Adirondack Canoe Classic: all are welcome

Adirondack Canoe Classic
Russ Ford and Karrie Thomas paddle in the 90-Miler. Photo by Anne Brewer

Have you ever thought about paddling the 90-Miler? Held every September since 1983, the Adirondack Canoe Classic is a three-day, 90-mile race from Old Forge to Saranac Lake, New York, through the heart of the Adirondacks.

Like many before me, I watched from the sidelines as a volunteer for a few years before I made my debut in 2017. While I can’t deny I have a competitive side, I have never been one to participate in organized races. My family laughed at me when I signed up, because beyond my sentiments about racing, I also have an aversion to flatwater paddling! My husband has spent years trying to convince me to take our kids tripping in the Adirondacks. I always find a way to steer the trip to a river – preferably one with rapids. The Adirondack Canoe Classic has absolutely no whitewater, unless you count the beaver dams on Brown’s Tract Inlet.

Since the race route follows most of the first 90 miles of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, I felt compelled to give it a try. When Race Director Brian McDonnell suggested that it was harder than people expected it to be, it piqued my curiosity and sense of personal challenge: I needed to know if I could do it. So when NFCT Volunteer Russ Ford invited me to paddle with him last year I saw my chance. It turns out I like to race, and while I still didn’t paddle flatwater with my kids this year, Russ and I paddled the 90 together again!

NFCT thru-paddler Russ Collett portages during the 90-Miler. Photo by Bill Amos.

The amazing thing about this race is that people of all shapes and sizes complete it each year. Age, fitness and strength don’t necessarily seem to be limiting factors. Despite the apparent diversity of athletic prowess, my husband pointed out that only a handful of boats don’t finish each day. Desire and perseverance clearly hold more sway. So if you have wondered if you could do it, the answer is probably, yes!

With a sample size of only two races, my experience is limited. However, the differences between the two years were circumstantial. Both years had lovely cool temperatures, but last year we had a deluge of rain on day one, making thermo-regulation more challenging. High water last year had people trying to break the course speed record. This year low water forced us to get out of our boats to clear the shallows guarding the entrance to the Raquette River from Long Lake. Standing up after the first ten miles, my body rejoiced at the relief from sitting and paddling. I would be glad to have that change every year! I did hear several stories of people toppling over into the ankle-deep water in the course of negotiating transitions in and out of the boat. Last year we had a tail wind on Long Lake; this year it was a headwind, which made for a longer and more painful second day overall.

Despite the differing conditions, patterns seemed to persist. We paddled Russ’s Mad River Horizon again and didn’t train at all aside from normal recreational day paddles and trips. We wound up in third place again even though we had none of the same competitors in our class. I attribute our success to Russ’ 45 years of paddling experience, which once again steered us in straight efficient lines throughout the weekend. I did have a brand new Werner Algonquin paddle, which seems to have kept my hands from suffering the numbness of carpal tunnel syndrome that they normally feel! I was amused to see many of the same people during each day passing and being passed in almost the same places as last year.

Camaraderie remains the best part of the 90. We compete and we push ourselves, but in the end we support each other and together celebrate the season and northeast paddling. It’s worth it just to be part of the community.

Paddlers finish Brown’s Tract Inlet during day one. Photo by Mike Lynch

Fast Facts

What is the 90-Miler? The 90-Miler is a three-day paddling race from Old Forge to Saranac Lake in the Adirondack Park that takes place the weekend after Labor Day.

Where does the race start and finish each day? Day one starts in Old Forge and ends Blue Mountain Lake for a total of 34 miles, including 3.5 miles of carries. Day two starts on Long Lake and ends at the Crusher boat launch on the Raquette River near Tupper Lake for a total of 33 miles, including one carry for 1.25 miles. Day three starts at Fish Creek near Tupper Lake and finishes on Lake Flower in Saranac Lake for a total of 22 miles, including .6 miles worth of carries.

How many people participate? Generally, there are 250 to 275 boats and more than 600 people. 

Read More

Paddling the 90-Miler (2017)

Racing For Kids in the Adirondack Canoe Classic

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