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Meet Lake Placid guide Wayne Failing, aka Wallace LaFleur

October 18, 2013
MIKE LYNCH , Lake Placid News

Lake Placid guide Wayne Failing has rafted the Grand Canyon, climbed the 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley in Alaska and been on countless wilderness adventures.

Recently, though, he had a completely different experience.

Failing was the inspiration for Wallace LaFleur, one of the main characters in "The River's Tale," a novel by Mike Virtanen that is set in the Adirondacks. Virtanen is a news reporter for the Associated Press who is based in Albany.

Article Photos

The 160-page book was published and released this past summer by Lost Pond Press, owned by Saranac Lake resident and Adirondack Explorer magazine editor Phil Brown.

The book tells the story of Alison Reade, who flees to the Adirondacks to escape an obsessive and dangerous boyfriend. She moves into her aunt's cabin on the Upper Hudson River near Newcomb and gets a job with a Lake Placid-based guide, Wallace LaFleur, a bachelor in his late 30s who runs trips on the Hudson. Eventually, the pair become romantically involved.

The book is the second of a series, serving as a prequel to "Within a Forest Dark."

The 61-year-old Failing said he first met Virtanen in 1998. At the time, Virtanen was the features editor for the Albany Times Union, and he, outdoors columnist Fred LeBrun and photographer Paul Buckowski went on an 18-day journey on the Hudson River in September and October. The trio started in the Adirondacks and finished in New York City. The group filed daily dispatches for the newspaper.

During that trip, the trio hired Failing to guide them via raft through the turbulent stretch that starts in Newcomb and heads down through he Hudson River Gorge.

"We spent a lot of time fishing and sitting around the campfire, telling stories and talking about our lives," said Failing, who has been a guide for about 35 years. "Since then, I've actually done other overnight trips with both of them and also taken Mike's family out a couple of times on day whitewater trips.

"So the friendships and experiences have progressed over the year, and you know, Mike drew a lot from those conversations around the campfire and the wilderness and some of the stories I told him about my experiences and adventures. He used those things as the structure for his character and then wrote his novel around that."

Failing appears to welcome being an integral part of the novel. He was a little uncomfortable with the attention put on him but was impressed with the writing.

"I thought it was good right to the very end," Failing said. "I'm in it, and I didn't even know how it was going to end."

Failing said about 80 percent of the stories involving LaFleur in the book are true, but he said it would be best to leave it a mystery to which ones they were.

"I'm a high adventure wilderness guide, and the character Wallace LaFleur reflects that, so it was fairly accurate in that regard," he said.

On the road

to recovery

While being a main character in the novel was a highlight for Failing this year, he's also had some changes and some very tough times.

One thing that has changed for Failing is that he no longer guides rafting trips on the Hudson River. He sold those rights to another company within the past year, saying it was time for something different.

He was also severely injured in a head-on collision on Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas in February. His close friend Walter Boname, 56, of Cape Vincent, who was driving, died from the impact of the crash.

"When I woke up, I was in the most pain I've ever been in in my life, with 20 broken bones," Failing said. "The only thing that wasn't broken was my left arm."

The injuries left Failing hospitalized for weeks and unable to walk. Doctors weren't optimistic he'd make a full recovery.

But Failing has fought his way back after months of physical therapy and is now able to get around on his own. He's not at full strength and isn't guiding right now, but he hopes to return to his profession in the spring through his company, Middle Earth Expeditions.

He won't guide trips on the Hudson River, but he hopes to return to other activities that he's done in the past, including taking clients out on adventures that involve canoeing, hiking, climbing, mountaineering, hunting and fishing. He may again do some rafting overseas, in places such as Costa Rica.

In the meantime, Failing has been managing his lodging business, Van Hoevenberg Cabins, which are featured prominently in several scenes in the book and are located on state Route 73 near the Olympic bobsled, luge and cross-country skiing facilities. He's also focused on one of his other passions, playing guitar and harmonica.

However, it won't be long before Failing is back out in the woods and on the river again. It's who he is.

"I can say that one thing is true about Wallace LaFleur and myself is that we've had an interesting and varied life, full of fun and adventure," Failing said.



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