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."