Spring in Maine shows itself in a number of ways. My favorite is the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.

Around the time the skunk cabbage is starting to push through the snow, country stores are filled with people complaining that spring is not here yet. The snow banks slowly give way to salt, mud, and a surprising amount of trash. Around houses green shoots pierce the brown leaves left over from last Fall. That dull bird at your porch feeder begins to brighten into the golden color of its name. Car racks begin to sprout green and red plumage. On the third week in April, Bangor is in full bloom.

Alex Strong paddles his canoe solo through a section of whitewater on the race course. (Photo: Michele Barker)

It is race day. For a Saturday morning, RT 15 has an unusual amount of traffic. Heading out of Bangor, all the cars and pick up trucks ahead of me have canoes or kayaks on their roof. As I pass six mile falls people have already started to gather. Arriving in the town of Kenduskeag the grass on both sides of the river has started to fill with boats and racers. Some people are in costumes. Some people are in drysuits. Some people are in shorts. It is a cold Maine morning but I have no doubt Spring is here, everyone has come out for the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.

In matching group attire, Team Gumby goes for it on a particularly dicey section of the Kenduskeag. (Photo: Michele Barker)

I have done plenty of races, but the Kenduskeag is definitely my favorite. I enjoy the mix of people and the community feel of the race. There is something great about seeing experienced racers in expensive composite canoes rubbing gunnels with teenagers in plastic lake kayaks. Where else do you get to paddle against, Gumby, Minions, Pennywise, pirates, and a well dressed man who stands through rapids. From Mystic Tie Grange to Gomez Park people line wooded banks and city bridges to watch the race. Many come to see the flips and swims, but everyone cheers for the boats that make it through. It is worth the sore muscles and risk of a cold swim to be a part of the fun.

A tandem whitewater kayak team navigates the Kenduskeag Stream.
A tandem whitewater kayak team prepares to take the plunge. (Photo: Michele Barker)

The river was high this year. With how cold it has been for the last few weeks the snow didn’t have a chance to melt early. In addition, some late snow and recent rain meant big rapids full of cold water. Luckily for those who flipped, rescuers were waiting ready to haul them out of the water and get them back on their way. Not to mention the warming tent, donut holes, and hot drinks at the end.

Canoe team celebrates making it through whitewater in the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.
Successful navigation through a problem spot was a feat worthy of celebration. (Photo: Michele Barker)

If you are thinking of making next year your first Kenduskeag race here is my advice. Don’t bother with the fancy boat or the fancy paddle. Don’t bother bulking up at the gym. Don’t bother covering your boat in duct tape to keep the water out. Instead spend some time this summer, once it is a little warmer, paddling rapids. With a little practice you will be impressing spectators and ignoring your bailer. The best part of this plan is when you are out having fun paddling this summer you can tell people that you are training for a race. When you are in a canoe training is everything, and everything is training.

Let me know if you want to go for a paddle.


Adventures with Alex:

Whitewater Canoeing Basics and Safety

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Alex Strong is a registered Maine Guide and operator of Apeiron Expeditions, which leads canoe trips across Maine.

Michele Barker is a Maine-based nature and outdoor adventure photographer.

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