Tour du Teche

It was a remarkable weekend.

Tour du Teche, a 130-mile paddle race – canoes, pirogues and kayaks – was held starting Friday down Bayou Teche from Port Barre to Patterson.

This was the first time this race was held. Around here, in our little area, most people just didn’t get it. What’s the big deal?

It was a very big deal.

Organizers of the race expected 30 or so boats. They said they hoped the race would grow from there.

It did. Quick. They got 60 boats. Ninety-some-odd paddlers. Truly amazing.

They took off from Port Barre at 8 a.m. Friday morning. There were six checkpoints along the way and several rest areas. The boats had to check in at each station, and the volunteers at the station would call the tour command station to say that boat number whatever had passed. Franklin was a checkpoint.

The first boat passed through our checkpoint on the shift I was volunteering Friday. A six-man kayak made it to Franklin at 11:25 p.m. and won the overall race by finishing up at the Cajun Coast building in Patterson by about 2 a.m. Saturday.

Our checkpoint was full of onlookers Friday night who stayed up to see the first boat come through. Mayor Raymond Harris came out to wish them well. Such a cheer went up from Parc sur la Teche when that first boat came around the bend from upstream, they probably heard it in Jeanerette!

I was on check point duty from 8 p.m. to midnight Friday and again 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, but ended up staying most of the daylight hours helping as I could or just kickin’ back and enjoying the race. Boats came through sometimes in small groups, say three in an hour’s time, sometimes we waited three or four hours for the next boat.

Many teams had road crews that drove from checkpoint to check point to meet their paddlers. All were very complimentary of the race, the Teche and Franklin!

It was an extraordinary event, and I am sure the importance of it escapes some people, so here goes: The city, as a welcome center and check point, gained tremendous exposure to people who otherwise might never have come here. There were paddlers from Texas, all over Louisiana, Missouri, Illinois, Alabama, Oklahoma, Utah, New York, Virginia, even Belize.

Here’s the best part.

The organizers have rethought how the race will be held next year.

Rather than a straight-through event, paddlers will take off from Port Barre Friday, stop in St. Martinville for the night, take off again Saturday morning, and stop at…Franklin…to spend Saturday night! Then get up and finish the race Sunday.

This is a tremendous opportunity for our city and our parish, people. This event is only going to grow. And as we were lucky enough to be roughly two-thirds the way down the Teche to the finish line, we’ve been handed a golden opportunity to “put on the dog” for these paddlers, their road crews, the organizers, everybody who’ll be staying with us Saturday night.

We have a lot to do to get ready for that, but the wheels are turning and the ideas are flowing already.

This will not be one of those missed opportunities we so often look back on with regret around there.

I want to thank a few people and I am going to try my best not to leave anybody out, but a helluva lot of people were involved in this. So here goes.

Most especially, top of any list, super-duper thanks go to Debbie Von Werder, Joan Adams and Rachel Wimberly. Those ladies had each signed up for volunteer shifts at the checkpoint, but stayed the entire weekend, sleeping a bit here and there as they could, but in the mix the rest of the time. Salute!

The Port of West St. Mary was kind enough to help provide, in cooperation with the Franklin Merchants Association, a small floating dock to help paddlers who wanted to get out and rest make the jump from their boat to the bulkhead. Many thanks.

Franklin Police had a boat on site much of the weekend in case of an emergency, and an officer who’s name I didn’t catch brought us some yellow caution tape for the dockside; the Franklin Fire Department had folks on hand to help throughout; the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office provided the check point with a humungous fan, tents, ice chests and ice and more, and Jimmy Broussard made sure we had all we needed and on time. BP donated bottled water in great quantity.

The City of Franklin kindly donated materials to deck the floating dock, which was assembled by Public Works employees. Director Jeremy Smith made sure the dock was in the water by race time Friday. They did a fantastic job.

The St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office provided a sheriff’s boat for safety at the Calumet Cut-Wax Lake Outlet.

Marla Chirdon, the city’s Community Development Director was the “point person” for the event, along with Debbie, Joan and I, and Marla ran a late-night, early morning shift.

Thanks to Tessie Gordon for bringing an additional tent and some chairs, and manning a checkpoint shift; also Dr. Bill Karam, for a much-needed, high-output light to illuminate the floating dock. Hey…we can’t think of everything!

And, of course all the other volunteers who helped man the checkpoints over the weekend: Dale Morgan, Ashton Bogan, Toya Broussard, Julie Broussard, Elaine Gussman, Ross Landry, Mike Comeaux, Didi Battle, Amanda Guillory, Jim Evans, Craig Overland and Steve Schmidt with the local Boy Scouts, and the Landry trio, Juliet, Jackie and Renee.

Congratulations to our own Chris Freeman and Jeri St. Blanc for participating in the race as well.

Forgive me if I forgot anyone. It was a long, exhausting weekend.

Finally, to the race’s organizers, Ken Grissom and Ray Pellerin, as well as their committee members. Those guys conceived and made this thing happen. I can’t imagine how they pulled it off and were still vertical by the end of the race.

But well done, gentlemen. Well done!

A story to end this column. A gentleman, Charles Deville, paddled up to our check point Saturday and asked for help. We guided him to the boat launch on Teche Drive where he beached his kayak, the Vet 61, and required a lot of help to get out, get his land-legs back. You have to realize that sitting and paddling for hours on end is exhausting, sometimes painful, and your legs tend to go to sleep or you feel a burning sensation.

We got Mr. Deville to a chair on the bank and gave him water. He was badly dehydrated. He stayed for a bit, resting, and later his friend arrived by car to meet him.

Everyone tried to talk him out of going on, including his lady friend. He was insistent that he would continue to the finish line. Nothing, nor anybody, could change his mind.

When he felt ready, we helped him into his kayak, still protesting that he needed to rethink his objective. It was then he told us:

“I’m representing Vietnam veterans. I have to keep going.”

Nobody said anything else about stopping. I think we all understood. We pushed his kayak back into Bayou Teche, and silently said prayers.

I watched him paddle off, under the bridge and soon he was gone from sight.

Charles Deville paddled the Vet 61 to Patterson and crossed the finish line at 1:09 a.m. Sunday morning.

4 comments to Tour du Teche

  • Becki

    Well done! Hats off to all who volunteered and participated. Glad it was a success

  • I was a “bank runner” for one of the paddlers, and would just like to say that this was an epic event that I will long remember. To everyone who had anything to do with putting this together, thanks! It was fantastic. And for an event of this magnitude, there were remarkably few glitches. The volunteers were everywhere, the local citizens were supportive . . . it was just amazing. Thanks for giving my whole family something to remember for years to come.
    And to anyone who didn’t participate – you really missed it!

  • pete cooper, jr.

    Good stuff, cher.

  • jeff cole

    G’day Roger,there is a similar race in Aus that I’ve taken part in as both competitor, official and 1st aider. The Murray Marathon,,is a flat water race over 5 days and 400kms. Maybe the organisers of your race might like to get in touch.
    I still enjoy your columns, being retired to a beach/bush location I have more time to read and I get plenty of time on the water too. Yes, I still frequent the bilge, we Aussies have our own l-o-n-g thread cleverly disguised as politics. Three years old now. You still get a mention, some of us long timers miss you.
    Happy Birthday Roger.
    Jeff Cole way downunder.

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