My time on the Schuylkill River Sojourn

Photos by John Strickler Kayakers arrive at Riverfront Park Tuesday afternoon. One hundred five people paddled their way along the Schuylkill River as part of this year’s Schuylkill River Sojourn.
Kayakers arrive at Riverfront Park Tuesday afternoon. One hundred five people paddled their way along the Schuylkill River as part of this year’s Schuylkill River Sojourn.

Have you ever been attacked by a friendly river pirate? Had to wade in knee-deep water from the small island where you left your kayak in order to eat lunch? Or had the chance to push away thoughts of work and stress while cultivating newly forged friendships?

I got the chance to do all of that when I spent the day on the Schuylkill River with the 16th Annual Schuylkill River Sojourn.

The sojourn, which runs for six days, covers more than 110 miles. I joined nearly 100 other paddlers for the 11-mile trek from Gibraltar to Riverfront Park in Pottstown on Tuesday.

I would just like to preface this by saying I am not an avid outdoorsman. I used to camp, canoe and kayak when I was younger but I haven’t had the chance to get on a river as much as I would like in the last decade.

But that is one of the best parts about the sojourn, in my opinion. I was not expected to be able to Eskimo Roll my kayak if I tipped it over or be the fastest in the group. The guides were knowledgeable, nice and laughed with me as I bumped into things (which I did more than I thought I would on a wide open river).

As a matter of fact, the pace was leisurely and calm; we fell into groups depending on how fast we paddled or who we wanted to spend our time with on the river.

But as the new kid that day, my competitive nature kicked in and I did check behind me every now and then to make sure I wasn’t the very last one.

Despite my lack of preparation, I kept up with the group and found a comfortable pace as we paddled through the Tunnel of Love under the Birdsboro Bridge.

Trees towered over us, making a bright green archway as we glided around the edge of the bridge. There were several moments like that where the sound of the water and the stillness of the trees made everything feel like a dream. It was easy to forget about work, personal problems and that the bustling world the was just on the other side of the trees.

A bald eagle followed us for a few miles, gliding overhead and pausing every so often in a tree before continuing on.

But I snapped out of my daydreaming when I heard laughing, shouting and splashing up ahead. The pirate games had started.

Although I decided not to join in, I learned this was a water-based version of capture the flag. The rules of the game were simple: grab the Jolly Roger from another kayak and get away as fast as you can.

I was told that another added challenge of the game was to not only grab the flag and get away, but to swamp the kayak of the person currently in possession of the flag.

Fearsome but fun rivalries emerged as groups of people strategically converged on the boat with the flag. The river was calm and mostly straight, which made it easy for the game to go on all day.

The day I went was fun and easy. It wasn’t difficult to maneuver my boat and nothing hurt after paddling for 11 miles.

The sojourn starts on a weekend, and since paddlers can sign up for one day, it is an easy way to take a step back from the world for a while.

As we paddled, it became obvious why the Schuylkill River was named the 2014 River of the Year. My old idea of the river — an idea that was shaped by running on trails along side of it or driving over bridges that crossed it — was no longer appropriate. The Schuylkill River is not just a body of water that eventually ends up in Philadelphia, but a life source for people, animals and plants.

And reinforcing that idea is what the sojourn is really about.