Guest column

Skip in the wild

By Murray Carpenter | Dec 22, 2017
Skip Pendleton

It was one of those rare, exquisite late-December days — sunny, and windless, Pitcher Pond sheathed in black ice so flat and smooth that it looked like open water. As Skip Pendleton zipped along, he let out a yip, hopped and spun 180 degrees, and skated off backwards. I remember him that way, with a wry smile and a twinkle in his eye, framed against the wooded hills.

That was Skip in his element — outside, in Waldo County, actively engaging the wildness close at hand. The wildness many of us take for granted, or overlook, as we toil inside, or race about in our cars and trucks.

I first met Skip 20 years ago, at a meeting of a bike-pedestrian committee, at his farmhouse on Crocker Road. A copy of Maine Times was on the coffee table, the living room was lined with good books, and I knew I’d met a kindred spirit. That meeting launched a friendship based on biking, hiking, skating, and skiing.

Not long after that, I got to know him better when we were among the small crew that began planning, laying out, and eventually clearing, the Little River Trail. If you’ve hiked that trail, it was Skip that cleared the way for you.

Skip was a passionate cyclist. Once, I met him in Northport, and accompanied him on the last few miles of one of his cross-country bike trips. The trip had formally ended in Boston, but Skip chose to pedal home to Belfast — the journey wasn’t over for him until he rode to the city landing and dipped his front wheel into the harbor.

Sometimes we headed out on skis. On a brisk January day, we skied from Belfast to Camden, with my brother Andrew. It was memorable because it was 12-below when we left Belfast, and had only warmed to 5-below when we reached Camden. To Skip, it was just another great adventure, and he led the way.

Skip was also passionate about whitewater paddling. One spring day, I was watching the last few paddlers in the Passy canoe race. The river was high, and a big young man had lost his canoe and was stranded on an island in the middle of a dog-leg rapid, not pleased to be there. Before long, Skip came paddling around the corner, running sweep for the race organizers. He eddied out, hopped ashore, tossed the stranded man a rescue rope, and hauled him across the channel. Then, with an impish grin, he set off downstream to see if anyone else might need help.

A few years ago, on a lovely May morning, I was in a remote cornfield next to deep woods, stalking turkeys. There were no houses near, or paved roads, so I was surprised to hear voices. Soon, I spotted a pair of people a quarter mile off, walking in from the far corner of the field, surrounded by woods and wetlands, and nothing else. It was Skip, of course, with Cloe Chunn, scouting for the ambitious trail that had become his new passion, the Hills to Sea Trail. We walked out together.

This encounter was typical, not just in seeing Skip wandering out in the Waldo County wilds, but also because he knew all about the route he was following. He’d been scouting an abandoned road, and quickly rattled off the details about where the road had once gone, and who’d once lived there.

It seemed everywhere I went in Waldo County, I was following in Skip’s footsteps. Skip had not only been there first, he also wanted to ensure that the land was appreciated, and publicly accessible. So he cleared many miles of trails, and logged countless hours volunteering for the Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition, Coastal Mountains Land Trust, and many others.

Skip instilled in so many of us a deep passion for the untrammeled areas of this region. And, by his actions more than his words, he led us to realize that the wild areas we seek are right here, just out our back doors, and they are worth enjoying and protecting.

Skip passed away this fall, at 84, followed soon by his wife and lifelong partner Jo. So I won’t hear his unmistakable voice over the phone, some dark late-December evening: “Murray? Skip. Looks like she’ll make good ice tonight. You busy tomorrow?”

And when that perfect ice arrives, it will be different without Skip there, gliding along beside us.

Murray Carpenter is a journalist and author whose work is frequently published in The New York Times, Washington Post and National Public Radio. He lives in Belfast.

Comments (0)
If you wish to comment, please login.