Traditionally, the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race is a 16 1/2-mile struggle, one complicated by challenging spring weather conditions. But that wasn’t the case for the 2023 event.
The Bangor Parks and Recreation Department could not have asked for a more beautiful day for Saturday’s 56th running of Maine’s most storied canoe and kayak race.
A group of 668 paddlers in 359 craft took advantage of glorious weather and decent water conditions to compete in the event, which runs from Kenduskeag Village to downtown Bangor.
Despite aching muscles and overall fatigue, there were numerous broad smiles and laughter near the pull-out area beside Sea Dog Brewing Co.
Trevor MacLean again took advantage of his exceptional paddling skills and his sleek racing kayak to register the fastest time of the day. The humble racer from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, covered the course in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 32 seconds while claiming his record 17th overall title.
“The weather was great. I think it does make a big difference,” MacLean said. “Over the years we’ve definitely had some nice weather but this is by far the warmest. The water’s cold, so I’m not going to wear a tank top. Once you get wet, you’re OK.”
The temperatures Saturday hovered in the mid-60s.
A veteran crew also set the tone among canoeists. The team of James Mabee, Ashton Mabee, Rheannon Mabee, Brady Burke, Jack Burke and J.D. Burke finished in 2:23:08, competing in the Open class for boats of three or more people.
Canoeists Jeff Owen and Peggy McKee, competing in the C-2 Mixed Experienced division, claimed third place overall with a time of 2:31:07. Kayaker Ray Wirth (2:31:14) and canoeists Morgan Baxter and Rick Gause (2:31:23) posted the fourth and fifth best times, respectively.
The remainder of the top 10 overall finishers included: 6. Damon Galipeau and Apemeism Galipeau (2:32:44, C-2 Short Recreation), 7. Bernie Levy, Darren Gray, Doug Archibald, Gordon Warnica, Levi Gray and Ben Levy (2:34:28, Open), 8. Clayton Cole and Linda Basilicato (2:34:49, C-2 Mixed Experienced) 9. Hannah Rubin and David Rubin (2:35:21, C-2 Mixed Experienced) and 10. Dawn Pelletier and Lee Martin (2:35:52, C-2 Mixed Recreation).
Among the category winners were C-2 Experienced: Baxter and Gause, 2:31:23; K-1 Short: Hank Thorburn, 2:36:59; K-2: Orion Fleming and Tim Johnston, 2:38:52; Century: Jamie Hannon and Chip Loring, 2:43:19; C-2 Recreation: Nate Orr and Eric Duplisea, 2:48:00; K-1 Recreation: Steven Nickl, 2:57:18; C-1 Recreational: Chris Dalton, 3:01:29; C-2 Short Experienced: Sarah Dellarata and Alexander Introne, 3:02:16; C-2 Mixed Beginner: Joseph Horn and Anne Hurley, 3:10:30; Senior-Junior: Chris Rioux and Julia Rious, 3:14:42; C-2 Medium Beginner: Michael Lowry and Michael Parker, 3:16:03; K-1 Women: Zoe Olson, 3:29:53
The stream was flowing at less than 800 cubic feet of water per second, but MacLean said he had an easier time of it on Saturday than during a practice run from Six Mile Falls to Bangor.
“Maybe I was a bit more careful,” he said of clipping some submerged rocks on Friday.
Even some seasoned paddlers came away pleased about conditions on the stream, even though all signs had pointed to some “bony” water after more than a week without rain.
“We raced today on 800 CFS, which is a darned fine level,” said Clayton Cole of Corinth, who lives on the stream. “It’s low enough that people in tippy boats have fewer problems and you don’t have the water coming in, but it’s still high enough that you get over almost every rock — if you’re reasonably alert.”
Lee McKay and Lisa Escorsio of Tenants Harbor returned to run the race for the first time in four years.
“Good day. Nice crowd. It’s always great to see all the volunteers out helping to make it happen,” McKay. “There was enough water and, as always, everybody’s friendly.”
They were delighted about the conditions and their effects on racers.
“The best ever,” Escorsio said. “Usually, I’m wearing a wetsuit and I’m freezing.”
While the water was cold, the warm air helped mitigate the long-term effects of getting wet. Many paddlers took on some water or went for an unscheduled swim.
Jordan Labbe of Eagle Lake and Joseph Aldrich of Fort Kent were soaking wet after carrying their canoe up the gangway and onto the grass at the pull-out area.
The duo, which also competed in the race last year, turned in a solid time — despite running into some problems toward the end. They portaged in the wrong place, then encountered the last section of fast water.
“We took a detour and ended up taking on some water, losing our bail bucket, and then going over ‘shopping cart’ basically full of water,” Labbe said.
“It was refreshing,” Labbe said.
They enjoyed the carnival atmosphere at Six Mile Falls, where the “river vultures” were out in force to watch paddlers try to negotiate the drop.
“It’s great,” Labbe said. “There’s so much noise going on and you try to just focus on what you’re doing.”
A six-man Canadian team returned for another Kenduskeag race appearance with a new boat, a 27-foot fiberglass canoe made by Darren Gray. The group, competing in the Open class, also took a late-race dip.
“We took on a bunch of water at the first drop there in “shopping cart” and then we just lost control in the second one and we got more water and we went over left,” said Ben Levy, who was joined in the boat by Gray, Bernie Levy, Doug Archibald, Levi Gray and Gordon Warnica.
Among the paddlers who capitalized on their Kenduskeag Race experience was the two-man canoe team of David Cassidy of Portland and Seattle native Adam Vidoni.
“I think I’ve been 23 years at this point and this was probably the nicest day,” Cassidy said of the weather. “Usually, it’s snowy and gray or cold and gray.”
The pair also celebrated traversing the entire course without a mishap.
“Today we didn’t swim,” Vidoni said.