Thursday, June 21, 2012

Friday, June 8, 2012

A swift farewell

By Brandie Kessler

I only have a few minutes of battery left on my laptop, and I'm on the shuttle back to West Conshohocken, so this will be quick.
Saying goodbye to all the fellow sojourners is tough, but quick.
Boathouse Row, the end of the sojourners' journey.
Photo by Brandie Kessler

I think the swiftness with which we all came ashore on Boathouse Row and made our way in our respective directions (some of us on the shuttle back to our cars, others headed home with family or friends who came to pick them up.)
Quick meant no long goodbyes, which was a good thing for someone like me.
This may sound crazy to some people, but it's amazing how close you can become to people you've just met when you share an adventure like the sojourn.
Saying goodbye to these people is sad.
The best consolation is that I've made many new friends who I hope to see again soon.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A journey that touches your heart

By Brandie Kessler

I cannot believe it's the last night of camping and the eve of the final day of this most amazing journey.

Paddling down the canal from Lock 60 Thursday morning.
Photo by Brandie Kessler
As my fingers type out these sentences, I have tears in my eyes.
The past four days have been amazing.

The river is wonderful, but as I have said in previous posts, the people on this adventure are what make it such a remarkable experience.

Our second to last day started out with a paddle down the canal from Lock 60.

Beauty is embodied in the canal, and I believe the beauty comes from the people who volunteer and work there and put so much of their heart into what they do.
Paddling under a foot bridge in the canal.
Photo by Brandie Kessler

Dan Daley the man in the kilt who greets all those who come through the lock, was up early to see us off. He followed the bunches of boats down the canal to see us off as we made our way back to the Schuylkill River.

Chris Nadovich of Sellersville said to me this evening while a group of us grabbed some beers at Baggataway Tavern in West Conshohocken that Lock 60 is his favorite part of the sojourn, and he's done parts of the sojourn for several years.

"The lock is cool, but Dan Daley is a cool human being" and there aren't many like him in the world so sojourners are getting a great experience meeting him, Chris said.

He is right.

(By the way, Joanne, if you're reading this, Chris says "I wish you would come with me on the sojourn next year.")

After leaving Lock 60, sojourners paddled our way to our water stop at Betzwood where we met the new superintendent at Valley Forge National Historic Park, Kate Hammond.
Sojourner Bud O'Hare talks with Kate Hammond.
Photo by Brandie Kessler

Kate said she's been in the area for just a few months and she looks forward to getting on the Schuylkill River soon.

From there we headed on to our lunch spot at Upper Merion Boathouse, where sojourners were given an informative presentation on the Upper Merion Boat Club by Tom Pappanastasiou, a founding member and retired commodore.

Tom PappanastasiouUpper Merion Boat Club talks to the sojourners.
Photo by Brandie Kessler.
Sojourners seemed fascinated with the presentation and asked many questions.

Pappanastasiou spoke about sculling and rowing and the boats that are used in each. He also noted that the club has has some of its members go on to international competitions.

I won! Thanks Stony Creek Anglers!
Photo by Brandie Kessler

After the boat club discussion, the Stony Creek Anglers of Norristown picked numbers for its annual sojourn raffle. Several hats, fishing rods, and buttons were up for grabs.

(My number was pulled and I selected a pair of buttons because a rod was too big for me to carry on my kayak.)

Me at the Norristown Dam.
Photo by Alex Shandera.

When we left the lunch spot, we carried our boats a short distance down river past the Norristown Dam and Fish Passage and got back into the Schuylkill to finish our paddle to our camp spot in West Conshohocken.

Alex Shandera and Sophie Sakar at the Dam.
Photo by Brandie Kessler

 I was reminded several times of what Betsy Quant of Canoe Susquehanna, the guide on the trip, told me before: the river might go to Philadelphia, but it's a greenway the whole way there.

Sojourners with Norristown Dam in backround.
Photo by Brandie Kessler

Kayakers enjoying the sojourn past Norristown.
Photo by Brandie Kessler
She is absolutely right.

Her son, Jeremy Quant, who has taken some spectacular photos of the sojourn along the way, pointed out the kingfisher, of which we have seen many. Just as I put my camera in my dry storage area on my boat during the last bit of our paddle to the camping spot, we spotted and osprey.

Amazing all that you see when you're on the water with a paddle in your hands and not a care on your mind.

Once we got to the camp spot in West Conshohocken, it hit me that this is the final night I would be setting up camp and this journey would be ending tomorrow.
I am very sad about that.

Sometimes at the end of a vacation, it's sad, but the idea of going home feels good. This is not one of those times for me.

Anyway, I got my tent part way up, fly not on it properly when the shuttle is leaving to go back to Mont Clare to pick up our vehicles. (Not everyone has been bringing their car forward to every launch spot, but it's available to sojourners to do so and I have been.)

So I left my tent partially set up and went to get my car.

Upon getting on the bus, I got two text alerts from The Mercury that local high school graduations had been postponed because of rain in the forecast.
I mentioned this to fellow sojourners on the shuttle, and realized my tent wasn't totally set up.
Me blogging in a dry tent thanks to Lori and Nora.
Self portrait by Brandie Kessler

I got to my vehicle near Lock 60, and hustled back to the camp spot as the clouds moved in. When I got to camp, I found two fellow sojourners, Lori and Nora, who I've mentioned in a previous blog post, had finished getting my tent up and even put all my belongings inside so they didn't get wet.

What great people there are on this sojourn.

After getting myself settled in the tent, I got changed and got myself some dinner.
One of the great things about the sojourn is they accommodate vegetarians. Tonight, even though a restaurant known for its ribs served dinner, there were delicious vegetarian options, too, including ziti and vegetarian baked beans and salads.
So yum.

Jake Villwock talks about fly fishing.
Photo by Brandie Kessler
After dinner there was a discussion about fly fishing from TCO Fly Shop in Reading. Jake Villwock, the head guide out of the Reading location, spoke on the variety of fish in the Schuylkill, as well as the habits of those fish and the flies and techniques that are best to catch them.

After the fly fishing discussion, I went with some new friends, Patricia Lasseter, Leroy Forney, Steve Montgomery and Eloise Smyrl to grab some drinks at the Baggataway Tavern in West Conshohocken. The tavern is just a few minutes' walk away from where we're camping and I thought a beer would taste good. Plus, I had the pleasure of dining with these folks at Fitzwater Station Wednesday night and figured it would be good company again.
The five of us grabbing a beer at Baggataway Tavern.
Photo by Stew Keener

While these four all say they could be my grandparents, they are among the youngest "old people" I've ever met. In fact, all the "old people" on this trip put people in my age group (those approaching 30) to shame.
Patricia (who I don't think will mind my saying this) is 73 years old. This woman is in amazing shape, and she has an awesome personality to match.

Before we were all seated at a table, Patricia got a tray full of filled wine glasses and water glasses spilled down her back. The server, Kevin, who dropped the tray couldn't have done a nicer thing for us.

Fortunately, Patricia was a true sport. She shrugged it off, cold, wet back and all, and laughed about it.

Cheers to the restaurant for their tremendous customer care, though, because the general manager and partner, Stew Keener brought Patricia some Baggataway gear she could change into since her clothing was soaked. Our server Tiffany had great suggestions on beer and was there with whatever we needed. We had a great time.

Patricia said she looks forward to going back to Baggataway when the sojourn stops in West Conshohocken next year.

But again, the conversation over drinks was wonderful. Looking around the table at these four crazy kids, I was filled with hope about all the things my life could be. These people are generations older than me and their lives are filled with adventure. I am in awe of all of them.

Although the conversation has been great and getting to know them and everyone else on the sojourn has been such a joy, I am deeply sad that it's nearly over. I want more time with these people and with the river.

I suppose that the feeling I am having is the same feeling that so many sojourners before me have had, and that's why there are so many repeat customers.
I hope to be one of them next year.

Paddling along.
Photo by Brandie Kessler
Tomorrow the sojourn finishes up at Boathouse Row in Philadelphia. I hope to be tweeting along as we go. If I can manage to get my tweets posted to Twitter, you can follow me at
Also, although I've managed to get a few blog posts in here and there, I still have so many stories to tell from this trip. I hope to continue blogging after this is over. I invite you to share your perspective of the sojourn with me. Email me at or leave a comment on the blog.

Check out our video page

We've added a new video page showcasing clips taken by Brandie Kessler. Find the link to the right under "Pages." We can add your videos to the page as well! Email them to

Are you on the sojourn?

If you are paddling the Schuylkill River with the annual sojourn, or maybe you've done so in the past, share your stories, photos and videos right here on the blog by emailing them to
You can also add your tweets to our sojourn feed by adding #srsojourn.

The future is bright at Lock 60

By Brandie Kessler

I don't know whether I will have access to power tonight to charge up the laptop from West Conshohocken, so I wanted to get this blog post in now.
Camping over at Lock 60 has given me and I believe many others hope that the future is bright.
Dan Daley talks with sojourners at the pavilion
near Lock 60 Thursday morning.
Photo by Brandie Kessler

At Lock 60 you meet the one-of-a-kind Dan Daley, the man in a kilt who welcomes everyone to the Lock ("Well, hello Darlin, Welcome to Lock 60.")
Volunteers like Dan Daley are what make historic places thrive. Places that require a lot of work and funding and need people to come out to them depend on their volunteers.

But what happens when the loyal volunteers of today can't or don't volunteer anymore?

Fortunately Lock 60 already has that question answered with volunteers like 12-year-old Liam McDonnell.
The auburn-haired, freckled face boy is hard to forget, just like Dan Daley.
Liam has been volunteering at Lock 60 since he was in kindergarten.
"I was probably around 5 and it was around Canal Day" when he first came out, he said. "When I saw Dan (Daley) opening the lock, I wanted to come back."
Liam McDonnell, right, helps fellow volunteer
Steve Brzoska, to serve coffee to sojourners
Thursday morning at Lock 60.
Photo by Brandie Kessler.
Liam said he enjoys sharing the history of Lock 60 and the canal with people of all ages.
"You probably don't know much about the canal," he said, reciting the words he often says to visitors. "Did you know the canal wasn't power driven? The boats were pulled by mules?"
Liam was out Thursday morning helping get breakfast ready for the sojourners before he went off to school.
"I like to see the people, happy faces, and fill them in about what's new on the canal and hang out with friends and family."
Plus, Liam said, there are a lot of laughs to be had at Lock 60.
"It's always comical when Dan (Daley) is around," he said.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Have you ever been to Lock 60?

By Brandie Kessler

Have you ever been to Lock 60?
If you have to think twice about this, you clearly have not been, at least not when Dan Daley is there.

He is a man you don't soon forget.
View of Lock 60 minus sojourners.
Photo by Brandie Kessler

Wearing a utility kilt, Daley, husband of Besty Daley, executive director of the Schuylkill Canal Association, greets all the sojourners as they reach the canal.

We all met him Wednesday evening. I mean, how could we miss him? Daley is clearly passionate about the canal and about making an impression so people come back.

"You're on the sojourn, but now you're on the canal," Daley announced to the sojourners as they waited to pass through the lock. "You're dealing with canal people."

So far as I could tell, canal people are top-notch.

Sojourners waiting in the lock.
Photo by Brandie Kessler

A gorgeous canal-side camping spot, a hot shower, good food, friendly personalities, and even massages provided by Carolyn McDonnell who does massages on her own as well as for Salon Twenty-Two in Lower Pottsgrove.

McDonnell told me she comes out to do the massage because she knows sojourners, especially those who have been paddling since the first day, could use it.
Also, as a volunteer who cares about the canal, the river and getting people out to experience them, she wants to make Lock 60 memorable.
"And, you know Dan (Daley,)" she said, "he wants to make this the best stop ever."

If you want to learn more about Lock 60, stop out for the 30th Annual Canal Day happening June 24. For more information, visit