KENDUSKEAG — He hardly does any paddling races any more, and it’s a good seven-hour drive — one way — just to get here, but the siren call of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race is still irresistible to Trevor MacLean.
The Halifax, Nova Scotia, paddler made it worth his effort for the seventh time in 10 appearances as he finished the 16½-mile race interspersed with miles of flatwater and treacherous yards of whitewater and rapids with a time of 1 hour, 59 minutes, 35 seconds.
“I really don’t do many kayaking events now. I do triathlons, but I might do one more paddling race this year,” said MacLean, who was sporting a scar on his forehead, but it was from a cut suffered at his construction business Thursday and not the race. “It’s a bit of a drive to get here, but the Kenduskeag has its own little aura. It’s a fun race and it’s different than other events.”
MacLean, who used to use the Kenduskeag as a tune-up for his international marathon kayaking race schedule, usually comes down with a group that numbers anywhere from six to 20 paddlers. This year, there were a half-dozen in his party.
This was MacLean’s seventh overall Kenduskeag race title. He finished second in his three other races.
He and the 902 other paddlers in 481 canoes, kayaks and rafts that took part in the 45th annual race were pleasantly surprised by temperatures and water levels that were higher than predicted.
While MacLean had the day’s top time, it wasn’t exactly a surprise as kayakers tend to rule the race, time-wise. But it is the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, and bragging rights in that category went to Jeff Owen of Orono and Steve Woodard of Cumberland, who paddled the last canoe to win the overall race title back in 2007. Owen and Woodard paddled their two-man canoe to the finish line in downtown Bangor in 2:05:33.
They finished almost two minutes ahead of a war canoe entry paddled by 10 people from the Belfast and Bucksport areas. The crew of John Goulet, Aaron Cross, Dale Cross, Mike Sproul, Cliff Littlefield, Chris Deane, Bronwen Pierson, Dan Littlefield, Greg Dorr and Laurie Stearns had a time of 2:07:21 to finish fourth overall.
Second place went to 11-time Kenduskeag kayaking champ Robert Lang of Rothesay, New Brunswick, who finished in 2:03.05. Another war canoe with a smaller crew (Tammy Kelley, James Mabee, D.W. Smith, Bill Deighan, Leslie Winchester and Ander Thebaud) finished fifth overall in 2:09:36.
The race features plenty of its usual tradition (everything from Zip Kellog smoothly negotiating Six Mile Falls in a white outfit while standing up in his canoe, to the canoe carrying a life-size, inflatable Gumby), color (canoes decorated with pink plastic flamingos and purple whitewater rafts), character (a battered, dilapidated canoe rescued from the back of a storage area at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine and fixed up with duct tape and spray foam), thrills and chills (you didn’t have to be looking to know when paddlers were dumping at Six Mile Falls as the collective “Ohhh!” from the crowd of 300 or so onlookers lining both sides of the stream made it clear) and danger (eight canoes or kayaks crossed the finish line with no one on board).
“We even had a helmet float down through, but luckily that was empty as well,” joked Tracy Willette, Bangor Parks and Recreation director.
One of those unmanned boats belonged to Bangor’s Dustin Smiley, who was competing in his third Kenduskeag race but his first as a solo paddler.
“I went right through Six Mile Falls, but I dumped right after the second portage,” said Smiley. “I grabbed a branch so it wouldn’t hit me, but the kayak was still going and I was knocked over.
“My kayak got away from me, so I walked the rest of the way and asked the guy at the finish line if he’d give me an official time since I walked the rest of it.”
They didn’t, but Smiley wasn’t the only one walking back to town.
“I want to finish, but I don’t know where our kayak is,” said Matt Hardings, who was paddling in the Kenduskeag for the third time.
It was the maiden voyage for his partner, fellow Levant resident Ryan Kimball.
“We did pretty good at the beginning, but we got to Six Mile and decided to go to the right, which was obviously the wrong side, and we flipped,” said a wet, cold and barefoot Kimball at the riverbank.
Another Kenduskeag rookie fared much better. Eighth-grader Cassidy Woo teamed up with teacher and fellow Danforth resident Tammi Matula to finish first in the C2 women’s recreational class with a time of 3:03.04.
“My least favorite part was running into a rock and my favorite part was finding out we won our class. I like the rapids,” said Woo, whose first race was the Marsh Stream last week. “I’ve only practiced five times.”
Woo and Matula paired up as a result of a school outdoor recreation program.
“I’ve been working at that with Dave Connolly for 10 years, but this is Cassidy’s first race,” Matula said. “She’s tough and she’s only been paddling for three weeks.”
And then there were first-time observers. Charles Rackley of Corinth and six other family members and friends came out to watch part of the race about four miles from the starting line to see son Charles, who lives in Bowdoin, paddle in his first-ever canoe race.
“We got here around 8:30 or so and we were the first ones here. It filled up quite a bit since,” he said. “I’m glad I’m on dry land and not out there.”
Not Brian Dunphe and Brock Major of Saco, and longtime friend Rob Harriman of Kennebunk.
All three are whitewater rafting guides who use the Kenduskeag to gear up for their season, which starts in May and runs through October.
“We started about 14 years ago with our Scout troop and have continued to do it most every year since,” said Harriman. “It’s all about the whitewater. It’s so much fun to be in an open boat and paddle through that.”
Tom Coleman of Jackman is also a whitewater guide. He has done the race eight times, but paddled the race with girlfriend Alicia Marshall for the first time Saturday.
“My roommate in college and I started doing this for something to do and it gets us in shape for the season,” said Coleman, who finished fourth in the mixed-experience class. “This for me is an endurance race. It’s a long ways to paddle. The flatwater is the bane of it for me.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong name of a member in a crew of a war canoe that finished in the top five. One of the 10 crew members was replaced late, and Aaron Cross took the place of Dan Wagner.