By NANCY HAGGERTY
Glen Vandewinckel will be back.
But his buddy, Tim Henning, already knew that. “A tough, old bugger” is how Henning describes Vandewinckel, calling him that and, “my inspiration.”
Vandewinckel and Henning were in two of the record 275 boats that took part in the 30th annual Adirondack Canoe Classic, Friday through Sunday. The grueling three-day 90-mile race from Old Forge to Saranac Lake, N.Y., includes over five miles of carries, following the first leg of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.
Actually, the 75-year-old Vandewinckel from Webster, N.Y., paddled it only the first two days, due to finish on Sunday and receive a pin marking his 25th time in what’s commonly referred to as the 90-Miler.
But by Day Two, in fierce, 30-plus-mph winds that sent multiple paddlers to shore and others into the waters of Long Lake, Vandewinckel tore two muscles in his left arm as the bow of his one-man canoe rode one wave, and the stern another. Reaching to brace, he found nothing but empty space, and, instantly, experienced his first-ever 90-Miler bath.
Late summer in the Adirondacks carries no weather guarantees and veterans like Vandewinckel have even raced in snow.
Still, paddlers of all ages and in all sized boats, from light kayaks to huge war canoes and even Adirondack guideboats, descend yearly on this rural, mountainous area.
The field, which included paddlers from as far as Texas and California, was expanded by 25 boats this year but race officials still turned folks away.
“It’s somewhat addicting,” Guy Middleton, 49, of Saranac Lake, the village where the 90-Miler concludes, explained of the race.
Middleton and Becky Sutter, who previously earned one first- and three second-place 90-Miler plaques together, won the six-boat, C2-Stock, Mixed Masters division in 14 hours, 53 minutes, 45 seconds. Seeing their closest competition just a boat away, they “put the hammer down,” Middleton said, and distanced themselves on Day One in a long, serpentine swamp.
On Day Two, high winds were followed by a torrential downpour, proved “more survival than a race,” Middleton remarked. “It was quite exciting. There were probably three-foot rollers (on Long Lake). We worked hard to stay on top of the wave and surf the back side down,” he explained.
Henning, a Marion, N.Y., resident, said of that segment, “I got spun around in almost a complete circle. I didn’t tip over. I don’t know how I did it”.
Not only didn’t he tip, but Henning, who has competed in various 90-Miler classes, earned his eighth plaque, winning the C-1 Stock title in 16:04:58.
“It is tough. I don’t know (why I do it) … I don’t know whether I look forward to killing myself,” he joked.
He noted his approach to the race’s 5.25 miles of portaging is to carry his boat atop his homemade shoulder yoke and “run as far as I can ’til I can’t run no more.”
Vandewinckel, who paddled the last four miles of Long Lake essentially with his right arm, withdrew on shore because he couldn’t raise his left to hoist his boat for portaging and wasn’t going to break rules by accepting help.
“That’s the way I am,” he said.
And so he later wouldn’t take his 25-year participation pin.
That, Vandewinckel explained, will have to wait until next year, when he’ll paddle with Annie Ripton, his 13-year-old daughter. She’ll be seeking her first-year pin.