Watery Weekend

In which, Captain Robb takes us Pontooning, and a Short Kayak Excursion nearly leaves us Marooned on a Deserted Island.

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon_2651aOne of our favorite things to do in the summer is to go to Lake Nockamixon and rent a pontoon boat for a couple of hours. A gorgeous Saturday, blue water, a light breeze, a shady boat canopy; what could be more relaxing?

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon_2521aDon was so relaxed he took a little nap, trusting in Captain Robb’s superb piloting skills.

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon_2646acsOne of the rock outcroppings along the shoreline.

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon Sailboat_2854acsSailboats in front of the marina.

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon Haycock Mt_2764acsHaycock Mountain. Calling Haycock a “mountain” is a bit of a stretch, in my book. It’s only 960′ in elevation, nothing more than a hill. But it is the highest “summit” in Bucks County.

150801_PA Nockamixon Pontoon_2876acsThe guys chit-chat away, with Haycock in the background. All in all, it was a lovely day on the lake.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1024acsSunday morning we set out on a much-anticipated kayaking expedition, down Darby Creek to the Delaware River and across to Little Tinicum Island. It’s a small uninhabited island about 3 miles long by 500 feet wide. Most of the island is overgrown with impenetrable vegetation, but the shore is lined with narrow sand beaches.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1018acsWe paddled out on a day so calm the water was like glass. The tide was out, and we were surprised at how shallow the river was. Robb saw a crab swim by his kayak. Here’s Robb and Don paddling around the southern tip of the island.

Partway up the New Jersey side, we decided to land. This meant walking across a long stretch of slippery, sticky mudflats while dragging our boats behind us. Yuck! Once we reached the sand, we had a grand time exploring the shoreline.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1083acsLooking north from the beach.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1090acsRobb and Don on Little Tinicum Island, looking south, with the Commodore Barry Bridge in the background.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1119acsWe found two cozy little “camps” on the island, one on each side. People had set up chairs, a table, tire swings, even fire rings. Probably fishermen, since each camp had its own skillet. Robb couldn’t resist one of the swings. Really, he’s just a big kid.

When we left the Jersey side, there was a large freighter out in the main channel. I was back on the water first and glanced back to see the guys sitting in their floating kayaks, ready to paddle away. Then I heard Robb shout something. I turned around to see them still in their kayaks, still in the same place – but now high and dry on the mudflats! No water anywhere near them!

FUN FACT: Why did the water drain away from the shore? Something called bank suction, created by that large ship that was passing by. The increased velocity of water past the hull of a ship in a restricted channel causes a decrease in pressure which draws the ship bodily toward the near bank. That decreased pressure also draws the water towards the ship. The effect is temporary; the water flows back in a moment or two.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1144acsDon paddling along the Jersey side of the island, once he’d gotten some actual water to paddle in.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1348acsA “lazaretto” or “lazaret” is a quarantine station for marine travelers. The Philadelphia Lazaretto, on the Delaware County shore of the Delaware River, was built in 1799 in response to the 1793 yellow fever epidemic. All ships were required to stop here for inspection, and ill passengers were quarantined. It operated as a hospital until 1895. A century older than Ellis Island’s inspection station in New York, this is the oldest surviving quarantine hospital in the U.S. The view of the building from the river is something a lot of people never see.

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1301acsNot everyone can say they’ve paddled under the runway lights of the Philadelphia Airport, either. These are on a long wooden pier extending obliquely along the shore. Needless to say, there were a lot of planes taking off and flying overhead while we were out on the river.

The first three hours of our fateful trip were relaxing and fun. The second three hours, not so much.

Tides are tricky things. We had only planned to paddle partway up the Philadelphia side of the island, for about 45 minutes. But we reached the north end in 30, thanks to the incoming tide.

Then it took us over 2 hours of HARD paddling to cover the same three miles against the tide. We seriously underestimated the strength of the flood current. At times we were making no progress at all.

And that’s how our three-hour tour turned into a six-hour marathon, and nearly left us castaways on a deserted isle!

150802_PA Little Tinicum Island_1282acsAll in a wonderful watery weekend.

In the Garden of Stone

150417_PA Susquehanna Conowingo Pool_0328aHold on to your hats, folks, as the Wild Edge takes a sharp detour from the Great Smoky Mountains of the South to the Piedmont of Pennsylvania. We’ll return to the Appalachians soon. But sometimes a trip so excites me that I just have to share it RIGHT NOW.

And what could tear me away from the Smokies? A simple kayak trip Robb, Don and I took to the Susquehanna River. At least it looked simple. Guide books and satellite map research only hinted at a river dotted with rocky islands. That didn’t come close to preparing us for what we found.

150417_PA Susquehanna Conowingo Pool_0214acsNeither did our initial half hour on the river. We paddled across to Lower Bear Island, a wooded island in mid-stream whose southern end sports a series of power lines.

150417_PA Susquehanna Conowingo Pool_0350acsThe Susquehanna River is punctuated here by three hydro-electric dams. Between the dams is the Susquehanna Gorge. At one time it was 400’ or more deep, where the river carved through bedrock of Wissahickon schist, forming spectacular sculpted rock formations, potholes and three levels of terraces. Now much of it is below the still, lake-like waters. Only where the water is shallow, just below the dams, do the geological wonders appear.

150417_PA Susquehanna Conowingo Pool_0219acsThese wonders revealed themselves slowly as we paddled upstream along the shore of Lower Bear Island. At first we saw islets no more than a foot high. Even the smallest had some sort of vegetation on it. Gradually the islets became larger islands, and the shores became steeper and rockier.

150417_PA Susquehanna Conowingo Pool_0289acsWhen we reached the channel between Lower Bear and Upper Bear Island, we began to really appreciate this amazing place. Islands of stone were everywhere. Fantastical sculptures lined the cliffs on both sides of us. I started to give the formations names.

2 Susquehanna - Mount RushmoreMt. Rushmore.

3 Susquehanna - Robb at the Fist of GodThe Fist of God. Robb in devout worship.

4 Susquehanna GorgeAbove Upper Bear Island, about a mile and a half from the dam, we began to see signs of trouble. Or rather, we didn’t see trouble, which came in the form of shallow rocks just below the opaque surface. You’d be paddling along, admiring the scenery, and suddenly find yourself spinning sideways and threatening to tip over. Getting unstuck was challenging, and left me with wet shirt sleeves.

Another quarter mile up, the water got too low for our kayaks. We tried a cross channel around Crow Island, but had to turn back. By this time we were hungry and itching to stretch our legs. But where to land? There were no soft beaches in this garden of stone.

150417_PA Susquehanna Conowingo Pool_0303acsWell, yes, there was, just one. When we passed it earlier it had been occupied by two kayaks, with two kayakers above on the rocks. Now the beach was empty. We stopped, picked up our little lunch sacks, and threaded our way through the trees to the top. I was first to arrive, and this is what I saw:

150417_PA Susquehanna Conowingo Pool_0381acsOh, my goodness. Yes, this will do quite nicely.

6 Susquehanna - Robb & Don at the Lunch SpotRobb, Don and I spent a lovely siesta eating, admiring the scenery, taking photos of butterflies, a snake and each other, and taking care of other (ahem) necessities.

Or not. I  really have to put a bell on Don.

(There you go, Don. See how nice I am to you? I put this photo in at your request, even though you insist on continually disturbing my (ahem) solitary moments.)

1 Susquehanna GorgeThe little pool formed by the rocks below our lunch spot made for a serene place to explore.

7 Susquehanna  - Don & Robb in SyncIt’s rare that I put people in my photographs. The gorge requires it, to give a sense of scale. Don and Robb paddled on, dwarfed by the surrounding stone walls.

150417_PA Susquehanna Conowingo Pool_0444acsMany of the rocks show a strong tilt, the result of thousands of years of geological forces far beyond my comprehension. (Really. I read a scientific paper about the gorge. Didn’t understand a third of it.)

150417_PA Susquehanna Conowingo Pool_0464acsFor something completely different, we took the channel (right) between Upper and Lower Bear Islands to the other side. Here we found the river even wider, and not nearly so rocky. The main channel passes close to the far shore.

By the time we passed Lower Bear Island, Don was ready to call it a day and headed in.

Not Robb and I. He’d been talking all day about some cove on Big Chestnut Island he’d spotted on a satellite photo. I thought he meant a small beach. Little did I know.

150417_PA Susquehanna Conowingo Pool_0494 acsThe approach to the cove was narrow, and nearly invisible. It took some deft paddling to wind through the tight and twisty opening. A couple of Bald Eagles flew close overhead, a good omen if ever there was one.

We found ourselves inside a small hidden lagoon, a secret garden. Wooded rock walls towered above us on all sides, cool and green and shady. It was amazing.

8 Susquehanna - Robb in the Secret GardenWe wanted to linger awhile longer, but needed to press on. The exit was far too narrow for passage, so we left the way we came, and crossed the river to the boat launch. Our day was over, and we were tired but elated.

It’s taken me a while to find a place as awesome as the Smokies. Hard to believe I’d find it so close to home. Even harder to believe a landscape as dramatic as the Susquehanna Gorge exists so close to home.

I can’t wait to wander again through this watery garden of stone.

5 Susquehanna - Lunch Spot

Watery New Horizons: Part II

141030_Lake OswegoLaunch_124522acsOh, the places we’ll go!

No longer tied to the land, limited in our vision to the edge of the shore. Now the whole watery world opens up before us, and we are free to explore each cove, each inlet, each river bend. Wildlife, once skittish, will meet our gaze with fearlessness and dance for our pleasure. Oh, the places we’ll go!

141009_New Kayak _132554aYup, I finally got my own kayak. Here she is still in the store. She’s officially a “Pungo” model, but I have dubbed her Calypso, in honor of explorer and conservationist Jacques Cousteau.

141011_New Kayak_9248aReady to go home. The first thing everyone says is “It’s the same color as your car!” As if I would get anything other than blue. Blue, the color of the clear sky, azure butterflies, bluebells, and blueberries. Blue, the color of water…

Oh, the places we’ll go!

Like Lake Oswego in the Pine Barrens, for Calypso’s maiden voyage on a cool but bright October day.

141030_Lake Oswego Kayak Launch_2080aUnlike friends Don and Robb, I chose a hard-shell kayak over an inflatable model. No PUMPA-PUMPA-PUMPA for me. I just have to lift a 50 pound boat onto and off my car. That turned out to be easy. Reaching the tie-down straps, however, is another story. Nice to have a handy-dandy stepladder available.

141030_Lake Oswego Kayak Launch_2094acsA journey of a thousand miles begins with a single paddle stroke.

141030_Lake Oswego Kayak Launch_2096acsI had the lake to myself. Unfortunately, finding a warm calm day on a weekend to get the three of us together had proven impossible. On Launch Day, Robb was at work. Though Don accompanied me to the lake, he declined to paddle.  Something about a new book. No worries. I enjoyed the peace and solitude and the chance to get to know my new craft.

Oh, the places we’ll go!

130615_Pine Barrens Marthas Furnace_3371 aAnd where might we three voyagers go? Why, there’s a world of possibilities! We might explore the Oswego River downstream from the lake that shares its name.

131026_Pine Barrens_9849aThe tea-colored water of the Mullica River in the Pine Barrens looks inviting…

130615_Pine Barrens Batsto_3230 aAs do Batsto Lake and River.

Oh, the places we’ll go!

130927_OC 51st Street_5847 aThe Jersey Shore is a treasure trove of bays, marshes and tidal creeks to explore, like this creek near Ocean City.

140422_HNWR Ducky_9986 acsOf course I want to explore Heinz Refuge on Darby Creek. The guys had already ventured out in their itty-bitty blow-up tub toys. On the canoe launch, their mascot awaited their safe return.

140511_Nockamixon Fishing Pier_8239 acsLake Nockamixon beckons, with Haycock Mountain looming on the watery horizon.

With the approach of winter, it’s likely that this would be my only trip with Calypso this year. But come next spring, I will be ready for adventure at the first hint of warmth.

For now, I have dreams, dreams of paddling…

Around the bend and out of sight, with a whole watery world shining on the horizon.

141030 Lake Oswego Kayak Launch_2097 acsOh, the places we’ll go!

Watery New Horizons

The first river you paddle runs through the rest of your life. It bubbles up in pools and eddies to remind you who you are. –Lynn Noel

1-197807xx_Delaware Campsite 2acsMy first river was the Upper Delaware, in the Pocono Mountains in 1976. I was a teenager at Girl Scout camp and I fell in love with paddling right away. Memories of the river come floating back – blue skies, dark green hills, drifting quietly down the calm sections. The fun of running the rapids – Mongaup, the Eel Trap, Skinner’s Falls – and the frustration when we hit a rock or got stuck. Grey misty afternoons, and the one bright morning when the early sun bedazzled us with a myriad of sparkling diamonds on the river’s surface. I lived in canoes for four wonderful summers and paddling has coursed through my veins ever since. (The photo above was taken at an overnight campsite along the Delaware in 1978 with a Kodak Instamatic camera. Gotta love that ‘70s film look!)

Ghostbusters!Don started paddling in the 90s, on Darby Creek in a folding kayak. “I think that first time out in my folding kayak was a lot of fun and a big relief once I realized that my watercraft floated! Pine Barrens river trips came later… and I might have thought how peaceful and quiet it was and how isolated the spot was though it was all so near a major metropolitan area.”

140906_HNWR Kayak_9128acsRobb just started paddling recently, and his first kayak trip, to a rain-swollen Batsto River, left him cold. Being separated from your boat and stuck in a tree can do that. “[My first river] was Batsto and I remember being in a tree because of Don’s advice.” Later trips have gone more smoothly than that first experience, and Don and I are crossing our fingers that Robb comes to enjoy the sport as much as we do.

Don’s the only one with a kayak (an inflatable one, no less) so he coaxed Robb into the purchase of his own small inflatable boat called the Firefly. The Firefly took her maiden voyage on a cloudy and cool day at Marsh Creek Lake; she and her captain were a sight to behold. Once the boat was ready, that is.

140830_Marsh Creek Kayak_8446acsPumpa-pumpa-pumpa!

140830_Marsh Creek Kayak_8461acsPuffa-Puffa-Puffa!

140830_Marsh Creek Kayak_8498acsNapoleon at Waterloo, in his snazzy new vest.

140830_Marsh Creek Kayak_8524acsAre you sure this thing will float?

140830_Marsh Creek Kayak_8554acs_CaptionA journey of a thousand miles begins with a single paddle stroke.

140830_Marsh Creek Kayak_8592acsThe boat goes faster if you stick out your tongue.

140830_Marsh Creek Kayak_8632acsBoys and their bitty blow-up tub toys. For some reason Don wears a rain hat when he paddles, no matter what the weather.

One week later, the sun was out and the heat nigh unbearable. Nonetheless, the guys were back at it on Darby Creek in Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.

140906_HNWR Kayak_8888aDarby Creek is tidal, and the water level varies greatly. This is the boat launch near high tide. At low tide it’s all mud flats.

140906_HNWR Kayak_8998aDon tells Robb where to go. As always.

140906_HNWR Kayak_9059aTrash is a constant problem along Darby Creek, and it all washes downstream to Heinz NWR. Every April there’s a watershed-wide cleanup, but by September, that’s just a distant memory. Please, folks, put your trash in trash cans. Better yet, recycle it!

Don & Robb Kayak CollageThe synchronicity of the paddle strokes is frightening. Click on the image to get a closer look.

140906_HNWR Kayak_9100acsOh, the power in the stroke. The concentration on the face. The wake behind the boat. No question, Captain Robb is a stud.

You may be wondering why I have been left behind on dry land. It’s not all that uncommon. Actually, I have my eye on a hard-shell kayak, and hope to test paddle it sometime soon. Never let it be said that I rushed into any decision impulsively.

For now, I have dreams, dreams of paddling…

140906_HNWR Kayak_9248aAround the bend and out of sight, with a whole watery world shining on the horizon.

Everyone must believe in something. I believe I’ll go canoeing. – Henry David Thoreau