It’s not one place. It’s 16 miles of riverbank and cold water.
It has attracted thousands of spectators every spring for 44 years. They turn out to celebrate the end of winter and the “official” start of spring, even though ice cakes often decorate its slippery banks.
Kenduskeag Stream, from the tiny town of the same name to Bangor, is the venue for paddle craft of every shape and description (26 official classes) to wend their way over 10 miles of flat water and 6 miles of sometimes hairy white water. There are crashes, spills and ballet-perfect executions through roiling waters.
Spectators crowd infamous Six Mile Falls, the first white-water drop in the race 10 miles from the start, and Valley Avenue around “Shopping Cart Hole,” just waiting in cruel anticipation for the waters to take their toll.
Capsizes are cheered. Captains who go down with their ship are applauded as River Vultures crain their necks for a better view. Rescue crews are kept busy dragging the bedraggled from the water as errant flotsam drifts downstream.
I’ve been a “racer” and a vulture. Six Mile Falls gave me and paddling partners a cold bath a couple of times. Four other times I nailed them. I once was a victim of Shopping Cart Hole — so was my canoe.
Here’s some highlights from Michael Alden’s timeline I found online: Zip Kellog made his race debut in 1970 (he’s still a standup success); concrete canoes debuted in 1974 (the UMaine rigs didn’t get beyond Six Mile Falls as I recall); also in 1974 two streakers (wearing their life jackets, of course) went through Six Mile Falls (Rick, I know where you live); and in 1983 Bill Green, calling the race for WLBZ, coined the term River Vulture.
See you Saturday!
— Jeff Strout, BDN