Gov. Andrew Cuomo looked surprisingly at home balanced in a life jacket and battered helmet on the bobbing edge of a raft.
Cheered on by the half-dozen office staffers piled in behind, he splashed passing rafts and shouted at other politicians to hurry up and launch.
Sunday marked the start of the Adirondack Challenge, a two-day event of white-water rafting and festivities centered in the small hamlet of Indian Lake. According to Rich Azzopardi, a spokesman for the governor’s office, the whole thing started with Cuomo’s State of the State address in January.
He casually challenged fellow lawmakers to a white-water race, but since then Azzopardi said things really took off.
While politicians made their way to the rushing Indian River torrent in very un-politician-like shorts and flotation devices Sunday afternoon, a whole festival filled the streets of Indian Lake.
“This is the governor’s favorite part of the state,” he said. “The whole point of this thing is to bring more tourism here. To get more people out enjoying this wilderness.”
To maximize the event’s tourism advocacy effect, I Love NY filled a few boats with journalists — shipping them all by bus from a local school to the launch site on Chain Lakes Road.
On the cramped ride over, various newspaper and radio newsmen discussed Cuomo’s motives. Theories ranged from pure political dog-and-pony showing to honest economic development to an attempt to drown contrary journalists.
Out on the rapids, suspicion was pounded away by buckets of Indian River water and a few spates of hell-bent paddling.
“Dang,” said Andrew McCarthy of Men’s Journal on a calm stretch of water. “My arm. This is a workout.”
It was only three miles of grade-three rapids, according to the North Creek Rafting guide and all-around cheerful soul Becky Pelton, but still a very wet experience.
At the confluence of the Hudson and Indian rivers, rafts pooled and emptied their soggy crews.
“Where’s the food?” Cuomo said.
“Where are the drinks,” said a passing member of the press.
Walking back with tired rafters, local code enforcement officer and challenge volunteer Meade Hutchins chatted about the event.
“Some more tourism would certainly help,” he said, speaking of the Indian Lake economy as swiftly dying.
He was pleased by Cuomo’s visit, pleased that the state government was taking an interest in the area, but Hutchins wasn’t totally whole-hearted in his positivity.
“Tourism makes low-paying jobs,” he said. “We’re already busing in foreign kids to work the seasonal positions. What we need is some industry.”
Back in Indian Lake, the streets were jammed with cars. When locals heard about the challenge, they got to work rolling out the proverbial red carpet. People strolled, eating fair-style food, buying Saranac beer and checking out the local stands.
The vast majority were tourists, there for the festivities or to watch a separate flat-water canoe race on Indian Lake, but a few locals were on hand.
Down on the edge of Adirondack Lake, 15-year-old Noah Pine leaned back on a picnic table, feet up on his bike.
“Look, more people is going to help everyone in our town,” he said.
Noah’s dad owns Pine’s Country Store and True Value on Main Street. One day he plans on becoming the third straight Pine to run the place. While Hutchins hoped for more industry, Noah said the town is pretty much settled as a tourism economy.
tradition in the making?
“The money we make in the summer holds us through the winter,” he said. “If more people come out here and decide to come back, that would be great, especially if this Adirondack Challenge becomes a yearly tradition.”
The Adirondack Challenge continues today with political rivals Cuomo and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg facing off in another white-water race. Cuomo’s team made the fastest run Sunday, beating out the Senate raft.
Based on long-time guide Bone “Bonehead” Basye’s description of Cuomo as “a guy who would not stop paddling,” prospects seem pretty good.