Only once did I ever sign up up for a competitive sport, and that was when I was on the basketball team of St. Peter's School for two seasons in junior high. (You'll notice I didn't say that I "played basketball" for two seasons...just that I was on the team.)
That is, until now.
On Sunday afternoon, I completed the Adirondack Canoe Classic--the annual 90 mile paddling race from Old Forge to Saranac Lake. And while we weren't registered in a competitive class, it was still a race...and I crossed a finish line for the first time in my life.
And it was awesome.
I'm so grateful to my canoeing companion, Rev. Lawrence Bartel, the pastor of Niccolls Memorial Presbyterian Church in Old Forge. He's completed the race a few times before, and his persistence in asking me to do this over the 8 years I've known him finally paid off. "If you could hike the Northville-Placid Trail," he said, "you can paddle the 90-Miler." I'm so glad I (eventually) believed him.
Our smiles are a real testament that three full days in a canoe hadn't hurt our friendship, but only helped it to grow. Prior to the race, we'd already been dubbed the "Holy Rowers," and an anonymous benefactor gifted us with T-shirts. Along the way, we picked up a second title: the "Paddling Pastors."
My bright red hat was worn for purely practical purposes: to keep the hot sun off Friday and Sunday, and to keep the cold rain off on Saturday. It's notable color was purely for financial reasons: it was on sale! Nonetheless, it became a "thing" as we made our way across many an Adirondack waterway (20 distinct ones, by my calculations), with a surprising number of our fellow paddlers tossing compliments in my direction. Unfortunately, at about mile 89, the wind tossed my red hat right off my head and into the lake. Our official cumulative time after three days on the water was 19:03:21; that three minutes is, no doubt, thanks to rescuing my headgear. ("No hat left behind," as some fellow paddlers commented.)
We were cheered on from our very first strokes as we left Old Forge Pond (we're the boat immediately to the left of the hardcore guy on the stand-up paddle board)...
...as we toted our canoe over the 8 carries of the race (total of 5.35 miles on land), and as we crossed the floating finish line in Lake Flower.
It was most encouraging to have my own entourage of fans waiting there on the shore in Saranac Lake, including my mom, brother priests, parish staff members, and parishioners. As we were in the home stretch, I could actually hear them over the rest of the crowd (I'm pretty sure that was mostly thanks to Fr. Tom). I'm so grateful to everybody who came out to support us along the way!
I wish I had some pictures for you of the amazing sights seen on our watery route...but putting down your paddle to take photos just isn't a priority when you're racing.
We camped overnight Friday and Saturday at Fish Creek Ponds with the very capable assistance of our "pit crew," Lawrence's father, father-in-law, and son.
Injuries were minor, thank God: muscles were sore, a little sunburn here-and-there, a few unexplained cuts. My most troublesome first aid issue was rather ironically on my feet: bleeding blisters on both of my heels were already in full effect when we were on just the second carry of day one. (There's nothing quite like watching a little pool of your own blood slosh around in the muddy bottom of your boat to give you a real sense of accomplishment.)
I would have never guessed what 90 miles in a canoe would have done for me. For one thing, it gave me two nights of camping out--bringing me a month closer to a year-long goal. But I also made some new and interesting friends. ("We might look like normal people," one of the organizers said of the paddling community during daily announcements on the last day, "but we're not.") I took in some truly incredible scenery. And I discovered a strength within myself that I didn't even know might be there.