages. Look for them in the Tours’ Facebook group.

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