Fine fall day embraces Tour du Teche in Berwick
BERWICK — More than 100 paddlers made their way into town in kayaks, canoes and pirogues Sunday after a 135-mile, three-day voyage that saw rough conditions Saturday before giving way to ideal weather for the final day Since 2011, the four-year-old race has started in Port Barre and finished by the Berwick Lighthouse in the Atchafalaya River. The race mostly followed Bayou Teche, but the last two miles of the race finished in the Atchafalaya River. “Saturday was probably one of the toughest days of racing we’ve ever had because of the winds from Tropical Storm Karen,” Tour du Teche Race Director Ray Pellerin said. Race participant Randy Hargroder of Opelousas said Saturday’s leg of the race was brutal because it was 59 miles, and went through three rainstorms with gusts of up to 30 miles per hour. Hargroder, 58, was the first person to cross the finish line and competed in the “voyager” or recreational paddler division. Voyagers got about a two-hour head start on the main racers, Pellerin said. Sunday turned out to be a beautiful day for racing, he said. In 2010, the inaugural Tour du Teche was 128 miles from Port Barre to Patterson. Pellerin said the race brought teams from all across the country, including teams from California, Washington, Illinois, Wisconsin and New York. Fifty-five vendor booths were set up at the finish in Berwick, up from 38 booths in 2012, Misty Pillaro, one of the event organizers in Berwick, said. Organizers added a car show to benefit “Project Graduation” at Berwick High School, Pillaro said. A band was also playing at the finish. Berwick Mayor Louis Ratcliff said the event continues to see more people attend each year. The Tour du Teche showcased Berwick’s “hometown spirit,” and Berwick crews did an excellent job with cleanup after the event, Ratcliff said. About 500 people showed up in Berwick at the 2012 event and “a lot more” people came this year, Pillaro said. She hopes the event continues to get bigger in order to promote the town, Pillaro said. Putting on the event was a learning experience on how to prepare for next year as it was her first year to help with the event, Pillaro said. The three-day race gave “recreational paddlers” a chance to rub shoulders and talk with the real experts,” Pellerin said. Hargroder said he felt “elated” when he finished because he accomplished all his goals. “I wanted to come in first every day, and I did that,” Hargroder said. Hargroder said this year is the first time he completed all three days of paddling. In 2012, he just completed the first day of competition. The weather cooperated Sunday to give racers a pleasant final day of racing. “Today the weather was great,” Hargroder said. “It stayed foggy for a long time, which meant the sun didn’t come out, and it wasn’t too hot. We had favorable winds most of the day,” Hargroder said. The race hosted 108 paddlers with 80 boats, which included team competitors, Pellerin said. Besides the teams, “bank runners” provided support to the teams, he said. The event brought world-class paddlers. One of the paddlers, Brad Pennington, recently represented the U.S. at the world paddling championship, Pellerin said. Pellerin plans to continue to keep holding Tour du Teche, and said more children are getting involved in the event. Tour du Teche also puts on a paddling camp for children and certified instructors teach them proper technique for canoe and kayak racing, he said. Hargroder met his goals of breaking eight hours the first day, 12 hours the second day, and five hours the third day. Hargroder plans to come back next year. “Last year, I just did the first day because it was my first experience going in a race period. This is only my third race I’ve ever done,” Hargroder said. Hargroder did the “Top of the Teche” in March, a 7.5-mile race from Leonville to Arnaudville. The Tour du Teche was more challenging, he said. “You really have to train for a race of that type of duration,” Hargroder said. Paddlers went 49 miles the first day, 59 miles the second day, and the final day was 37 miles. Hargroder put in about 450 miles of training since May, mostly only on Bayou Teche on weekends, covering 20 to 30 miles at a time. Denise D’Abundo of Baton Rouge was the second person to cross the finish line and has completed the race the last three years. She was happy the weather turned out to be nice on the final day and the “storm seemed to calm down the winds,” she said.