On Saturday, April 21, the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department held their annual Kenduskeag Canoe Race. The race is held on the third weekend of April and has been deemed the largest paddling event in New England and among the largest in the United States.
The race begins in the Town of Kenduskeag and ends after a 16.5 mile venture by downtown Bangor near the confluence of the Penobscot River. The race includes three portages throughout the course, giving paddlers the extra challenge while trying to keep their boats afloat.
Boats began the race at 8:30 a.m., with a five-minute gap between the flocks of participants to help prevent traffic jams in the water.
Among the hundreds of racers were several student participants from the University of Maine, including Michael Cristiani and Frank Schweizer. Cristiani is a fourth-year civil engineering student, and Schweizer is a second-year business student. The two competed in the college canoe division in a two-person Old Town Discovery canoe.
Another student participant was Nathan Richard, a second-year mechanical engineering student. He participated with his brother, Mike, and the two raced in an Old Town Canoe. “We have always been decent in a canoe. We didn’t really train for the event, we just entered and went for it,” he said.
“At the start line where I got to see how many people were doing this race and just seeing how much this race means to a lot of people was a very rewarding feeling,” Cristiani said. “I saw some friends [that] I already knew and made some new friends on the river. We [Cristiani and Schweizer] made the best of it and had a great day, no matter how many times we got wet and flipped the boat.”
Cristiani and Schweizer did not train for the race. “We did nothing. Me and my friend had never done it before, so we thought it would be a great opportunity to give it a shot,” Cristiani said.
The weather on the day of the race showed clear skies and a high of 42 degrees. As racers approached the Six Mile Falls, a rapid-like drop, they had the option to either port their boats and walk around or test their luck on the falls. Cristiani and his partner passed through this area without much difficulty. “My favorite part of the race was the Six Mile Falls,” he said, “When we got there, there was [sic] so many people flipping canoes and [people] in the water everywhere, which made it hard to go exactly how you wanted to go through the rapid, but we ended up going straight through it [with] no problems. It was a really hard but really fun rapid, and I would gladly do it again in a heartbeat.”
Cristiani and Schweizer finished the race in 2 hours and 50 minutes. “We also finished floating across the finish line while holding onto our upside-down canoe.” Cristiani said, “We only had one difficulty at the very end of the race by flipping over with half a mile left and we just floated to the finish. We went through the flat water really fast because we wanted to pass as many people as possible and we killed the rapids and had no issues there.”
Nathan Richard and Mike Richard finished the race in 3 hours. “We finished dry, no flips for us.” Nathan Richard added.
The first ever Kenduskeag Canoe Race was held in May 1967 after the idea was brought to life by Ed “Sonny” Colburn and Lew Gilman over a phone call. While they initially had a hard time gathering sponsors, they found support from the Bangor Department of Parks and Recreation as the department was looking for a community project to conduct. To this day, the race has never relied on corporate sponsorship. Since its beginning in 1967, the Kenduskeag race has had over 28,000 participants. According to Colburn, this year the race day was one of the coldest in its history.
“Talking with everyone while paddling down the river and having a good time and just enjoying the day was rewarding. My favorite part of the race was the Six Mile Falls.” Nathan Richard said.
“It was really rewarding to cross the finish line even though we were floating and not in the canoe,” Cristiani said.