90-Miler: Reason to celebrate

SARANAC LAKE – The course record for the three-day Adirondack Canoe Classic race from Old Forge to here was shattered this year by a team of pro racers from Michigan and Quebec.

Racing in a four-person canoe, Andy Tribold, Steve Lajoie, Nick Walton and Matt Rimer completed the “90-Miler” in a time of 11 hours, 6 minutes and 29 seconds. The prior course record was 11 hours and 24 minutes, set by Marc Gillespie and Paul Olney in a two-person kayak.

It was the first time the team of Tribold, Lajoie, Walton and Rimer competed in the 90-Miler and the first time they ever paddled together in a four-person canoe. But they’ve got plenty of experience, as Lajoie and Tribold have each won the prestigious Triple Crown of marathon canoe racing more than a half dozen times. Rimer has won three Triple Crowns.

“We’ve had no experience with the race whatsoever, so we just came out to have fun,” Rimer told the Enterprise at the finish line Sunday. “We had a good time the whole race. It was enjoyable, and I’m sure we’ll be back out again to do it some time.”

The only challenge, Rimer said, was battling the wind on Sunday.

“We’re used to paddling in crappy conditions quite often, so the wind isn’t that big a deal,” he said.

A total of 260 boats set off Sunday morning from the state’s Fish Creek campground on the final day of the 90-Miler, and all 260 finished. Brian McDonnell of Mac’s Canoe Livery in Lake Clear, who organizes the race each year with his wife Grace, said the conditions were great.

“Day one was probably one of the more spectacular weather days we’ve ever had,” McDonnell said. “(Saturday) was beautiful. It rained a few times, but it wasn’t bad. Everybody’s had a blast.”

McDonnell said the field of boats in this year’s 90-Miler was very competitive, especially in the four-person canoe field.

“We have an incredible number of current and former national-championship-caliber paddlers here,” he said. “We had over 50 college kids in the race, which dramatically brings down the average age of the race. For the first time we had an over-75 division. We’ve called it the super-veterans class. There were people from 10 to 80 years old in this event.”

This year’s 90-Miler was also notable as it included the second and third racers to ever cross the finish line on stand-up paddleboards: Lake Placid residents Jeff Erenstone and Bill Fraser.

Erenstone said he wanted to compete in the 90-Miler on a SUP because he’s gotten into the sport and because the race is “the pinnacle of paddling in the Adirondacks.

“There’s been a huge progression in board technology,” he said. “The last guy did it with what was essentially a rec board. Now they have these race boards. Mine is 14 feet long, and it’s built to handle waves and everything like that. It gets to the point where it gets fun. It’s a crazy workout, but it can handle a race like this.

“We can draft really well,” Erenstone added. “The guideboats have the best draft by far. You get behind a guideboat, hang around for a while, and get a bit of a rest until they speed up and lose you.”

The number of boats in the 90-Miler is capped each year at 275. As usual, that includes plenty of first-time paddlers and numerous others who’ve done it again and again, people like Jean Gianfagna of Watertown. Gianfagna raced in her 10th 90-Miler this weekend, this time with her five boys, including two sets of twins, who came from all across the country to paddle with their mom in a six-person voyageur canoe.

“It’s the spirt of the race,” Gianfagna said. “You battle the freezing cold rain and the wind, and at the end you cross the finish line and you feel so great because you did it together. I never leave here without saying I’m going to do it again next year.”

Three generations of the Pechler family, from near Rochester, crossed the finish line together Sunday: Arnie Pechler III, 57, Arnie Pechler IV, 33, and 12-year-old Kasy Pechler, each of whom has raced in the 90-Miler multiple times.

“We enjoy the outdoors, and it’s just something we can all do together and enjoy together,” Arnie III said. “It’s a way to test yourself and a reason to stay in shape. It’s fun to get a little better each year. This is our best year, time wise.”

“People love this event,” McDonnell said. “This is a community of paddlers. In this day and age, there’s a lot of canoe events and races that are going down in numbers. This one is defying the trend. A large part of it has to do with the fact that it’s been going on for 30 years, and that we make it more of a personal challenge than a race.”

At a ceremony following the race, three awards were handed out. State Department of Environmental Conservation Region 5 Director Bob Stegemann presented the Terry Healy Award to Adirondack Canoe Classic veteran Norm Goldstein for his enthusiasm, spirit and commitment to the race. Goldstein, 75, paddled in his 28th 90-Miler this year and was recently diagnosed with cancer.

“I’m completely floored,” he said in accepting the award. “Why am I here? It’s not just my love of paddling. The reason I’m here is because of each and every one of you. I love to see your smiling faces, whether you pass me or I pass you. It’s wonderful to see so many paddlers each year.”

The Pete Clark Memorial Award, given to the guideboat rower who best exemplifies the spirit of fun and camaraderie, was presented to longtime 90-Miler guideboat participant Gerhard Munger of Rochester.

The Reynolds Cup, selected by the event’s organizers, was given to Glen Vandewinckel and Annie Ripton of Webster. The trophy is given each year to a parent-child team that “plays hard, plays fair and has fun together on and off the water.”