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.

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