There are many good recreational rivers in Pennsylvania. This means you are never too far away from a kayak or canoe trip opportunity. It can be eye opening to your spirit of adventure, like the Allegheny running 325 miles, Monongahela running 130 miles, Susquehanna that runs 464 miles, the Delaware running 301 miles and the Ohio River running just short of 1000 miles into the West.
Some rivers are peaceful and can delight your imagination. Others have long stretches of challenges that will sharpen your skills as an explorer.
The waterways of Pennsylvania bear names that are keys to the past, names that were once passed down by the tongue and only written on the memory. Their stories are still alive though, running with us down the path of the deer and black bear, hunting the ginseng or wild leaks. As we search for morel mushrooms or cast our fly rod like a conductor in the symphony of nature, we rehearse activities passed down through time. While on the river, your eyes may drift to the heights. You can imagine the force that has rolled boulders into the river below. These ancient heads of sandstone have now become the Islands of the Allegheny.
River islands remain largely uncharted. Many of them have their own unique environment. There are many opportunities to plug these river islands into your adventure plan. But be careful, quite often these islands go underwater because of rainfall or beyond the horizon while you’re sleeping in a tent. In those times, the water level can rise in moments!
Drier months offer the safest results for exploring these small ecosystems and river levels typically follow the season, but they also cover a lot of territory. It’s your job to know the current weather patterns along your river of choice.
On my first real expedition, my father and I paddled over 50 miles down the Allegheny River. My favorite parts of this journey were the islands. These little sanctuaries were crafted by the floods and droughts that braid the rivers. This little oasis piqued my curiosity and I wanted to explore all of them. I was anxious to see the creatures that inhabited them.
A number of the islands were no more than dirt bars, many meters long and covered in grass. These also had counterparts that were completely submerged, bushes and grasses that were long used to their odd placement in the water table. Other islands were like miniature worlds with birds chattering in ancient trees and critters cautiously watching you from the shadows. Some of these islands bore signs of flooding; sometimes the old timber had died from prolonged submersion. The dead tree hulls reaching up like bony fingers to clutch debris rather than a canopy of leaves.
As I recall, it was early August when I set foot on my first river island at the age of ten. Dad and I only camped on bigger islands that had no signs of being recently submerged, but dad knew getting waterlogged was hardly avoidable. So my father taught me to waterproof around the seams of our boots. We sat at his workbench coating are leather boots with Atsko’s Sno-Seal weeks before my first expedition. I also learned something about planning because of it. He knew our feet were about to sink into the water and mud that surrounded these sand bars and islands. For more: Atsko Waterproofing.
One morning I woke up to pancakes over the campfire as dad told me this story at breakfast. It started with, “Hear anything last night?”
I shook my head NO, and scarfed down another pancake.
“We had some visitors,” He continued, “I believe we baited them in with our can-of-beans incident.”
I smacked my forehead, “Dad….the bean sacrifice?” I said, with mock disdain. I looked into the ashes secretly thanking them for consuming the spilled beans. It would’ve been hard to breathe in our little tent. “Wait a minute, who came to visit?”
Dad smiled, “Did you hear any gunfire?” He reached forward, casually flipping a pancake as he waited for me to notice the state of our campsite.
My eyes took in the .22 resting on the log by my dad. Shoving another pancake in my mouth, I got up and looked around curiously. It only took a second before I spotted the first wrapper. As I went over to investigate I saw a half-eaten stick of butter. Next to it was a little plastic container that at one point held frozen chicken. A trail of litter led to the mud by the boat. The cooler had muddy paw prints all over it. “What kind of tracks are these dad?”
“You really didn’t hear me shooting your .22?” He looked at me strangely.
My brows furrowed, “No.”
Dad took a breath and looked to the sky reliving the incident, “A band of raccoons tried to go canoeing last night and found our cooler. I heard them scratching around in the canoe so I grabbed your .22 and my flashlight. I quietly unzipped our tent and jumped out. Raccoons shot out of the canoe like cannonballs! I popped a few rounds off when I saw them running off with sticks of butter.” He gestured with his hand and sighed, “I found a half stick of the butter right over there in the bushes.”
“A half stick?” I squinted at the bushes he had indicated.
Dad took a breath and flipped another pancake on my plate, “Yep, I needed it so the pancakes wouldn’t stick.”
I scrunched my brows as my mouth dropped open.
“I cut off the part he licked,” he said quickly.
I took a few breaths thinking about it, then smiled, “Great breakfast Dad.” I scooted over and gave him a hug, “This is the best trip ever…” My smile stretched from ear to ear.
“Me too son,” he wrapped the last bit of butter up, “We’ll save this for something special.”
Before the morning mist was gone, our paddles pulled us downriver. I was excited to explore more islands of the Allegheny. Now that I knew about the raccoons I posted watch for the little marauders.
Once or twice we even saw whitetails. I think it’s like a safe haven for many animals. Lots of different bird species lived unmolested in the island canopies.
It was midday when we cast our lines about, fishing the deep eddies of the river. I caught my first walleye and it was huge! Dad suggested we stop then and there to eat it. I agreed.
We pulled our canoe up to a giant slab of sandstone that angled out of the rippling waters. Dad set up the Coleman stove. Five minutes later, we released the walleye back into the river, minus the fillets.
Expertly seared in the buttered skillet, the fresh flaky fish hit my lips. I belted out with gusto, “Wow this is good!” He had worked magic with only a bit of salt and pepper.
Dad smiled, “Who else do you think is doing this right now?” He asked as we bit into lunch, “The freshest walleye a man can eat.”
I thought about it for a second. All my friends were playing video games and sports, competing instead of connecting. My dad was staring down the river. As I looked down the empty river with him I realized something and said, “Just us dad.”
Dear reader this IS the right time. Go have a moment that you’ll enjoy for a lifetime. Be bold. Do something that places you into this unique group. Just ask, “Who else do you think is doing this right now?” And you’ll know what to do.
For more please go to: Reed Nolan
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