It’s a springtime classic, and it’s happening Saturday.

The 39th annual Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race begins at 8:30 a.m. in Kenduskeag, about 16.5 miles from the finish line in downtown Bangor.

Hundreds will paddle the stream while thousands will watch it from the shoreline and on Bangor television.

Stretches of challenging whitewater rapids assure a certain number of spills, not to mention a canoe full of chills since the water is so cold.

People may preregister for $17 by contacting the Bangor Parks and Recreation Department before Friday, or between 6:30 and 8 a.m. race day, when the fee climbs to $27 per person.

The race features a staggered start, with five boats per minute heading downstream from the launch point.

Boaters are prohibited from having alcohol in their crafts. Animals are not allowed either.

Everyone has to wear a life jacket, and other rules regulate minimum ages and classes of boats.

There are also two mandatory portages around severe drops in the stream.

Awards will be presented immediately after the race.

Shuttle buses will be available at the finish line to take contestants back to Kenduskeag.

The race is run annually on the third Saturday of April.

Ed “Sonny” Colburn and Lew Gilman organized the first race in 1966. A total of 34 paddlers went down the Kenduskeag Stream that year. While 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.

The course record of 1:50:08 is held by Robert Lang of Renforth, New Brunswick, who set it in 1997.

Ten miles of the race course are on flat water. The other 6.5 miles are more or less divided among Class I, II, and III rapids, with Six Mile Falls being the most treacherous for paddlers. The Washing Machine and the Shopping Cart are two other rapids that contestants negotiate. There are Class IV rapids on the Kenduskeag, but contestants avoid them with mandatory portages.

No two races are alike. Water levels change each year, throwing a curveball to perennial racers. Canoes and kayaks can pile up at the rapids, leading to the three Cs: Collisions, chaos and carnage.

The final leg of the race takes contestants through 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 is boatman Zip Kellogg, 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, Kellogg is a crowd favorite.

For more information: Bangor Department of Parks and Recreation, (207) 992-4490

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