TAYLOR PELOTTE SURFATHON 2005
By Ron Chase
It was a day of fundraising, paddling and socializing. There were Hammerheads, great surfs and even a couple of unplanned swims. It ended with an abundance of succulent cuisine and a sing-a-long around the campfire. But, most of all, it was about remembering Taylor.
Taylor Pelotte was a friend of mine. It probably seems odd for a beat up old open-boater turned kayaker in his mid-fifties to refer to a young girl who was just nine years old as his friend - but, it was true. Taylor was mature beyond her years and had a way of carrying herself that allowed her to fit right in with people of all ages. Further, somewhere along the way, she decided I could be her friend. Despite her tender years, she was a frequent paddler and hiker with the Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society (PPCS), which is how I met her. She, along with her parents Greg and Sharon and her sister Amanda, were fixtures at club activities. She was bright, determined, proud, athletic and beautiful. In short, Taylor was very special.
In 2002, Taylor was diagnosed with cancer. PPCS members struggled to find ways to reach out to Taylor and her family. So, in the summer of 2003, we decided to hold a paddling fundraiser at The Forks in her honor, aptly called the Taylor Pelotte Surfathon. That first year over $11,000 was raised for Camp Sunshine, which provides a getaway for children with serious illnesses and their families. After a 14 month battle, Taylor died in November 2003. Those of us who were close to her in those final months are left with an indelible memory of her courage, dignity and cheerfulness under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. She was truly an inspiration to all who knew her.
It just seemed natural to make the Surfathon a tradition. It provided the paddling community with an opportunity to collectively remember Taylor, while raising money for worthy causes related to children who struggled with serious health issues. In 2004, the Surfathon raised over $19,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Maine, which helped grant the wishes of four Maine children. From our viewpoint, the Make-A-Wish Foundation was a particularly appropriate organization to support, as they had granted Taylor’s wish to visit Disney World with her family the previous August.
This year, the 3rd annual Taylor Pelotte Surfathon was held at Webb’s Campground and the Riverdrivers Whitewater Rafting Lodge at The Forks on July 30th. From the outset, Andy, Karen and Ed Webb, who own and operate these businesses, have provided invaluable support for the Surfathons. Their assistance has contributed mightily to the successes that we have experienced.
The day began at 8:00 A.M. sharp, when a band of intrepid paddlers headed out on the so-called Hammerhead Challenge. Led by the Head Hammerhead in Charge (HHHIC), Kyle Duckworth, they endeavored to complete a 28-mile paddling day – running both the Dead and Kennebec River whitewater runs. There was attrition, and apparently some dissension, amongst this misguided group of would-be paddling marathoners. By the day’s end, some were called “Ball-Peen Hammers,” while others claimed the coveted status of “Sledgehammer.” Fortunately, post-paddling beverages seemed to resolve the conflicts and the term “pin-head” was not uttered within earshot of this writer.
There were paddling alternatives for all boating enthusiasts. Given my geriatric circumstance, I chose to paddle with the main group, which I referred to as “Sissy-boaters.” Led by a snowbird of some paddling renown, John Brower guided 32 paddlers in 26 boats down the Dead on a 2400 cfs release. Actually, the group was so large that some boaters were sipping wine (sissies tend to be sophisticated) at Webb’s Campground, while others on the same trip were still doing enders at Elephant Rock. How was John able to shepherd this huge motley crew safely down the river you ask? Some think it was his superb organizational skills. Actually, he was just plain lucky.
There was also another Dead River run in the afternoon led by Richard Sosa and Danna Lee and Dave Lanman provided the leadership for a paddle on the Kennebec from the Forks to Caratunk. Since I was not a participant on these trips, I can only speculate, but I suspect that they were also “sissy trips.”
The Surfathon was truly a team effort. While the Hammerheads and the sissies were out paddling, Laura Neal was collecting pledges under the tent at Surfathon headquarters, while steadfastly denying any relationship with the infamous HHHIC. Meanwhile, Drill Sergeant Lori White organized the potluck supper and Tee Brower was collecting money and functioning as a roving trouble shooter (and/or trouble maker). The supper, which was held at the Riverdrivers Lodge, was a huge success. Besides the culinary specialties provided by the many participants, it featured a pork barbeque courtesy of PPCS member Brian Smith, who operates Downeast BBQ, and Ed Webb served up his world famous beanhole baked beans.
After supper, Sharon Pelotte and Amanda Shorette raffled off what seemed like a bazillion different items that had been donated by both businesses and individuals and Krissy Foley spoke on behalf of the Maine Children’s Cancer Program (MCCP). The hardiest of the participants then completed the day with a campfire sing-a-long led by the HHHIC and accompanied by PPCS member Tom Meredith. Campfire is an understatement, as the Webb’s know how to build a “serious” campfire. Since the festivities lasted until well after my bedtime, I’m unable to report on the late night activities. However, I can confirm that just a handful of paddlers were on the river the following day. The HHHIC was conspicuously absent.
This year, the Surfathon raised over $15,000 for the MCCP, which is affiliated with the Maine Medical Center and the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital in Portland. Taylor received much of her care at the MCCP clinic in Scarborough. I personally have a very vivid recollection of a visit with Taylor when she was at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital. Although she was quite frail and had lost her hair, she was still beautiful, as she held my hand and provided me with a guided tour of the hospital. As she walked me around, she introduced me to the many friends that she had made, while cheerfully bantering with the hospital staff. It was a special moment.
Sadly, we won’t see the likes of Taylor again. That energetic little girl that paddled the Class IV rapids of the Snake River with her dad one day and then climbed to the summit of the 10,000 foot Rendezvous Mountain in Wyoming the very next, lives only in our memories, now. But, she has left us some wonderful memories.
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