Caribou’s Aroostook River race has strong turnout despite low water

3 weeks ago

CARIBOU, Maine – Even with strong winds and low waters, participants in Sunday’s Aroostook River Spring Runoff race said they definitely will be back.

Now in its fourth year since being revived, Caribou’s flatwater canoe and kayak race featured 24 boats and 37 racers competing in various open and recreational classes. 

Winners came from as far as Illinois, plus from Saco and various Aroostook towns. Many had taken part in Houlton’s iconic whitewater Meduxnekeag River Canoe Race the day before.

Mark and Allison Risinger of Saco took first in the Meduxnekeag’s Open Canoe-2 Medium division with a time of 1:53:43, and first in the Spring Runoff’s Open Canoe two-person division at 45:55:00.

Mark and Allison Risinger of Saco bring their canoe to a stop after completing the Aroostook River Spring Runoff canoe and kayak race Sunday. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

The couple are avid canoeists and will take part in the Yukon 1000, a 1,000-mile paddle race from Canada to Alaska, in July. They have been racing for three years and could see how water conditions affected the Houlton and Caribou races this year.

“We had to get out and walk probably 10 times [during the Meduxnekeag]. Today the paddling was much smoother,” Allison Risinger said. “This is our first time racing this route. We usually do Houlton’s race, but it was nice to have both races the same weekend.”

Caribou Parks & Recreation moved the Spring Runoff race from the second to the first weekend in May hoping to capture slightly higher waters in the Aroostook River.

At the Lower Lyndon Street boat launch, racers got a fast start thanks to strong winds blowing from behind, but then fierce crosswinds later in the 6.2-mile route slowed many down. Those paddling the longest did not reach the finish line near Forbes Pit until more than two hours later.

But despite the conditions, racers had a good time and the new date became a draw for many who traveled to Houlton for the Meduxneakeag, said Neal Sleeper, recreation program director at Caribou Parks & Recreation.

“I think we’ll probably stick with this date next year,” Sleeper said. 

The race drew in both longtime canoeists and kayakers and newcomers.

The Spring Runoff was Caribou resident Rebecca Zimmerman’s first-ever kayak race. She finished first in the Recreational Female Solo division for kayakers at 1:19:30.

“This is only the third time I’ve ever kayaked and the first time in over a decade,” Zimmerman said. “I’ve been trying to be more active and just thought I’d try it. Everyone has been really friendly. It’s a friendly competition.”

Mort Soule of Old Town (back) and Winter Whitton of Mars Hill complete the Aroostook River Spring Runoff canoe and kayak race Sunday. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

Winter Whitten of Mars Hill and Mort Soule of Old Town have been racing the Spring Runoff together for the past three years. The duo placed first in the Recreational Canoe two-person division at 1:01:27.

“We’ll be back for sure,” Whitten said.

Other winners included Tim Cushman of Morton, Illinois, at 52:57:00 in the Open Canoe Solo division; Soren Norris of Perham in the Recreational Canoe Male Solo division at 1:04:37; and Seth and Braxton McCrossin of Caribou in the Recreational Kayak two-person division at 1:30:41.