I am not someone who has enjoyed my time on or in the water. Maybe it was that time when I was two years old on Clam Harbour Beach that my mother used to tell me about. The time when I ran the wrong way, into the surf, and had to be dragged out screaming and kicking as only a two-year-old can scream and kick. Perhaps this event planted a deep-seated fear that will require psychoanalysis to undo. Then again, maybe I am too much the Scot to add another recreation. Who knows???
So, it was only the prospect of a weekend in Bangor and time with my Gonzo buddies that got me in the neighbourhood of the Kenduskeag Stream, not the prospect of any adventure on the stream.
So on my Friday arrival, I am thinking more about sight seeing as we head up to Six Mile Falls for a little practice. My sight seeing instinct is rewarded as Six Mile Falls has a real drop in elevation, and despite Sungod's suggestion that the water is low, it looks intimidating from the security of dry land. Immediately there is an attempt to talk Murphy out of taking the kayak over. That seems sensible to me. The Levy's on the other hand go about their preparation business without saying too much. Everyone, other than Greg and Andrew is going to paddle downstream from the Falls, so they are going to "put in" regardless. Murphy decides he will go in above the Falls - I presume to check out the places he can safely get out. The Levy's have gone up to join Murphy just to make sure he doesn't get in trouble.
From the bridge it is possible to catch a glimpse of them maneuvering about testing the current. The next few moments reveal that the Levy canoe is getting closer and closer to the main torrent. There are two channels to the Falls, and the Levy's are on the left side as they point toward the bridge. Then in a flash they are headed over. I hear yelling!!!!! Screams for help I presume. No, It's Bernie yelling "left switch right - left again", and in an instant they are through, and with a half dozen powerful paddle strokes, they are on land again. I later learned, while watching some less competent paddlers who covered the same distance in about 3-times as many paddle strokes, that the Levy's actions were no series of mishaps. They actually made the canoe do what they wanted it to do.
The first star of the trip goes to Ben and Bernie for this demonstration of competence
Shortly thereafter, Murphy decides there is no honour in portaging and in an instant he too has navigated the Falls, and then Darrin and Kevin. I don't care what you say, it is still an experience to test your mettle even if the following day would prove it does slow you down as an alternative to portaging.
Bright and early, we make the trip by car from Brewer to Kenduskeag into that decidedly rural Maine community. A great country style breakfast is served in the Mystic Lodge right by the start. Breakfast was memorable, with two varieties of baked beans to fuel the competitors and spectators for the day.
Murphy is first away, followed by Gordon and Richard in what is now named "the Stealth". The rest follow, with Duffy and daughter Sarah being the last away, about one and a half hours after the first competitors have started, and there will be over a hundred canoes after them, approximately 500 canoes / kayaks in total with one person, two person or three person crews. I wait with the Duffy's - having agreed to stay with them until start time in case they need something. They finally get away, with me snapping photos. Apparently Bruce had never heard the story of when I took my then 10-year-old son Grant to Olympic Stadium in Montreal on Camera Day. People are suspicious when I tell them that the large, now headless, black man standing by Grant is really Andre Dawson. Undaunted, Duffy trusted me with the camera - oh shit, does anyone remember how many pictures there are on a role of film?
After they are away, I head downstream toward Six Mile Falls. I have been warned about vehicular congestion in rural Maine, so when I reach the first bridge over the Kenduskeag, I stop to watch what is obviously a congested stream. The highway doesn't seem so bad afterall.
The first people I recognize are Darrin and Kevin. They are wearing Nova Scotia tartan tams to make them standout. It worked. I feel those patriotic feelings as I yell "Way to go guys".
Darrin and Kevin definitely get the second star of the trip for the tams.
I wait and I wait. Two more of our river runners are yet to come. Where are Greg and Andrew? Finally they appear, so I yell something sarcastic to remind them it's a race as they go under the bridge I am standing on, and I almost miss the Duffy's, who have made up the staggered start in the first hour of a three hour race.
Obviously the third star of the trip goes to Sarah and her Sungod Dad.
This was later recognized by race officials who awarded them first in their class. Even as a spectator, I am into this now!
I drive toward Six Mile Falls, and soon realize this is not to be. Traffic is diverted around the Falls bridge, and I bet it is a solid line of parked cars for two miles on one side of the detour headed toward Bangor. I resolve that Bangor is the place for me. I will park the Duffy car in downtown and head upstream on the footpath I had discovered the previous day.
By the time I overcame some slight misunderstanding over where the finish line was, I should have followed the cardinal rule, "listen to the Sungod", and headed back upstream on foot, there were already a half-dozen finishers. As I hurried up the footpath, I could not help but feel a little excitement about who would be the first of our group to get to the finish. As I came to a footbridge across the Kenduskeag, "The Stealth" silently came into view. I hurried to the middle of the footbridge to yell some encouragement. Gordon recognized me and missed a stroke to give me a wave. I didn't realize then, but this was to be what is now the "second place acceptance" wave. As I turned and headed downstream to catch up to Rich and Gordon, I didn't realize the titanic struggle unfolding behind me for the Levy's, despite an upset along the way, were in hot pursuit. As it turned out, it was at a cost unknown, for young Ben gave it all to get the victory over "The Stealth", and that evening had to be spent at the Bangor Hospital replenishing his electrolytes.
The fourth star of the trip must go to the Stealth's crew, who recognized that fundamental lesson of any competition - another day will come. Of course with Rich that other day came that evening as he started training for the next race by going for a run, while the bowman from the victorious Levy boat was in the first stages of his eventual catatonic state. Victory may be sweet, but who had the most fun?
The answer to that question should have been the "no practice, give me another beer" canoe of Greg and Andrew. Even after being overtaken and passed in the early stages of the race by the Duffy's, they found something to be proud of despite some teasing from the rest of us. Greg eventually discovered they had placed in the top 10 in their class, and was quoted as saying with a proud smile "I think we were top ten! I've never been top ten in anything", followed by a hearty laugh.
The fifth star of the trip goes to Greg and Andrew for grasping victory from the jaws of defeat.
Finally, some recognition has to be given to Murphy for something that happened on dry land, although his perseverance on the water was a joy to watch. He overcame a rudder that constantly came off his kayak, and still, whenever I saw him, raved about how much fun he was having.
After everyone was in and the "Second Place" trophy had been presented to Rich and Gordon, and Bernie demonstrated what an entertaining winner he can be, we were all sitting in the sun on a little strip of grass by a multi-story parking garage in downtown Bangor. Murphy came over and gave me his race T-shirt. I thought that was a great gesture, made all the better by something that he was completely unaware of. That day also happened to be my fifty-fourth birthday. Thanks Murphy and all the rest of you. It was a great birthday party!
I feel a little guilty, but I scrounged a party out of the trip.