On May 28th, we will head into the Susquehanna River in Sunbury, PA, with plans to complete the 444 miles of the river in Havre de Grace later in the week. This will be our first try at paddling into salt water which means we have the added challenge of timing our arrival so that we are literally going with the flow of the tide. We know that a rising tide floats all boats…but we don’t need any resistance against us at that point. The headwinds of the Ohio River were hard enough.
If you are reading this and happen to live near or on the Susquehanna River between Sunbury and Havre de Grace, let us know. We are always looking for warm showers and flush toilets. Seriously.
The mysteries of the river await us. The chance encounters with kind people will be there. The weather looks to be reasonably clear with perhaps a few rain showers on our first day. The temps appear to be neither too high nor too low. It is time to throw ourselves out there again and wait for the stories and adventures to come to us.
With the help of Maggie’s sister Christy Smith and brother and sister-in-law Don Monroe and Kim McDowell, Maggie will find Karen below the Ashokan Dam outside Sunbury. Karen always arrives with our faithful canoe, Wonder, atop her Subaru. Right now, in our respective homes, we are wondering what we are forgetting even knowing that our needs are always addressed in some way. In fact, this week each year is the reminder that we really don’t need much at all to travel through life on this planet of yours. Some food, some water, and a few pieces of clothing are all we need for a week.
We set off this year in the midst of the continuing pandemic, a miserable and uncalled for war in Ukraine, mass shootings, racial strife…seems like more bad news than ever at one time across the globe. This one week each year in the canoe is our retreat, however brief, from the news and from our responsibilities at home and/or at work. We will return refreshed, by nature and by our friendship, and hopefully ready to enter the fray once again.
Hum. Interesting title. What do I mean. Asphalt shingles on a river? No. How about SHINGLES shingles.
Shingles, also known as herpes zoster, is a painful skin rash caused by reactivation of the varicella zoster virus (the same virus that causes chickenpox). If you’re one of the approximately 99% of adults over 50 years old who have had chickenpox, the virus that causes shingles is already inside your body. It can reactivate at any time, and your risk increases as your immune system naturally declines with age.
Trust me on this. You do not ever want to have shingles. I’ve heard plenty of stories from people who have had it but never took their pain seriously, I guess. It is painful and itches. And did I mention it is painful? The virus attacks the nerves in any part of your body. For me it was from the middle of my chest to the middle of my back, wrapping around the left side of my body. Imagine a wasp’s nest under your armpit. All day and all night.
One day into our trip in 2020, I noticed pain in my back and itching in the middle of my spine. I was sleeping in a tent and paddling a canoe. Back pain and itching are not uncommon. By day three I was writhing in the night, clenching my muscles, and trying not to cry out. I took pain relievers but they didn’t touch it. I asked Karen to look under my armpit where some of the itching was and she saw just two small dots like bug bites. I never asked her to look at my back and didn’t see it myself until our trip was over and we were in a motel with a mirror. Yikes. It was nasty. But what was it???
The amazing thing was that while I was in more pain than I ever remember being in, I kept paddling. Perhaps ignorance of my condition or sheer determination not to ruin this once a year adventure or some combination of both got me through. I think that says more than enough about my love of adventure, being with Karen, and paddling the rivers.
But this condition was also the reason that I did not log our adventures into this blog after the first two days. With Karen’s help and the notes that she keeps on our river maps, I will try to update the blog so that we have our story to remind us of our adventures when our aging minds begin to fail us like my body did last year. Hope you can read a bit of sarcasm in there…we really plan to paddle into our senior years and sleep in tents by the rivers as long as we possibly can.
On a humorous note…we do realize we are aging and our bodies our changing. We don’t talk about it much but last summer was one of those times. Perhaps even though we didn’t know what I was suffering from, just the suffering was enough to get us pondering what we would do if one us just dropped dead while canoeing. I don’t need to elaborate but the images of what we would do got us laughing pretty hard as we kept paddling down the river.
If you are at least 50 years old and have not had your shingles vaccine, get it. I know we are tired of being poked by needles with COVID vaccines and booster shots but just go get it. And don’t worry about the price though it is too high. Knowing what I know now, I would have paid just about anything to avoid that experience.
We are already thinking about our next river. In 2023 we hope to embark on our journey near the headwaters of the Connecticut River and “paddle through.” That means that we will do it all in one trip which may take us 3-4 weeks! In anticipation of this paddle, John and I did some reconnaissance in July 2021 and went in search of the headwaters in northern New Hampshire. It was really north, the bit of NH that juts up into Canada. We were wowed by the untamed beauty of that area which included the old time feeling of going on vacation before McDonald’s and Walmart signs spotted so much of our landscape. It was amazing.
To start with, I read up on how to get to the bog that is the headwaters and found this information from the Nature Conservancy:
The Connecticut Lakes, unlike the lakes of New Hampshire’s Lakes Region, possess a wild, pristine beauty of their own, despite the fact that they are man-made. The central feature of the small region which makes up the very northernmost tip of our state, they are the source of the mighty Connecticut river. Three of the lakes can be seen while driving north on Route 3, and all are worth a short stop to admire their scenery. The fourth lake, located up on a hill on the Canadian border is not as well known because it is not visible from the road. This little marshy pond is the true source of the Connecticut River.
The area around the lake is owned by The Nature Conservancy, and is accessible via a short hiking trail, which begins at the border crossing station. To get to the trailhead, walk along the fence on the right side of the building, then head toward the large wooden border crossing sign. The small Nature Conservancy kiosk is just beyond that. The trail begins here and follows the boundary clearing up the side of Prospect Hill. This area is filled with small shrubs and ferns, and the path through it is somewhat narrow and muddy at almost all times of the year. The beginning of the trail is very steep. Just a short way up, you will encounter a small marker set in a rock. This is the first of many plates along the trail marking the US/Canada boundary. The trail continues to weave in and out of Canada as it goes up. As the trail begins to rise, you can look back and get a completely unique view of the Boundary Mountains. After 0.6 miles of climbing, the trail bears left out of the boundary clearing and heads into the woods. In the last 0.1 miles, the trail descends 50 feet through the forest. The lake soon comes into view and the trail splits into a loop at its shore. Here, the tranquility of the Great North Woods surrounds you as you gaze out over the water. Grasses and reeds blow with the breeze; you may even see a beaver. The view of the lake from this point is very nice, but you will experience much more by taking the 0.6-mile loop trail around the pond. The trail is muddy, but it has boardwalks over most of these areas. There are many viewpoints of the lake from the trail. At the south end of the lake, you will step over a small brook. This may be the most exciting part of the hike, as this tiny stream is actually the Connecticut River!
But don’t be fooled by the “short hiking trail” description. Yes, it is short…just over a mile up to the bog. But it is pretty much straight up with occasions where I was crawling over boulders. Round trip took me 1 hour 40 minutes. Just for comparison, I usually walk 3 miles an hour. It was a stunning hike, however, with incredible views of the mountains around. It was also a bit exciting to be hiking the closed border between Canada and the US. COVID restrictions were still in place but there was no one stopping the other three hikers and me from our quest that zigzagged us back and forth across the border marked by metal stamps set into concrete.
From the bog called Fourth Connecticut Lake, the stream flows to Third, Second, and First Connecticut Lakes and then into Lake Francis. Two of the lakes are created by human made dams. One, at least, functions as a hydro dam. Again, they are all gorgeous, hardly populated, and simple. The river between them is shallow and strewn with rocks and boulders and therefore not reasonable for us to manage in our canoe but I think that we could paddle the four major lakes just to say we did it, portage where we can, and then hop back on the river near Canaan, Vermont, where most through paddlers start. From there we will have 373 miles of the 410 miles from the headwater to paddle to the Long Island Sound.
The Connecticut River Conservancy has done a lot of work to educate people about the river and create a welcoming atmosphere including maps about boat ramps, portages, and camping sites. Click here for more information.
Meanwhile, it’s time to start planning our last leg of the Susquehanna River this summer. As I write, the winds are howling outside our Vermont home with a snow storm and wind chill temperatures significantly below 0° F on their way this weekend. But it won’t be long before we are back on the Susquehanna in Sunbury, heading to the Chesapeake Bay.
We were on the river for 11 hours today, leaving our idyllic asylum at 6 am. It seems we are more apt to get going early in morning on the first days of our trip. As the days go on, our bodies grow weary and achy, and we lose sleep in the night, it is much more difficult to get going that early. We made several stops for meals or walking around. We were pleased to have had a rain-free day as the weather report was dubious. We managed 32 miles so we are ahead of our goals and that is good as we never know what we may run into than could slow us up.
We may get some thunderstorms tonight and early morning, but we expect to be back out on the river for mostly a nice day. Saw numerous does with fawns – so cute! They are always out on the river banks early in the morning. We also saw 5-6 bald eagles and a very wet raccoon crawling out of the water. We camped on an island and arrived early enough to really enjoy relaxing.
Over the years we have camped in all sorts of conditions and found, by and large, that we can manage most conditions for a night. This year we learned that what looked to be uncomfortable turn out to be quite comfortable: sleeping right on a bed of small, smooth river stones. With our camping maps, the stones became a good foundation for sleep.
Of course, an important part of our paddling is our stops along the way to find interesting history or, in many cases, to seek out refreshment! And we were also able to charge our cell phones.
We met in Sunbury, Pennsylvania at around 2 o’clock this afternoon, Karen having traveled from Jamestown and Maggie from Vermont. We were fortunate to be able to leave a car in a state park in Sunbury where we hope to end on Thursday or Friday. And then we drove up to Towanda where we ended last year. The local mechanic let us leave another car there and by 5 o’clock we were out on the river. We intended to paddle for about 5 miles to a rustic campsite that was on our map but we couldn’t find the campsite and kept on paddling. 10 miles in we found this amazing place called French Azilum. We have Marie-Antoinette to thank for this place as it was developed in hopes that she would escape the French revolution and her life would be saved here in Pennsylvania. We all know how that ended. But we’re grateful to have an asylum of our own here on the banks of the Susquehanna River.
This is a well-marked ramp and a welcoming campsite. Information about the Azilum (asylum in English) is on a board at the top of the ramp and a box to make a donation for the campsite is also there. As we walked up the ramp we were pleased to discover this huge, flat hay field and a mown trail to the house (which was not open when we were there) and a mown area for setting up several tents. Included in the surprise gift was a picnic table and a fire pick and even a stack of old fence posts and other wood we could use for a fire.
It was perhaps the most perfect and easy of all the campsites we had set up. And we were pleased to be further on our journey than we had expected to get in those first evening hours.
This past week John and I took a trip to the DC area to be present for the funeral of my brother-in-law, Tony Smith. It was a sad trip as we said good-bye but there was also the life-affirming nature of reconnecting with family and close friends. A Viet Nam vet, Tony succumbed to cancer at age 74, most certainly the result of his exposure, decades ago, to Agent Orange. As though that war was not complicated and difficult for all involved on all sides, its vestige continues all these years later as aging soldiers fall to similar diseases.
On the way back to Vermont from MD we travelled along the Chesapeake Bay up to Havre de Grace, the mouth of the Susquehanna. That is where Karen and I will end up, hopefully, next year. We will then have three full river lengths under our belts (or paddles, if you will): the Allegheny (well most of it), the Ohio, and the Susquehanna. We are paddling towards 2000 miles together over the last twenty years.
A river runs through it is such a great phrase. The movie by that name captured the hearts of many of us nearly 30 years ago (1992). Rivers have run through our lives since first setting out on this paddling journey. Yes, I refer to the abovementioned rivers but also to the streams of change, excitement, challenge, hope, life, and death. While Tony is the first of our generation to leave my family, other generations have gone before him. Both Karen and I lost our mothers and she lost her father since we started out. My father had already died when we began this journey which is probably a good thing. He would have thought us crazy and worried much more than my mother, I think. Wars and pandemics have raged.
Our children have become adults, married, and had children of their own. We have moved into new homes in new places with plans in the making for yet another new home for Karen and Mark. We have made new friends along the way, separately and together. We have become open to new ideas and careers.
And a river runs through it. The life-giving, constant flow of water. Both Karen and I never fail to be thankful for what life has brought us in our families and work lives…and in the once-a-year journey that takes us on the rivers of America. And so, as long as our aging bodies will allow, we will continue to paddle the rivers, sleep on their banks, and meet the fine people who live along them.
Next Saturday we will set out from our respective homes to meet in Sunbury, PA, where we hope to end this year, and drive together upriver to Towanda, PA, where we ended last year. By Saturday evening we plan to be a few miles down river. This coming week we will check our camping gear once again, take inventory of our dehydrated meals, wonder how many meals we can eat in restaurants that we find along the way (a lot, we hope…especially with fewer COVID restrictions than when we paddled last year), and check the long-range weather reports to see if we will hit the inevitable thunder storm or two.
Final preparations are no longer as specific as they used to be because we have learned so many times that the river and its people take care of us. As long as we have a little food and water, our tents, the canoe, paddles, and life vests, we know we will be ok. Can’t wait to detach and push that canoe, Wonder, out into the flowing waters of the Susquehanna River once again. Our muscles may bind a bit more and our bones creak but our spirits will soar!
John and I took the riverside road instead of I91 to Springfield, VT, yesterday to do some grocery shopping. One thing that COVID has done for us is to force us to shop in Vermont instead of going over the river to NH where the big grocery stores and Home Depot are. Our governor is pretty strict about not leaving the state unless we absolutely have to. So we have found new stores on our side of the river. Even lumber stores that I previously didn’t know existed. And for those who know me well, you know that a new lumber yard to me is like a new coffee shop to a caffeine addict.
However, the down side is that I don’t cross the Connecticut River twice a day as I did when I was working full-time in Claremont, NH. I loved seeing the river in its different seasons. Yesterday, I marveled at how the river had frozen with a very smooth surface that you could ice skate on. In the past the river tends to freeze and thaw, leaving chunky looking river until the ice goes out in the spring. It has been a cold winter in New England and, with the exception of a few days around Christmas when it rained and all the snow melted, there have been steady cold temperatures and lots of snow.
It was great to see the river again and wonder when the ice will finally break up. And it takes me to the next leg of our Susquehanna River trip. I’m sure the Susquehanna is pretty seized up with ice as well right now. While it is cold and snowy everywhere, my blood starts flowing as I imagine the rivers flowing again. To add to that, a package came in the mail today with my new Keene water sandals. Karen has been encouraging me for a few years to purchase of pair. They will replace my too small quasi-crocks which actually shrank in the sun a few years back. I still wore them but portaging last year was hard on my toes and ankles. So I’m excited to have this new “gear.” The old crocs will go in the trash, I think.
Karen and I spoke on the phone the other day and we have plans to be back on the Susquehanna River in late May or early June. We want to get in the river when there is still enough water to carry us along with little bottoming up on the shoals and having to drag the canoe. However, northern PA is still chilly in May or early June, or at least can be, so we don’t want to be cold either. We know very hot and very cold on rivers. Neither is fun but very cold feels dangerous at times. I will be fully vaccinated by early May and Karen has already had round one so between that and the fact that we don’t share a tent and we are far away from civilization most of the time, we feel pretty safe for ourselves and for others.
Every time I tell a new person the story of our canoeing adventures over the last 20 years, I seem to get the same response: Why? And my answer is always: I don’t really know. It is just something that evolved as gracefully as my friendship with Karen evolved over the years. It evolved as things do…one thing or thought leads to another. If anything, I would answer that question today with a simple: It was something that manifested itself and we followed. Or maybe better to say that we let ourselves be carried along just as the rivers have carried us since we first put in at Red Bird Corners in Western New York. It kind of started with a “I wonder what it would be like to put a canoe in Cassadaga Creek and paddle to New Orleans?” We wondered and action followed and here we are still paddling some 20 years later. Our bodies creak and moan a bit more each year but we will keep going, sleeping on the ground in tents along the banks of whatever rivers we can get to, until we can’t do it anymore. Hopefully we have many, many more years ahead of exploring both the rivers and our friendship.
2020. The year of COVID-19. Should we risk being together for a few days? Can we expect to go into restaurants and stores along the way? Can we stand NOT to paddle for a year? These are some of the questions that came to mind as we started thinking about our 2020 paddle on the Susquehanna River in late winter. We were so excited to start a new river last year. In one day, we had paddled about 20 miles from Lake Otsego (Cooperstown, NY) into the then narrow river, and we were off on another adventure. Later in the year, we did an overnight trip and made it to Bainbridge, NY. John and Maggie lived in Bainbridge 35 years ago and still have friends there, Ed and Lea Ray. We spent the night at their house and they helped get us in the river upstream from Bainbridge and met us at General Clinton Park in Bainbridge a couple of days later. The park is the finish line for the General Clinton Canoe Regatta, something that was going on when Maggie and John lived there and continues to this day…except for this year. It is a 70 miles endurance race from Cooperstown. We dream of doing that someday but imagine it is only a dream. We are really not the racing types. We did enter another kind of race this year. The Ohio River Paddlefest was something we had hoped to participate in years ago but the year we were to paddle through Cincinnati, the waters were at flood level. We paddled on but the race was postponed. This year, the race was cancelled due to the virus but they did a virtual race. Folks from everywhere and anywhere were encouraged to kayak or canoe in a river or lake and clock their miles. We entered at $25/person in order to be part of this adventure and support the causes the race supports: an organization encouraging inner city youth to participate in outdoor sports and a local food bank.
So, in 2019, we were 62 miles into it at that point and excited to go out again this year. But then came The ‘Rona. We knew it was a risk but as infections in Western New York where Karen lives in in Vermont where Maggie lives had plateaued, we decided to jump into the window of opportunity before it got worse again…predictions all around. Ed and Lea were willing to be our transport again this year but we neither hugged them nor stayed in their home. We kept our distance but were still grateful to get to see them and grateful for their driving 3 hours round trip to bring Karen’s car to us so that we could return to Bainbridge to get Maggie’s car. Thank you, Lea and Ed!
The 2020 adventure brought another change to our routine. In the canoe we remain 16 feet apart. In the tent we usually share, not so much. So Maggie bought a backpacking tent for herself. Karen happened also to purchase a new tent which was larger than the old one and able to accommodate her and our gear…keeping it clean and dry.
Day 1: June 26 Ten miles.
After dropping Maggie’s with Ed and Lea, we headed to the park. Later, Ed and Lea picked up Karen’s car at the park and took it back to their house for safekeeping. Some storm clouds gathered but then dissipated, leaving us a beautiful few hours in the afternoon to get some miles under our paddles. There had not been much rain for some time, so the water was low for this time of the year but there was enough that we did not have to drag the canoe too many times over the gravel. Throughout the afternoon, we had our usual sightings of mature and juvenile bald eagles, deer with fawns, killdeer, sucks, a muskrat, and crayfish.
The first day out is always an adjustment. It is an adjustment to be with a friend you haven’t seen for a year. It is an adjustment to have life go by slowly in a canoe after scurrying around finishing up work projects and preparing gear. We have learned to let that adjustment day do its thing. At the end of the day we found a perfect camping site (in fact, throughout the week, we found perfect camping sites). We were somewhere between Afton and Nineveh. However, the deer that was used to enjoying our spot was leery of our presence!
Day 2; June 27 22 miles
We awoke around 5 am and left camp at 6 am, having learned many years ago that getting started before we ate breakfast gave us a good jump on the day. The river was very foggy and we could only see about 50 yards ahead. The river was calm, though we had a little excitement around some drops in elevation and rocky shoals. Our camp was right before a series of islands and it was fun to paddle out into the channels in the mist-erious fog.
At about 7:30 am, it started to rain and as it picked up we planned to find some shelter under a highway bridge as we had in the past. We don’t mind paddling in a little rain, but as it got heavier, we noticed a little fishing cabin with a covered front porch and decided that the absent owners would not mind us whiling away some time in the protection of their porch. It had been chilly the night before which may have led to us both being pretty chilled by then. We ended up pulling out our sleeping bags and preparing a dehydrated meal of beef stroganoff at around 9 am just to stay warm. We hadn’t slept well the night before…another reality of the first day and night on the river…so we ended up napping there as well.
Six hours later, the rains had passed enough that we could head back out. Thank you to the anonymous owner of that cabin who also had a functioning electrical outlet outside with which we charged our phones. We left a thank you note and $5 in the door!
Just after we got back on the river, we went under the Harpursville bridge, approached an island, and chose the far left passage…a big mistake! We heard what we thought were riffles up head but the riffles ruffled us when we realized it was a DAM. An unmarked dam. No warning at all. We managed to back paddle quickly, about 60 feet from the dam, and get the canoe turned around and back to the end of the island where we went down another channel successfully. The dam was about 2 feet high and while we likely wouldn’t have been hurt, our canoe for sure would have been swamped and our gear dispersed. So, for any reading this who may want to paddle the Susquehanna…not all dams are marked!
That night we found a gravel shoal to camp on. Leery that it would be uncomfortable, we discovered that our sleeping pads really do their jobs and we slept quite comfortably. And sleeping on shoals, always assures us that we are not technically on anyone’s private land. All rains had passed and we enjoyed a second night without rain.
There was also a clear running stream by our site that we could use to bath in. That is always a nice treat…and one we seldom had on the Ohio River.
That day we saw more bald eagles. We saw two mature eagles in a tree on the river left. As we approached, one flew across the river into a tall pine in which was perched a juvenile right next to a nest! We saw numerous other eagles and a couple of beavers, one seeming to be on an aimless afternoon swim! We saw several deer as well. They are beautiful along the shoreline as the stand at attention silhouetted against the tree line watching us pass by.
Day 3; June 28 24 miles in canoe. 1.5 miles by foot as we looked for the best place to portage!?
We were up around 5 am again and on the river by 6 am. It was warmer and less foggy but still a mist hung in the air. The water was calm to start with but we also had lots of fun riffles. For those who don’t know what a riffle is, imagine a tiny patch of white water. It is where the river is more shallow and the rocks create the white water. We became more and more proficient over the week at reading the river and managing the riffles as the rocks gave way to boulders and the drops in elevation were higher and thus the river moving faster. One set of riffles created white caps deep enough to soak Maggie who sits in the bow.
As we approached our first EXPECTED dam at Susquehanna, PA, we were uncertain of our course of action. Fast water around the curves made us cautious. We got out at one point 1/2 mile above the dam and found the longer portage trail that was marked on the map. There was a new park being developed that the trail went through with a beautiful old train station next to it. It seemed like too long of a portage for us and there was the option of going further down river (as long as the water was not too high, which it was not) and picking up a shorter portage there so we headed out to find it. We stopped about 40 yards from the dam. This was what they call a breached dam…it was no longer functioning as a hydroelectric plant and part of the concrete of the dam had been dislodged, intentionally or not, we do not know. But we suspect it was part of the plan when the plant went out of commission. As we approached this dam, we watched a kayaker actually go through the breached part of the dam and come out the other side.
We think he had done that before!
We searched the shoreline for quite a while trying to find the portage trail. Maggie missed the sign in her search and it took Karen wandering around a bit in the underbrush to find it. This was our chance to use another addition to our gear: a canoe dolly. We lashed the canoe to the two-wheeled dolly after removing the heaviest of our gear. And then we pushed and pulled it across shore to the trail. We pushed it up the
brushy and muddy trail as far as we could before removing the rest of the gear and hoisting it over a concrete culvert and back down the other side of the muddy path to the dam. We fetched all the gear and pushed off once again. It had been quite a challenging portage. Imagine an obstacle course. A 65 pound canoe and about 200 pounds of gear.
We had planned to take a break after that at one of the PA Fish and Boating Commission (PFBC) ramps but there was a group there so we paddled on. Eventually they paddled past the spot where we stopped for lunch. Once in the water again, we caught up with them and chatted a bit. We seldom have seen other recreational paddlers in any of the rivers we have been on. This was a family, grandparents, children, and a grandchild, enjoying a day of paddling together. Very nice.
Shortly after that, we heard thunder and headed to the shore where we waited out a quick storm for about 1/2 hour. We paddled on to the PFBC launch at Hampstead, PA, where the other paddlers were already loading their boats back on their cars. One of the men offered to drive us over the bridge to a store for ice. We accepted. It was there that we first saw other on land and realized that COVID 19 really is everywhere. Masks and social distancing were the norm. There was something striking about being out of our home areas for the first time and seeing what we had only seen on the news: No place is exempt from the virus!
We bought our ice and cold drinks and walked back across the river to our canoe and headed out. After Hempstead, we realized our electronic support systems were getting low on juice. In past years, we had found park pavilions where we could plug into power. We found a big town park in Kirkwood, PA, and hoped to find the same there. But, apparently, they are either more conservative or COVID 19 meant they didn’t electrify the pavilions. Either way, no juice and no public facilities. We saw in several places that the public bathrooms were still shut own and port-a-potties had been placed in the parks.
We paddled on and back into NY. The Susquehanna starts in NY, dips into PA east of Binghamton, and then goes north again into NY until it get close to Sayre, PA, where it continues in PA. Oddly, the NY part of the river is not officially mapped but we did have river maps of the PA parts of the river thanks to an outfitter in PA who sent them to us.
Along this part of the river, we had I 81 running alongside of us and it was very noisy but we still found a decent camping space on a gravel point, made a campfire and enjoyed a half moon rising and the sun setting.
On the nature side that day we saw lots more eagles, blue herons, tiny, tiny diving ducks (adorable), mergansers, a beaver that slapped its tail for us, a swimming muskrat, and the next morning we noted the tiniest toads around our campsite. One of the funny things that happens as we paddle, is that we see things that are not there, most in the form of driftwood. This day, we thought we saw a raccoon and then realized it was driftwood, but as we got close realized it really was a raccoon! Another time we thought we saw a goose that looked like a stick, then looked like a goose, and turned out to be a stick! We also saw a dead beaver and a dead goose. Real ones.
Day 4; June 29 22-24 miles
We headed out onto the river a little later than the day before. There was a little mist but not much. The day became clear and sunny. Lots of sun and lots of sun screen that day. It was quite hot at times as well but breezy also at times. A few times the winds put up a fight for us but none to compare to some of our days on the Ohio River! The hardest part of the day was the four portages in the Binghamton area.
Dam 1: Rock Bottom Dam. This was a long portage, about 1/4 mile. We put the
wheels back on the canoe and that helped immensely! While longer than the last one, it was relative easy in terms of energy thanks to the wheels. We had to just get it up on grassy incline to the flat area. At this dam we watched a man fishing for bait fish with a net he would throw out. Fascinating.
Dam 2: The dam was breached and we were able to pull the canoe through the water and over the river left side of the breach. Easy.
Dam 3: There was a big, round concrete culvert we had to get over in order to get around the dam. We unloaded everything and carried it over and then carried the canoe over, had a snack and were on our way again. That may have been a snickers snack that day. We do that once a day. Doctor’s orders!
Dam 4: This one was west of Binghamton at Johnson City. We kept looking for the sign that we had seen in someone else’s blog. We never found it but we did spot the dam and got out and walked the canoe to a concrete esplanade and hoisting our gear over and then the canoe. Then we saw the sign. A little late to put a warning sign up right at the dam! Once again it was not a hard portage but at this point we had worked pretty hard all day toting things in and out of the canoe!
But our adventures for the day were not over. When Maggie, who grew up in Elmira, NY, not far from this area, realized we were near the Blue Dolphin Diner in Apalachin, we decided to try to have our first meal out. One problem: I 86 was between us and the diner! A more careful look at the map indicated a creek coming into the river which meant that the highway maybe went over the creek and we could go under the
highway. That we did but not easily as the water got too deep and we had to do a bit of rock climbing to get beyond the deep water. But we were successful. We had our first COVID 19 dining experience: every other table blocked off and masks on unless we were seated. The food wasn’t great but it was an adventure we needed at the end of of trying day!
We paddled on a bit and found a campsite on the gravel. Near the highway and trains but it was home for the night!
We continued to see lots of deer and eagles! If anyone doubts the power of Mother Nature to recover from what humans can do, just look at the bald eagle. In our childhoods, they were nearly extinct. Now we see them around the rivers all the time. And multiplying!
Day 4; June 30 30 miles
We got a later start this morning. Karen washed up in the river and Maggie swam a bit in the river and washed up. Very refreshing. The current was strong and Maggie who is otherwise a strong swimmer, swam to shore quickly when she realized the speed. But for canoeing the speed is welcomed. We had hot beverages and enjoyed a few peaceful moments by the river before heading out. As we stood there we saw what we thought was a small beaver or muskrat swim toward our shore. We quietly watched and were soon surprised to see that it was a squirrel! What possesses a squirrel to swim across a river? And does it know to swim back or is it like the westward expansion…it just keeps on going…?
We had lots of fun riffles this morning and feel like we are getting better at reading the river. Karen seems especially proficient at it now. We also had some long still pools, creating slower paddling. More deer and eagles, and also a mud bank of swallows flying in and out of the holes they had created like the cliff dwellers of the Southwest had created.
8 miles into to the day, a really cup of coffee and a promise of fresh bagels took us out of the river in Owego, NY. We walked to the Owego Kitchen, a fine cafe just a few blocks away. Karen got a breakfast sandwich with maple syrup. Maggie got a bagel with cream cheese. We picked up some baked goods for later and headed back to the canoe. At this point we had been in stores in PA and NY and we were struck at how the rules for masks were very different in each state. We, however, kept out masks on regardless of the rules. Of course, the fact that we had matching Wonder Women masks made that more appealing!
After another 11 miles, we took another break on the river bank and noted the rains may be on their way. The rains did come about 5:15 pm just as we approached another PFBC launch site so we knew we had entered PA once again. That had been Karen’s goal…to at least get that far. Mission accomplished. We waited out the rains under a tree. Heading out again, we got caught in a bit more rain but kept paddling this time. At the ramp, we had seen a map showing an official primitive campsite on an island downstream and decided to head there for the night.
Got to the campsite about 6:30 pm. It was perfect. But the water was running quite fast there and we had to negotiate that to get into the quieter waters of a little lagoon by the campsite. We collected some fire wood, prepared a dehydrated dinner but had to take it into the tent in order to finish as the rains came one more time.
After the rains, we were able to build another small campfire and enjoy that on our last night out.
During that day, we saw yet more eagles, deer, and, finally, a log full of turtles! We had wondered where the turtles were.
And it was during this day that we tracked ourselves for the Ohio River Paddlefest, previously mentioned. We paddled 4.7 miles in 1:20 minutes and 9.4 miles in 2:24 minutes.
Day 5; July 1
Again, we slept in a bit. Karen bathed in the lagoon. Maggie wasn’t up for a morning bath! We collected stones and Karen built a small cairn to mark our presence.
We were on the river at 7:35 am with a good current and fast riffles and a tail wind at times. We stopped for breakfast about 3 miles downstream from the confluence of the Chemung River. We had been seeing helicopters for about a day over the river and wondered if there was an escaped prisoner or a dead body they were looking for. This day, when we saw one dip close to the river, we got more curious. When we came upon two fishermen, we asked about it and they said they were probably spraying the river for gnats. That was a bit worrisome! We then looked on line and learned that was indeed what they were doing. the PA Department of Environmental Protection, of all agencies, was spraying the river for black flies and gnats to make it more appealing for those wishing to enjoy the outdoors. Maggie had wondered why she was not covered with the usual but bites but not sure it was worth her comfort to dump some kind on insecticide in the river annually. Hum.
We had our last Snickers break at a park ramp and arrived at our destination, Towanda, PA, around noon. We found a coffee shop and got lunch to go, paddled back across the river to a nice part with a ramp, and let Ed and Lea know that we were
not where we had told them we would be as the ramp on that side of the river was almost inaccessible. We unloaded, organized our things, ate our lunch, took a nap on the grass and waited for them to arrive a little after 3. They had brought their car and Karen’s so that we would not have to share a car all together. They went on their way and we loaded up and headed back to Bainbridge for Maggie’s car. Thanks to Ed and Lea, we discovered a nice ice cream shop in Bainbridge and we fortified ourselves for our respective trips home.
271 miles of the Susquehanna River still awaits us. Will we be able to return again this year? Maybe. Once you get rivers flowing in your veins it is hard to stay away.
We will share more stories soon but for now our journey on the Ohio is over. We just got off the river after paddling against the afternoon winds, completing 130 miles this year. We are 8 miles short of the mouth of the river and will return, as planned, in October to finish those miles and celebrate with family and friends the 1250 miles we have paddled since 2001. Our travel helpers Brian and Stevie were in Mound City to greet us.
After a cozy night in the Holiday Inn in Paducah, Kentucky, Karen and I called for our first ever Lyft ride to take us back to Smithland, Kentucky, where we had left our canoe and some of our gear for the night. We just learned that our new friend Deputy Devin Brewer in Smithland had been watching out after our gear wondering what had become of us. We had met him the night we got into Smithland. Karen just spoke to him on the phone and filled him in on our day.
We loaded up the canoe with the wet tent and the other dry gear. By about 7:30 am we were on the river.
We are anticipating rain a lot of the day and pretty strong winds. However the winds never got unbearable and we were able to find shelter in some channels along the islands. One thing we are noticing as we get to the lower part of the Ohio River is that there are a lot of bars and a lot more islands undoubtedly do to the build up of silt along the way. We had to maneuver around more towboats and barges when we got to Paducah where the Tennessee River empties into the Ohio River. That provided a challenge for us but it worked out and we proceeded down the river and managed to find this beautiful state park before the afternoon rains hit. The visitor center was closed but we saw a man on a tractor and went to talk to him. Turns out he is a Ranger and he agreed to meet us with his truck and go pick up the canoe and all of our gear and bring it to a campsite. We just got the campsite set u we are sitting under a park shelter as the thunder and rain whirl around us. As soon as the rain stops for what looks like about an hour, we’re going to walk into Metropolis, Illinois, and see if we can find the Superman Museum. After a cozy night in the Holiday Inn in Paducah, Kentucky, Karen and I called for our first ever Lyft ride to take us back to Smithland, Kentucky, where we had left our canoe and some of our gear for the night. We just learned that our new friend Deputy Devin Brewer in Smithland had been watching out after our gear wondering what had become of us. We had met him the night we got into Smithland. Karen just spoke to him on the phone and filled him in on our day.
We loaded up the canoe with the wet tent and the other dry gear. By about 7:30 am we were on the river.
We are anticipating rain a lot of the day and pretty strong winds. However the winds never got unbearable and we were able to find shelter in some channels along the islands. One thing we are noticing as we get to the lower part of the Ohio River is that there are a lot of bars and a lot more islands undoubtedly do to the build up of silt along the way. We had to maneuver around more towboats and barges when we got to Paducah where the Tennessee River empties into the Ohio River. That provided a challenge for us but it worked out and we proceeded down the river and managed to find this beautiful state park before the afternoon rains hit. The visitor center was closed but we saw a man on a tractor and went to talk to him. Turns out he is a Ranger and he agreed to meet us with his truck and go pick up the canoe and all of our gear and bring it to a campsite. We just got the campsite set u we are sitting under a park shelter as the thunder and rain whirl around us. As soon as the rain stops for what looks like about an hour, we’re going to walk into Metropolis, Illinois, and see if we can find the Superman Museum.
We hit the 100 mile mark for this trip. We are 39 miles short of the Mississippi! Continually grateful for the amazing timing of our trips and the folks who come our way to help us. Here are some pictures from along the way today.
We hit the 100 mile mark for this trip. We are 39 miles short of the Mississippi! Continually grateful for the amazing timing of our trips and the folks who come our way to help us. Here are some pictures from along the way today. One of the highlights today was seeing an eagle’s nest and two juvenile eagles with a parent. You have to look closely or zoom in on that photo to see them!t.