Archives For General Clinton Canoe Regatta

River in the rain.

May 30, 2017 — 3 Comments


I learned to canoe in 1972 at Crumhorn Mountain Boy Scout Camp.

Jim Davidson was in charge of the waterfront and taught me the importance of the buddy system and other lifesaving skills. He also taught the canoeing merit badge class. He showed us how to use the paddles in a way that two people pulling on opposite sides of the boat could work together and travel in a straight line. Most importantly he taught us the importance of life jackets and how to help other boaters in trouble.

I loved that camp and spent my high school summers working as a member of the Crumhorn staff, first teaching basic camping skills, then in my last years before college working for Jim at the waterfront.

Two years ago, my nephew Alex asked me to partner with him for the 70 mile endurance race from Cooperstown to Bainbridge. Last year I raced a second time with his brother Tom and this year it was Matt’s turn. Three brothers, three regattas. That was the promise I made in 2015.

Every year at the canoe regatta has been different. With Alex the water was extremely low but the weather was beautiful. Tom‘s year, the water was higher, but so were the temperature and the humidity. This year it rained almost the entire time Matt and I were on the river and the water was high and fast moving. The starting point was moved a few miles up Otsego Lake and by the time we reached the river inlet our boat was already filled with a few inches of water. We would have to empty the rain water from it several times during the race.

Matt and I paddled well together with little wasted effort and were on schedule to meet the cut off times: Milford’s bridge by 9:30, the Oneonta south side dam portage by 1:00; Wells Bridge by 4:30 and reach the finish line before 8:00.

We capsized once at a tricky turn under a railroad trestle. The water was deep and cold but our life jackets kept us afloat as we struggled in our rain jackets and long pants to swim the canoe to shore. We lost some time getting around that turn and made the first checkpoint with only 15 minutes to spare.

We lost a little more time getting to the second checkpoint and probably were a bit late, but we made up the time and reached Wells Bridge ahead of schedule.

The rain stopped but the river was moving very fast in parts. As we rounded a bend just upstream from Unadilla, Matt and I saw a paddler clinging to a limb from a tree that had fallen in the middle of some rapids. We canoed by him and stopped at the shore where the water slowed. His kayak was wrapped around a submerged log and destroyed. His life jacket, tied to the seat of his boat, was underwater and unreachable. His name was John and he was a bit shaken as he stood on his mangled kayak holding on to the tree branch that had destroyed it.

I took my paddle and waded as close as possible to John and the tree branch. We spoke a bit and he agreed to let go and let the river carry him. He slumped into the water and started to rush by me. I reached my paddle to him, just as Jim Davidson taught me years before. John grabbed it and I pulled him out of the current and we walked to the shore together. He thanked us and called his wife for a lift back to Bainbridge.

Matt and I headed back downstream, found John’s paddle a few hundred yards away and crossed the finish line with about ten minutes to spare.

As we loaded the canoe on the car top, I remembered that when I started this blog I first wrote about another lesson I learned at Crumhorn. As I get older I realize more and more just how much I learned during the summers I worked there. Scouting taught me to respect both the beauty and the dangers of nature and not to be afraid to take action to help others. I put those lessons to good use late yesterday afternoon standing in the middle of the Susquehanna with a canoe paddle in my hand.

It was another rewarding day on the river and I extend my sincerest thanks to Matt, Tommy and Alex for spending three long Memorial Days canoeing with me from Cooperstown to Bainbridge, and to their parents and their friends who cheered us at every boat launch and bridge along the way.

I had a blast with you guys and will never forget our adventures together.




We bought the station wagon in 2003 and gave it to Abby last week. Today she loaded it with a bicycle, her guitar and some clothes, waved goodbye and started a cross-country road trip to Berkeley for graduate school.

Over the last thirteen years I have driven that car to hundreds of swim practices and meets and to camping trips and birthday parties with her friends. Every summer we drove it to the Adirondacks, often listening to Jim Dale read aloud the seven book story of Harry and Ron and Hermione.

When Abby went away to high school I drove it to visit her, sometimes twice a week during swimming and water polo seasons. One Christmas her present to me was five hours of music on CDs to keep me company during those long drives. When she graduated we drove it to a music festival in Tennessee and camped behind it for three very hot days and muggy nights.


After Abby moved to Chicago for college most of my trips in the station wagon involved swimming events with new friends. I drove it to open water swims in Ocean City and New York and to Lake Placid to hike and ski with friends. It carried my bike to the Iron Man and my canoe to Cooperstown.

But of all these travels, I cherish most the memories of the times when Abby was younger and we would stop at the Knoebels amusement park on our way home from visiting my mother as her health deteriorated.

It was about halfway and Abby loved riding the two wooden roller coasters there. On nice summer days we would spend a few hours riding the Phoenix and the Twister and maybe take a swim in the large swimming pool before grabbing a quick meal and finishing the rest of the drive. It was the perfect remedy to help us feel better no matter how sad our visit had left us.

Abby is now on her way to Berkeley driving the station wagon we bought in 2003. I love the memories made in that car and I’m not sure when I’ll replace it. But when I do I’ll be sure to find my way back to Knoebels Grove to ride the roller coasters and maybe swim a while in the large pool there.




River Redux

May 31, 2016 — 3 Comments

Three nephews, three races. That is the deal I struck with Tommy, Alex and Matt in 2014. Alex was my partner last year. This Memorial Day it’s Tommy’s turn.

Memorial Day has always been a special holiday in Sidney. My sisters, brother and I grew up marching in the annual parade in our Boy Scout and Girl Scout uniforms. We would start at the Prospect Hill Cemetery. From there we marched down the hill, across the railroad tracks, past a sandwich shop and along Main Street to a flagpole in front of the village Post Office for a wreath laying ceremony. After the parade we’d visit the Regatta grounds for one last day of carnival rides and food before heading back to school on Tuesday.

This Memorial Day weekend Sidney dedicated its newly finished memorial park to veterans. I didn’t make it in time for the opening ceremony but visited it with Tommy and Matt before heading to Cooperstown for the start of this year’s 70 mile endurance race.

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I spend most of my visit studying the memorial to the veterans from my high school  and learn that the American Legion Post my father belonged to was named for Charles Jacobi who was killed during the First World War and that two brothers, Kenneth and Douglas Keller, lost their lives during the Second. I cannot imagine how devastating that must have been to their parents and classmates.


Then I read the nine names on the Vietnam plaque. Seven of these veterans grew up in a small nearby town called Sidney Center. At the time it had a population of about 500 and in a period of less than 90 days seven families received visits notifying them that their sons had been killed. I did not know them or their families but you can read about them here, and you should.

While studying the plaque I remember what it was like to grow up during that conflict. I was not yet 4 years old when Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that authorized the use of conventional military force in Southeast Asia. I was 7 when 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops began the Tet Offensive, the battle that would take the lives of the seven young men from Sidney Center.

Woodstock would take place 70 miles from the house where I grew up, during the summer before I turned 9. My friend Sandy, who lived in Sidney Center, would later wear a POW Bracelet. The war would end and Saigon would fall before I graduated and that is why, thankfully, none of my classmates’ names are on that wall.

I spend the rest of the day preparing for Monday’s race and watching Alex and his friend compete in the 15 mile sprint race. On race day we are a little behind schedule getting to the start line and in the rush I drop my sunglasses into Otsego Lake. I try to scoop them with my paddle but it doesn’t work and I watch the glasses that I was wearing when I crashed badly on my bike and when I crossed the finish line of the Lake Placid Iron Man sink slowly away.

The race was grueling, as I suppose it always is. It was hot and humid in the morning and then it rained when we had about 12 miles to go. Tommy worked hard all day and our paddling was evenly balanced and efficient. We made it through the most challenging sections of the river without any problem but flipped later after misjudging any easy rapid just south of Wells Bridge. The heat took its toll and the first half of the race went much slower than last year. We were faster below Oneonta and finished just a few minutes behind last year’s time.

I leave Sidney early Tuesday and pass through downtown. It looks much different than it did in the 1970s. I drive down the hill and across the railroad tracks and remember that when the ceasefire was declared in 1972 the sandwich shop located there changed the letters on its outdoor sign to read “Peace – Thank God” and how relieved everyone in Sidney was that the Vietnam war was coming to an end.

I stop at the newly repaired traffic light and then cross over the river on my way out of town. I am a bit sore and glad to leave the river behind me. But more than anything, I am proud that the tiny village where I grew up has built such a fitting memorial to the nine Sidney graduates who did not live to see the message on the sandwich shop sign at the bottom of the hill across the railroad tracks.


The river hates you.

May 28, 2015 — 5 Comments


On July 4, 1963, forty-five canoes raced seventy miles from the headwaters of the Susquehanna River to Bainbridge, New York. The winning canoe crossed the finish line in 11 hours and 45 minutes. The same race has been held every Memorial Day since then and the race record has steadily improved to where it stands today at 6 hours, 34 minutes and 34 seconds.

I participated in shorter races held over the annual canoe regatta weekend while growing up in Sidney. I even won a trophy as a member of a winning Boy Scout relay team. I shared my first can of Genesee beer with Tim Barnes after our Grand Prix relay team came in last place four weeks before we graduated from high school in 1978.

Thirty-seven years and one day after that defeat I was back. This time to compete in the 70 mile endurance race with my nephew Alex.


Our day starts at 6:00 AM on the southern shore of Otsego Lake. We arrive early and leave our canoe near the base of the Indian Hunter statue that originally stood on the site of James Fenimore Cooper’s home until it was moved to the Lakefront Park in 1940.

Leaving the starting line, we race out into the lake to a buoy and then turn back to where the Susquehanna River begins. We are overly cautious at the start and are one of the last canoes to leave the lake. The river is narrow, peaceful and beautiful as it passes through Cooperstown.

We carry the canoe around a small dam near Bassett Hospital without any trouble and begin the twenty-five mile stretch that will take us to a second portage around Collier’s Dam. As we head out of Cooperstown the river becomes more challenging, with fallen trees and dangling branches forming obstacles at many of the bends in the river.


We do well at first but eventually capsize after being pushed hard into a half sunken log. The water is cold but the life jackets keep us on the surface. Alex is thrown clear but I struggle a bit to free my left foot that has become wedged below the canoe’s rear seat. The water is flowing fast and we fight to pull the canoe toward the right bank of the river. We stand too soon to try to empty the canoe in swift water. I realize the mistake and tell Alex to float further downstream, remembering the rhyme a Shenandoah river guide drilled into me during an earlier whitewater canoe trip, “nose and toes to the sky, keep you alive.”

We reach calm water, empty the boat and retrieve a bottle of Gatorade and our paddles as they float by. As I climb back into the canoe I realize that this is not like any other endurance race I have ever entered.

In those other races the courses were safe and welcoming. When I ran a marathon, the roads were cleared of traffic and there was food and water at every mile. There were even rock and roll bands playing along the route. The Lake Placid Iron Man course was in perfect condition. The swim course was marked with eight foot high buoys and an underwater cable. The road where we bicycled was re-paved and cleaned with street sweepers before the race began. State Troopers blocked every intersection to keep the course free of trucks and cars. There was even a carpet that ran from the beach to the changing tents a quarter-mile away that made for a comfortable run even in bare feet.

This course is different. You race the river as it presents itself to you. There has been no effort to remove even the most dangerous obstacles or to add water with dam releases. No effort to widen or groom the portage trails to make it easier to carry your canoes around the three dams along the way. There are no aid stations along the course and certainly no rock bands. You bring your own food and drink and are resupplied by friends and family who wait for you on muddy river banks along the way.

Today the river hates us and is full of spiteful contradictions. In one stretch it is too fast, hurtling us towards branches and boulders. In another it is at a standstill. We paddle through empty farmland in blistering sun and then duck below branches overhanging the river as it passes through an overgrown forest. We canoe in deep water and then round a corner and find ourselves scraping along the bottom. It is wide when there is no one around us and much too narrow when other boats need to pass us. No matter which way we turn, we are always in a head wind. At one point the wind blows so strong the river reverses its direction.

The day is long and it saps our spirit. Our pace decreases and we end our thirteenth hour just before reaching the finish line. We float to the dock, climb from our boat and shake hands. There are no massage therapists waiting to rub the knots out of my back. Instead, I stretch out on the grass and watch as the last parts of a Ferris Wheel are disconnected and loaded onto a truck.

Alex has two brothers who also want to complete this race and I know I will be back again.

This river hates you but you love her anyway.