HAMPDEN, Maine — The first two weekends of the Eastern Maine canoe and kayak season proved challenging to competitors, with near-freezing temperatures for the St. George River Race two weeks ago and the aftermath of an April Fool’s Day snowstorm for the Passagassawaukeag River Race last weekend.
Mother Nature was in a much more congenial mood Saturday for the 36th annual Souadabscook Stream Race, offering mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s for more than 40 entries that took part in the 8-mile mix of white water and flat water.
“That was one of the better runs we’ve ever had in the race,” said Hampden’s Jason Cross, who posted the 11th-fastest time of the day, 1 hour, 5 minutes and 7 seconds, in a two-man canoe with Dan Flammini, also of Hampden.
“We hit all the whitewater where we wanted, and for us it was just a perfect level to hit all the drops. It was forgiving enough to go over a couple of rocks and not big enough to feel like our lives were in danger.”
Veterans Jeff Owen of Orono and Steve Woodard of Cumberland posted the fastest time of the day, 55 minutes and 54 seconds, while Bill and Patrick Deighan of Newburgh managed the only other sub-1 hour effort, finishing in 59:39.
Sarah Dingle and Matt Dingle of Carmel placed third in 1:00:17.
Participants described the water level for the race as near-perfect, though that didn’t prevent several less experienced paddlers from flipping over amid whitewater near the Emerson Mill Bridge.
“This is definitely one of the most challenging races in the entire circuit because of the technicality of the whitewater,” said Cross, who estimated he has competed in the Souadabscook race between 15 and 20 times. “The whitewater is very technical and you have to run very tight lines in order to make it clean. You can see that some people do it better than others and once you get the technique down it’s like more of an endurance race, but if you don’t live on this river you’re apt to go swimming on it.”
Many of the entries used the race as preparation for next Saturday’s 45th annual Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, a 16.5-mile test from Kenduskeag to Bangor that is considered the highlight of the region’s spring paddling season.
“You’ve got to build up your stamina for Kenduskeag,” said Flammini, “and I think the Souadabscook is one of the hardest races on the entire circuit in terms of the whitewater and the flat water up top and the portage, so it’s got everything to get you ready for next week.”
The Souadabscook downriver race was held in conjunction with two other races Saturday, the Souadabscook Sprint and the Souadabscook Short Race. Kayaker Chad Montminy of Waldo won the sprint in 12:33, while the junior-senior team of Max and Matt Dingle won the short race in 14:52.