Sunday, July 22, 2007

Shootin' the Shenandoah!

I've always been a person fascinated by water. Whether it be a lake, a river, the ocean, the Chesapeake Bay, whatever, if I was near it, I'd want to spend some time there. My recent move to Gettysburg took me away from some of the waters that I'd come to appreciate over the years, Lake Erie, Pgh's three rivers, and Lake Arthur, just to name a few, but I had been to them dozens or more times each, and they had lost their luster.

The move also put me closer to new and interesting waters, the Cheaspeake Bay near Baltimore, the Potomac River, Antietam Creek whose claim to fame comes from the battle there (it winds its way right through the middle of the battlefield), Marsh Run which snakes its way through parts of the Gettysburg battlefield, and the Shenandoah River, just to name a few. It also brought me to some interesting places, such as Point of Rocks on the Potomac, and Harper's Ferry, the confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac (not quite Pgh., but it'll do in a pinch).

A few weeks ago, some friends and I were visiting Harper's Ferry. It was a Sunday, and cars were parked everywhere along the banks of the Potomac. As we neared the river, we could see literally hundreds of people rafting, tubing or kayaking there. It looked like way to much fun for people to be having, and I started to take the bait. "If they could do this, why can't I?" was my new mentality.

So, I did some research and found that kayaks are quite affordable. A few days, and $350 later, I had an 8ft. Pelican with all the gear. I figured my first great adventure would be in the Harper's Ferry area, a quick jaunt down the usually calm Shenandoah, a turn into the somewhat rougher Potomac, a loop around, and then a picnic lunch in Harper's Ferry itself. So much for the best laid plans.

It seems that the drought has brought lower water levels to both rivers, and the usually flat Shenadoah is not so flat anymore. Lots of rocks near the surface create hard time for all recreational river users, and a small run of whitewater is now present. Not dangerous for drowning, since the river at its highest is only about 4ft. deep, but rocks and skulls can result in collisions, and usually the rocks win. Throwing in a mile and a half upstream of Harper's Ferry on the Shenandoah now turns out to be not one of the best ideas I've ever had.

An hour, some knicks in my paddle, and some major rock scrape marks on my kayak's hull later put me in the confluence. Fun. A bit scary at times, but fun. Two things can be said. I never once got thrown from my boat!...and...though I lost my splash cover early on and took major water onboard, I didn't sink, and my waterproof box proved to be just that! I tried to turn around in the confluence and paddle against the current to get to Harper's Ferry, because a local pub, serviced by beautiful Russian girls served Old Dominion Lager, an awesome micro-brew. I wanted some!

Guess what? The current of two converging rivers is stronger than me and my paddle! After 3 loops, which involved beating the Shenandoah and getting close only to be taken back out by the Potomac, I gave up. I had to drag the boat and wade in.

A quick aside, and one more of the unplanned elements factored in...flotation devices of any kind (tubes, rafts, kayaks) are not allowed in Harper's Ferry. So, I couldn't walk back to my car, and then drive back to get my gear....WRONG!...ILLEGAL! Thank you, National Park Service! So, I had to wade the Shenandoah, kayak in tow, for 1 1/2 miles. Talk about slippery when wet! Those rocks were that. I've got a swollen ankle and a scrape to prove it to any doubters.

All things considered, it was a learning experience. I wasn't ready for Class III rapids, but I can't wait til I am. Gonna be fun practice! I also can't wait for my next trip! I learned a lot, and it will definitely be better...

...That being said...this trip was still...

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