June 2016 - CANOEING, KAYAKING & SUP
Inside the “90”
A Solo Perspective
By Joe Moore
Driving to Old Forge along the highways that roughly parallel the course of the annual Adirondack Canoe Classic – aka “The 90-Miler” – I can’t help looking at the GPS and odometer and mentally clicking off intermediate time goals. NY Routes 28, 30 and 3 more or less follow the course from Old Forge to Saranac Lake; the task of figuring times and distance made only slightly more difficult by the fact that I’m traveling in reverse direction of the race. I enjoy the mental distraction.
In the 10 years that I’ve participated in the race, I’ve seen many picture perfect days. I’ve also been snowed on, poured on, baked in 90-degree temperatures, blown sideways down Long Lake, and had to bash into unrelenting headwinds and huge waves on Upper Saranac Lake. The one constant? It’s going to hurt. Not exploding lungs kind of hurt; more of a persistent tooth-ache, full-body-cramp kind of hurt.
So why do we do it? That’s easy.
The three-day stage event for competitive and touring canoers, kayakers and SUPs is open to solo paddlers, tandem boats and four-person canoes, and voyager canoe paddlers. The course traverses some of the most scenically stunning paddling country on the planet as it follows the original highways of the Adirondacks. It offers a mix of lake and river flatwater paddling with several carries (aka portages) totaling 5.25 miles.
- Day 1 – 35 miles including four carries totaling 3.5 miles – starts in Old Forge and ends in Blue Mountain Lake.
- Day 2 – 30 miles including one mountainous 1.25 mile carry around Raquette Falls – picks up at the south end of Long Lake, and finishes at the state boat launch on Route 3 outside of Tupper Lake, known as The Crusher.
- Day 3 – 25 miles including three short carries totaling 0.5 miles, including the Bartlett Carry between Upper and Middle Saranac Lakes – is the shortest day, beginning at Fish Creek Campground, and ending in the park on Lake Flower in Saranac Lake.
The Adirondack Canoe Classic has grown from 50 boats and 75 paddlers in its first running in 1983, to 275 boats (recently bumped up from 250), and nearly 1,000 paddlers from around the world expected to participate in the 34th edition on September 9-11, 2016.
Our small category is Solo Recreation. The class was originally set-up for recreational kayaks, but a few years ago, was opened up to include pack canoes – small, indigenous open boats paddled with a double-blade, that first appeared in the Adirondacks in the mid-1800s. The class has become quite popular and competitive, with winning times in some age groups typically less than 15 hours.
A great pit crew is essential for getting gear from start to finish each day, to hand up food and water during carries, and to move vehicles. My wife, Jan, as well as several friends and neighbors, help out with this along the way. A cold water bottle – whether to drink or just pour on your head at the start of a carry on a hot day – can be a huge morale booster.
As start time approaches, I get my gear – hydration bags, food, PFD and GPS – situated in the boat, and wait until the last possible second to get in. Not much need for extensive warm-ups when you have almost six hours ahead of you. A lot of paddling time in the boat prior to the race is the key to happiness – or at least less discomfort.
Several of us paddle our 16-foot Placid Boatworks Shadows and 15-foot Rapidfires in the race. We train together on occasion – alone a lot – and the tactics employed are much like those in cycling.
We are called to the line, the starter counts us down, and we’re off. Five-minute pull, drop off the front (to draft), grab food and drink, tag onto the back, fall into the rhythm of the race. We pass through the numbered lakes of the Fulton Chain, and hit the cheering crowd at Inlet’s Arrowhead Park, and on the bridge over the channel between Fourth and Fifth Lakes.
The first carry is short between Fifth and Sixth lakes, but an uphill leg burner. Friends hand me an open bottle at the start, most of which ends up on my head on a hot day. After a careful reentry from the elevated wall along Sixth, we paddle through Seventh Lake, and a stumpy, shallow channel (aka “suckwater,” because it feels as if your boat is being suctioned to the bottom) to the Eighth Lake Campground – a long, but level carry on good surfaces. I switch out an empty hydration pack for a full one and jump back into the boat to cross Eighth Lake.
Then it’s the feared Brown’s Tract Carry (narrow, roots, rocks, up, down), to the boardwalk and put-in at Brown’s Tract, a thin, weedy, sinuous stretch of river that confounds long, straight-keeled boats and the inexperienced. For us, it’s not bad as our boats carve turns well. I get some food and fluids in and actually make time on many. At the end is the Raquette Lake bridge and a huge, boisterous crowd.
Then, it’s several miles of the vastness of Raquette Lake and the wide-open, hypnotic Marion River, which funnels down and actually flows hard against you for a few hundred yards, before the takeout at the Marion River Carry.
Through the half-mile carry and you’re in the homestretch – an hour or so to go. Blue Mountain beckons in the distance. First, it’s the long, narrow Utowana Lake, through a short channel to Eagle Lake, across it to another short channel, and into Blue Mountain Lake for the last few miles. You can see the finish from a long way out and you can empty the tank for the last five minutes – provided there’s anything left in it.
Eat, drink, sleep, repeat.
Long Lake to the Route 3 Boat Launch can be brutal. Sore muscles warm to the task quickly, but this is a long day in the boat with a mountain climb of a carry in the middle. Wind, waves, low water, and rain have all visited here before. Hit the cheering crowds at Axton Landing and you still have an hour to go… Ugh.
The final day is usually relaxed – if the weather behaves. It’s still several hours of racing, but it’s the shortest stage, and the mood is light. Nothing beats coming around the final corner at Lake Flower and seeing – and hearing – the crowd at the finish. Let the celebration begin!
New York State Canoe and Kayak Racing
Joe Moore (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the owner of Placid Boatworks. The company manufactures lightweight carbon/Kevlar canoes and has a full-service paddling shop on Station Street in Lake Placid.