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

So many stories, so little time.

By Brandie Kessler
I didn't have a chance to blog at lunch Wednesday like I thought I would have because an awesome program had my attention.
Sandy Powell, of Parkesburg, spoke about what it takes to become an Olympian, which she knows because her son, Rick, became one. He competed in the kayak slalom in Beijing. (Click here for some info I found doing a quick Internet search on Rick whilst sitting in my tent writing this blog. If you find more relevant, timely information on Rick/slalom, please leave a comment.)
Sandy had so much information on an activity I had never heard of, so instead of getting out my laptop and typing away, I found myself doing the same thing I've been doing an awful lot of: taking notes.
I realize that taking notes is important, but right about now, as I sit in my tent with with a finite laptop battery and what seems like an endless number of fascinating stories to tell, it's a little overwhelming.
Words are inadequate to describe everything that this trip means to all those who experience it.
I hope to have time to write more about this trip after it's over and I've had time to digest. I am also hoping that some others on the sojourn will contribute their own entries to the blog, as well as share photos.
That said, I thought I'd focus the attention of this blog post on two things.
First, is a bit about Betsy Quant, who, along with her husband, is guiding the sojourn.
I had the pleasure to chat with Betsy for a bit on Tuesday night as she was waiting to get a massage from representatives with The Academy of Massage Therapy and Bodyworks, who were kind enough to come out to Pottstown's Riverfront Park.
I asked Betsy what it is that she likes about being on the water and about the Schuylkill River Sojourn in particular.
"We feel very honored that we get called to the Schuylkill," she said.
She shared with me that since guiding the sojourn beginning in 1999 she has found the people on the Schuylkill River Sojourn "always have so much energy."
She said the volunteers in particular (including those wearing ribbons in the shade of "manly pink," which discerns those who have paddling experience and can help guide beginners) bring a great deal to the sojourn.
The volunteers, Betsy said, "have paid to be on this trip," and offer their time and service to make the trip better for all while keeping it an affordable price. "I can't imagine what the sojourn would charge if they didn't volunteer," she added.
Betsy made a point that I found particularly interesting. She said anyone who thinks of the Schuylkill River as "Oh, that's Philadelphia's river," is mistaken.
"No way," she said. "You have a greenway the entire way. And you hear birds the whole way. I've actually heard fewer birds on the Juniata (River, a tributary of the Susquehanna) than on the Schuylkill."
I asked Betsy, given she has spent so much time on the river, whether she notices the human impact on the river and its surroundings.
She said she's seen a lot of trash around and "I'm thinking that could keep some people busy."
She also noted that some years back she mentioned to her husband that maybe they could be doing more to educate people about the health of the river and the importance of protecting the environment. His response was "The more people enjoy it out here, the more people with take action themselves or get their legislators to take action."
Betsy said his answer was acceptable, and they've continued doing what they do ever since.
So, onto another focus of this blog post.
I went with a bunch of the sojourners to Fitzwater Station for dinner. My understanding is the all you can eat shrimp and the social time here has become a tradition for many.
While talking with a group on the deck, Rod Kuhns, of Auburn, Pa., put what I have been thinking along this trip so far into perfect words.
The sojourn "integrates the age groups," he said, acknowledging the range of ages along on the trip. From people in their 20s, to people who could be grandparents and though a stretch, maybe even great-grandparents to the people in their 20s, all ages are participating and loving it.
But, "it's not just about paddling and the water," Kuhns said of the sojourn, "it's about the social aspect that integrates the age groups.
He is absolutely right.
I found myself paddling next to people who are fresh out of college and people, like Bud O'Hare, who acknowledged he could be my grandfather. (For the record, Bud is the person who should be writing this blog because I'm certain he has spoken to everyone on the trip so far and knows a good bit of their life story. Plus his wife Jayne has taken some great photos of the sojourn, which hopefully we will be posting on this blog.)
All of these people come together and form this great little river family.
I spoke with Alex Shandera, who has been on the sojourn several times with her mom. Alex, 20, mentioned that when another sojourner, Fran Griffin, who could be her grandmother, announced on Facebook last year that she wouldn't be going on the Schuylkill River Sojourn in 2011, she was upset. It's not the same without Fran, Alex said. (Fortuantely, Fran is back this year, and Alex and everyone else who was a camp Tuesday night benefited from Fran starting the conga line and teaching everyone some "paddle line dancing.")
On the sojourn, a range in age doesn't keep people apart, it brings them together.
"I won't see these people for a year, but I love them," Kuhns said, surrounded by his river family on the deck at Fitzwater Station. "We all have the same common interest and the river renews that."

Great start to a new day on the river

By Brandie Kessler
Sojourners go round a bend in the river.
Photo by Jayne O'Hare

Fifty-eight people are on the water today for day five of the Schuylkill River Sojourn, and seven of those people are on for their first day.
I think I can speak for everyone on the sojourn when I say the day couldn't be any more gorgeous.
We left from Pottstown's Riverfront Park this morning around 9:30 a.m., complete with a send off from a television crew shooting a documentary for American Milestones. The documentary will feature the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, as well as aspects of the Schuylkill River Trail and the Schuylkill River Sojourn. The crew who was in the park this morning didn't know when the documentary would air, but I hope to get that information in the future.
So once we got on the water, it was again a fantastic experience to float by places I've only ever seen on foot or by car.
We paddled under the Keim Street Bridge in Pottstown and the Route 422 bridge over the Schuylkill, which I immediately recognized. It was amazing how after passing under those two bridges, my only reference point from then on was the towers at Exelon Nuclear, which are often visible in the distance. It's really amazing how you're transported to a different place on the river.
The coolest thing immediately before our water stop in Trinley Park was a nice little bumpy ride courtesy of the former Vincent Dam (AKA Yankee or Linfield Dam).
I'm trying to get a video of my bumpy ride posted soon.
Ta Ta Till Lunch.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Lessons learned on the Schuylkill River Sojourn

View of the sojourners from the Gibraltar Road bridge.
Photo by Jayne O'Hare.

By Brandie Kessler

So for starters, my first day on the water was AWESOME!
I will admit, as I was driving to Allegheny Aqueduct Park at 8 o'clock Tuesday for my first day joining the sojourn (which was also my first paddle ever on the Schuylkill River), I was a bit nervous I would feel like I was late to the party and I wouldn't fit in. I mean, most of the sojourners had already been on the trip for three full days and they had paddled through rain and high water together, you know, real bonding moments. I was feeling apprehensive about not being able to fit in.
That was definitely not the case. In fact, by the end of the first night, most of us were all dancing around in a conga line. But more about that later.
I want to pass along some of my lessons learned on my first day on the sojourn.
Photo by Jayne O'Hare
First off, I never knew how easy it is for people to participate in a day on the sojourn and what a tremendous value they're getting for their money.
For whatever reason, I had the misconception that it would be tough to sign on part way through, or it would be too difficult to sign on to just paddle one day. Wrong. It is very simple to sign on for just a day. In fact, everyone who lives in Pottstown and has an interest in getting on the river should look into signing up for trip I took Tuesday, which is from Allegheny Aqueduct Park in Gibraltar, Pa., through to Pottstown. You really only need to set aside that one day to get a good taste of the river. (I will say, however, if you sign up for just that one day, you might regret not signing up for more days after all the fun you will have.)
It's quite inexpensive when you figure in all that you get for your money when you sign on for the sojourn. You drive yourself to the launch and then pretty much everything else is taken care of for you. The guides/instruction, delicious food, and shuttle back to the cars at the launch spot is included. If you decide to camp over, there is a truck that brings all your camp gear from the launch spot to the camp spot, so you don't have to worry about that.
Kayaks at rest.
Photo by Jayne O'Hare
Educational programs are also included in the sojourn. There was a great presentation during our lunch spot Tuesday in Morlatton Village.
Edie Shean-Hammond, the superintendent of Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Dave Lange, a planner with the Rivers and Trails Program through the National Park Service, and Sophie Sarkar, who has a fellowship with the Student Conservation Association, each spoke a bit about the importance of getting in touch with the recreational opportunities around us. They each had something valuable to say about the work they do and enjoyed the feedback they received.
After spending just one day on the river, I can honestly say that I don't know how the organizers are able to give as much to participants for the low cost they charge.
So, on to another lesson I learned my first day paddling: people want to be on the river.
I had another misconception that I would be the only person who had never been on the Schuylkill River before. In fact, I met several people who have never been on the Schuylkill before, and a few people who had never paddled on any river before.
But it wasn't that those people didn't want to be on the river, it seemed more that they didn't really have the opportunity to get on the river. It seemed that many people (me included) had safety concerns; didn't have a group to go with and so wouldn't be able to get back to the launch spot (and going solo can be less safe); or didn't know enough about the stops along the river to feel comfortable venturing out prior to the sojourn.
A sojourn encampment along the Schuylkill.
Photo by Jayne O'Hare.
That is not the case any longer.
Many of the first-time river kayakers have been recruited to sign up for one of several paddling clubs. Some of the kayakers on the trip who are members of paddling clubs say the clubs are a great way to meet people and have a group to go out with and learn more about new routes and ways to have fun. Plus, then you get to learn all about the people you go with, many of whom have interesting stories to tell. (You figure, they must all be pretty adventurous people, so they must have great stories to tell. I can tell you so many people on this trip have such amazing stories, my head is spinning thinking about how I will tell them all.)
Anyway, you don't need to go on the sojourn to learn this lesson: if you're interested in getting on the river or learning more about it, find a paddling club in your area and get out and meet people. If you're feeling apprehensive about taking the step to get out and meet people, just remember, they were all new members once, too.
So onto another lesson from the first day: you're going to be paddling hard so your arms might be a little sore at the end of the day, but save energy for a fun night after you get off the water.
(I'm about to get back to that conga line I mentioned earlier.)
Photo by Jayne O'Hare
After paddling from Allegheny Aqueduct Park Tuesday morning (launching around 9:30 a.m.), stopping in Morlatton Village for lunch around 11:30 a.m., and then landing in Pottstown's gorgeous Riverfront Park around 3 p.m. where the sojourners would camp for the night, the day was far from over.
Many of the sojourners got their boats out and immediately got their camp gear from the gear truck and set up their tents. Then, they got a shower at the Schuylkill River Heritage Area. At the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, some people were lucky enough to get a sneak-peek at the new SRHA Interpretive Center, which will be an awesome resource for the community once it opens to the public in the near future. SRHA Executive Director Kurt D. Zwikl said the center, which is basically a visually stunning information center, will hopefully get more people down to the river and engaged in the natural recreational resources the river and the Schuylkill River Trail provide.
After everyone had a chance to get fresh and clean, dinner provided by Bause-Landry Catering in Pottstown was served. (The vegetarian enchiladas were amazing, by the way).
After dinner, Barbara Kosciewicz, a friend of mine who teaches yoga at High Street Yoga in Pottstown (and has a great blog that is featured on The Mercury's TownSquare of bloggers) gave a great yoga instruction in Riverfront Park.
It was pretty awesome sitting on the Ronald C. Downie Amphitheater with the Schuylkill River just yards away from us as we took some time to relax and stretch our well-worked muscles.
Sojourners partake of a meal on the trip.
Photo by Jayne O'Hare
After yoga (which we managed to get through without too many raindrops) the musical entertainment began.
Sullivan's Bridge (find them on Facebook by clicking here) set up under the Rotary Pavilion in Riverfront Park and gave an awesome performance. Although a few people got out their chairs to sit and listen to the music, by the end of the night most everyone was on their feet dancing away.
A very lively lady named Fran Griffin who came all the way from Springfield, Mass., to participate in her second Schuylkill River Sojourn, quickly got everyone up and moving. She can officially be credited for starting the first conga line in Schuylkill River Sojourn history. We all weaved in and out of tents, bopping along to the music and having a grand old time.
Which, brings me to a final lesson learned on my first day on the sojourn.
I think this lesson can only be truly learned when you experience it first-hand. I assure everyone who goes on the sojourn and sticks it out for at least one full day that you will experience it.
This lesson was best put into words by Lori Cole and Nora Haefele, two ladies who were in the group dancing around as everyone listened to music Tuesday night.
Photo by Jayne O'Hare
Nora told me she signed up solo for the sojourn after only ever paddling on lakes. Lori has past sojourn experience.
Standing next to one another, nodding and clapping along to the music, they summed up my final lesson for the day, and perhaps the most important lesson yet, in two sentences.
"You come here alone, but you don't leave alone," Lori said, acknowledging that Nora had come out for the sojourn without a group to join her.
"And this is like my new family now," Nora said.
And the whole family danced.

Sojourners will launch from Pottstown's Riverfront Park on Wednesday morning and head to Victory Park in Royersford for a lunch stop before continuing on to Mont Clare.

Photos from Day 4

Day Four of the Schuylkill River Sojourn brought paddlers to Morlatton Village and along the scenic banks toward Pottstown.
Paddlers make their way down the river from
Morlatton Village.
Photo by John Strickler/The Mercury

Brandie Kessler makes her way down the Schuylkill Tuesday.
Photo by John Strickler/The Mercury

Sojourners dock their boats for a quick lunch break.
Photo by John Strickler/The Mercury

Be prepared for anything

By Brandie Kessler

I might have to make this quick since we're only on a lunch stop. I am currently sitting in beautiful Morlatton Village. Lovely place, especially surrounded by such wonderful people such as those on this trip.
This morning was my first paddle with the sojourn. My first day but the fourth day for all those who have been on this trip since the beginning. Paddling is fun, but it's also hard work.
And it can be a little daunting when you realize all the things you need to be prepared for.
Upon arriving at Allegheny Aqueduct Park, where the group launched from this morning, I signed in and then stood with the group to listen to the mandatory safety meeting.
Kurt D. Zwikl, executive director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, gave a quick introduction for the day, and then Alan Quant, who is guiding the sojourn this year along with his wife Betsy, gave us the rundown of all the things we needed to be prepared for during the morning paddle.
Basically, all I heard over and over was "Be prepared for...," and "Then be prepared for..."
Knowing that one our our "obstacles du jour," as Alan Quant put it, was going to be immediately off the launch, I got a little nervous. We were going to have to forward ferry, or paddle upstream, to wait for every one of the 66 people on the sojourn today to be able to get onto the water.
The Tunnel of Love near Birdsboro.
Photo by Brandie Kessler
Then we were told about the "Tunnel of Love" Schuylkill River Style. This tunnel isn't a literal tunnel, rather a lovely little deviation off the river's main course which takes a paddler under a beautiful cover of lush green.
The tunnel sounds pleasant, and having made it through it, it was. But knowing what could have happened had I missed the entrance to the tunnel made the approach a little scary. It could have lead to the Birdsboro Bridge where I would have surely gone overboard, and that could have been both embarrassing and  dangerous.
Alan Quant and all the others who are guiding us along on this trip did a great job of preparing us for what to expect, and making sure we got to where we needed to go safely.
All in all, this morning has been spectacular. I've met people like Mark from Exeter, whose last name I need to get, who have been on the sojourn many times and look at it as a sort of reunion with the friends they've made. I also met a girl named Jess, from Pottsville, who is on the sojourn for the first time ever, along with her boyfriend. Jess said Monday was their first of three days on the river, and it's been great.
Jess told me she has done very little river kayaking, and the instruction from the guides on the sojourn has made a great impression on her and she wants to do more river kayaking.
As someone who has never kayaked the Schuylkill myself, I will tell you it is amazing to be transported to another place when on the water. I have lived in Pottstown for several years. I run the Schuylkill River Trail all the time, but it's amazing the difference you see when you get the perspective from the water.
And as for a weather update for all those who are wondering, the weather has been good to us, too. The clouds are abundant, but so are the blue skies .. so far. Temperatures are good. Keep your fingers crossed for a rain-free day on the river.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Going with the flow

By Brandie Kessler

You know that phrase about best laid plans?
It's a phase people in the newspaper business are quite familiar with.
Nonetheless, for some reason we still attempt to make plans.

I had planned to camp overnight at Allegheny Aqueduct Park tonight before getting on the river for my first day on the sojourn tomorrow.
Flames rip through a Pottstown residence Monday.
Photo by John Strickler/The Mercury
But then there was a fire in Pottstown this morning, which I went out to report on. Sure it was my day off, but the news doesn't revolve around the plans or schedules we make.

So while I should have been getting my gear in order today, I was working. And now, instead of camping tonight, I am going to go home after writing this blog post and gather my gear like I planned to do earlier today. I will still get out on the river tomorrow, which brings me to my next concern:

What should I expect?

Kurt D. Zwikl, executive director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area, told me tonight that several people have already gone in the drink. So I'm sure a change of clothing might be important to bring along, as well as my PFD, which is an essential for anyone and everyone on the water.

Paddling in a dam pool when the river was too high Saturday.
Photo by Jeremy Quant

"A couple (people) spilled (in) on Sunday afternoon, and a couple boats got loose while we were at the water stop," he said. "I think one person went in at Kelly's Rapids (in Reading), but it wasn't really in the rapids itself."
Zwikl said the weather has proven a bit challenging, but it hasn't been insurmountable. What is necessary to deal with the weather that's been dealt to sojourners is preparedness.

"You certainly want to be dressed" appropriately, he said. "You want to have layers. Something that can get wet. It was hot (Monday), it was wet (Monday) and it was cold (Monday,) all three things at different times."

Therefore, layers are best, he said. And a cotton T-shirt under a long-sleeved cotton shirt with a sweatshirt on top do not count as appropriate layers.

Sojourners need to wear clothing that will keep them as dry and warm as possible. That means synthetic fabrics that wick moisture away layered with other synthetic fabrics and possibly a wool sweater on top, and rain gear readily available. AccuWeather is forecasting a high of 70 degrees tomorrow and a low of 49, with a chance of thunderstorms, so that's reason enough to layer.

Aside from the temperamental temperatures, Zwikl said the trip has gone along swimmingly.

The river "is moving fast and it's high, so it's a nice ride," he said. "People are saying it's great. It's not frighteningly wild, it's just great."

If you've been traveling along on the sojourn and have any advice to pass along to people like me who are going to be joining the group this week, leave a comment. What suggestions do you have for making the trip more enjoyable?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hurry up and wait

By Brandie Kessler
Sojourners who have been itching to get on the water for months had to wait a little while longer Saturday, after Mother Nature dumped two inches of rain on the region Friday night.
Photo by Jeremy Quant

Although the sunshine beckoned, “Come on in, the water’s fine,” Kurt D. Zwikl, executive director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area said the beautiful day was a bit deceiving, evident to anyone who took a look at the river.
“The water was very high and very fast,” Zwikl said, explaining why the itinerary for the first day of the Schuylkill River Sojourn was adjusted for safety. Although kayakers and canoeists were scheduled to make the trip from Schuylkill Haven to Auburn Dam before lunch Saturday and then continue on to Port Clinton for the night rest stop, the river conditions made launching unsafe, especially for most of the beginners on the trip.
Zwikl said guides Alan and Betsy Quant (from Canoe Susquehanna), assessed the river Saturday morning and said “we should not paddle today, it’s just not safe.”
Zwikl pointed out that the Schuylkill River in Schuylkill Haven, Schuylkill County, is very different from the Schuylkill River people see in Montgomery County. In Schuylkill Haven, where the sojourners would have launched from Saturday morning had they gone on the river, the river itself is “about half” the width of the river in Pottstown, Zwikl said. With less width and more water from the heavy rain Friday night, the water level was high.

Photo by Jeremy Quant
“So, we made the decision we should have our normal opening remarks in Schuylkill Haven,” then we loaded up the boats and went to the lunch spot in Landingville where sojourners were able to get some paddling in at a pool near Auburn Dam.
Zwikl said behind the dam “it kind of opens up like a lake,” so although sojourners didn’t get onto the river, they got plenty of paddling in. “We kept on schedule but just didn’t paddle the first stretch,” he said. “Same with the afternoon session. That was equally dangerous from Landingville to Port Clinton, so we parked” loaded the boats and headed to Port Clinton. There, sojourners were able to get to know a little about the attractions that surround the river, Zwikl said, and were given the option to stop out to Cabela’s, one of the sojourn sponsors this year, or head to Hawk Mountain.
Zwikl said the plan is to check the water Sunday and see how it looks.
“You can see the water going down,” he said, optimistic that sojourners should get their first day on the river Sunday.
Zwikl noted that Saturday marked just the second time since 2003 that part of the trip on the river had to be canceled.
“Everybody was rearing to go, it was a beautiful day today, it’s hard to hold back,” but safety is the first consideration, he said.
Zwikl said the objective of the sojourn is to educate people on the river both as a source of drinking water – 1.5 million people get their drinking water from the river – and also as a source of recreation.
Photo by Jeremy Quant

He said it’s fun for new faces to come out each year and learn about the river and enjoy their time on the water.
“Since we started the sojourn in 1999, we’ve had people from 20 different states and the District of Columbia” on the trip, Zwikl said. This year, the trip officially became and international event, with the participation of a Canadian.
“We’re excited about that,” Zwikl said. “We can add that to the list.
The sojourn “has become a special event for the region and it’s the only one of its kind,” he said.

Photos from Day 1 of the Sojourn

Jeremy Quant took these photos of day one of the 2012 Schuylkill River Sojourn on Saturday.
Click here to view the photos. photo

Friday, June 1, 2012

The paddler's 4-letter word

By Brandie Kessler

It's the eve of the start of the 14th Schuylkill River Sojourn, and the paddler's 4-letter word seems insistent on showing its face.

Rain. (What were you thinking I was going to say?)

We all know even the people who get paid to forecast the weather don't get it right all the time, but looking at the local weather forecast for the next week, it seems like there's a pretty good chance sojourners are going to see at least some rain on our journey through Schuylkill, Berks, Chester, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
Buck up folks, it could be a wet sojourn.
I don't know about all of you, but an umbrella isn't exactly an accessory I have room for on my boat, so what's a sojourner to do?

Laura Catalano, staff writer for the Schuylkill River National & State Heritage Area, who is one member of the team of people making the sojourn possible (Yay people who made this possible!) said the main concern with rain is the high water levels that can result.

With AccuWeather forecasting close to an inch of rainfall tonight, it could be high waters straight from the launch tomorrow morning.

Catalano said sojourners can rest assured knowing they are in good hands.
"We do have a lot of safety people on the water, so we have our two guides Alan and Betsy Quant (from Canoe Susquehanna) and then they have a bunch of safety people who guide people through anything that’s difficult," Catalano said. "There could still be points where the water is too high" to pass, and the Quants will make assessments as they go and choose from their options with safety in mind.

There is a possibility the Quants will decide to bypass dangerous portions of the river where the water is too high and launch downriver from those spots. That decision would likely be made if the water is high and there are low-hanging trees and low bridges that would prove hazardous to sojourners.

Acknowledging the rainfall forecast for tonight, Catalano said "our contingency plan at this point is we’re going to see what the water looks like Saturday morning at 9" and make adjustments on when and where to launch from depending on what it looks like in the morning.

Although rainy weather might seem less than ideal to some, Catalano pointed out that rainy days on the river can be fun.

"Paddlers sometimes like paddling in the rain, it’s kind of pleasant," she said. "It’s cooler" than paddling with the sun beating down on you.

Even if paddling in the rain could be fun, as Sharon acknowledged in her comment on an earlier post on this blog, camping in the rain might be less fun. With that thought it mind, take every step you can to be prepared for camping in the rain. Make sure your tent will hold up, make sure you pack your rain fly for your tent, and make sure you pick a good spot to set up camp so you don't wake up in a puddle.

Perhaps the most important thing to pack along on this trip which is sure to come in handy in all situations, rain or shine, is a good adventurous spirit. Just think,  navigating a river in the rain might be more memorable than having perfect conditions. Maybe rain can be a four-letter word for fun