‘River Vulture’ photographer ready for the Kenduskeag Stream race

&quotThe first photo here, where the paddler appears to have resigned to his fate of capsizing, is one of my all-time favorites. This was taken during the 2009 race," said Michael Alden.
Courtesy of Michael Alden
"The first photo here, where the paddler appears to have resigned to his fate of capsizing, is one of my all-time favorites. This was taken during the 2009 race," said Michael Alden.
By Robin Clifford Wood, Special to the BDN
Posted April 19, 2012, at 1:04 p.m.

If you type “Kenduskeag stream canoe race” into Google, your first hits will all be related to the best race website available.

Kenduskeagstreamcanoerace.com and the Kenduskeag race blog both exist thanks to Alaska native Mike Alden, now a resident of Brewer, Maine. Even though Mike has never actually been in the race, over the last 10 years he has become one of the race’s most informative experts and biggest fans.

When Mike first checked out the Kenduskeag race in 2002 it was to see whether it might offer him some good photo material. He had always loved the outdoors, and he does some recreational paddling with and without a camera. He knew nothing, however, about canoe racing. A race veteran asked him this historic question: Do you want slow and easy “cruising” type photos, or are you looking for ass-over-teakettle shots?

“It didn’t take me long to answer that question,” Mike said. “And I figured out pretty quickly that I had to photograph the race no matter what. I headed over to Six Mile Falls for the first time in 2002 and I spent the morning with a crowd of ‘river vultures’ [spectators at the site of the most capsizes]. It was a riot! I knew right away that I would return the following year with my camera, and I’ve been coming back ever since.”

The second phase of Mike’s relationship with the Kenduskeag race was the birth of his fabulous website. Professional photography is his passion, but it doesn’t pay the bills by itself. Mike is also a Web designer. It was only natural that his love of photography and the canoe race led to the creation of an exceptional website.

When Mike first researched the race, there was surprisingly little information out there. His early efforts to provide a useful site for race enthusiasts and a forum for displaying and selling his photography met with positive feedback. Over time, and with assistance from web developer Gary Korn, it grew into a high-visibility, high-quality, highly useful and entertaining site.

Mike averages about a thousand hits to his website per month. Mainers both local and transplanted like to visit, as well as paddlers from all over the world — one recent visitor was from the Ivory Coast in Africa. The activity peaks, of course, in April of each year.

“A graph of my annual website visitation looks like a giant wave, appropriately enough, with the crest of the wave being April.”

The peak of the race year is photographing the actual event. Mike takes thousands of photos, enjoying the crowds, the action and traditions such as Zip Kellog passing by standing upright in his boat. Then the more tedious work begins. From 3 p.m. until about 3 a.m. he sorts, edits and publishes photos on the website. It is a long day and a labor of love.

“Print sales vary from year to year like the stream levels,” Mike said. “For the most part, the proceeds keep the website running.”

It is not the income, but love of the event that keeps Mike’s enthusiasm going, even though on race day he’s never been in or on the water. He is the quintessential fan.

Dry conditions mean that this year’s race may not offer the usual drama at Six Mile Falls.

“It’s a bony stream this year and it looks to be a pick-your-way-through-the-rock-garden kind of race,” Mike reported.

Even so, he looks forward to the event for multiple reasons.

“I catch up with friends and acquaintances I haven’t seen in a while. Like many others, I view the race as a rite of spring. The days are longer, the weather is milder and the bugs aren’t really out yet. People just seem to have an extra bounce in their step ahead of the Kenduskeag. It’s all about enjoying life and having a good time.”

Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at robin.everyday@gmail.com.

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/04/19/living/river-vulture-photographer-ready-for-the-kenduskeag-stream-race/ printed on July 25, 2014