One thing you have to say about Joey Falcone, he’s a man of his convictions. After spending the first day of the 2002 Adirondack Canoe Classic sitting uncomfortably in the bilge of a canoe, he made up his mind that he had had quite enough and there was no point in doing the same thing for two more days.
Despite the great common sense of his decision, he had to affirm it dozens of times as his paddling partners and others tried to cajole him to take another ride on the watery highway of the Adirondacks.
In the face of a seemingly constant barrage of pleadings and arguments, he must have been wondering what part of no his buddies didn’t understand.
”You want to do it, right, Joe?”
”There’s no other option, you know.”
”I’m sorry, Joe, but you gotta do it.”
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. In the end, Joey prevailed and opted for pit crew rather than racer on Days Two and Three of the 90-Miler.
As usual, other North Country Men’s Club members were not so wise. Jack and Tom teamed up once again to do the race, as did Bill and Jay, who are beginning, at least during the three days of the grueling race, to resemble Matthau and Lemon of Grumpy Old Men fame more than Cap’n Call (Bill) and Deets (Jay) of Lonesome Dove.
Once again, Tom flew from Connecticut to Buffalo on a Thursday to join Jack, Bill and Jay for the drive to Old Forge and the start of the race. With Jan planning to drive to the Adirondacks Friday night, this would allow him to drink beer and sleep in the car on the way home after the race.
Tom is well acquainted with the terminal of Buffalo International Airport, since he usually hangs out there for several hours each time he flies to Buffalo. This trip was no exception. He arrived in Buffalo at about 2 p.m. Jack came to pick him up at 3 p.m., but somehow could not find him, although he was sitting in plain site near the baggage carousels. He certainly wasn’t lost in a crowd, since there were only a few other travelers going about their business in the large space. Jay returned at 4 p.m. and picked him up in Jack’s Miata. Fortunately, the top was down, so Tom was able to sit in the two-seater with his extra large gear bag on his lap and sticking up well above the top of the windshield. He also had his graphite Zaveral racing paddle, which he had carefully packed in a padded Gillespie paddling case, after using sections of that pipe insulation you can buy in the hardware store to protect the shaft and blade of the paddle. He did this because he decided it would be best to check the paddle with his bag at the airport rather than carry it onto the plane in the post 9-11 era. He remembered the previous year, just before 9-11, when people had looked at him quizzically as he had carried his paddle case through the airport. One person had even asked him what kind of gun he was toting. He thought it would be best this time not to have it under his arm as he went through security. (He also, for good measure, was wearing the Buffalo professional firefighters t-shirt that Bill had given him. There’s nothing wrong with being mistaken for one of Buffalo’s bravest. Someone might even give him a free cup of coffee and a donut.)
When he checked in at the U.S. Airways desk, the ticket agent had asked him what he was carrying. He told her it was a canoe paddle that, believe it or not, was actually fragile. She asked him he wanted her to put a paddle label on the paddle case. He said sure, although he was quite surprised to learn that they had paddle stickers.
Upon landing in Buffalo, he found his gear bag all alone on the baggage carousel. His paddle case was not there. This was very bad news. As he looked around for a baggage agent to speak with, he saw the paddle case leaning against a wall by the agent’s office, and went to claim it. Of course, there was not a “paddle” label on the case at all, but a “fragile” sticker that had signaled the baggage handlers not to put the paddle case on the carousel. He had misheard the ticket agent in Hartford.
Pulling up to Jack’s house in Clarence, Jay and Tom found Jack and Bill finishing up with the packing of gear in Billy’s van and the securing of Jay’s and Bill’s Sundowner and Tom’s and Jack’s much speedier Jensen onto the roof rack. They then headed off on the State Thruway toward Old Forge, picking up a pizza along the way. Jack, who was driving, spent half his time with his eyes on the road and the other half doing work on his Palm personal digital assistant. He would study the Palm until his passenger-side tires hit the rutted strip in the breakdown lane that signals drivers that they are going off the road. He would then straighten out the van and go back to whatever he was doing with the Palm.
Enjoying it is not an Option
They drove into Old Forge at night and checked into the cheap motel just behind where the race would start at 8 a.m. the next morning at the beginning of the Fulton Chain of lakes. They also went to the race headquarters to pick up their boat numbers and other information, as well as the 20th anniversary race t-shirts, which were an unattractive yellow with red lettering. It was here that they joined up with Jack’s older brother, G.J., who, unlike Jack, was a real basketball player who actually played in college at Canisius, and G.J.’s partners, the aforementioned Joey and Miles, another long-time New Jersey friend of G.J.’s. G.J. had come to a 90-Miler a couple of years earlier, and had somehow come away with the notion that it would be fun to do. He then talked Joey and Miles into joining him.
They all wandered back to the motel and busied themselves with affixing their numbers to their boats and drinking Bud. Jack and Tom brought their boat into their hotel room and set it down diagonally (the only way it would fit) across the two beds. Their plan was to glue foam blocks into the bilge. Jack had cut large holes in the blocks that would accommodate large water jugs. This was a setup that many of the experienced racers used. In the end, however, they decided not to perform this operation as they were unsure of the optimum position for the jug holders. The two jugheads, however, performed some other work on the boat and then hauled it in the dark down to the race start, and then bedded down for the night at about 1 a.m., ensuring that they would be tired the next morning.
They all got up early the next morning and went to the nearby diner where they always have a hearty breakfast before the race. The four veteran NCMC racers filled in G.J. and his partners on the race and on the history of the NCMC’s participation. They learned that Jack and Tom always beat Bill and Jay. They also got an inkling why that was so when Jay said he was not going to race (in the sense of striving for the best possible time), but was going to enjoy himself on the water. This declaration prompted an impatient Bill to retort, “There’s no enjoyment to be had, mister, so you might as well race.” Jay remained unconvinced, and no doubt G.J., Miles and Joey inferred that the disagreement between the two, so evident on land, probably survived on the water.
Their next chore was to get all their gear on the gear truck before it left for the Lake Eaton campground by Long Lake, where they would be spending the night after the first day’s racing. It was a lot of gear, including well-packed coolers with the food and drink they would need to race, or, as the case might be, enjoy the race. Because he flew from Buffalo for the race, Tom was excused, or, more properly, unilaterally excused himself from providing any provisions. It was a quite satisfactory arrangement from his point of view.
It was the first Friday of the month, and was the last of a long string of first Fridays on which G.J. had pledged to attend Mass. Arrangements had been made with race czar Brian MacDonnell for G.J. to attend Mass in the Adirondacks, and for him and his crew to enter the race, not at the start, but at the approximate point in the race that they would have found themselves a couple of hours after the gun. This arrangement is sort of like that parable in the Bible in which the guy who shows up to work the harvest in the afternoon is given the same pay as the guys who show up first thing in the morning. It’s nice to see G.J. rewarded for his faith in this life as well as the next.
Tom, Jack, Bill and Jay gave up on salvation long ago and therefore started the race in the usual manner. Several hours later, while toiling along the portage leading to agonizing Brown’s Tract, Jack and Tom came upon Joey wandering the portage and conversing with his fellow paddlers. They then passed G.J. and Miles hauling the canoe. Neither seemed too much the worse for wear.
The most interesting on-the-water event on Day One of the race occurred to Jack and Tom after the day’s final portage and as they paddled the last couple of lakes leading to beautiful Blue Mountain Lake and the finish line. The nature of the event, however, cannot be detailed on this web page, so it will have to remain a mystery to those who were not in the boat or at the race. Suffice it to say that Tom and Jack, who were chasing one boat and being chased by another, refused to slow down for anything. When it was pointed out to them the next morning that the boat they were chasing was not in their particular class of men over 40 in “standard” canoes, Tom said it didn’t matter and that if the boat in front of them had been a solo commanded by Joey, the resolve would have been the same. For the record, Jack and Tom did catch the boat in question just before the finish line, and held off the attacking boat by a slim margin.
90 Miles the Hard Way
They camped Friday night at Lake Eaton alongside the contingent of Buffalo firefighters who do the race each year. It was a smaller contingent for 2002, in part because some of Buffalo’s bravest were injured. For awhile they chatted with one of the Tickners, an Adirondack family that runs an outfitting business in Old Forge and from whom Tom had purchased his Sundowner 10 years earlier. This Tickner, a young man wearing a Katmandu t-shirt, related a story about how he and two or three others, using a three-seated Wenonah Minnesota III canoe, had paddled the course of the 90-Miler in a single day! Tom figured that they had pulled off this amazing feat on a long June day, but Tickner disclosed that they had done it in October! They had started in the dark at 4 a.m. They had to break through some ice on Brown’s Tract and they had finished on Lake Flower in the village of Saranac Lake at 10 p.m., 18 hours after first dipping their paddles. Their main fear at night was the possibility of capsize in the cold water of stump-studded Oseetah Lake, the same lake Jack and Tom had capsized in during the May 2002 Round the Moutain race. Visiting Tickner during the 2002 90-Miler was a Tibetan friend he had met on a trip to the Himalayas (explaining the Katmandu t-shirt). The race is tough enough when it is paddled in six-hour chunks over three days. To do it on a short October day is, well, just plain ridiculous.
Its was on Friday night that Joey declared his paddling adventure to be over and the cajoling to change his mind began. His steadfastness in the face of this barrage was truly inspiring. Jan arrived in camp late that night. She was the first of the UHs (unsung heroes) to join the racers.
That’ll Teach Billy to Dis the Jets
Saturday morning, there was a little more discussion about Joey doing the race that day, but nothing came of it. They had breakfast at the Adirondack Hotel in Long Lake and headed for the starting line. By this time, Joey was expressing a desire to head back home to New Jersey that day so that, among other things, he would be able to watch the Jet game on Sunday. During a van ride from the breakfast hotel, he mentioned the Jets and Bill said that at the start of every sporting season, every New York team, including the Jets, is overrated, because they are from New York.
The second day of racing began and the four veteran NCMCers headed off down Long Lake. G.J. and Joey found a way to go back to Old Forge to pick up G.J.’s car.
This left Jan and Miles to somehow pack the camping gear for eight people–packs, tents, clothes, sleeping bags, coolers– all into the Subaru. They accomplished their mission, drove the gear to Fish Creek campground and set up camp. They then picked up the racers at the end of Day Two and drove them to camp.
Mary, Vanessa, Isaac and Levi arrived from Buffalo and they had a nice dinner in camp and presented Joey with his NCMC t-shirt. For Levi to make it to the race at such a tender age bodes well for his future in the NCMC. He appears to be following in the footsteps of his older brother, who is the youngest club member to ever go on a camping trip.
They all slept well, although Billy, who was sleeping alone in a tent, was awakened in the night by Joey. Joey has very thick glasses and when he got up in the night to answer nature’s call, he answered it on Billy’s tent.
Heading for 1,000 Miles
Sunday morning brought the third straight day of beautiful sunny weather, and Miles and G.J. joined the other paddlers on the water, sans Joey. They all raced the 23 or so miles of Day Three to Saranac Lake. As usual, the bagpipe player in a kilt played for the racers on one of the portages. When Jack and Tom crossed the finish line, McDonnell announced Jack as “Jack the troublemaker” Semler.
Finishing the race is sublime, and the only downside on this occasion was that, for the first time ever, the open container law was enforced at the finish line. There was a beer tent, however, which offered free Adirondack microbrew as long as you stayed under the tent.
G.J. and Miles took Mary’s car back to the campground to pick up their own vehicle and take a nice, long swim. The others put the canoes on the cars and had some food while waiting for G.J. and Miles to complete their nice, long swim.
It was the ninth race for Jack and Jay, bringing their total mileage to 810. Next year they will reach 900 miles, and early on the first day of the 2005 race, they will pass the 1,000-mile mark.
It may seem like an impressive feat, but it really isn’t. Aa the race literature states, “It is not a hard race, those who are in shape for 30 miles of paddling a day should not have a problem.”
This no doubt has the intrepid NCMCers considering the possibility of matching Tickner’s one-day paddle over the entire race course from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. Hey, if you’re in shape for 90 miles of paddling a day ….
Gallery: 90-Miler 2002