This past weekend I successfully completed my first Adirondack Canoe Classic, the race that sprawls roughly 90 miles through the Adirondacks from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. This article will be both a recap on my experience and also comments on my first C4 experiences.
I have been to my fair share of canoe races and this race has to rank towards the top of them all especially when you look at the logistics of this race. This race requires a very large volunteer/staff pool and over a full 4 days (Thursday-Sunday). The only other race that I have been to personally that requires as much staffing is the Ausable River Canoe Marathon. Everyday on this race there were safety boats at various parts, pit stops with additional food and drink and volunteers at the portages. Also, at the end of each day there were snacks at the finish area which turned out to be extremely helpful. I especially enjoyed the hot broth that I had post race which helped me restore some of the sodium lose that had occurred over 5 hours of racing. It amazed me at the amount of staffing that this race had which definitely help make this a very enjoyable experience. I think that the race promoters do a very good job at this race keeping everything organized and running smoothly and I thank the entire staff for helping create such a wonderful event.
When I first decided to do the Adirondack Canoe Classic the thought of 90 miles did not seem that hard to me. This was mainly because I have done the General Clinton which is 70 miles straight and Ausable River Canoe Marathon which is 120 miles straight. With the 90 being spread over 3 days I made the assumption that would make this race easier than both the Clinton and Ausable but I have to say that was not the case. Both the Clinton and Marathon are primarily on river going with the current but for this race it is mostly on lakes so for the most part there was not much help with current. There was also the very tough section of Brown's Tract that is a very twisty section with no current that truly tests your boat handling abilities. Then you add on those portages! Although the 70 and marathon have portages they have nothing in comparison to the 90. These portages were long and tough, not to mention the boat weighs over 50lbs. Splitting the course over 3 days also adds a bit of residual fatigue to consecutive days that you normally do not have to deal with on single day races that might be longer in length. All of these factors make this course surprisingly challenging but also very fun. There is always something changing over the course of the 3 days and this course is very different than other races that you may have tried in the past. It is definitely worth trying and you will probably be like most that do come to this race and continue to come back as it is a truly great event.
This race has approximately 270ish boats on the waterway so they stagger the race start in waves that are approximately separated by 5 mins. They tend to start with the touring classes as they will end up spending the most time on the water and the faster classes tend to be the later waves. I was in an unlimited C4 (a brand new one, had new boat smell and all, more on that later) so we were the last wave which was number 9. This meant we ended up passing a very large number of boats each day which was awesome. I enjoyed being able to give encouragement and also see the wide variety of people that decided to embark on this journey. Although there are some of us like myself that are racing this race to compete at a high level, there are by far much more that do this race to just complete the distance. It is an awesome thing to see all types of people getting out to enjoy the beautiful landscape and test their toughness on the course. I really liked seeing a couple of really young kids in the 7-12 year range from my guess out there and made sure to give them extra encouragement as I hope they had a great experience and can grow into this sport.
For those of us looking to race, the C4 class is going to be the most competitive class at the race. This year there were a total of 28 C4's and 6 of those were unlimited like the boat that I was in. Only 3 of the 6 unlimited boats ended up being faster than the stock boats. My boat came in 3rd and we were 22 mins faster than the fastest C4 stock boat of Gloria Wesley, Gary Aprea, Kevin Boss and Andy Hall. This was a great team and I was surprised to see them riding with us on Day 3 as the past 2 days it had been my team and the 1st 2 C4 teams that would tend to get a good start an pull away from the others. On the first day we were able to stay with the eventual winning team of Mike and Rebecca Davis, and Paul and Joan Olney and the second place team of Mike Fries, Joe Manns, Mark Olney, and Dana Henry for about 10-15 mins before they sprinted us out and we just could not match their top speed. On that day we ended up finished the 33.6 miles in 5hrs and 27 mins. This meant that we averaged a speed of 6.2mph on the course which is primarily due to the portages and the very tough section of Brown's tract. The second day turned out to be a bit more different as we started on Long lake which is approximately 11 miles long and for the whole length of the lake it was the top 3 C4's riding together. During this stretch we were able to hold an easy 7.1-7.2mph pace as we took turns pulling across the lake. Once we got to the river though the top 2 teams decided to break up the fun and sprinted and again we did not have an answer for them this time. Overall it was a much quicker day as this day was only 30.5 miles and took us 4hrs and 25 mins with an average course speed of 6.8mph. The last day was luckily the shortest of the 3 at just under 21 miles but just as hard with the residual fatigue that was built by the first 2 days. On this day we managed to stay with the top 2 teams for a while as we made our way down the course. They were eventually able to break away from us but did not make the large gap that they had in the previous 2 days. This day we could see them the entire time and only beat us by 3 mins. This day we averaged 6.6mph.
Now onto the boat. The C4 is a much different beast than anything else I have paddled in the past. It takes a combination of power, technique, and team coordination to make this boat move but when you have it is a pretty cool experience. There were times on Long lake especially where we were hitting 7.1-7.2mph and I could not paddle any easier, once this boat gets to this cruising speed it tends to like to stay there. I was also very surprised at how this boat handled. The section of Brown's tract is extremely technical because it is very twisty but also full of vegetation that has the ability of ripping your paddle right out of your hand. Entering this section I thought we would surely hit the bank at some point but we did not and we were able to actually pass some boats during this section. a 26ft boat in turns harder than the swamp of the 70 and not hitting the bank at all says a lot about both the boat and the team paddling it. I will say that having a lot of extra power for this section of the race can help a lot as you cannot keep that speed around these tight turns so you continually have to accelerate out of each corner to try and keep your overall speed up. The only part of the C4 that I personally did not enjoy was the time off of the water. These boats have a weight restriction and by the rules have to weight at least 50lbs. For reference my C1 stinger weighs 20lbs. For trying to portage at reasonably fast speeds 50lbs prior to jugs, PFD's and wheels is pretty heavy in racing terms. This makes for some "fun" portages. Wheels are almost a necessity but there were a couple of portages that we have to shoulder the boat and I was sure glad to be done with those as soon as we finished them. Overall this boat is a pleasure to paddle and if you get the chance to hop in a C4 I highly recommend it as it is a fun experience.
There was something else that surprised me in the regards to the boats at this race. This race was dominated by boats by GRB Newman Designs and Wenonah. This is clearly different than most of the races that I attend. In most other races you will tend to see a majority of Savage River and Crozier built canoes but that was not the case here. The reason for this may be because a lot of these boats are stock boats. In other regions stock boats are not very common so you tend to see the majority of racing boats either by C2 3x27's or C1's USCA cruiser specs. This is just another reason why this race is special and those from areas outside of NY should consider making a trip to the Adirondacks the weekend after Labor Day next year.