If you drove down Route 4 in Madrid on Sunday, April 28th, you saw a slew of cars parked anywhere they could fit. For the sixth year in a row, Smalls to the Wall, a steep creek race, was enjoyed by countless spectators.

Most of you may know and hopefully have enjoyed Smalls Falls as the popular rest area that has a steep narrow gorge with rock slides and several waterfalls and swimming holes. However, for whitewater kayakers looking for action, the location and attributes really make it an ideal place for a different kind of fun.

Winner in the mens division Mike Mcvey Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Andrew Cooper, organizer and founder of the event back in 2014, became familiar with Rangeley because his grandfather lived and worked there for a number of years and his parents used to have a little log cabin on Loon Lake.

“We would always drive by the Smalls Falls rest area so I knew the falls were there but the light bulb didn’t really go off in regards to the race until the very first time I ran the falls. Running the falls for the first time was definitely fun and exciting, but what really struck me the most about this challenging piece of whitewater was how accessible it was! As a whitewater paddler you get used to hiking or driving into remote areas to access high quality whitewater runs, but with Smalls Falls it was right there! The site is all ready set up for relatively easy access, as it is a state rest area. Even after the first time I ran the falls I remember thinking ‘wow, this would be a perfect place for a race’ and was honestly quite surprised that one hadn’t already been set up there”.

I only met a few of the thirteen racers that took part this year but I was struck by their overall relaxed and friendly spirit. They’re easy going attitude kind of reminded me of Californian surfers. Although it was a competitive race I got the feeling it was more about the activity and the comradery than the competitiveness that really drove them.

Each racer gets two runs and those runs get added together. Racer with the fastest combined time total wins. There was a mens and womens division and the following are the results. If you see “DNF” it means the racer either attempted to run the course but flipped and swam out of their boat, or they chose not to run at all. (You have to complete the whole run in your boat for the run to qualify)

Men’s Division

Mike McVey: Run 1 = 38:88 seconds, Run 2 = 39.37 seconds, total combine time = 78.25 seconds
Miles Puleio: Run 1 = 41:84, Run 2 = 37.06, total combine time = 78.90 seconds
Connor Phillips: Run 1 = 44:56, Run 2 = 41:78, total combine time = 86:34
Don Turner: Run 1 = 45:47, Run 2 = 46:16, total combine time = 91.63
Matt Melcher: Run 1 = 43:09, Run 2 = 50:78, total combine time = 93.87
Danna Higgins: Run 1 = 83.57 seconds, Run 2= 37:15 seconds, total combine time = 120.72 seconds
Drew Bates: Run 1 = 85:16, Run 2 = DNF
Joe Balzanelli: Run 1 = DNF, Run 2 = DNF
Jack Daily: Run 1 = DNF, Run 2 = DNF
Chris Sawyer: Run 1 = DNF, Run 2 = DNF
Matt Jameson: Run 1 = DNF, Run 2 = DNF

Women’s Division

Jessie Sterling: Run 1 = DNF, Run 2 = 45.25 seconds
Alex Horne: Run 1 = DNF, Run 2 = DNF

Of course no course, or event can always go exactly as planned. Mother Nature stepped in the Friday night before the event which made water levels way to high for the scheduled Saturday event. This was somewhat disheartening for Cooper, “I know racers travel from all over New England and even from Canada to participate in the race, so I knew they might not be pleased to show up and find that the race was cancelled. I posted a Facebook post saying the race was cancelled as soon as I was able. I also know that the race is becoming more and more popular with spectators. I didn’t want to disappoint them either but my number one priority is keeping the racers safe and in the end that is what drove my decision to reschedule the race for Sunday. Rescheduling the race for Sunday the 28th was far from perfect because I know a lot of racers that wanted to run Smalls to the Wall couldn’t come on Sunday due to prior commitments. Attempting to schedule a race like this around Mother Nature’s whims is not an exact science. I hope people can understand that there is a lot on my plate when it comes to running a race like this and that I always do the best that I can for it to go smoothly”.

That being said the course, like the event did not go smoothly for everyone. It is still a challenging set of rocks and timing is key. More than several racers wound up getting flipped. Cooper explained, “It’s common for that to happen on this course from time to time, and I expected with the higher water level this year that more racers than normal might be getting flipped over. Even with the best planning, unpredictable things can happen at Smalls.

Keeping that in mind, safety is always a concern. “We had a truly great safety team set in place up and down the course. Experienced safety crew members lead by Jake and Matt Risch of the White Mountain Swift Water Rescue Team were positioned up and down the course on either side of the river. Some members even rappelled down onto precarious ledges inside the gorge to be best situated to rescue any racers who swam out of their boat. I also had an ambulance on site. Local fire & rescue team members were onsite as well. Safety is a big priority.”

Cooper was also really grateful for all of the sponsors. “It really makes me happy and proud when Maine businesses, especially local Maine businesses decide to help support the race by becoming sponsors. I especially want to thank The Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust, Sarge’s Sports Pub & Grub, The Red Onion, Tumbledown Brewing, Carrabassett Coffee Company, Malone and Ecopelagicon.

If you want more information on the event you may go to the Smalls to the Wall event website, www.smallstothewall.com, where you can see some video of past events. Also, to see more pictures from this year’s event you may check out over 100 of them on The Rangeley Highlander Facebook page.

Laughing about being flipped. Gotta go with the flow, literally.

 

Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Carrying your kayak up and down is good exercise! No problem.

 

 

Plenty of fans on the bridge overlooking the approximate 20 foot drop. Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Race starts as you hit the water. Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Spectators from the bottom of the falls might not have seen all of the safety crews awaiting any need for action all along the race route. Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Great weather and smiles for a nice kayak run. Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

 

Spectators Olivia, Leah and Kelsey weren’t too concerned watching people overturn. They’re used to seeing people jump in the swimming hole. Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Miles Puleio, Matt Melcher, Jessie Sterling, founder, organizer Andrew Cooper and winner in the mens division Mike McVey Stephanie Chu-O’Neil

Jessica Sterling before her first run. Luckily she tried her hand at it Friday and feels confident. Stephanie Chu-O’Neil