The race commonly called the 90-Miler truly lives up to its formal name, the Adirondack Canoe Classic. The Adirondacks' intricate water network makes them unique among mountains, and these rivers and lakes were the original "roads" for travelers in these parts: from Native Americans to 19th-century guides and their tourist "sports."
In that light, the 90-mile route from Old Forge to Saranac Lake is a natural highway, without much current and with fewer carries (the Adirondack word for portages) than other routes of its length. It has become the first leg of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail that ends on the Maine-Canada border.) Some hard-core paddlers do it in a single day (Mike Lynch's story about this phenomenon, known as the "Cannonball," will be published Saturday), but it's plenty strenuous in the three-day Adirondack Canoe Classic.
In a way, the 90-Miler is to the Adirondacks and canoes what the Iditarod is to Alaska and dogsleds. It's 11 years younger, 1,060 miles shorter and way less extreme, but still, it's a regional identity classic.
The 90-Miler's 30th annual running began this morning in Old Forge. It will end Sunday afternoon at the Lake Flower boat launch on River Street here in Saranac Lake.
It's been run for many years now by Brian and Grace McDonnell, and Adirondackers should be grateful for their hard work, dedication and professionalism. The Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce used to run this event, and when the chamber dropped it, it easily could have fizzled out in someone else's care. We all can probably think of examples where a good thing faded after changing hands; the 90-Miler, now as a private venture, is an example of one that not only remained reputable but grew. After years of waiting lists and keeping the count at 250 boats - what the McDonnells knew they and the course could sustain - this year they expanded it to 275.
As with anything, increased size means more environmental impact, but this event is good for the Adirondack environment because it immerses more people in it, and a bit more of that counterbalances 25 boat teams' worth of muddy footprints and whatnot.
In the past, some Saranac Lake business people have said they don't see many of the 90-Miler people as customers. We've even heard the event pooh-poohed by past chamber board members. Looking at the timing of the race's finale, that's somewhat understandable: The racers camp along the route and finish Sunday too late to eat lunch at a local restaurant but early enough to drive home instead of having dinner and spending the night. But while that reality has limitations, it also presents business opportunities to piggyback on it. What about restaurants and shops offering a huge discount to racers, in appreciation but also knowing that they'll bring paying family and friends? What about Sunday night package deals: dinner, a hotel room and maybe something else for one price? What about the possibility of growing the spectator-sport angle of this event and taking advantage of those customers?
All this would need to be marketed, but that can be done using the iconic brand power of the 90-Miler and the Adirondacks as a whole. This event gets people really excited about our area, its nature and its culture, and that's golden.
To all who paddle, to all who support them, to all who organize, hand out water and food and work to keep the paddlers safe, to all who watch, to all who care, and to the McDonnells, we say, with feeling, thank-you. We hope our coverage of the race in Saturday's, Monday's and Tuesday's papers reflects our appreciation of this fine event.