600-plus paddlers take on 90-Miler

The Blue Crusher Flowers, which features in no particular order Donna Walsh, Chrissy Hayden, Cary Hall and Heidi Kretser, celebrates after crossing the finish line of the 90-Miler boat race in Saranac Lake on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

SARANAC LAKE — More than 600 paddlers competing in the Adirondack Canoe Classic — commonly known as the 90-Miler race — wrapped up their three-day journey in Saranac Lake on Sunday. This year’s race marked its 40th running.

“This was a brilliant idea from Sue Dyer and Bill Hollshaw 40 years ago,” Northern Forest Canoe Trail Executive Director Karrie Thomas said. “They were just thinking what can we do that would highlight the Adirondacks, extend the season and keep people here longer. It’s an idea that stuck because it’s a beautiful landscape, but the people who created this race really cultivated the community around it and that is really what matters.”

The race featured around 250 canoes, kayaks, guideboats and stand-up paddleboards on a segment of the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail. The event kicked off in Old Forge on Friday and ended on Lake Flower in Saranac Lake on Sunday.

“The people are what makes this event what it is,” Thomas said. “Everybody I talked to says this is my favorite event because this is a community event and the people are friendly and it’s not about being cut-throat. It’s about being on the water together and that’s what happened. It’s fantastic.”

The first boats hit the Lake Flower shores around 11:30 a.m. As more boats came in, the crowd started getting larger with spectators cheering on their friends, family and loved ones.

From left, Paul Smith’s College students Liv Bolt, Jessie Church and Kaisa Bosek pose at the 90-Miler race in Saranac Lake. While Bolt and Bosek didn’t compete in the race, they stood on the Lake Flower shores cheering on Church. (Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

One of the top seven-person voyager canoe teams included Saranac Lake natives Jacob Alberga and Griffin Smith. They competed for the Paul Smith’s College.

Alberga and Smith have previously worked the 90-Miler but had never raced in it before. Alberga said racing in the Adirondack Canoe Classic had always been in their sights.

“We both worked across the street at (Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters),” Smith said. “We’ve been so close to it for so long. We finally got to do it, with a fast team and a good team.”

“It’s been a thing that has been in the distance,” Alberga said. “It feels like completely amazing that we got to compete this year let alone that we just shut it down.”

The boat, which also contained PSC Canoe Club Coach Matt Dougherty, Olivia Caprio, Jessie Church, John Thompson and Timothy Ziegler, broke a collegiate record.

Larry Sweeney, right, kisses his wife Sue after completing the 90-Miler on the shoreline of Lake Flower in Saranac Lake on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

Church, who has raced in the 90-Miler last year, said this time around was more fun.

“It definitely helped that I know the people that I’m in the boat with,” she said. “I didn’t really know the people that I was in the boat with last year. But it was great this year, I think that everyone had a great time.”

While Church said the group she was with was fantastic, she added that there was a weird feeling that they all sort of hated each other.

“But you’re (also) rooting for each other at the same time,” she said with a smile. “You kind of get into this zone where everything hurts, so you just go faster, so it will stop hurting sooner. I think that was my mindset today, ‘the faster I go, the sooner it stops hurting.'”

Alberga described the three-day experience as exhausting, but he “unfortunately” plans on competing again next year.

Paddlers near the finish line of the 90-Miler boat race in Saranac Lake on Sunday. (Enterprise photo — Parker O’Brien)

“It’s just mentally so strenuous because you go for so long,” he said. “We (him and Smith) ski and run — we ran cross country. It’s just so hard and it’s over, but this is days of pain.”

As members of the Paul Smith’s College voyager boat jumped out of the water they were met with cheers. Church had her own fan club, which included fellow PSC students Kaisa Bosek and Liz Bolt, who were wearing homemade shirts that said “I heart Jessie.”

The voyager boat themselves turned into fans, when they saw their fellow students in a C-4 boat finishing.

“Let’s go Rivercat,” Alberga yelled from the shores. “Shut it down!”

While Church wasn’t exactly sure, she thought that the C-4 broke a collegiate record as well.

Saranac Lake native Larry Sweeney and his long-time racing partner Brian Finn finished shortly after. Sweeney and Finn have been competing in the 90-miler since 1986. This year, they were joined by Ron Hamlin and Dan Miller.

While there were many locals who competed in the three-day paddling journey, none of them probably know the race as well as Paul Smiths resident Brian McDonnell, who was the previous 90-Miler race director before the Northern Forest Canoe Trail nonprofit, purchased the race in 2021.

McDonnell raced alongside Bruce Johnson, Peter Ross and Walter Goldschmidts in the C-4 Stock.

Thomas said its wonderful to see McDonnell paddling at the 90-Miler.

“That’s what he wanted to do when he passed this on to us,” she said. “He was excited to paddle and he’s paddled the last two years. I think it feels pretty great for him, and for me, it’s an honor to have him on the water. The bottom line is that he is still supporting me along the way.

“I couldn’t be more grateful for his support and Grace’s support and all of their endeavors,” she added.

The full race results will be in Tuesday’s Enterprise.


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