Organizer optimistic that St. George canoe race will be run

According to the calendar, March is nearly over. According to the thermometer — 2 degrees Fahrenheit in Bangor this morning — it’s still February.

And with another potential snow-maker bearing down on us, it’s pretty hard to think warm, spring thoughts.

Don’t tell that to Dale Cross.

Two years ago, these paddlers got caught on a rock during the St. George River Race. This year, the ice isn't entirely out of the river, though the race director is confident that the race will be held on Saturday. (BDN photo by Kevin Bennett)

Two years ago, these paddlers got caught on a rock during the St. George River Race. This year, the ice isn’t entirely out of the river, though the race director is confident that the race will be held on Saturday. (BDN photo by Kevin Bennett)

Cross, the executive director of the Waldo County YMCA and the race director for the first two canoe races of the Maine season, says he’s confident … kind of … that Saturday’s St. George River Race will take place as scheduled.

“It’s 70 and sunny here,” Cross said on Monday, when it was clearly neither.

“OK,” he allowed. “We’ve got our fingers crossed. But right now, the [St. George River] is almost all the way out. It’s within a few hundred yards of being out.”

The St. George River Race is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. on Saturday. Racers will meet at the Methodist Church in Searsmont, where they can register between 8:30 and 10:30 a.m.

The weather has varied wildly during the 34 previous editions of the traditional whitewater season opener, but Cross said only twice has it not gone off as scheduled.

“We’ve [postponed it] for a week twice,” Cross said. “One year we didn’t have enough water to get down through the river, and one year we had too much water.”

Never, though, has ice caused a postponement or cancellation.

“This [river] goes out early in the year,” Cross said. “In fact, there were a bunch of paddlers who did it in January this year. And then we got two months of really cold weather.”

Cross said he’ll decide whether the race will be held on Thursday, and will update the BDN and other media outlets. And race organizers will call the paddlers who have already entered if the race will not be held as scheduled.

Cross cautioned potential paddlers that the St. George River Race isn’t a race to be taken lightly.

“This isn’t for the weak,” he said. “[The water] is not much above freezing. And as I say every year, ‘I would prepare to swim in it.’ I would wear wet suits, dry suits. And I would have a pit crew ready with dry clothes at the end.”

Cross also directs the second race of the season, the Passagassawakeag River Race, which will be held for the 41st time this year.

The longtime race director said he’s never seen early spring conditions like this year, and is less optimistic about that second race.

“The jury’s still out on that [race],” Cross said. “I come right by the river when I come to work. Someone had driven a snowsled on the river [on Sunday]. It’s just like a lake out there. They’re ice fishing on it.”

But Cross said conditions can change rapidly on the midcoast, and is hopeful that “The Passy” will also go off as scheduled.

“Spring can come really fast. If we get some warm weather and sunshine and some rain, it could be three days and that river’s ready to go,” he said.

No matter what the conditions, nor how cold the weather, Cross is confident that paddlers will show up if the races are held.

“It does provide for some challenges,” he said. “That’s what a lot of the paddlers like about [the sport] is you never know until you get out there. And conditions are the same for everyone.”

In fact, Cross said that the more miserable the conditions, the more attractive the race for some paddlers.

“You can say, ‘You remember 2014? When the ice was hanging off our elbows? And we did it,’” he said.

 

John Holyoke

About John Holyoke

John Holyoke has been enjoying himself in Maine's great outdoors since he was a kid. Today, he's the Outdoors editor for the BDN, a job that allows him to meet up with Maine outdoors enthusiasts in their natural habitat. The stories he gathers provide fodder for his columns, and this blog.