200 Days in the Life of the College

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Friday, September 10, 2010

Prepare to paddle — or get paddled

By Julia Wilber ’11

Early autumn finds Andrew Jillings, Hamilton’s director of outdoor leadership, training and preparing students for competition in the 90-Miler Canoe Classic, an Adirondack tradition that, Jillings says, “communities are built around.”

The 90-mile route, traveled over the course of three days, stretches northeast through a chain of lakes and rivers beginning in Old Forge and ending at Saranac Lake. It is a cultural event with traditions each day, such as the appearance of a potbelly pig on the morning of Day 2, the playing of bagpipes on Day 3 and even a 90-miler song. With all ages and abilities represented, it is different from any other competitive environment students might experience at college. Jillings likens the experience to an abbreviated study-abroad program, in that it is a three-day total immersion into another culture. “They get an education, one totally different from Hamilton academics,” he says.

This September, Hamilton is represented by three four-person boats of current students, along with a few others racing with friends from the area and alumni who are aiding the racers as invaluable members of the pit crew. “Young people have not ever seen a race like this,” Jillings says, explaining why he encourages and facilitates student participation. “Having their ass kicked by a 70-year-old woman who has been doing this since before they were born, it is a different experience.”