Remembering Skip on the St. George

Skip and Jo Pendleton were members of the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society (PPCS) for a couple of decades. After a 65 year marriage, they both passed away last year, just a few days apart.

I didn’t know Jo very well as she was not active in club adventures. What I did know was that she was a very vibrant, vivacious person who was a joy to be around.

I first met Skip about fifteen years ago. In his seventies, he was just taking up whitewater paddling. While beginning a challenging sport at that age may seem unusual to many, it was vintage Skip. An outdoor enthusiast who had undertaken a trans-Atlantic crossing from Belfast to Ireland in a 38 foot sloop with a friend and their two teenage daughters, he was game for just about any outdoor adventure. Late in his life, he twice cycled across the United States. Adding an addendum to that accomplishment, he completed a bicycle traverse of Labrador and much of Newfoundland. His entire life was a succession of exceptional exploits. By his remarkable standards engaging whitewater in his twilight years was a natural fit.

Skip was more than a great Dad, loving husband and outdoorsman extraordinaire. Few people contribute more to the world around them than Skip did. He maintained a section of the Appalachian Trail, assisted in creation of the Belfast High School ski team and was a major player in constructing trails and footbridges in the greater Belfast area. For many years, he assisted and provided safety for the St. George and Passagassawakeag River Races. I could go on about his contributions and accomplishments but I think readers get the point. Skip was a truly exceptional guy.

One of my first paddling experiences with Skip was on Marsh Stream near Frankfort. Part of a PPCS group organizing to provide safety for the annual Marsh Stream Race, it was a cold, raw rainy day with snow on the banks and ice shelves along the stream. Seventy plus Skip flipped his canoe in the first rapid swimming in the frigid water. Once his boat was recovered, he jumped back in without a word of complaint.

Later that same day, he expressed interest in kayaking. After a brief discussion about my boat, Skip announced that kayaking would be next on his outdoor agenda. I sold him an old whitewater kayak and the next time I met him on a river, he was in it.

A section of the St. George River beginning in Searsmont was Skip’s favorite whitewater run. He and I paddled it together numerous times. Others would occasionally join us but often it was just the two of us. During one of those escapades, he coined the term “AARPYs” to describe a group of us older paddlers. The unique moniker stuck.

For the first time in many years, Skip is not with us for spring paddling. Fellow chowderhead Carolyn Welch and I felt the PPCS needed to do something to remember and honor Skip and Jo. The choice was easy; a Skip and Jo Pendleton Memorial Paddle on the St. George River.

On the first day of April nine paddlers and two photographers met at a small parking area next to the Route 105 Bridge over the St. George in North Appleton. The takeout for a five mile Class I/II whitewater trip, we held a short ceremony before transporting boats and paddlers to the launch in Searsmont.

Just quick water for the first two miles, the gentle pace provided an opportunity to relate a story about my last trip with Skip on the St. George. We spent over an hour in that same area cutting a path for boaters through a fallen tree. Using a small handsaw he carried in his kayak, it was arduous cumbersome work but Skip was on a mission. A race was scheduled for a few days later and he was concerned about safety.

Just before the Ghent Road Bridge, the whitewater began in earnest with a long Class II rapid. The narrow river twisting and turning, whitewater continued unabated for more than a mile. After a short section of flat water, we descended the steepest drop on the river, Magog Chute. Our journey ended with a pleasant stretch of calm water paddling through a pasture that was once part of an old farm.

My estimate, the average age of our group was about 65. That seems a fitting tribute to a paddler who began the sport in his seventies and ended in his eighties. He was an inspiration. Memories of that special day with Skip and Jo on our minds will long remain, particularly during our spring trips on the St. George.

Ron Chase

About Ron Chase

At age 70, Ron Chase is old. But, he’s not under the grass…yet. Retired from a career with the Internal Revenue Service, he has embarked on a new life as a freelance writer and tax consultant. Don’t be misled; in reality, he works a little and plays a lot. When not busy kayaking, canoeing, biking, mountain climbing and skiing, he sometimes finds time to write and assist his tax clients. A lifelong Mainer now living in Topsham, he is the recent author of The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery, a biography of Vietnam War hero and bank robber Bernard Patterson.