Over the last 25 years or so, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to stand on the banks of Kenduskeag Stream in April, joined by thousands of my brethren, where we joyously ingest the carnage that piles up during the annual swimming competition that doubles as a canoe race.
I am, unabashedly, a river vulture. I love to see paddlers make it through the rapids, but also take pride in a peculiar ability that I have honed over the years: For a guy who has no whitewater experience whatsoever, I’ve proven pretty good at predicting which paddlers are going to end up upside-down on their way through a given set of rapids.
So today, I’m volunteering (again) to serve as your guide to this year’s race. Want to know how to enjoy a day on (OK, let’s call it “near”) the stream? I’m your bird.
First, a course prediction: As of Thursday morning, the Kenduskeag had settled considerably over a 48-hour span, with the water dropping a little more than a foot since it peaked on Tuesday.
After a quick internet weather search — See? All of us can make believe we’re Todd Simcox nowadays! — I’ve learned that we’ve got some rain in store over the next couple of days. Tonight, in fact, there will be several hours of steady rain. And on Saturday morning, it’ll rain again.
My prediction: I’ll be amazed if the water isn’t higher on Saturday than it is today. That will keep the stream level higher than average, and the river vultures will have plenty of carrion to pick at as they gather on the sides of the stream come Saturday.
High or low water, a vulture’s gotta eat. So why don’t we start up in Kenduskeag Village, where the Kenduskeag Union Church will serve as host for this year’s race-day breakfast. Stop by! Get fueled up! The feed is free! (But don’t be a cheapskate: Proceeds, offered on a by-donation basis, will benefit the church and the local fire department. Toss ‘em a few bucks.)
After breakfast, you might as well head 10 miles downstream to the most famous spot on the course, Six Mile Falls. It’s on Broadway, and on race day, you can’t miss it. Look for all the vehicles. You might have better luck parking on Finson Road and hiking your way back to a perch on the banks. I prefer the right side of the river as you’re looking downstream, as access is best there.
Find a rock to stand on, then hope for the worst. Or best. Your choice. Just be almost nice to any paddlers who end up swimming. The water’s cold. You wouldn’t want them to get mad at you and throw you in.
When you see the guy in a white suit who’s standing up in his boat, yell, “Go, Zip!” When you see the green inflatable cartoon character coming through, yell, “Go, Gumby!” And when the first kayak goes through, yell, “Go Trevor!” (I might be wrong on the last one, but I doubt it — Trevor MacLean has won this race 10 times in a row).
After watching several dozen boats head through that set of rapids, I’d advise a trip downstream to Valley Avenue, where more rapids await, including the nearly famous set called “Shopping Cart.”
This spot can also be busy, and many new paddlers who think they’ve conquered all the tough spots learn differently when they get here and end up in the water. River vultures say “Yum!”
This year, due to concerns about boats being able to safely pass under downstream bridges, this is the end of the road for vultures. The race will end just below Shopping Cart. Feel free, however, to volunteer your services to racers as they finish. Maybe they would appreciate help hauling their boats to the nearby parking lot.
Be careful, though: The paddler you offer to help might be the one whose demise you celebrated back at Six Mile Falls. And the water’s equally cold down here.
Have fun. Be safe. And enjoy another great day outdoors in Maine.
Video: Paddlers take on the 51st Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race
John Holyoke can be reached at email@example.com or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke