On Wednesday afternoon, with the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race just three days away, Fran Hutchinson stood on the Route 15 bridge just downstream of Six Mile Falls and shared a common sentiment among first-time paddlers.
“I ought to get my head examined,” he said with a chuckle, as he watched the stream roll over the rocks and ledges that make up the most infamous section of the race course.
Hutchinson, who lives in Cheshire, Conn., was doing a bit of advance scouting of the stream before entering the race for the first time today.
He headed to Kenduskeag Village. He stopped at Six Mile Falls. He looked around, took a few photos, and was eager to learn as much as he could.
“I’m originally from Bangor, and I’ve seen [Six Mile Falls] before, but I never realized the intensity of it,” Hutchinson said. “So it should be interesting.”
At 8:30 a.m. today, hundreds of canoes and kayaks will begin leaving the town of Kenduskeag for the 16.5-mile trek to downtown Bangor.
This is the 43rd edition of the springtime classic, and 431 boats carrying 818 participants entered in 2008. The race record of 754 boats and 1,529 participants was set in 1994.
Hutchinson said he began kayaking about six years ago and has done plenty of lake and ocean paddling. This year, he decided to visit his sister, who lives nearby, and participate in the Kenduskeag race.
“I’ve heard about it and I think it would be fun to just give it a shot and see what happens,” he said. “Hopefully I keep it upright.”
Keeping it upright is always the goal of race participants … and not always the goal of race spectators who gather in places like Six Mile Falls and Valley Avenue hoping to see a few spectacular swampings.
That will be no exception today, but those “river vultures” may be in for a calmer-than-normal experience.
A Friday survey of the stream showed lower than average water, which may be a bit forgiving for some paddlers. On the other hand, the conditions may eliminate some options as participants head downstream, and make certain favorable lines more crowded than normal.
Hutchinson said he wasn’t too alarmed when he headed to the race’s starting point in Kenduskeag, where there’s little current.
“We were checking up by the bridge, and that looks not too bad,” he said. “This looks pretty intense.”
But the first-time Kenduskeag racer had plans to gather as much information as he could, while making sure to enjoy his Bangor visit as much as possible.
“I’m going to be playing golf with some guys on Friday and one of them’s done [the race] for several years,” he said. “I just want to get a few ideas of how to attack it. I don’t want to go in there blind.”
If you’re a new participant or are looking to watch the race, here are a few things to be aware of:
— If you’re traveling on Route 15 — Broadway when it reaches Bangor — you’re likely to encounter heavy traffic, delays and possible detours.
Specifically, those motorists traveling in-bound from Kenduskeag are encouraged to use McCarty Road and follow it to Ohio Street.
In addition, travelers on Valley Avenue, 14th Street and Finson Road are likely to find detours and delays. Valley Avenue itself will be closed to vehicle traffic.
A hint to those who want to head to Six Mile Falls for the first time: Go out Ohio Street in Bangor to Finson Road, turn right and follow the road until you get to the line of parked cars on the side of the road.
At that point, it’s time to park and start hoofing … but don’t worry; Even in the busiest years, you’ll be no more than a five-minute walk from the falls.
— If you’re a spectator who wants to greet the first racers when they arrive in Bangor, here’s the deal: The first boats will leave Kenduskeag at 8:30 a.m.
The all-time record for the race is 1 hour, 50 minutes, eight seconds … and I’d be surprised if anyone approaches that mark in this, a low-water year.
If you arrive in downtown Bangor by 10:15, you should have plenty of time to get to the finish (and you might even have time to find a snack at one of the vendor trailers).
— If you’re paddling for the first time, heed this bit of unsolicited advice: If you can’t afford to lose something, don’t take it in your boat.
In past years I’ve talked with participants who have lost car keys, house keys, cell phones and wallets in the frothing Kenduskeag, and all seemed surprised by the turn of events.
One paddler told me that he thought he had planned well, and had left all of his valuables in a dry bag lashed to a canoe thwart.
Little did he know that his canoe would end up forming the stream’s newest reef after it flipped and was pinned against a rock.
The last I saw that man, he was standing at Six Mile Falls, staring at his unsalvageable craft as the stream’s current locked it in a watery grave.
Dry bag or not, he wasn’t going to be making any cell phone calls that day … and he wasn’t going to get his wallet back, either.
Trust me: Even when the water is low, the current is strong. If you dump, it’ll be cold. Grabbing your cell phone will be the last thing on your mind.
Leave your good stuff on dry land. Tell your loved ones where you’ll meet them. Then get them to take you back to Kenduskeag to retrieve your car (and your safely stowed valuables).
ä Write your name on everything, including your canoe and your paddles.
I know, it sounds silly. But after a spill, your gear will eventually flush its way downstream. Someone will eventually find it (even if it’s on a beach in Searsport).
And most of those folks will give you a call, if you make it possible.
But enough doom and gloom.
This is the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, after all. That means that spring has officially arrived in Bangor.
Get out there. Have fun. And (if at all possible) stay dry.
Salmon licenses on sale
As you may have read in these pages over the past couple of days, a portion of the Penobscot River will again be open for Atlantic salmon fishing this year.
The season runs from May 1 through May 31, or until 50 fish are caught. Anglers will be allowed to fish from a point 150 feet below Veazie Dam down to the site of the old Bangor Dam.
Licenses for the catch-and-release season are now on sale through any authorized MOSES dealer in the state or on-line at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife’s site: www.mefishwidlife.com.
For more information on the season’s rules and regulations, go to the Department of Marine Resources Web site at www.maine.gov/dmr/searunfish