Tenandeho White Water Derby is ‘simply a thrill’ for area family
MECHANICVILLE Let others gather at the river — Bob and Patti Morris and their family will gather at the Tenandeho next Sunday.
Sons Bobby and Dan will join their parents on the Tenandeho Creek for a family and springtime tradition — the annual Tenandeho White Water Derby in Mechanicville.
The 41st edition of the derby will put daredevil canoe paddlers and kayakers in cold, rushing waters. Runs through the rapids begin at noon at Coons Crossing off Route 67. The Morrises, who live in Saratoga Lake, will compete and converse.
“It all depends on the weather, if it’s a good day,” said Patti Morris, 45, principal at Stillwater Middle School. “If the sun comes out, especially in a year like this, people come out and stand along the creek’s edge and cheer the racers on.”
Patti and Bob participated in their first White Water Derby in 1989. They were no strangers to Adirondack streams and other local waters, as they were spots for paddling dates during high school. And the derby was always a popular April diversion for teens growing up in Stillwater and Mechanicville.
“It’s a thrill, it’s simply a thrill. It gets your heart racing,” Patti said of the annual adventure. “To see that water in front of you, that’s what it’s always been like for my husband and myself. He’s always steered us in the right direction and I’m the scout. I think it’s the success of making it through some rapid waters and getting to the end without taking on too much water or getting spilled into the stream. It’s nice to get a medal, but it’s more about being together and doing something as a family.”
Peaceful and fun
Bob Morris, 48, service manager at Monroe Wheelchair in Latham, was in the water long before he met Patti. “I always had a love for canoeing,” he said. “My grandfather always took me fishing in a canoe. It was something peaceful and nice to do.”
A run through the rapids is also nice — but a bit less peaceful.
“It’s the adrenalin of running through white water,” Bob said. “It’s exercise, it’s getting outdoors, it’s fairly inexpensive. It’s just fun to do.”
It was only a matter of time before Bobby, now 17, and Dan, 14, requested a piece of the white water action. There was never any parental concern over 10-year-old derby players.
“They’re experienced,” Bob said. “My kids have been in the canoes since they could walk.”
The family lineup has changed over the years — Bob said changes began at the Hudson River White Water Derby in North Creek. “Patti and I raced in the mixed class — one man, one woman — up until seven years ago,” Bob said. “Patti gave up her front seat to Bobby, he was 10 at the time. We raced a couple years in the two-man class. In 2012, he gave up his seat to my youngest son Danny and he started kayaking. He runs in the kayak class now.”
The family missed the 2013 Tenandeho gathering — a Florida family vacation competed for Morris availability, and warmer climates won the day. Participation in the 2014 edition has already started. Bob, as a member of the derby planning committee, helps remove tree limbs and other debris from the Tenandeho during March.
Some years have been tougher than others.
“The year after we had the tornado  we had trees everywhere,” Bob said. “It took almost two months to clear it out for the race. We had trees in every direction, piled on top of each other. It was a mess.”
As members of the committee, Bob said he and Patti have become friends with other white water buffs. They may not see much of each other during the winter months. “When the spring comes, we all start to get back together again,” he said.
Scott Stepenuck, who helps organize the derby, has always seen family participation on derby day.
“I’ve done it for 15 years or so, and going down the river there are always several people in town, spectators, they have their barbecues going,” Stepenuck said. “I see the same gang of people year after year.”
The derby’s rules and procedures remain the same. Registration will take place from 9 until 11 a.m. near the finish line, where the Anthony Kill runs into the Hudson. All entrants must wear life jackets; people in decked boats must wear helmets. No spectators will be allowed on railroad property near the creek.
Stepenuck knows why families and other spectators keep coming back.
“It’s a great little creek, it’s a spring run,” he said, noting spectators always see people they know rushing by on the white tips of waves. Watchers occasionally see people they know take spills in the Tenandeho. “Some people are obsessed with carnage,” Stepenuck said, a chuckle in his voice.
Dan Morris is obsessed with the adrenalin rush that comes with race day. “Your heart starts racing and you get kind of nervous, but that’s the fun,” said Dan, an eighth-grader at Stillwater Middle School.
He also likes the family aspect that comes on the first Sunday of every April. “It’s nice,” he said. “It gets us together.”
And even at 14, Dan knows tactics that can ensure Tenandeho triumph. “It’s a lot easier when the wind’s going with you,” he said. “It’s really hard when you get a lot of resistance, especially on a straightaway with no current.”
Basketball and football are Dan’s other sports. But they’re in second and third places for preference. “Nothing gets as exciting as canoeing,” Dan said.
Bobby Morris, 17, a senior at Stillwater High School, remembers hanging out at the derby finish line with his friends as a kid. In addition to a family gathering, Morris said, the derby is a community gathering.
“Everyone in Stillwater and Mechanicville goes to it,” Bobby said. “It’s a big event for the two towns.”
He’s glad to be a solo participant.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time; I’m not really worried about it,” said Bobby, who captained Stillwater’s football team last year. “Coming through at the end, it’s a big deal, you’ve got everybody cheering for you.”
So while some Morris family members will be in the water next Sunday, at least one will be at water’s edge. But maybe not. “I’m trying to talk Patti into the one-woman kayak,” Bob said. “I haven’t quite got an OK yet.”