Each September hundreds of paddlers take to the Adirondacks to paddle in the Adirondack Canoe Classic, also known as “The 90-Miler” or just “The 90.” For the past five years a dedicated group of Hamilton students have joined them and this year saw the College well represented with seven boats of Hamilton students entering into the race. Jillian Donze '17 and Maggie Smith '17 came in third in the women's C2 Stock Class.
The course of The 90 runs north from Old Forge to the town of Saranac Lake along a traditional canoe route known as “The Highway of the Adirondacks.”
The race began on Friday, Sept. 11, in Old Forge in a thick fog. As racers prepared their boats for the day, organizers waited for the “OK” from Department of Environmental Conservation officials to begin the race. A particularly whimsical moment saw race director Brian McDonnell asking the assembled paddlers and spectators to all blow at once in the direction of the starting line in hopes of clearing out some of the fog. After the start line had cleared slightly the organizers started sending waves of paddlers off into the murk. By the time the last paddlers had crossed the starting line the skies had cleared and the weather was beautiful.
Many hours later paddlers began crossing the finish line of Day 1 in the town of Blue Mountain Lake after having navigated the lakes of the Fulton Chain, the tight turns of Brown’s Tract Inlet, crossed the blustery waters of Raquette Lake, and charged upstream through the Marion River into Blue Mountain Lake.
Day 2, Sept. 12, saw racers paddling up the length of Long Lake before winding their way down the Raquette River. Three of Hamilton’s mixed-gender C4s (four-person racing canoes) spent more than an hour in a fierce battle down the length of Long Lake as they side-waked each other—a tactic where one boat surfs on the wake of another resulting in a significant decrease in the amount of effort needed to maintain a competitive speed. Later in the day paddlers crossed the finish line under grey skies and a fair amount of rain—a development that did little to dampen the enthusiasm of many racers.
On Sunday, Sept. 13, (Day 3 of the race) paddlers negotiated the waters of the Saranac Lakes before careening through Oseetah Lake and Lake Flower to finish on a green in downtown Saranac Lake—a strikingly urban area compared to the wilderness scenery common for most of the race. After changing into warm, dry clothes paddlers assembled for a ceremony where pins are awarded based on the number of races completed; 90 miles for the first, 180 for the second, 270 for the third and so on.
In total Hamilton’s Marathon Canoe Racing Team fielded seven boats: three mixed-gender C4s, an all-women C4, two all-women C2s (two person canoes), and a mixed C2. While most students racing are studying on-campus in Clinton this semester, three students from Hamilton’s Adirondack Program also took part as well as Professor of English and Creative Writing Onno Oerlemans, one of the professors teaching in the Adirondack Program. In addition Andrew Jillings, Hamilton’s director of outdoor leadership, paddled a C2 with Royal McDonnell, son of the race director, eventually taking 2nd place in his class.
In addition to the students paddling in the race a dedicated group of students served as pit crew for the racers. Pit crew met the paddlers at various points during the day to resupply them with food and water in addition to making sure that tents and food were waiting for the paddlers at nearby campsites every day after they got off the water. “The work that pit crew does is essential to the success of the weekend and on top of that, it’s just a ton of fun to be there at the race hanging out with an absolutely amazing group of people” said Madison Atterbury ’17 one of two pit-crew directors this year.