The Hamilton College canoe team continued a recent tradition by participating on Sept. 7 in the Adirondack Canoe Classic, a three-day, 90-mile race that tests outdoor skills, endurance and poise under pressure.
Since 1983, the weekend after Labor Day has marked a chance for teams and individuals to compete in a grueling route covering the first leg of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The “Highway of the Adirondacks,” as it is often referred to as, features an unbroken route starting in Old Forge and ending in Saranac Lake, while crossing over eight different lakes, ponds and rivers along the way.
This 2013 crew is Hamilton’s 6th official team to compete in this historic race. With more than 50 people on the college’s canoe team, 22 racers were lucky enough to be able to participate, backed by an 11-person pit crew. The Hamilton canoe team — one of two colleges that consistently compete in this race — entered the race with three C2 boats, two C4 boats and one eight-person canoe.
Although Andrew Jillings, Hamilton’s director of outdoor leadership, remains an important figure for the club and a participant in the race each year, the team is student-run.
“[Jillings] helps teach us technique and gives feedback on the boats, but it’s up to us to lead,” explained Leah Wolf ’14. This year, captain David Morgan ’14 organized meetings, practices and training for the other participants. However, come race time, each boat relied immensely on the pit crew.
“We are essentially parents for the weekend,” joked Ashley Williams ’14. As a part of the pit crew, she helped the competitors at each stop with “food, Advil and a morale boost more than anything.”
Each year brings both physical and mental challenges, as well as unpredictable circumstances. In the eight-person canoe, Chris Whiting noted the importance of timing due to the larger number of people in the boat: “It’s all about being together — if you aren’t timed with each other, the movement of the boat reflects that.” The team also faced an unfortunate setback when the wheel of one of the canoe trailers broke less than halfway through a 1.3-mile portage, causing the group to haul more than 150 pounds for the remainder. However, the pit crew proved invaluable once again as Wolf gave a nod to their “killer back massages.”
The most remarkable thing about the race is the camaraderie built not only within the Hamilton team but also between each team competing. “The most rewarding part is the community aspect of this race … it’s more about being in the race than actual results,” said Whiting. Wolf agreed: “This team gives Hamilton such a great reputation among the outdoors world.”
It seems that the other competitors against each Hamilton boat also agreed. Two senior competitors from Nova Scotia were impressed enough to email the Hamilton athletic department. The Hamilton boat they encountered in the water “brought out the best in us…with their will and determination they will get along very well in life, whatever comes their way.”