Tuesday night, June 14… This time last week I was collapsing in a recliner in my parents’ living room, recovering from a 13.7 mile paddle down the Schuylkill River from Gibralter to Pottstown’s Riverfront Park. And I was happy as a clam. (What makes clams so happy, anyway?)
I’d gotten up at the ungodly hour of 4:30am and was on the road by 5am from New Jersey to the launch in Birdsboro. I’d only ever done some recreational paddling a few times when visiting friends in Canada the past few summers, and just figured I’d tough it out for one day. How bad could it be?
After fortifying myself with a few pancakes provided by the Cumru Township Lions Club, catching up with Tom Carroll, my consulting partner on Pottstown’s Heritage Action Plan, and his brother Mike, and meeting Carol DeWolf, Director of the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape Intitiative, and Dennis DeMara from PA’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, it was time to get into a kayak and literally test the waters.
I immediately drifted out into a part of the river where the current was pulling me downstream. I saw all the other paddlers patiently waiting for everyone to get into their boats, while I spun in circles and paddled furiously to keep from getting too far from the group. After 10 minutes, I was ready to call it quits for the day.
But, as would happen throughout the morning, until I got a little more instinctive with my paddle and kayak, someone knowledgeable would float over to me and offer me pointers and they had an immediate impact. By mid-morning, I was moving steadily down river with Mike from Spring City, and later joined by his brother-in-law, Mark. They were doing the entire Sojourn; it was their first time. Turns out Mike just started paddling last fall, and he’s hooked. He talked about living near the river all his life and really just discovering it recently. He’s gone so far as to buy his own camping gear, kayak and paddle – I rented mine from HRO Outfitters – and he’s been known to put in at the Spring City boat launch on the spur of the moment for a cruise on the river.
It was like this all day long – meeting friendly people, many of whom were also first-timers like me. The “experts” who floated past always had a new piece of advice for ne, and I appreciated all of it. There are plenty of paddling and certified safety professionals on the Sojourn, so you’re always in very safe company. Next year I definitely want to add at least a few days. The Schuylkill River Sojourn runs for 7 days and 6 nights; participants can do one day or the whole week. They can camp by the river or find other accommodations. The food is outstanding. We had an amazing candlelit lunch of fried chicken, pasta salad, freshly cut apples and Rita’s water ice at Morlatton Village, along with a short talk about planting native species in your Pennsylvania garden. And dinner by Bause-Landry Catering in Riverfront Park was out of this world: cornbread, fresh salads, Portabella mushroom chili (as well as the meat variety), and a massive chocolate chip cookie. I think I also wolfed down a few other things that are escaping me now…
My first time in the Schuylkill River, ever, was this past January 1st for Pottstown’s Parks & Rec Polar Bear Plunge. Now that I’ve had this kayak experience – where my whole perspective on what the river has meant to this region, since way, way back has been totally awakened – I’m looking forward to getting out there more often. It is peaceful and other-worldly and right in your own backyard. But boy was I glad to come around the bend, arms acquiver,see the Hanover Street Bridge and know that I was home.
For $1/minute, I had a brief massage under the pavilion by Angela Wagner of the Academy of Massage Therapy and Bodyworks, located at 141 High Street in Pottstown. That definitely set the right tone for my recovery over the next couple of days.
If you want to experience the Schuylkill River Trail and River in a “peddle and paddle” event, check out the program that’s taking place on June 25th, sponsored by the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. It’s filling up fast, so sign up today!