April 24, 2003
Spring does not arrive until the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. Although it has snowed during the annual race, held the third Saturday of April, the migration from the small village of Kenduskeag of hundreds of paddlers toward the Penobscot River 16 ½ miles away in Bangor often marks the dawn of warmer weather. By this time, the bitter cold winds of March have given way to the soft but still chilly breezes of April. The melted snow has revealed the brittle leaves from the previous autumn and patches of green grass have begun to spread.
Last Saturday was no different as thousands of people watched 848 canoeists and kayakers race in 452 boats. Few clouds crowded the sky and the sun bathed the Greater Bangor area in warm 60-degree air. Spectators claimed precarious perches along the rocks and steep banks of the stream to watch and support their relatives or friends, or just to have something to do. Cell phones rang, with callers giving those downstream progress reports. Some families used two-way radios. People craned their neck in anticipation of a particular boat. Others looked forward to seeing spectacular wipe-outs.
Paddlers of all abilities participated in the 37th race. Husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, co-workers, friends, fathers and daughters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, soloists looking for a challenge, and even world-class kayakers accepted the challenges of Six-Mile Falls, long stretches of flat water, deceptive spurts of white water, and rocks that lurked just beneath the water's surface.
Some, such as the world-class competitors, take the race seriously. Others -- such as the team that races every year with an inflated Gumby doll, a group of clowns who looked as though they might rob a bank to open an episode of "ChiPs," and two solo canoeists who wore sombreros and carried inflated airplanes advertising Corona beer -- just want to have fun. And then there is Zip Kellogg, who races the entire course standing up wearing a suit, hat, and with a canoe decked out with roses. Seeing Kellogg appear from around the bend is well worth the wait.
Like the Boston Marathon, the Kenduskeag Stream Race even features live radio and television coverage.
But like the famous marathon, the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race is first and foremost a race. Kayaker Trevor MacLean, from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in Canada, won Saturday's race, with an official time of 2 hours, 12 minutes, 4 seconds. It was his second consecutive win.
Other top finishers were former champion Kenny Cushman, with a time of 2:13:49, and Chip and Jamie Harmon, with a time of 2:21:35.
Of the 452 boats that began the race shortly after 8:30 a.m., only 40 did not finish.