Top paddlers prep for 90-Miler

SARANAC LAKE – This year’s running of the Adirondack Canoe Classic has attracted some of the biggest names on the marathon canoe racing circuit – past and present.

“There are more Triple Crown winners than there’s ever been,” said pro paddler and 90-Miler veteran Marc Gillespie of Rochester. “There’s probably 80 Triple Crown wins between five or six paddlers that are there.”

The prestigious Triple Crown of marathon canoe racing combines performances in the one-day, 70-mile General Clinton Canoe Regatta on the Susquehanna River, the nonstop 120-mile AuSable River Canoe Marathon in Michigan and the three-day, 120-mile la Classique de Canots de la Mauricie race on the St. Maurice River in Quebec. All three are pro races and offer monetary prizes, something the 90-Miler doesn’t do.

For the past six years, the Triple Crown has been won by Andy Triebold of Michigan and Steve Lajoie of Quebec. Overall, Lajoie had seven Triple Crowns and Triebold has eight.

In this year’s 90-Miler, which starts Friday in Old Forge and ends Sunday in Saranac Lake, Lajoie and Triebold are teaming up with Nick Walton and Matt Rimer, both of Michigan. Rimer has three Triple Crowns, including one with Triebold.

The group will be in a four-person canoe and potentially test the course record for a canoe, which is believed to be 11 hours, 32 minutes and 15 seconds in 2011. That time was set by the Richard Reynolds Express led by Gillespie. The overall course record is 11:24 set by Gillespie and Paul Olney in a two-person kayak.

Lajoie, who lives in Montreal, told the Enterprise this will be his first time racing in a C-4. He said he talked to people who have done the race and it sounded fun, so he decided to give it a try.

“Hopefully, (we’ll) have some good times with our friends at the campground and in the race, see how it goes,” he said. “I never been in a C-4 yet, so we’ll try to learn fast too in that boat.”

While teams like Lajoie’s will be competing hard in the race, the paddlers plan to be more laid back than if they were at a pro race.

“It’s fun. It’s not serious,” Gillespie said. “There’s no money involved. That’s the biggest thing. We paddle hard, but it’s not cutthroat.”

Gillespie said that majority of the people are here for the community atmosphere and the scenery.

“That’s what the majority of the people are there for,” he said. “There are some really hard core people there, but most of those now are in the team boats, like Bruce Barton is going to come out and he’s going to go as fast as he can. But it’s not the same as Michigan or it’s not the same as the 70-Miler. We camp out. We drink a lot of beer. I never camp out for a serious canoe race because I want to get a good night’s sleep.”

Gillespie said a lot of the pro paddlers plan to stay at Fish Creek Campground.

Gillespie is the leader of a paddling club called Forge Racing in Rochester. He said Forge Racing will have four mixed C-4 boats in the race.

Among those in his boats are Jeff Kolka, a four-time Triple Crown winner, and Solomon Carriere, who has won it three times. Both men were partners with legendary paddler Serge Corbin. Kolka won from 2000 to 2003, while Carriere took it home from 1993 to 1995.

The 56-year-old Carriere lives in northern Saskatchewan, in a very remote area about 50 miles from the town of Cumberland House. He is also a past winner of the 450-mile Yukon Quest on the Yukon River and is used to wilderness paddling. He lives in a lodge and leads guided hunting trips for moose, deer and birds. In the winter, he races and guides with sled dogs.

“Here when I go on a training run, you don’t see anybody, just wolves, moose or bears, that’s it,” he said in a phone interview.

However, he said he’s heard good things about the 90-Miler route and expects that the racers will go hard even though the event is more relaxed than some of the pro races he’s been in.

“We’re always going full out if we can, even if we’re old. If we’re able to go,” he said with a laugh. “It’s going to be fun because the people I’m going to paddle with in the four-person mixed race I’ve never met before. So it’s going to be fun.”