High Water Mark
Having enjoyed the “unbridled enthusiasm” of Jack Semler in his stern in the 2003 Adirondack Canoe Classic, Bill returned to the 90-Miler in 2004 to take the helm himself and pilot no-nonsense bowman Tom through the watery highway of the upstate New York mountain region.
Bill is an optimist, however, and rather than compare sitting in the stern with Tom to taking the bow with Jack, he no doubt compared pairing with Tom to pairing with Jay. At least with Tom his commands to switch would be heeded, most of the time, anyway.
Tom and Bill in 2004
Aside from Bill and Tom, the only NCMC attendee was Jan, who served as the one-person pit crew, for which she was amply rewarded with a “they paddled, but I pushed” pit crew t-shirt (the shirts were sort of a gray color for 2004, with the familiar map of the race course on the back).
As Bill is one of the browsers of this web site who has chided the editor for long-windedness, we’ll spare you a stroke-by-stroke account of the race.
The two NCMCers did fine, with Bill doing an excellent job in the stern. On a couple of occasions Tom told Bill that he didn’t think their 18-foot Jensen was aimed just right, but in general he busied himself with the task of setting their stroke rate. Bill’s worthy helmsmanship also included getting the boat off to a clean start each day.
The weather was mild and the water was high. On Day One this meant that they entered Brown’s Tract at a new spot upstream from the normal put-in, which was flooded. This caused a logjam of canoeists and added to their time. It also meant that the trip up the Marion River was against more current than usual. They were pretty beat when they finished Day One, but recovered in camp at Lake Eaton.

They blazed through Day Two in a record five hours and 12 minutes (or nearly six miles an hour), benefiting from the high water on the Raquette River, which made it a much faster and less technical a paddle than in other years, as they could cut many corners on the serpentine course. They witnessed two capsizes on Day Two, but did not have to waste time helpingwith rescues, as other boats were closer to the overturned racers.
They completed Day Three’s 25 miles in a quick three hours and 50 minutes, again taking advantage of the high water in the river sections connecting the Saranac Lakes.
The only real mishaps of the trip occurred off the water. At the start of Day Two, which was moved to a new location, Bill was busted by a landowner who was trying to keep racers from peeing on her property before their waves went off. While camping after Day One at Lake Eaton, Tom dropped their burgers out of the frying pan and onto the ground, but he rinsed them off, and they tasted only mildly gritty. The next night, in Fish Creek, he dropped the pot of cooked pasta, just as had occurred twice on the 2004 Algonquin trip. They cooked another batch, however, and were able to carbo load for Day Three.
Bill had forgotten some of the hardware for his tent, but managed to use some pieces of stiff foam to anchor the poles for his Timberline tent (see photo gallery).
One of the mysteries on the trip was the location of Jack’s MSR Dragonfly stove, which Bill supposedly brought to the race. They never did find it and thought they had lost it, but Jack later found it safe and sound in his garage, as it had never made it into Bill’s van.
The NCMC would like to thank Brian McDonnell, the race’s prime organizer, for his superb job in 2004. Because Brian’s race duties nowadays prevent him from competing in the race himself, he recently paddled the entire course in one day in a four-person Wenonah.
Tom and Bill at the finish

We’ll leave you with some race-inspired haiku:

Cars drive to Old Forge

Kevlar canoes on their roofs

Cult of We-no-nah

Raising paddles high

Just before the race begins

Have I made a mistake?

Tumultuous start

How do paddlers make such chop?

Just don’t capsize now

No gunwales or yokes

And self-bailers in the bilge

Racing boats fly by

The campground carry

A long walk through spectators

And a chance to pee

Winding and narrow

With fat paddlers passing us

Brown’s Tract sucks

Up the Marion

Utowana and Eagle

Now Blue Mountain looms

Neck and shoulders throb

Blisters sprout and back stiffens

Two more days to go

Endless Long Lake trip

One carry at Raquette Falls

Fanny fatigue day

We sneak to their stern

And ride wake until spotted

A splash in the face

Day two is over

Only twenty-five miles left

Time for a cold Bud

Billy at the helm

Nothing but “huts,” grunts and curses

A man of few words

After Labor Day

Big blue lakes without motors

Too fried to enjoy

Wake up in the dark

Start the coffee and find gear

What time is it now?

Drive and camp and cook

Find the duct tape and sunscreen

All hail the pit crew

Four hundred paddlers

Couple of porta-potties

Time to wait in line?

Waves of boats go off

The call comes for men’s masters

Where the hell is Jack?

A jump in the lake

Ends a day on the water

Sweat and grime fly off

Two boats neck and neck

They bang amidships and stall

I need a cutlass

We pass a solo

The paddler plods in silence

A fate worse than death

The guideboat rowers

Traveling backwards all day

Face the canoeists

Jay wears hot pink gloves

With grippy nubs on the palms


Those women paddlers

Young and old, lean or not so

So damn tough to pass

The bow parts the water

Sending waves fanning outward

Racers grab our wake

Fair time on the water

A Scotch old fashioned in camp

Good time off the water

Joey races Day One

Joey says “No” to Day Two

He pees on Bill’s tent

Jay broods at the start

If he could walk on water

Bill would be alone

Route Three bridge appears

Last cheers before Lake Flower

We can smell the barn

Two orange buoys

Like giant floating pumpkins

We sprint to the line

Racers on the grass

Chicken sandwich and baked beans

Here’s your mileage pin

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