Wednesday, May 30, 2012

What goes into planning the sojourn?

By Laura Catalano
The Schuylkill River Sojourn begins June 2, and it’s a safe bet that many of the 200 sojourn participants are getting ready, packing everything from camping equipment to waterproof cameras. At the Schuylkill River Heritage Area we are getting ready, as well. In fact, we began preparing nearly a year ago.

Sojourners pull their kayaks in for the night.
(Photo courtesy Laura Catalano)
Many people wonder what goes into planning the 112-mile, weeklong guided sojourn down the river. Well, it takes quite a bit of preparation ranging from ordering all meals (sojourners get three meals a day and a place to camp) arranging shuttles and verifying campsites.

The process of planning for each sojourn begins soon after the last sojourn ends. That’s when we set the date for the following year (it’s always the first week in June), and when our staff of six discusses what changes or new ideas should be implemented.

After that, the first step to organizing begins in early January, when we send out Save the Date emails to everyone on our sojourn list. We also begin soliciting for sponsorships, since the sojourn is a costly venture that is not entirely covered by participants’ fees. The real purpose of the sojourn is to draw attention to the river as a valuable recreational and natural resource, and sponsorships provide the backing we need to pull off a meaningful event.

Tents in the mist along the Schuylkill
during a previous sojourn.
(Photo courtesy Laura Catalano)

The next step is organizing programming. We don’t want people to simply paddle the river, we want them to learn something in the process. Programming themes vary from year to year (history, conservation, river ecology) but always focus on the river. This year, the theme is "Recreation and the River."  We came up with a list of presenters who are experts in various outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, yoga and orienteering. At every evening and lunch stop, a presenter will speak to the sojourners, and in some cases, provide demonstrations.

Once we have all the programming ironed out, we send out our registration brochures. That’s when the real work begins! Registration for the first two days of the sojourn fills up very, very quickly (usually within the first week). We need to make sure everyone has waivers signed and paperwork completed. This work falls to two people in our office: Dolores and Cindy, who have all the answers to every sojourn question anyone might ask. And people ask plenty of questions!

Sojourners travel around a bend in the river.
(Photo courtesy Laura Catalano)
Since we partner with dozens of organizations to provide meals, Dolores must call all the partners to make sure they are still interested, then she sends them the total meals needed. Food is a crucial part of the sojourn and perhaps the aspect most appreciated by the sojourners, who often rave about the great meals.

They also appreciate our guides, Alan and Betsy Quant from Canoe Susquehanna, who lead the sojourn annually and make it a safe event. This year, we have hired Doug Chapman, owner of Kelly’s Kayaks in Gilbertsville, to serve as our outfitter. He provides rental kayaks and helps shuttle camping gear.

Of course, the most important thing about the sojourn is that it is a fun event. Some participants come back annually, and even people who have never paddled enjoy watching the long, colorful flotilla of kayaks coming down the river.

 If you are driving across a bridge or near the river from June 2-8, keep an eye out. You just might see them, too.

Final preparations before the Sojourn

It's hard to believe I'll be paddling on the Schuylkill in less than a week, so I figured it was about time I posted on this blog which I plan to keep from Tuesday through Friday, the duration of my time on the water.
Nice paddle on Hopewell Lake.
I was hoping to do a lot of preparing, including getting out on the water for the first time this season during the past few weeks since learning I was lucky enough to go on the sojourn. Unfortunately, busy days at work that have turned into busy nights at work have not afforded me that opportunity.
I have managed to get some of my gear in order and I'm still hoping to get my kayak on the water once before Tuesday to make sure my new scupper plugs work and I don't have a water-logged backside the entire trip.
For all of you who are going on the sojourn this year and are feeling a little unprepared and like it's approaching more quickly than you've prepared for, don't worry, we're in the same boat.
I will admit, although I'm a bit ashamed of this fact, that I have never kayaked the Schuylkill before. That said, I am looking forward to getting on the water with the rest of the sojourners out there.

If you're someone who has done the trip before and have advice that you can offer, please comment on the blog or email me at
I am wondering about essential things to bring that I might not think of.
On my list of things to pack are bug spray, sunblock SPF Irish American, my tent, sleeping bag, Thermarest, headlamp, all my work equipment, appropriate clothing, rain gear (hoping Murphy's Law will kick in with regard to the rain gear), probably a book and a journal. What other obvious things am I missing?
If you're a fellow first time sojourner, do you have any questions you want answers to? Email or comment, or reach me/follow me on Twitter @I_M_BrandieK.
Is everyone as excited as I am at getting a view of our communities from river level? I hope so.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

PHOTOS: Past sojourns

Share your photos from past sojourns with us and we'll add them to the slideshow. Email photos to

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Schuylkill River Sojourn, a 112-mile trip down the Schuylkill River from Schuylkill Haven to Boat House Row in Philadelphia, will kick off June 2. The seven-day trip includes stops at historic sites and plenty of entertainment that is open to the public, not just sojourners. The Pottstown Mercury will have a reporter along for the trip on several days of the sojourn. Follow Brandie Kessler as she shares stories, adventures, photos, video and more from the sojourn right here on this blog. You can join in the conversation. If you will be part of the sojourn, have tips for sojourners, or would like to share your past experiences and images from the sojourn on Twitter, add #srsojourn and it will appear in our Twitter feed featured to the right on this blog.
You can also contribute to the blog by emailing your stories, photos and video to (All submissions are subject to review.)
Check out this year's brochure and schedule in the Scribd window below. 2012 Sojourn Registration Brochure