The Kenduskeag Canoe Race
Two Bowdoin groups traveled to Kenduskeag, Maine to compete in the 36th annual Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. Before I begin recounting my experience this past Saturday, let me point out two misnomers in the title of this event: "canoe" and "stream." For the purposes of the race, the word, "canoe" encompassed solo and tandem flat-water racing, sea, and white-water kayaks; solo, tandem, and trio+ open and closed canoes, inflatable rafts, rubber rafts, and rubber inner tubes. These vessels, divided into 23 categories, lined up five at a time under a bridge piled with spectators. Contestants paddled long flat-water stretches interspersed with rapids gloating names such as "Six-mile falls" and "the shopping cart" for 16.5 miles down the Kenduskeag Stream.
Which leads us to our second misnomer: "stream."
Stream conjures images of bubbling water flowing gently down pebbles,
maybe a willow hanging above. A stream is a place where I caught crawfish
as a child, where I wore my stream walking shoes and played in the mud.
This was no stream. I renamed it the Kenduskeag long and winding RIVER.
That day the river saw 493 boats running the gauntlet of
experience, gender, age, and costume. We saw a canoe weighted down with
four paddling clowns, a fraternity toting an inflatable alligator, a canoe
outfitted solely in Gumby paraphernalia. We also witnessed Gore-Texed,
seasoned Kevlar canoe paddlers defining the word "syncopation"
with their strokes, sprinters in long kayaks jostling at the starting
line, and solo canoeists grunting with each small stroke of their carbon
paddles. Beginning the race with such an eclectic group, we absorbed not
only the exhilaration of competition, but also a sense of tradition and
community. Bowdoin participant Dan Burke '02 said, "There is a great
atmosphere for this race. It's competitive, but most people are just out
to have a good time. You meet a lot of interesting folks over the sixteen
Dan, along with brother, Ben '99, and Carissa Capuano, '00
placed second in the open class (defined as three or more paddlers). Their
time of two hours and 37 minutes gave them the honor of the 20th fastest
time overall. My partner, Pieter Ingram, '99, and I also placed second
in our division (mixed beginners, open canoe), walking away with canoe-shaped
plaques for our walls. For us beginners, this feat was one of high stakes,
gale- force winds, and cutthroat competition. Burke, however, compares
this to last year's race. "Competition was stiffer last year. Our
toughest competitors were four ballerinas. This year, we only had to deal
with clowns and Gumby."
It's true. The biggest obstacles weren't those rocks, portages, and waves, so much as the carnage that 493 boats create going over the natural elements. Rescue swimmers, tied to the bank, stationed themselves in every set of rapids to rescue overturned canoes and abandoned refugees. Much of the communication between Pieter and I was about maneuvering around the wrapped canoes, floating paddles, and shipwrecked swimmers. But, the Bowdoin contingent overcame the carnage, the heat, and even the decked-out opposition to win second place in two division, showing that it's not so much what you wear, but who you're with that really matters.