While in general I feel pretty prepared for Costa Rica, if there’s one thing that’s been lacking in our training this year, it’s paddling.
So a couple weeks ago, Brent and I began planning a big cram session on the water.
It started when we headed north for our anniversary and remembered that the Schuylkill River offers over 100 miles of paddling opportunity. We were thinking big, contemplating an 80-mile, 24-ish hour adventure.
Then we realized that we didn’t really have a free 24 hours in our schedule.
So we scaled back and began thinking about a 10-12 hour trip, about 50 miles, figuring we’d get someone to drop us off at the start and pick us up at the finish.
But my family was hit with some health issues last week and we didn’t want to bother anyone with playing chauffeur. And we felt silly asking our friends to drive 100 miles out of their way just so that we could put in our canoe up-river.
So we revised again, and came up with a simple out-and-back that could be modified for time as necessary.
We were still thinking 8-10 hours.
And then it became 6-8.
And when, following a late night Friday, we finally got on the water at noon on Saturday, we were geared up for a 4-5 hour extravaganza.
We had two goals for the afternoon:
(1) To remind ourselves what it felt like to be in a canoe, after very little paddling overall in the past year, and
(2) To test out our new little waterproof camera that we got for our anniversary with an eye toward Costa Rica.
We put in at the Valley Forge boat launch, and right away realized that we’d forgotten one key piece to this puzzle: a CF card.
Realizing we had no CF card for the camera
But then we discovered something amazing. Did you know cameras have automatic memory stores? We’d have a dozen chances to test out the new toy and document our trip. Whew!
We paddled up-river for about three hours, playing around with stroke technique and pace and, after a little while, falling into a nice rhythm.
We were greeted by all kinds of friends – ducks and geese and turtles and dogs and raccoons and dragon flies…
Look! A giant river otter! Just kidding...
Our first obstacle came about an hour and a half in, when we hit a short stretch of rock. Last time I was up here, this little ledge caused my demise. It was 50 degrees out and my friend Chris and I flipped the kayak trying to make it across. I lost my favorite sweatshirt to the seas that day.
This time, we thought we’d be able to paddle over it, and when that didn’t work, we attempted to pull the canoe through the rapids.
We made it part of the way, but then the boat began to spin sideways and the swift current pulled it back from where we’d come.
“Let go of the boat!” Brent yelled to me as I gripped the down-river side of the canoe.
“We’ll lose it!” I responded, clinging to the crossbar as I was swept off my feet.
Brent followed shortly after, “swimming” through the rapids. I kicked the boat to the side and we pulled it onto the shore.
Time for take 2.
We paused for a quick snack soon after and continued on our way.
Pringles - does a body good?
We pushed against the current for another hour but made steady progress, until the Schuylkill split from the Perkiomen Creek. We headed left to continue with the river, and were met with a wall. We paddled and paddled but only inched our way through the water. Finally, 25 meters from the oncoming dam, the source of the swift current, we pulled onto shore and decided to walk.
Okay, B, it's time to stop taking pictures of me.
Just above the dam were a dozen or more kayaks, tubes, and rafts, contemplating a trip through the rapids, and we wanted a front row seat.
I'll karate chop you if you don't stop taking pictures...
After the kayaks cleared it, the first raft made its attempt
Brent didn't have a boat, so he decided to swim it
Satisfied, we waded back to the boat and set off for Valley Forge. Not surprisingly, the trip back took less than half the time. Half an hour before the take-out, we switched places so that I could practice sterning for a bit. It had been 12 years since I was a camp counselor leading a pack of 12-year-olds down the Schyulkill, but aside from a couple short blips when I got distracted by a dog and a rock, I steered us well down the final stretch and into the boat launch.
Waterlogged and sunsoaked, we strapped the boat to the car and headed home. Somehow I doubt the Schuylkill did much to prepare us for the whitewater of Costa Rica, but at least we know the camera works!