90 Miles with Fran Yardley & Burdette Parks

Fran Yardley lives in one of the oldest settlements in the Adirondacks, Bartlett Carry, an historic thoroughfare for canoers traveling between Upper and Middle Saranac Lake. Surrounded by water, she is drawn to the lakes, an explorer at heart, a storyteller in name. This is one of her stories.

Fran Yardley

I moved to Barlett Carry Club in 1968 with my first husband, who had inherited the property and its 36 buildings, each in various stages of disrepair. Long before, in 1854, Virgil Bartlett had built the Bartlett Carry Club for sportsmen, and more than 100 years later, we came back to this beautiful spot to begin a new life. I'm writing a book about the history of the Bartlett Carry Club – but that's another story! This one's about the 90 Miler...

My second husband Burdette started first in 2000, and I pit crewed for him until, in 2005, I decided to go for it too. I had a kayak that weighed 55 pounds, wheels for portages, and no clue what I was getting myself in to. I remember the Raquette Falls Carry as being the most challenging during that, and many other years. It's 1.5 miles straight uphill and wheels do not come in handy then. It's the longest carry of the race, and it happens on the second day.

But by the end of that first race, when I finally pulled into Lake Flower with these truly horrible blisters on my hands and feet, my only thought was I can't wait to do this next year.

I raced solo for three years in a canoe that weighed 55 pounds. In 2008 I saw the light and had Joe Moore at Placid Boat Works in Lake Placid build me a canoe that weighed only 26 pounds. It was and is a beautiful boat. My race was so sweet that year. I could carry my boat on my shoulder, which I did for two more years before taking a hiatus to return to acting at Pendragon Theatre.

My favorite thing about being part of the 90 Miler is the camaraderie you feel with your fellow racers. To us, it's not just a race, this event is really about the people who are involved with it – from the organizers to the volunteers who make everything come together to make this race possible. More than 400 people participate and there are real friendships and a feeling of society that you build together. Many times, you only see these guys during this race, but you still feel like you know them intimately. Everyone has a story. 

90 Miler - Padding Hard and Still Cheerful
90 Miler Canoe Race
I'll never forget 2012's race. I was feeling great, but on my second day there were tornado warnings and whipping, biting wind as I crossed Long Lake. It was awful, boats were capsizing and as terrible as it was, it was comforting to know that volunteers were floating nearby in boats ready to rescue anyone who went into the water. Somehow, I stayed upright and made it across the lake to the Raquette Falls Carry, my old nemesis, and I found my husband sitting by the trail. He needed medical attention so we waited for aid to come and ended up withdrawing from the race. But that day of the tornado on Long Lake, we knew we were being watched and would be ok.

This year, I will be 70 and I'm going to do the 90 Miler again. My training regimen involves a lot of paddling, and a lot of cross-training. Biking is my preferred method and I start as soon as I can in the spring, with the goal to up the ante as the weeks go by.

As part of my cross-training this year, I plan to hike the Saranac Six. I'm going to climb some mountains, go paddling and biking. By mid-July I want to be paddling quite a bit to increase stamina.

My eating regimen during race days is to sip water with electrolytes in it from my Camelback to keep my hands free, and eat a chunk of Power Bar every 15 minutes. For me, it's the best way to stay hydrated and keep my body going. After my first race, I tape up my hands to prevent blisters and wear a sturdy pair of water shoes.

At the start of the race, I'll admit I'm nervous. I want it to start on time, and I want the sun to come up so we can begin. At that time of year, the sun rises a little later and there is usually a wreath of fog hugging the lake. But when the race starts, all I feel is exhilaration, and the beauty of each paddle working hard toward a goal that is three, long days away.

When those orange buoys come into view on Lake Flower, I feel a rush of accomplishment that is almost addictive. Maybe that's why I've entered the race six times!

90 Miler Canoe Race Saranac Lake
Paddle harder!
 Burdett Parks – Perspective on the 90 Miler

I bought a new kayak in 2000, and while I was enjoying the newness of it – some friends convinced me to the 90 Miler. Being a novice kayaker, and foolish, I said: "sure why not."

That first year, the route took us the length of Raquette Lake and from there into Forked Lake. By late morning, a big wind came up and the lake became rough. Boats were capsizing and by the time I got across Forked Lake, the race was closed down. After that, they closed that particular route to cross the Marion River instead of the length of Raquette Lake.

I've signed up for the race nine times and completed it eight times. Doing the race is a really great experience, one that puts you through some of the most gorgeous parts of the Adirondack Park. You travel some of the best waterways and it's a great social experience because your fellow racers become like a family of paddlers. After a while, for me, the 90 Miler became more about going back to see old friends than it did the paddling.

I've lived in and experienced a lot of different parts of our country, and the Adirondacks have a wonderful combination of woods, mountains, and waters – that makes this place such a delightfully diverse place to live, play and work. And doing the 90 Miler gives you a good opportunity to appreciate that part of the Adirondacks.

So my question to you, yes you, my reader, is when are you going to do the 90 Miler?

Adirondack Canoe Classic Race
A nice day to paddle 30 miles!
About the Author …
Fran Yardley
For nearly five decades, Fran has acted as a steward for Bartlett Carry, her family's property and its buildings, renovating, sewing and stitching together a life that reflects her love of the Adirondacks.
About Area ADK …
Real Adirondack Stories, Epic Adirondack Adventures
Area ADK is a celebration of the Adirondacks, a nod to the classic campfire tale, a place to gather and tell stories. Share your story #VisitAdks.
Related Content …
Throughout each season, our Adirondack communities host a plethora of Adirondack events that celebrate the region's rich history and legendary heritage.
About the Region …
Saranac Lake Region
Home to the 90 Miler finish ... Find out more about this amazing endurance event that is just as much a spectator sport and not just for paddlers!
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