It featured two days of sunshine and clear skies, and one day of stormy weather that put even seasoned paddlers to the test.
It’s a few minutes after noon on a picture perfect Sunday as one by one, canoes, kayaks and guideboats push across the finish line in front of a large crowd that lines the shore of Lake Flower. Brian McDonnell of Paul Smiths is the 90-Miler’s co-organizer, and the man behind the microphone, announcing each arrival.
"It’s been a great weekend. Friday was picture-perfect. Saturday threw a bunch of classic struggles at them. All in all, it's been a phenomenal weekend."
The start of the race Friday morning followed generally calm waters from Old Forge to Blue Mountain Lake, but the weather changed dramatically on day two, a 30-mile route across Long Lake and down the Raquette River.
Julie Harjung is a state forest ranger. He says between 20 and 24 boats flipped on Long Lake. "The second day was very windy, very gusty…We had a significant amount of trouble there, probably the worst they've had or close to the worst they've had on Long Lake."
Paddlers at the finish line describe Saturday’s conditions as "brutal" and "hairy." Rodger Dempster of Saranac Lake was paddling his 20th 90-Miler. He says the swells were three feet high, and winds were “tremendous.” Although roughly two dozen boats capsized, there were no serious injuries. "It was a crapshoot. When one class goes, it might be OK. When the next class goes, it picks up. It was wild." The last day of the 90-Miler, from Fish Creek to Lake Flower, featured sunny skies and more favorable conditions.
By 2 p.m. Sunday, the park by the lake is a sea of people and boats. Some paddlers, exhausted from the three-day race, lie on their backs and sleep; others crack open a beer and share stories with their friends, family and fellow competitors.
Grace McDonnell is the race’s co-organizer. She says many friendships are formed at the race: “I know a lot of people because they’ve been coming here for 20 years.”
“The race has been going on for 30 years, and there’s second and third generations of 90-mile paddlers coming into the community, and that’s really cool,” adds Brian McDonnell.
This year’s 90-miler featured 275 boats, 25 more than last year.