For nearly 50 years on the third Saturday in April, one of the largest canoe races in nation takes place in Penobscot County. Nearly a thousand people travel to Kenduskeag Maine in the morning with boats and gear in tow. Over the course of an hour and half, all the participates will take their turn getting in the water and starting their 16.5 mile journey southeast to Bangor, where the stream dumps into the mighty Penobscot River. It’s a rite of passage, it’s a sign of the spring season, it’s the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race.
Technology in a Canoe Race
In the last five years a few things have changed about the race, a few have not. One of the things that has not changed, cellular phone coverage at the starting line. It’s poor, even without all the extra people, it’s poor. Don’t count on your phone working well at the starting line. It might work some, but it will be poor service. Of course, many people don’t take their phone for fear of losing it in the stream.
The United States Geological Survey has a water gauge at the bridge at Six Mile Falls that measures water height and volume. This has been running for the past five years, it’s nice to see the water levels to know if it’s going to be a fast year, boney year, or normal year. As I write this, the water level is 10+ feet. Which is very high. The last four races, have been 4.9, 3.5, 7.5, and 4.4 (2013 to 2010). Under 4 is boney, 5 to 7 is a good fun race, it’s very fast when it’s 8+.
Another neat thing about race conditions is social media. Not everybody lives right in Bangor. The days before the race, tons of videos and pictures of the rapids make onto social media sites, so people not handy to the stream can “scout” the rapids without actually being there.
The rugged waterproof type video cameras are showing up more and more. GoPro’s are the most popular by far, but you see others from time to time. Below is a video of the race from such a camera on a kayak from a guy scouting out this year’s race.
What is Running the Race Like?
Upon arriving in Kenduskeag Village, normally you are greeted with many vehicles and a little bit of a challenge locating a parking spot. After parking, you walk into the big white building right off of route 15 just before the bridge to get your t-shirts, stickers and vest with number on it. Everybody then gathers around the starting line (which is the bridge over the Kenduskeag Stream right by the white building) to hear a few rules. Then the loud speaker calls out boats number 1 through 5 on the line. Those boats, get into the water, and then “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, GO!”. Every 60 seconds until all the boats are gone, this continues.
A few hundred yards pass the starting line, most of the people on the shore are gone, the road is gone, and you meander through a pretty calm stream for the next 10 miles. No rapids really, you go under Route 15 once, and every now and again are close to small residential roads or railroad tracks.
After the first ten miles, things change, Route 221 comes up on the left, you can hear the hum of tires on your right from Route 15. Over the sound of the water, you here the crowd roar. The river vultures. Six Mile Falls. The sign for the optional portage is on the right. Boats are shuffling all over as they pick the way they want to navigate through the falls. You start seeing people on the banks. The main drop comes into view, you focus, get low, and paddle hard. Upon bouncing through the drop, there is a sea of people, eager to see some action. The bridge is loaded with the large objective lens of expensive camera equipment. The stream is littered with paddles, inverted boats, and rescue workers.
The next few miles are simple enough. Small rapids here and there, normally navigated without too much effort. Passing through the outskirts of Bangor, much of the stream is an easy walk from residential streets and many people sit in chairs on the edges, often with words of encouragement.
Once you get into more of the heart of Bangor, there are two portages, both of them around Valley Avenue. It’s normal to see people stretching as they have been in a boat for hours at that point and their legs may not be awake. Both portages are around 100 yards. The first one over level ground on a trail, the other, over muddy hilly ground.
Upon getting back in the water after the second portage, comes the final test of the race. Shopping Cart. It’s a little bit of rough ride the 100 yards before shopping cart with some “pushy” water. Shopping Cart proper is a drop followed up by standing waves. It feels like you riding a seesaw, while being splashed with 37 degree water.
After Shopping Cart, it’s all peaches and cream. Under the bridges and through the canals of downtown Bangor. People are thronging the railings around the stream, clapping and cheering mostly. After going under State Street, the big “Finish Line” banner is visible on the bridge connected to the Pickering Square parking garage. Then it’s all laughs, coffee and chilli.
Alan has been creating websites since CompuServe was huge. Today he still is developing websites using technologies such as CSS3, HTML5, jQuery and CakePHP.