Longtime race director Dale Cross is trying to get the course for the St. George River Race ready. He’s really trying.
In fact, he was on the river Friday. On foot. And that doesn’t bode well for the 36th edition of the race, which was scheduled to be held on Saturday. The race is the traditional season-opener, and the St. George is typically among the first rivers to shed its winter coat of ice.
“[The St. George] is more iced in than it was a year ago, [when it was postponed for a week],” Cross said on Tuesday. “Let’s put it this way: I walked across it on Friday. Down in the woods where it’s shaded, I was clearing brush and I could walk across the river in my snowshoes.”
As a result, the race, which begins in Searsmont, has been pushed to April 4. Another race in the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization series will also be affected, he said.
“Traditionally that’s the weekend that we do the [Passagassawakeag River Race], but at this point in time we’re not sure if we’re going to be able to be on the Passy or not,” Cross said. “If we are, we’re looking at doing a morning race on the St. George and an afternoon race on the Passy.”
Easter Sunday is April 5, so organizers have decided not to stage a race on that day.
Cross said that after the coldest February on record and a month of March that may follow suit, it’s no surprise that rivers are still iced in. He said it’s also no surprise that paddlers are getting eager to find some open water.
“After those two months, I’d say we’re due the canoe races,” Cross said.
Cross said that after directing the race for decades, he has tried to learn to deal with varying conditions from year to year.
“I used to get all nerved up about it. You’re not going to change Mother Nature,” Cross said. “You roll with the punches. And [unpredictability] does make each race fantastic. It’s different every year, and you have these different challenges every year.”
Some years, Cross will admit, are more challenging than others.
“[During] the Flood of ’87 the river was going over the top of the bridges,” he said. “We had to delay the race to the next week because the water was going over the bridge we used to start at. It was treacherous. It was wild. It was fun. But it was too high to do the race.”
Another year, race organizers confronted another problem at an early season event.
“Back in ’78 or ’79, it was 10 degrees on the night before the race on the Passy, and we had to take a boat with a motor on it through the dead water to break inch-thick ice that had formed overnight, just so we could have a race,” Cross said.