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Paddling Pro to Partier

What’s it take to be one of the 90 Miler few?

I've never done the 90 Miler. I'm not sure I have the tenacity and fortitude to complete it. I certainly don't have the abs and arms. For those of you not in the know...  The Adirondack Canoe Classic is a three-day, 90-mile flat water race that follows the original highways of the Adirondacks from Old Forge to Saranac Lake with a mix of lake and river paddling and several carries. Only 275 boats are allowed to enter each year.

So, when I found out I would be writing about this famous race I figured I better talk to the experts. I needed to get some real insight, some hard facts, some stories from the road (or the lake as the case may be)… I went to the source, the hub of all things official: I polled my Facebook friends and friends-of-friends.

And, to make this super official, I asked the same 9 questions to everyone (I thought 90 would be a bit much). From serious racers to first-time finishers, here’s the input from five randomly selected 90 Miler veterans.

For the sake of fun I’ve broken the answers down into easily identifiable categories:
1) The Pro - been there, done that - many, many times
2) Hometown Pride - support the Adirondacks, because we rock
3) “We didn’t start out competitive but…” - referred to as Tenacious C (*which you’ll understand after question 7)
4) "Because I could..." - Why Not?
5) “It’s all about the fun!” aka the Party Guys.

Young, old, and everyone in between - this race is truly an Adirondack tradition!
Young, old, and everyone in between - this race is truly an Adirondack tradition!

#1. How many times have you done the 90 Miler? 

From the Pro: 15 times. And one other time where my partner and I were so sick we had to drop out. Right after the first time, I swore I’d never do it again! 
What keeps you coming back? Sometimes I ask myself the same question! Especially after the first day of the race.  But there is something about it that’s addicting.

Why Not: Twice - 2011 and 2012.
What keeps you coming back? My partner kept bugging me. And it is fun!

Our additional pollies had all completed it one (memorable) time. So I followed up with a simple:
Would you do it again?  Yes, yes, and yes.
And, from Tenacious C: I would absolutely do it again - might think about doing the four-person class instead, though.

The Pros: Mike Rechlin (bow) and Tom Boothe hammering hard on day 3
The Pros: Mike Rechlin (bow) and Tom Boothe hammering hard on day 3

#2. Did you do it for fun, for a notch on your belt, serious competitor?

The Pro: I’m a pretty serious competitor, with a number of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places.

Hometown Pride: I did it for Saranac Lake

Tenacious C: A friend of mine asked, and I said yes. It was mostly for fun - and to be able to say I did it. Although the competitive juices did get flowing every once in a while (mostly after we chugged a Red Bull and popped a few Advil).

Why Not: For fun and a notch. My partner, Chris, and I are competitive, but not serious. Chris has been the men’s solo champion several times.

Party Guys: For fun, It was all about fun…

It's all about the fun... well, maybe not ALL about it, but it helps!
It's all about the fun... well, maybe not ALL about it, but it helps!

#3. How did you prep?

The Pro: Training for the race is actually the best part of the whole thing.  Having the race as motivation ensures you get out there and paddle…a whole lot. And what could be better than that?  Especially up here. I used to train for the race on the Potomac River when we lived in Virginia outside of DC. Even that was wonderful to do.

Hometown Pride: I rowed every day of the summer, on Rainbow Lake in June and July, and on Lower Saranac in August. 

Tenacious C: A few long canoe trips, and a few dozen short trips to work on our timing and technique.

Why Not: Paddled 2 or 3 times/week. Worked out 2 or 3 times/week. A lot of time in the boat is key.

Party Guys: We drank.

How do you prep for this!?
How do you prep for this!?

#4. What was your selected mode of transport? How big was your team?

The Pro: I’ve paddled the race as a C-1, in a C-2, and in a C-4. Each has it’s own challenges and rewards. As a one-man paddler, you spend a lot of time in your head on the racecourse. No one to complain to. And no one to blame, either. However, finishing well in a C-1 is very satisfying. I won the C-1 standard class twice, back in the day.  

C-2 is my favorite way to go. Then you can share the misery and fun with the bow guy, even when he needs to “pick it up, damn it!” I hope to do it again in a C-2.

C-4 was a very different experience. I was the stern guy, so I was responsible for steering the boat, calling the “huts,” and generally making sure we were all in sync. However, with three other type A personalities, this can all be a challenge. They all seem to have opinions about things…Imagine that. It’s much more of a team sport, with inter-personal dynamics, and communication challenges. And getting everyone together for training meant that we had to meet at 5:45 AM to get training in before work. But it was also a great experience. And you go so fast!

Hometown Pride: Guideboat. Just me. 

Tenacious C: We used my father's custom race boat, built in the early 1980s, called the General Clinton. Race organizers guessed that it may have been the oldest boat in the race. It's a two-person canoe.

Why Not: Guideboat. Two people – mixed doubles.

Party Guys: Two guys. One Old Towne canoe.

Day 1: The river at Inlet, doubles in a guide boat. Chris Hoyt at the oars, Mary Brown at the paddle.
Day 1: The river at Inlet, doubles in a guide boat. Chris Hoyt at the oars, Mary Brown at the paddle.
Paul Van Cott heading out of Brown's Tract.
Paul Van Cott heading out of Brown's Tract.

#5. Favorite part?

The Pro: Hard to pick a favorite. Paddling up the Marion River out of Raquette Lake ought to be a favorite part, but you’re so darn tired by that point in the first day’s race that it’s hard to appreciate how great it is. Coming out of Oseetah Lake on the last day and pushing in to the finish is really fun. You’re usually in a one-on-one race with another boat at that time, and the course is winding and narrow in places. Hammering hard to pass boats is tactical and fun.

Hometown Pride: All of the people cheering us on as we came into Saranac Lake.

Tenacious C: Cruising into the home stretch all three days.

Why Not: Finishing!

Party Guys: The starts in the morning. It was wicked. Tons of fun with all the boats lined up. Mist on the water.

You want me to carry what? how far??
You want me to carry what? how far??

#6. Hardest part?

The Pro: The portages. Especially Raquette Falls portage on the second day: 1.25 miles up and over a steep boulder-strewn hill, then down a rocky slope to sprint across the sandy trail to the put-in. It’s really hard. Usually a lot of boat/trail traffic to try to work around too. Tempers can flare. It’s especially hard with a C-4, because the wheels don’t work on the uphill part, so you have to carry the darn thing. And two of our team had bad backs, so another guy and I had to do it alone. It’s heavy! 

Hometown Pride: Hands down, Raquette River Carry.

Tenacious C: Long Lake, in the wind. It was dicey, and it was hard. 

Why Not: Raquette River – end of a long day.

Party Guys: Long God Damned Lake. They don't call it Long Lake for nothing. 

Going under the bridge at Long Lake on day 2... phew.
Going under the bridge at Long Lake on day 2... phew.

#7. Any memorable mishaps? Funny, crazy, out-of-the-ordinary things? 

The Pro: Getting knocked into the water at the first state locks on the last day, from up high!  Luckily, no injuries. Also, getting passed by a team of what we then thought of as “older guys” in their 60’s (now I resemble that remark). We called them The Geezers, but, man, were they smooth and fast. As they passed us, one said, “Sorry boys. Our pass is up at the old folks home!” Ouch.

Hometown Pride: At the last carry, the lock was open so I pulled in rather than carry, and my boss was there with is daughter.

Tenacious C: My canoe seat broke about 2/3rds of the way through the first day (I told you the boat was old!). We had to make due for the rest of the first leg, then use a couple yoga mats to build a makeshift seat for the remainder of the race. (*see, now that takes some perseverance!)

Why Not: Watching Chris eat bananas and keep rowing. He looked like a chipmunk.

Party Guys: Paddling by the locks we crashed into a rock, after hitting it I looked down and saw every color of paint in the rainbow on the rock. We were not the only ones that have hit it.

Easy does it...
Easy does it...
It's an all-ages race! Are you ready?
It's an all-ages race! Are you ready?

#8. Words of Wisdom?

The Pro: If you want to enjoy the race, you have to put time in the boat to train. But the training is fun! You just have to toughen up your hands, your butt, your lats and your abs. And try out different combinations of shoes, clothing, gloves, etc. that work for you. I think we put about 65-75 hours of training in the boat over the summer. That’s probably only if you’re really going to race, but several weeks of training is needed, or else the race hurts too much. Trust me on this.

Hometown Pride: Savor every minute. 

Tenacious C: Pack light and have fun. It's not easy, so anything you can do to make it more enjoyable helps a lot.

Why Not: Time in the boat. The race is a lot more fun if you are in good condition and can enjoy it.

Party Guys: Don't forget your Crown Royal.

Camping is an awesome part of the experience - no matter your drink of choice!
Camping is an awesome part of the experience - no matter your drink of choice!

#9. One word to sum up the experience:

The Pro: Life-changing. (It’s two words, but hyphenated!)

Hometown Pride: Adirondacks! 

Tenacious C: Tradition - as in, it's a great Adirondack tradition.

Why Not: FUN!

Party Guys: Fantastic.

Made it!
Made it!

Many thanks to, and a bit more info about, our poll participants...

The Pro: Tom Boothe. “Almost 65 and a half!”
I asked how he got started (since 15 times seems like quite a lot) and how he ended up here since he's not a "native"...  In August (August, mind you!) 1989, we had just moved back from Norway to the DC area. Mike Rechlin (Paul Smiths) called up and said, “Boothie, I have a great idea. They have this crazy 90 mile canoe race up here in a few weeks. Wanna do it?”  Mike says that he thought the phone went dead as I tried to wrap my mind around this. Eventually, I guess I said yes. We did do it that year, but with so little training that our bodies could best be described as hamburger when we finished.  Swearing never to do it again, we nevertheless did it the next year and many years after that.  Even into the 90’s when I was again stationed in DC (Navy).  Actually, having to leave work in the summer in time to train on the Potomac was a blessing...We eventually bought a cabin on Osgood Pond, then after retirement we couldn’t remember why we were going back to our house in Arlington VA, so we bought a house in Saranac Lake, and moved up. 

Hometown Pride: Paul Van Cott, 56, Saranac Lake Village Trustee. 

Tenacious C: Chris Morris, 30, Saranac Lake.

Why Not: Mary A. Brown, Saranac Lake, 68 & 69 when she raced! Partner was Chris Hoyt.

Party Guys: Dave Sheffield, completed race with Mike Shaw, both from Lake Placid. 40-somethings.

Mary & Chris - ready to finish this awesome race!
Mary & Chris - ready to finish this awesome race!

Are you ready?

So, I'm not going to lie. After reading about this great race and seeing so many awesome pictures, I actually kind of want to do it. Or at least a bit of it. Anybody need a teammate? I'll start training this week - and maybe I'll be ready in 2016! What lakes should we hit first? Where can we camp along the route? What's the best spot to stop and grab a bite? Oh... the questions! 

What category of 90 Miler Paddler do you fall into? For fun or for pride, with Crown or without? Want to share your answers? We’d love to hear them - comment below!

First step... choose your mode of transport!
First step... choose your mode of transport!