It’s the largest event of its kind in New England each year and one of the largest in the country.
It’s a bucket-list accomplishment for many of its participants.
It blends world-class competitors with weekend warriors, all sharing the same west-to-east route from its more rural start to the finish line in the city center.
Along the way, throngs of spectators share in the joy and occasional misery of the competitors.
For those in the running community, this might describe Monday’s 122nd Boston Marathon.
But for the region’s paddling community, they’ll have their own marathon Saturday with the 52nd edition of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, set to start at 8:30 a.m. from downtown Kenduskeag.
The course stretches 16.5 miles to the finish line near the stream’s confluence with the Penobscot River in downtown Bangor, with 10.5 miles of flatwater leading to a final six miles with some challenging white water.
“It is kind of like the Boston Marathon of Bangor,” said Debbie Gendreau of the Bangor Parks & Recreation Department, who has been race director for 10 years. “It’s a long race. There are people who come year after year to do it, there are new people who do it every year, and there are a lot of people who come to watch.
“It’s all great, and our numbers are really high right now.”
The brainchild of the late Lew Gilman and Ed “Sonny” Colburn back in 1967, the race has overcome heavy snow, rain and drought over the years to satisfy more than 36,500 paddlers in more than 20,000 watercraft over its first 51 editions.
Entries have approached 500 watercraft and topped 900 paddlers each of the last two years, and after a strong lead-up to this year’s race at smaller Maine Canoe & Kayak Racing Organization events around the region, more than 650 paddlers had pre-registered for Kenduskeag as of Wednesday afternoon, Gendreau said.
“A lot of people aren’t doing it for a trophy, they’re doing it because they see how much fun it is,” she added.
Another optimistic sign is the water level along the stream. As of midweek recent rains had restored the water to a raceable level after a relatively dry March, and slow snow melt initially left conditions somewhat tenuous.
“I was up there (Kenduskeag) a week and a half ago and it was so low you could see all of the rocks and I thought people were going to bottom out,” said Gendreau. “But now, no, I’m not worried at all.
“The water’s nice and high, which is great. It’s going to be a good day on Saturday.”
Paddlers will compete in 23 different classes. The open class of three or more paddlers in a boat or anything besides a canoe or kayak — this year’s field includes one single-person paddleboard entry — and the two-person recreational canoe class are the most popular divisions.
There’s also the race for the fastest overall time, though there is no specific trophy for achieving that feat because of the varied types and speeds of the watercraft.
If there were such a trophy, Nova Scotia’s Trevor MacLean would have had to expand his display area by now. The 41-year-old flatwater specialist, whose racing kayak for the Kenduskeag race measures 17 feet long and only 16 inches wide, has posted the event’s fastest time a record 13 times, including each of the last nine years.
MacLean’s 2017 time was 1 hour, 58 minutes and 11 seconds, his sixth sub-2-hour finish at Kenduskeag but well off the course record of 1:50:08 set by New Brunswick’s Robert Lang in 1997, when three of the four fastest times in race history were clocked.
Jeff Owen and Steve Woodard have the fastest two-man canoe time in race history, 1:52:30, in 2007.
MacLean has registered for this year’s event, said Gendreau, who also suggested that his path to a 10th straight fastest time may not come easily.
“This year there’s going to be a little competition for him, I’ve heard,” she hinted.
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