Local father and son win 90-mile canoe challenge in Adirondacks

Posted 16 September 2021 at 2:15 pm

Courtesy of Alicia Vanderwalker

Photos courtesy of Alicia Vanderwalker: Todd Vanderwalker and his father Dan compete in the Adirondack Canoe Classic, a 90-mile event over three days.

The Adirondack Canoe Classic — known as the 90-Miler — is an Adirondack tradition dating back to 1983. The annual event, which takes place over three days in September, takes paddlers from Old Forge to Saranac Lake, the first 90 miles of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

The first 3 years of the race, Hartland resident Dan Vanderwalker competed winning 1st place all three years with then partner Kurt Knisley for his first and third year and Greg Denzel for his second year. Vanderwalker went on to compete and win several other areas races during that time.

In 2019 Dan’s 38-year-old son, Todd competed in the race with his 16-year-old daughter FaithAnn, proudly carrying on his father’s legacy and taking home 1st place in their class.

In 2020 due to Covid the race was cancelled and this year when it was announced that the race would go on Todd was hopeful to compete again, he even entered and won a 10-mile Round the Mountain Canoe race with his son David in the spring extending his families paddling experience.

It was not looking like Todd would be able to compete in the 90 miler though as his daughter, FaithAnn just left for college and his son had athletic commitments that weekend. It was then that Todd talked to his dad about his desire to still compete and the duo spent the summer training weekly to be ready for the race. Dan lost almost 30 pounds during the 3 months of training and both paddled, walked and ran 2-3 times weekly to build endurance. Todd’s goal was just to be able to complete the race with his dad and create memories, but not Dan. He said if he was doing it, he was in it to win it.

The race was held Sept. 10-12 and started with 238 boats on the water. Competitors race canoes, and kayaks in various classes of size, style and amount of racers ranging from one-man canoe or kayaks to war canoes that held multiple paddlers.

Dan and Todd Vanderwalker hold their first place awards for winning the competition.

In order to compete in the canoe classic event organizers through the Northern Forest Canoe Trail advise that you must: “Be prepared, mentally and physically. The 90-Miler is a backcountry race — when on the course, you are often miles away from immediate medical care or rescue. The weather can be very hot or very cold, and wind is almost always a factor. There are mile-long portages, big open lakes, twisty beaver-dammed streams and shallow rivers with so many twists and turns it is hard to keep track of where you are.”

The course description is as follows:

  • Day One – Start at Old Forge on Old Forge Pond; paddle and carry through the Fulton Chain of Lakes; and then continue on to Raquette Lake, the Marion River and the Eckford Chain of Lakes ending in Blue Mountain Lake. DISTANCE: 35 miles CARRIES: Four (3.5 miles total).
  • Day Two – Start at Bissell’s on Long Lake; paddle down Long Lake and into the Raquette River; carry around Raquette Falls; and then continue on the Raquette to a finish at the NYS Raquette River Boat Launch on Routes 3 & 30 (approximately 5 miles east of the village of Tupper Lake). DISTANCE: 30 miles CARRIES: One (1.25 miles total).
  • Day Three: Start at Fish Creek Campground; paddle down Upper Saranac Lake and carry to Middle Saranac Lake; and then paddle across Middle Saranac Lake and into the Saranac River, carrying around the Upper State Locks. Continue into Lower Saranac Lake and another section of the Saranac River; carry around the Lower State Locks; and then continue across Oseetah Lake and Lake Flower to finish the race at Riverfront Park in Saranac Lake Village. DISTANCE: 25 miles CARRIES: Three (0.5 mile total).

The Vanderwalkers had Todd’s wife, Alicia, pit crewing for them. Alicia’s job was to meet them at portages to provide hydration, supplementation and encouragement. She also shuttled them from one place to the next each day as each night they stayed in a different state campground on the route.

On Saturday Alicia even borrowed a local residents canoe to get out to the duo as they paddled to get them fresh drinks, gel packs and sports bars so they did not have to lose momentum paddling toward shore because there was no portage in the area.

It was a weekend filled with memories, wild and windy weather several boats capsizing and in the end a legacy that continues as Dan and Todd took home first place in the C-2 Mens Masters Class bringing Dan’s paddling legacy full circle.