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.


  1. Yes Brandie I am reading the Blog. I can't say if I'll go on the sojourn next year. It depends on when graduation is.

  2. What an amazing story! I'm happy to have been a part of it :)

    -Kevin (clumsy baggataway waiter)