For the past five years, the Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society has held the Skip Pendleton Memorial Trip on the St. George River each spring.
Skip, who passed away in 2017, was an exceptional outdoorsman who twice crossed the United States on a bike and completed a transatlantic voyage in a sailboat. He was active as a trailblazer in his hometown of Belfast and several trails now exist due to his efforts. Later in life, he found whitewater. Skip joined the Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society and learned to kayak and canoe in his 70s, the consummate senior not acting his age.
The St. George was his favorite river and he assisted with its downriver race for many years. I’ve had the honor of leading or co-leading all of the memorial outings.
We had high water for the St. George trip this spring. It was a cool, gray morning when 23 paddlers in 17 boats turned out for the event. Nine kayakers, two solo canoeists and six tandem canoe teams assembled at the takeout next to a bridge on Route 105 in North Appleton. Since almost half of the group consisted of seniors not acting their ages, Skip would have been impressed. After a safety talk and a remembrance of Skip, the eager paddlers doubled up boats and participants for a vehicle shuttle to the launch site in Searsmont.
The 5-mile excursion began in a pool of calm water above a bridge on Route 131 on the east side of the village of Searsmont. Boats were unloaded and prepared for navigation. Chowderheads assembled paddles and gear, packed water and snacks, added final layers of paddling attire to protect against the frigid water, and donned life jackets.
We departed through a stand of partially submerged alders before entering the St. George River from the east. High water helped propel us along in a winding sector of flat water where periodic maneuvering around fallen trees was required. The sizable entourage was spread over a few hundred yards. Participants in the rear encountered a large deer thrashing in the river while it desperately tried to climb a steep muddy embankment without success. Recognizing the futility of its efforts, Karen Franceour responded to the emergency by using her kayak to gently nudge the struggling animal downstream where it was able to escape the predicament. That was the first rescue of the day but not the last.
A substantial downed tree blocked most of the top of a long rapid that began above Ghent Road Bridge. We entered far left to avoid the hazard. Large waves were encountered, some covered boulders concealing treacherous pour overs that were difficult to identify. I stopped in an eddy just above the bridge to set up safety with a throw bag and take photos. Just after exiting my kayak, I was surprised to observe one of our experienced tandem canoe teams swimming past with their empty capsized canoe trailing behind. Always aware of their surroundings, several dedicated Chowderheads were in hasty pursuit. Unbeknownst to me, a solo canoeist had also flipped just below the bridge. Thanks to the determined efforts of Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society rescuers, all paddlers, boats and paddles were soon reunited.
The whitewater continued unabated. Farther along, a kayaker missed an eddy and was lodged partially upside down in shallow water tangled in brush. Alert Chowderheads hurried into action. Scott Nelson, Dave Boyle, and others quickly assisted the kayaker out of the water while recovering the kayak and paddle.
Following more rapids and a stretch of quick water, everyone successfully navigated through substantial waves in Magog Chute, the steepest descent of the day. Some of the more hardy members of our intrepid band surfed in the waves below for several minutes. The teenage tandem canoe crew of Mason Galway and Will Spaulding impressed us seniors with their skills by nailing a difficult wave surf. Indeed, they were acting their ages.
No further problems were encountered during the remainder of our journey as we meandered through farm lands to the takeout located on the right immediately below the Route 105 Bridge. Typical of club camaraderie, Chowderheads assembled in teams to assist carrying boats up a steep bank to the muddy parking area.
Skip Pendleton would have been proud of the teamwork exhibited during our exciting expedition named in his honor. We were privileged to know him.
Readers are encouraged to attend a book talk on my latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” at the Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick on April 21 at 6:00 p.m.