OVERVIEWThe Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, held annually on the third weekend of April, is the largest paddling event in New England and one of the largest in the country.
Hosted by the Bangor Dept. of Parks & Recreation, the 16.5 mile race begins in the Town of Kenduskeag and ends near the confluence of the Penobscot River in downtown Bangor.
The Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race would not be possible without the dedication of numerous safety and support crews - most of whom are volunteers. They work hard to ensure a safe experience for race participants.
HOW TO GET THEREFrom Portland and points south, you can get to Kenduskeag via Newport (I-95 exit #161), and you then must connect to the Rt. 222 (aka The Stetson Road).
Here is a map with directions.
From points north or south you can also get to Kenduskeag via the Broadway exit in Bangor (I-95 exit #185). Turn a right off of the exit to head north on Broadway (Rt. 15).
Here is a map with directions.
If you are flying to Bangor for the race, here is a listing of direct flights to Bangor.
HOW TO REGISTERThere are FOUR ways to register for the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race:
1. You may register for the race by downloading the registration form and mailing the form in with your payment.
2. You may register and pay online. This is a new service provided by Bangor Parks & Recreation. You will still need to download the fillable form, sign it, and mail it in, but the registration and payment can be handled online at the Bangor Parks & Recreation website which facilitates online registration.
3. You may also register in person by visiting the Bangor Parks & Recreation office. Registration forms are accepted at the Parks & Rec office up until the Friday before race day; the deadline is 1pm.
4. Finally, you may register in Kenduskeag on the morning of the race.
Registration on race day is from 6:30am to 7:30am (SHARP!)
TIP: If possible, don't wait until race day to register. Who needs the last minute stress of waiting in line to register when you could be prepping your boat for battle on the morning of the race?
Register early if you can, get a good night's sleep before the race. And sleep well knowing that you will only pay $20 per paddler versus $40 per paddler if you register on race day.
It has been said that preregistering can land you a better spot in your class, which can be helpful in avoiding the masses of paddlers who start later.
Here's a closer look at the different classes of the race in which you can register.
RULES AND REGULATIONS5 craft per minute will be launched beginning at 8:30am.
No alcohol will be allowed in any craft.
No animals will be allowed in any craft.
You must be at least 12 years of age (with an adult in the craft).
You must be at least 16 years of age (if no adult is present).
You must have consent of parent or guardian (if under 18 years of age.)
Identify your craft number, check points, and the finish line.
Contestants will not be disqualified if they accept only enough help to get them and their craft to shore.
Contestants will be disqualified by the sweep canoe if they have not passed Six Mile Falls by 2:30pm or have not reached the finish line by 3:30pm.
Kayakers and decked boaters MUST wear helmets at all times.
All racers in open canoes will use single blade paddles only. Racers in kayaks or decked boats may use either single or double blade paddles.
Overtaking canoes have the right of way both in the water and on portages.
Coast Guard approved, over-the-shoulder, correctly sized life jackets must be worn at all times.
Numbered vests are to be worn OVER lifejackets.
Any disqualified contestants will surrender their numbered vests to safety personnel.
With regard to portages:
NO assistance on portages from people, wheels, etc.
Craft must be in the water at all flat water checkpoints. Use grab loops or six foot ropes - tied down or taped.
Six Mile Falls: Optional portage, but must pass under the bridge at the falls. Many paddlers simply shoot the falls, but this is at your discretion of course. It can be helpful to scout out the falls before the race to choose your best line of approach. If you can't visit Six Mile Falls before the race, comments will be posted on Mike's Blog with last minute insights from paddlers.
Flour Mill: Mandatory portage. Must go under I-95 bridge in water. No exceptions.
Maxfield Mill: Mandatory portage. Must portage on upstream side of Valley Avenue bridge from either the left or right side of the stream. No exceptions. (See the Course Maps page on this website for an overview.)
If you pass someone on the water who has spilled or appears to be having difficulty, you are to ask the person if they are OK or need assistance.
OTHER IMPORTANT NOTESRecreational Class includes ANY watercraft sold for general recreational use. In general, this includes ABS and polyethylene canoes and kayaks, as well as aluminium, wood, and canvas canoes.
A beginner is anyone who has not finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in any organized race in any class.
Open Class is for race teams numbering more than two canoeists or for contestants entering a watercraft that is not considered a canoe or a kayak. This class is also for contestants who wish to propel their watercraft with something other than a paddle (ie., oars or a setting pole). This class also includes war canoes.
(For more information about the various classes of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race, visit the Race Classes page.)
Awards will be presented immediately following the race.
Shuttle buses will be available at the finish line to transport contestants back to the Town of Kenduskeag.
Race organizers are NOT responsible for lost watercraft. It is suggested that you ID your boats, paddles and other gear in the event of loss. Use special tape and/or permanent ink marker with your phone number in case your equipment is found downstream (or in some cases, downriver!)
TIP: If you do lose a boat or other items in the Kenduskeag, check in with the Blog section of this website after the race, where a "Lost & Found Box" is posted. Also, be sure to check with Bangor Parks & Recreation.
To all race participants and spectators: you are kindly asked to remember that you are a guest of the Town of Kenduskeag. Please respect the private property of its citizens, as well as any parking regulations along all race areas.
WHAT TO WEAR - AND WHAT NOT TORescue teams recommend that ALL race participants wear appropriate clothing due to the extreme cold water temperatures as well as cold ambient air temperatures. You may become severely hypothermic and require medical attention if you are not wearing the proper clothing.
Recommended clothing includes: a wet suit or dry suit, polypropylene fleece or wool.
Some paddlers find wetsuits to be too warm; many racers wear loose shorts and shirts, dry shell paddling wear or long underwear. Use your own discretion.
Worst things to wear: cotton clothing (ie: jeans, T-shirt, sweat shirt/pants).
Wear shoes that are comfortable and will allow you to exit the boat quickly. Large boots are not necessarily a good idea. Shoes should have some traction on the soles for climbing up steep banks during a portage. Running shoes with a good tread are usually good enough. Light, waterproof trail shoes may be your best bet. Some people like to wear Crocs.
Try not to bring keys, mobile devices or anything else you do not want to get wet or possibly lose in the boat with you. Waterproof cases can work well, but they are by no means foolproof and can be lost downstream along with anything else you may own.
It's a good idea to clearly mark your boat and equipment in some manner with your last name and phone number in case of loss.
If you are wearing a helmet, be sure to purchase a helmet rated for the sport and conditions in which you are participating. A cheap shell may not be sufficient to spare your noggin from rough bumps. Helmets designed for whitewater sports are recommended.
For more detailed information see: How To Prepare for the Kenduskeag.
ODDS & ENDSCheck in with the canoe race blog for race news and updates. Post your own thoughts and comments. (The blog is active from February through May.)
Keep tabs on the weather conditions in Bangor.
If you are new to paddling or just want to brush up, a paddler's glossary has been posted here to get you up and running with terms and definitions.
Bangor Dept. of Parks & Recreation contact information:
Telephone: (207) 992-4490
Mailing address: 647 Main Street, Bangor, ME 04401
HOW TO PREPARE FOR THE KENDUSKEAGIf you've ever wondered how to get your boat (and yourself) ready for the Kenduskeag, you've come to the right place!
Because this section is chock full of solid information and sage advice, I've created a special page just for it. So check out this must-read guide: How To Prepare For The Kenduskeag.
Special thanks to Jeff Owen and the good folks at MaCKRO for providing many of these invaluable insights. Aspiring paddlers may wish to check out the free paddling workshops offered by MaCKRO, as well as their beginner race divisions. The shorter whitewater races leading up to the Kenduskeag are a great way to….ahem….get your feet wet.
ABOUT THE RACE - HISTORY & TRIVIAThe idea of holding a canoe race to mark the beginning of spring came from Ed "Sonny" Colburn and Lew Gilman, who organized the first race which was held in May of 1967.
According to "Tales of the Kenduskeag", a wonderful book edited by Jim Smith and Fern Stearns, the initial idea for the race came about with a quick phone call:
Ed: "Lew, what do you think about having a canoe race on the Kenduskeag?"
Lew: "It sounds like a helluva good idea to me. Let's meet tonight - get started right off."
The two were struck with inspiration at an ideal time: while they couldn't round up any interested sponsors, the Bangor Department of Parks & Recreation sought a springtime community project to organize after attempting a bicycle race the previous spring, which, in Ed's words, "went zilch". Bangor Parks & Recreation got on board with the canoe race concept and the rest is history.
As a side note, the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race has never relied on corporate sponsorship.
A total of 34 contestants paddled down the Kenduskeag Stream in that inaugural year of 1967. Although the number of paddlers varies from year to year, as many as 1,500 contestants have participated in a single race during the mid-1990s. Since 1967, over 28,000 paddlers have participated in the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.
Race decals, given to all registered paddlers, have been spotted around the globe.
(Example of a race decal from 2005).
The current course record of 1:50:08 is held by Robert Lang of Renforth, New Brunswick, who set the record in 1997. On top of that, Lang has dominated the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race with eleven total wins.
I've put together a graphical timeline of the Kenduskeag which outlines some of the highlights of the past 40+ years.
10 miles of the race course are on flat water. The other 6.5 miles are more or less divided into Class I, II, and III rapids, with Six Mile Falls being the most treacherous for paddlers.
The Shopping Cart another set of rapids contestants negotiate. This area surprises many paddlers who think that the worst is behind them.
There are Class IV rapids on the Kenduskeag depending on conditions, but paddlers avoid them with mandatory portages.
Although the Kenduskeag race involves a certain degree of risk, safety is a paramount concern among the race organizers and rescue teams.
No two races are alike. Water levels change each year, throwing a curveball to perennial racers. The amount of snowpack built up over winter, the subsequent melting and runoff, and the amount of precipitation in the days leading up to the race all play a role in the volume and swiftness of the stream, measured in cubic feet per second.
Many veteran paddlers wait until the day before the race to make last minute judgments while scouting sections of the stream for tricky areas or portage points.
Conventional wisdom holds that the higher the water, the faster the water. Throw a skilled paddler into this equation, and you have the makings of a potential record breaking year. It is no coincidence that ten of the twenty two fastest times recorded in the Kenduskeag race occurred in 1997 and 2007, when the stream was very high and very swift.
Conversely, the lower the water, the slower the race. A paddler must work harder in these conditions, and exposed rocks present yet another obstacle.
Some paddlers have noted that the different colors of the many kayaks and canoes can be seen "painted" on the rocks just below the surface in certain shallow parts of the stream, which can take on the appearance of brightly colored aquarium pebbles.
The rapids, rocks and waves represent a challenge to paddlers, but some veterans of the race have claimed that overturned boats and dumped swimmers are the true obstacle course. Canoes and kayaks can pile up at the rapids, leading to the Three C's: chaos, collisions and carnage.
The final leg of the race takes contestants through a different sort of Three C's: The calm concrete canals of downtown Bangor. Onlookers shout out words of encouragement to those who are almost too exhausted to continue.
One longstanding tradition (pun intended) of the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race is Zip Kellogg (photo sequence), who stands upright in his canoe for the entire length of the race. Usually dressed in a white suit with a top hat and a bouquet of roses on the bow of his canoe, Zip is a veteran paddler and a crowd favorite. Another crowd favorite is the Gumby canoe & crew.
Although the race course is 16.5 miles long, the Kenduskeag Stream is twice that length. It is the most intensively farmed watershed in the Penobscot River Basin. Historically, it has been an important producer of Atlantic salmon. Saw mills once dotted the stream and some remnants of the old mills can still be seen today.
The name "Kenduskeag" is attributed to the Penobscot Indians, who called the stream "the place where eels gather", "the eel catching place", or "the place where eels are speared". On a related note, American eels - snakelike fishes which can grow to 3 feet in length - live in fresh water from early youth to breeding time, when they migrate to saltwater.
Naturalist/writer Henry David Thoreau enjoyed hikes along the Kenduskeag Stream during his visits to Bangor over 150 years ago, taking note of the plant and flower life along its banks. Remarkably, much of the Kenduskeag Stream looks the same today as it did in Thoreau's time.
Want to take a short trip to yesteryear? Check out my small collection of Kenduskeag Stream postcards, some of which are over a century old.
Concrete canoes?! Unlike the proverbial screen door on a submarine - don't laugh, they keep the fish out - concrete canoes are for real. Engineering students at the University of Maine build and race concrete molded canoes, and they have done so since the 1970s. These students have managed to keep the weight of the concrete canoe down to a relatively svelte 150 pounds.
(Hernia truss is considered optional equipment.)
The "Shopping Cart" section of rapids on the Kenduskeag Stream, close to Bangor, got its name from a large number of shopping carts inexplicably dumped there years ago. To this day, the site is known to many locals as the "Shopping Cart Hole".
The Kenduskeag Stream features prominently in Stephen King's book "It", published in 1986.
The stream runs through an area called "The Barrens" as well as the canals located in the center of Derry, Maine. It has been said that King modeled certain aspects of the fictional town of Derry on the city of Bangor, although Bangor is also mentioned in the book.
A GUIDE FOR SPECTATORS / RIVER VULTURES"River vultures...live vicariously through the foolhardy pursuits of others. We stand beside the stream and wait for the carrion to start piling up. Then...I'm sorry to admit this...some of us cheer."
- John Holyoke, Bangor Daily News
* * * *
My neighbor, Chris D'Amico, runs the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race every year. He's been involved with this race for well over a decade. The 2003 race was to be my first experience on the Kenduskeag as an observer and photographer.
Figuring Chris would be a good source of information, I gave him a phone call the day before the race for some particulars. I wanted to know where to be and when to be there. Chris gave me a quick rundown of the race and the course. Then he asked, "Mike, do you want to take pictures of slow and easy cruising, or paddlers going ass-over-teakettle in the rapids?"
It didn't take me long to respond to that question.
Here's the long and the short of it: if you want to bear witness to a bunch of poor souls being dumped out of their canoes into water so cold it often causes momentary loss of breath and pulse, you want to go to Six Mile Falls. Expect lots of company.
People flock to Six Mile Falls with a sort of morbid fascination that reminds me of some people who go to NASCAR races: not so much to watch the race itself, but because fiery crashes are interesting.
Six Mile Falls is a Class III rapid, a place where you are likely to see some teakettle. The bridge near Six Mile Falls becomes a sort of camp for the crowds of "vultures" which include not only spectators but radio and television broadcast vehicles as well. You can't miss the bridge - it's six miles outside of Bangor on Rt. 15. But be aware that during the race this bridge is often closed to traffic and you'll have to reroute (because of the aforementioned spectators and television crews.) There are grassy banks and a meadow below the bridge where spectators can stand (assuming the water level isn't really high - sometimes it floods a bit).
Aspiring vultures should arrive early. Bring a thermos of coffee or hot cocoa. Yes, you will have to suffer a few hours outdoors in the cold, and if the weather is bad, it's happening on your head. But the fresh air will do you good, and you'll meet some friendly vultures.
If Six Mile Falls doesn't really sound like your thing, you might check out the start of the race in the village of Kenduskeag. If you can find parking early in the morning (a trick sometimes) you can watch all of the participants unload their boats, prep everything, and generally mingle with other paddlers. The countdown to the start of the race is lively, and boats are launched in small groups at timed intervals. The start of the race can be a blast!
During the course of the race, there are several excellent vantage points running alongside the path on Valley Avenue closer to Bangor. Small parking lots and picnic areas make this streamside "strip" highly attractive to vultures and for good reason.
If you can hit all of the aforementioned spots along the race course you'll have a decent cross-section of what the race is all about, but with parking hassles and traffic rerouting, sometimes it pays to "station" yourself in one area.
What about the finish line? It's in downtown Bangor and parking is ample. Walk over one of the canal bridges (watch yourself crossing the streets!) and you'll get a nice overhead view of the incoming paddlers. Have fun!
PS - Do all spectators at the Kenduskeag behave as vultures? Of course not. Many of the spectators are friends, family or spouses of racers. And as a paddler you'll often find a lot of goodwill and support along the way. The spectators often shout out words of encouragement, and so do many of your fellow paddlers. The spirit of the race is all in good fun and humor.