HAMPDEN, Maine — For some of the competitors, Saturday’s Souadabscook Stream Downriver Race is one last competitive warmup before the king of the eastern Maine canoe and kayak season, next weekend’s Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.
For others, the 8-mile trek into downtown Hampden is an adventure unto itself.
Moderate temperatures and relatively high water made for an entertaining day for participants and river vultures alike.
“It was a great run, the water was great,” said Jeff Owen of Orono, who raced a two-man canoe with Justin Wardwell of Holden. “I had never paddled with Justin before, but we had a good time.
“The water was a little lower than last year but higher than usual. It was fast, with lots and lots of big waves.”
Thirty-seven boats entered the annual race, with kayaker Ryan Linehan of Westport posting the fastest overall time of 54 minutes, 30 seconds and Matt Dingle of Carmel and J.D. Burke of Newburgh the fastest canoe tandem in 55:06, edging second-place Owen and Wardwell by 13 seconds.
Several of the competitors engaged in an “unscheduled portage” after being dumped from their watercraft, particularly near the Emerson Mill Bridge where onlookers waited with great anticipation given the turbulent whitewater looming just below the overpass.
While kayakers had a fairly easy time navigating the tricky currents, canoeists were faced with the challenge of maneuvering their crafts to the far left of the stream in order to find smooth passage.
A couple of entries didn’t even make it to the bridge before turning over, losing their balance while rounding a corner approaching a small island leading to the fiercest rapids.
Victims nearly numbered double digits, though some, like the two-man canoe of Dan Wagner of Belfast and Aaron Cross of Norridgewock, regrouped to finish third among the two-person canoe entries in 56:32.
“Coming in front of that island you’ve really got to shoot right straight across the river and then straighten your boat out to go down over that ledge,” said Cross. “We didn’t quite get close enough to that shore line to straighten it up to get down over, but it was a quick swim and we really didn’t lose much time there.
“The boat was dry when we got back in the water.”
Cross and Wagner said they benefited from participating in the accompanying Souadabscook Stream Sprint held earlier in the day, which proved to be a test session of sorts.
“We got to see the river from the river level,” said Wagner. “You can’t scout it the way you can from a canoe. The water changes from hour to hour, day to day here, so you need to see it right before the race, and that helps.”
Many of the Souadabscook participants will take on a longer challenge next Saturday, the 16.5-mile Kenduskeag Stream Race from Kenduskeag Village to downtown Bangor. While that race includes considerable flat water, areas such as Six-Mile Falls will provide a speed-related challenge similar to the Souadabscook provided water levels remain healthy.
“The Kenduskeag’s a lot longer,” said Owen, “but this a good warmup for your whitewater skills.”