Sunday, November 21, 2004

A river trip report from last year..

Yeh, un dinon ki baath hai..

This is something that happened in the Summer of 2003. It was a fine summer weekend. Pleasant weather. I got up Saturday morning feeling full of energy, all ready to go out and do great deeds. I reflected that I had really not worked out hard throughout the week. Maybe I would go for a nice long run to make up for it. I then had a heavy brunch and slept off watching Shahenshah on TV.

Woke up 4:30 ish, decided to go have a pleasant hour's paddle on the Schuylkill River. I had discovered a couple of weeks previously that the Schuylkill flowed right past Phoenixville and that the section was boatable. There is a canal that parallels the river so one could paddle down the river, get on the canal and paddle up. The canal, apparently was a quiet, slow-flowing body of water. No need to take drinking water.. Just a little hour's paddle.. Max two hours paddle..http://www.schuylkillcanal.com/about/index.html

So, I got up to the river, got all dressed for paddling, got on the river 5:30-ish and proceeded to have a pleasant paddle down. There were some little riffles where the water got a bit faster. The river consists of slow sections interspersed with places where the river was constricted due to maybe a fallen tree or just natural features. The water was a little faster here with riffles. This little detail would prove vitally important later.

Well, about an hour down, no sign of canal. The river was getting distinctly more pushy. I decided to take a right channel to get past a fairly small looking island. That little island ended up being fairly long. And beautiful. Deer suddenly running up the banks, clearly disturbed by this strange half-man, on a boat. Blue herons taking off in the most stately manner. I was pretty much all alone on the river. No places renting boats along the banks. Just a few houses and mostly woods on this section. I was vaguely thinking about the line 'Just a lonely impulse of delight' (http://www.bartleby.com/148/3.html).

My poetic reverie was interrupted when I reached the end of the island and found that the main stream (the left channel) of the river was flowing quite fast and there was what seemed to be 2 feet drop on the river on the left side which I had bypassed by paddling the right-hand channel. By now, of course, it was nearly an hour into the paddle. The canal had to have appeared by now.

Now, that didnt bode well. I figured I would go downstream some more. The canal had to show up. As backup I decided to call up my friends and ask them to come downstream and give me a ride upstream. No one seemsed to be around to pick up their phone. By now, it is nearly 6:45. Upon enquiring with a couple of fishermen I discovered that I was way-way downstream of where I was supposed to be.

Now, I had to paddle upstream all the way. Or give up and try to get to a road and hitch a ride. I figured that going upstream couldnt be all *that* bad. After all, I had paddled slightly more than an hour. I had another hour's sunshine and anyway, if the water got too swift or shallow, I could always get out and carry the boat.

So, up the river I went and it was something. At the island I had passed earlier you about, the water was too low for my paddle to get enough 'bite'. While it doesnt matter too much if you are going downstream, it is the most important thing if you are going upstream :-)

Well, I got off, and started dragging the boat along. Pretty soon, I was wading through thigh-deep water. Where the water was shallow enough to get on, there was not enough purchase for the paddle and where I could have paddled, I couldn't get on. Finally, I found a place which was shallow enough to get on, deep enough to paddle out of. And that is how it went to get out of the island.

Once on the main-stream, of course, it was a matter of slogging through the slow sections and trying find the little eddies that would help me get past the faster riffles. Occasional getting out of the boat and pushing it along the river. At places, I was in waist deep moving water. It ended up being a total body work out :-).

Oh, also, by this time, the sun was setting and the moon was rising. Beautiful. The sun was making the water take on a really beautiful shade of pinkish red. After sometime, the sun set and the moon was out in all its glory. Just beautiful. The last hour, I paddled purely by the light of the moon.

While it was really beautiful, I had to be really careful not run my boat into an unfriendly tree that had fallen across the river. Going up the last riffle was really really interesting since I had to paddle largely by feel.

At long last, sore and aching, I reached my put-in point. And discovered that I couldn't figure out where exactly I had left my car. I had left my waterproof light at home :-) I had actually paddled further upstream of the place where I had parked my car. Sometime now, my friend called up to find out why I had called :-)

Now, finally having reached back, and feeling pretty good about myself, I stepped out of the boat and promptly fell on my ass in the muddy slushy water and got properly dunked. It was not even knee deep. My cellphone got fully immersed and gave up its ghost.

Upon chatting with some fishermen, I discovered that the canal doesnt join the river as such. It runs parallel to the canal. I should have taken out and portaged across to the canal. Clearly, I should have read the website more carefully :-)

While it took me about an hour to get downstream, it took nearly 3 to get upstream. I was really fortunate too. If it hadn't been for the fact that the river is quite sluggish, I wouldnt even have made it up. Well, I have learnt my lessons. I always carry my torchlight and water. And, I make sure I know exactly what I am going to do :-)

I also learnt that paddling in the moonlight is a really really cool experience :-) I did the entire section (the river+portage+canal) this year with a friend of mine on a moonlit night.