The North Country Challenge, a nearly 10 mile canoe and kayak race around Lake Harris, returns for its ninth year Saturday, Aug. 20.
The race attracts serious kayakers, said Joanna Donk, who's one of three members of the race committee, with medals awarded to first, second and third places.
About 35 boats show up each year, Donk said. The race takes place on flat water, and the rocks along the circuit are well-known. If the water's fairly low they can be easily seen, making for a smooth race course.
When Donk and the other organizers arrive at the town beach on the morning of the race, there are always a couple eager racers waiting with their craft on their roof racks.
The ones who show up to compete for the win are a highlight for Donk. The boats they compete in are “beautiful pieces of craftsmanship,” long, long boats that get them around the race in a little less than an hour-and-a-half.
The boats sit so low, said Donk, that it looks like the racers are sitting in the water. She added that with the really serious competitors, “You never see any fat ones, it's all muscle-bound torsos.”
Though they had a six-man boat last year, and have seen four-man boats compete a couple times, the victor is always a single-paddler craft.
Paul B. Hai of the Interpretive Center, another member of the race committee, said part of the race's appeal is that it's a community event, and to make it work, they need the involvement of Newcombites.
Lake residents volunteer as shoreline spotters to watch for problems, said Hai. Others will volunteer to pilot the chase boats to help in case a boat capsizes, and there's a lady who staffs the cook shack. Donk added that there's always hot coffee ready for attendees.
Another function of the race is to introduce young people and the uninitiated to an important part of local culture, said Hai. The Challenge offers a recreational circuit for people who want to try it out, but don't want to race competitively, like families and kids.
Waterways were the highways of the Adirondacks, so residents have a historical connection to canoeing and kayaking, said Hai. The event connects people with the region's history and opens up a way to enjoy the landscape.
The race costs $20 per participant, with the money used to cover the event's expenses and purchase liability insurance for the organizers.