Back to the Four
The 2010 Adirondack Canoe Classic marked the return of the Minnesota 4 to competition.
The last time the four-man was used was in 2007, when Jack, Bill, Tom and John raced for the North Country Men’s Club. In the two ensuing years, Tom could not race due to a bad back and murder most foul at Yale. Jack and Bill raced one day in 2008 and completed the race in 2009. As in previous years, Jan and Tom met John on the New York State Thruway before the race in Albany and took a single car to Old Forge, that nice Adirondack town that serves as the starting point of the 90-mile, three-day race. They stopped in North Creek for an early dinner and arrived in Old Forge before dark. They checked in for the race and carried the canoe, which race czar Brian McDonnell had transported to Old Forge for the NCMC, to the beach. Bill had researched and reserved great rooms at Clark’s beachfront motel for the racing team, and Jan, Tom and John moved into their accommodations. One could see the start line from the doors of the rooms and the paddlers would be able to hear Brian’s pre-race report from the comfort of the motel, meaning that for the first time they might actually hear the pre-race report. Jan, John and Tom went to bed around 10 p.m. after locking the doors to their rooms and drawing the shades to prevent having to get out of bed when Jack and Bill made their usual late arrival. In fact, Jack and Bill did not arrived very late this particular year and there was some brief interaction before everyone retired for the night.
They awoke to a dreary, gray, cool and drizzly morning. They tried to get breakfast at a pancake house some distance from the start of the race but it was closed. They had to go to Walt’s instead, with all the other paddlers, but had a good breakfast and returned to their rooms with plenty of time to get ready for the day. More and more 90-Miler paddlers are switching to four-man canoes and there were many more boats lined up on the water at the start of their heat than in previous years. Remembering their traumatic capsize of 2007, they held back at the start and found themselves struggling through the chop left by the other boats. Heading up the Fulton Chain of lakes, they soon found themselves dropped by almost every other boat in their wave. This was mainly due to old age and the fact that it had been three years since the four paddlers were together in a boat.
There were some pluses, however, to their situation. Brian had installed tractor seats on top of the two cane seats in the middle of the boat. This greatly improved the boat’s steadiness and John’s and Tom’s paddling leverage. Tom was in the third seat in front of Jack in the stern, and felt a big difference in his paddling. The other big plus was the wheels. In 2009, Jack and Bill had used the wheels to move their two-man canoe down the portages and had found them to be a blessing. After 10 miles of paddling on this day, they reached the portage to Sixth Lake and employed the wheels. They were, in short, a revelation! Moving the boat on wheels was much faster than having two of the paddlers carry it aloft. The wheels also eliminated the uncertainty that had often confounded the NCMC at portages regarding how the boat was going to be carried and what gear would be left in it or not. Furthermore, even if the wheels were not more efficient, the NCMC paddlers are just too old to be carrying four-man canoes down portages.
Overall, Day One was a struggle. Conditions were not great, the water in the infamously grueling Brown’s Tract was very low, and the paddlers were out of sync. Blame usually falls on the stern paddler, whoever he is (perhaps it was Jack), for this problem, but this year the general Day One malaise and lack of paddling coordination was due to all four paddlers’ performance. Eliminating liquid waste was also a problem. Jack and Bill had each brought two giant water bags into the boat with them. Furthermore, they had treated their water with some additive that turned purple and made them have to pee continuously. This was not a problem on portages as there was plenty of opportunity for them to answer nature’s call while their teammates rolled the boat down the trail. Being distracted by the need to pee, however, affected performance in the boat. Jack, for example, had some difficulty keeping the boat on course at those times that his bladder competed with his brain for attention. Things came to a head in the Marion River, when Jack’s bladder began to call very loudly for relief. Tom was ambivalent about Jack’s plight. At first he said he would never race again if they had to stop for nature’s call. He changed his mind, however, when a girl in another boat, who had been listening to their debate about stopping, pled Jack’s case. Tom then suggested that they pull over at a small dock that appeared in front of them. They stopped, and Jack and Bill clambered out of the boat and dashed into the woods (ignoring “no trespassing” signs). Tom and John, who, by the way, is a camel who neither drinks much nor ever pees during a race, sat in the boat holding on to the dock and watched and waited as 15 or 20 other canoes passed them. The paddlers in all these other boats looked at Tom and John quizzically and pitifully as they raced by.
As it happened, the dock where they had stopped was less than half a mile from the portage out of the Marion River. This did not stop Jack and Bill from relieving themselves again on the portage! With bladders quiet, they paddled on to the finish at Blue Mountain Lake. Thirty-five miles had been completed! They were none the worse for wear, and they headed to the campsite at Lake Eaton state campground that had been set up by Jan during the day.
They had a nice camping arrangement at Lake Eaton, except for a glaring lack of firewood on the cool evening. After surveying the scene, Bill took the Subaru and came back shortly with the station wagon’s way cargo area filled with firewood. Music, video, photos and other entertainment was provided by Jack’s new iPad (Jack has come around to Apple in a big way). They took hot showers and had a good meal before retiring to the tents. Mary was scheduled to arrive late from Buffalo, and Jack wisely left a light on the hood of his car so Mary would be able to find their campsite in the dark. Unfortunately, someone turned off Jack’s light, no doubt thinking he was being a Good Samaritan, and Mary ended up spending a good amount of time wandering the campsite in search of the NCMC outpost. The morning weather on Day Two of the race was okay, and they had a decent breakfast before heading to the start of the race in Long Lake.
At the start area, they encountered the usual tableau. There were long lines to the portable toilets, and nearby property owners were patrolling their boundaries, ready to raise hell with any paddler who thought he could avoid waiting in line. The main entertainment was a pet pot-bellied pig that roamed among the paddlers. It is uncertain whether Jack’s and Billy’s water supplies were purple on this morning. It would certainly have been ill-advised, as the day called for 17 miles of paddling before the one and only portage around Raquette Falls. They got off to a decent start of the race as the wide starting area encouraged alacrity. Indeed, they had such a good start that Mary and Jan, who awaited them on the bridge at Long Lake, had to be alerted to their presence with calls from the boat. Unlike the previous day, conditions were calmer and the paddlers were in better sync. The boat was moving well, Jack was keeping a good course, and they actually spent a fair amount of time riding the side wake of other boats. They reached the end of the lake before the wind picked up and entered the river. The water was lower than normal in the river, but not so low as to impede pace and progress. The portage around the falls on Day Two sucks big time, but they managed it without too much distress, even though they had to carry the boat up the hill from the portage on slippery rocks and mud. Eventually, the portage trail leveled off and they were able to put the boat on the wheels. They had to lift the boat over obstructions from time to time, but in general the wheels continued to perform well. Back in the boat after the portage, they moved down river at a good pace. The sun was out and they enjoyed what current the river provided. Jack had brought his GPS in the boat and would occasionally provide a report on how many of the 30+ miles for the day they had completed. In general, this news was unwanted by his teammates as they did not wish to know how much farther they needed to travel. They might, for example, yell out loud when Jack would begin to utter one of his GPS reports, and by that method keep from hearing the bad news about the remaining distance to the finish line. Ignorance is bliss in this circumstance, and they were pleasantly surprised to turn a bend in the endless river and unexpectedly see the glorious finish line. (It should be mentioned, by the way, that the race’s most interesting competitor was a guy wearing loud shorts who commanded a paddle board.)
After Day Two of the race they camped at Fish Creek state campground, which is also where Day Three of the race begins. The clubhouse on Kimpton Road was being rented, so it was unavailable to the paddlers for this night. Jack and Bill did go to the house for some reason or another and spend some time enviously peeking into the windows. The weather was good, however, and camping at Fish Creek was pleasant. Many other paddlers camp at Fish Creek, which adds to the ambience and enjoyment of the place on that night. There was a beautiful rosy sunrise on Day Three of the race, which portended rough water.
Red Sky at Morning …
They did indeed encounter heavy seas in the early part of the race and in fact saw a boat or two turn around and abandon the race. The NCMC Minnesota 4 performed very well and the paddlers made it safely through the waves. They did not burn up the course, but made it to the finish line at Lake Flower at a decent hour. They were wet and cold, as it had rained a bit during the day, but dry clothes and the hot post-race meal set them to rights. Now in the autumn of their paddling careers, the NCMC racers have little hope of ever again winning hardware. Competing and finishing in the race, however, is a worthwhile achievement and the hope is that they will paddle past the orange buoys that signify the end of the race in Saranac lake for some years to come. Who knows? They are fast approaching the age of 60, and that dubious milestone may put them in an “old man” racing category with other feeble competitors whose ancient butts they could kick. Stay tuned!
Gallery: 90-Miler 2010