On April 13 and 14, 2002, eight members of the Churchville Photo Club (and two relatives) participated in an overnight group kayaking trip to Oswego Lake in the New Jersey Pine Barrens (not to be confused with the more famous Oswego Lake in Oregon). For many, it was a first-time kayaking experience. For all, it was an experience they will never forget!
The trip left an indelible impression on all of its participants some of whom shared the experience by contributing their own memoirs for us to enjoy and which may be found below the trip photos.
Important: The Churchville Photography Club encourages its members to enjoy each company whilevi siting the locations of member trips. However, member trips are not sponsored by CPC and CPC is neither responsible for, nor assumes liability for, any loss incurred while participating in these activities.
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G. ALAN FINK
By It has been said that everything in life occurs for a reason, that we are placed here to touch others and to be touched by them… why then would we find ourselves touching in rescue mode?
Last year Anita Fanic and I went on a leisurely kayaking trip with some friends of hers down a portion of the Oswego ‘River’ (a term New Jersey bastardized). At that time there was no drought and it was in the latter part of the year around September. We enjoyed the trip so much that I suggested sponsoring another trip with the Photo Club. Since the West Nile Virus had presented itself that year, we felt it best to arrange the trip so as to preclude the metamorphosis of the mosquito larvae into their adult phase so elected to present this adventure as a springtime event.
A number of people signed on… the adventurous ones no doubt as we heard whisperings from others about ‘risking our equipment’, ‘kayaking? - in water?’ and of course, ‘camping?’ It became pretty obvious to me that those that did show for this trip would be the more dedicated and adventurous of the photographers since they were willing to forgo the comforts of the Sheraton in order to mingle with ature. As always, afterthought is 20-20 and the mental and physical condition of those that attended was paramount to our trip’s ultimate successes.
We were not going to get National Geographic images nor would most of us even have the opportunity to trip the shutter on majestic vistas or stunning colorful splashes of spring flora during our trip, instead we would become dependent on each other and our own individual psyche to survive a journey of character building. We would become combatants with the elements of survival and discover ourselves.
There was one last minute sign-up… Vern Rose, a seasoned kayak user with a wealth of useful information whom I felt upon casual conversation would prove to be self-sufficient in the overall cheme of things… I proved to be right in that evaluation.
Naturally, I know about Anita as we have spent some time together in some mildly remote camping scenarios and who as my life partner, I felt quite capable of handling herself in a kayak… she’d proven that capability several times over to me.
Ira Schneller and Mary Ann Durso had recently joined in our little meetings and dinners together and I felt a warm embracing for their involvement and spirit of adventure in this trip. Although Mary Ann was not seasoned, Ira gave me comfort in knowing that he had good kayak experience and they were going to take a two seater for this trip. Janet and Michael too were doubled up with a kayak and though I knew Michael had no experience with kayaking by his own admission, I assured them both that it was going to be more stable than a canoe (Janet’s familiarity) and the water would be smooth. Okay, I lied on the second part.
Jason (my son) and Amber (my future daughter-in-Law) were coming too… I knew nothing about their abilities but told them they would have fun… that was enough for them. Amber has camped out before and Jason wanted to try it out… neither one has ever been in a kayak. arry Burton, like Vern, was going solo and had been on another one of our trips to Rickett’s Glen just last year. Barry is excellent company and I have always enjoyed his candor so was pleased with his decision to join us. I don’t know anything about his familiarity with kayaks but do know privy information about his character… I saw him as an asset - I still do. The groundwork was made and the characters were set… now the story begins.
Jason, Amber and Vern were to meet us at the Ranger’s Station in Batso, NJ where we would register our campsite before setting up camp… the rest of us, Janet, Michael, Anita and I would be meeting Ira and Mary Ann at their home in Croydon at 6 am (our planned departure time) on Saturday morning the 13th ofApril.
It started with my forgetting my wallet on the way there which made us a little late, Janet called to inform me that she had set her alarm for 5 PM instead of 5 AM so she woke up late and would show up closer to 6:30 than 6 am and Barry too was a few minutes late apologizing profusely for his tardiness (little did he know he was following the trend). The only ones that were ready were Ira and Mary Ann. We rolled out by 6:50 am - only 50 minutes later than planned… so far, so good. As fate would have it our arrival time was perfect - one hour before the Ranger’s office even opened - but Jason, Amber and Vern had still not shown so we were looking like gold.
The campsite we had originally hoped to get was taken by Boy Scouts… the day before so we opted to go to Beaver Branch which was a little more remote (no outhouse, no water pump) but we were not far from these needs… just a short drive of a couple of minutes if needed. Picking up 7 kayaks, four singles and three doubles was pre-arranged by Anita several days prior to our departure so it was just a matter of deciding what equipment we would take on board for our 4-5 hour excursion down from Oswego Lake to our campsite. We loaded up our gear after settling costs at the Bel Haven Canoe and Kayak rental station and then proceeded to board the bus… two cars left at the rental facility to shuttle us back to our campsite upon completion of our trip Sunday morning… that part never materialized.
A short 20-30 minute drive it seemed because of the joking and poking fun at each other aboard the bus left us at Oswego Lake. A short trip across the water would take us to our portage point from the lake to the River portion of our journey. It looked simple enough as I filmed the individual members of the group from my first-launched kayak. Since I intended to film the trip, I really didn’t expect to make images with the camera but, just the same, it was carefully packaged with some dry clothing in my waterproof bag.
Everyone seemed to take to the water pretty well although they soon lost their land lubber legs as I caught a bit of Mary Ann on film slipping on the opposite shore as she pulled the kayak out of the water for our portage across the dam. What greeted us on the other side was our first indication of what had been suggested in a remark earlier by one of the Bel Haven guides… “You might have enough water” I remember hearing, “… to make it down the river.” That was a good clue to our problem. There was little water flow, which meant that we would spend more time dragging our kayaks for the first leg of the journey than actually riding in them. There was a bright side though as I pointed out numerous feeders as we continued our ‘trek’ down the ‘Oswego River’.
New Jersey has, in my observations, a very diminished impression of what qualifies as a river. This was a stream by any stretch of the imagination and from all accounts, I don’t think the flow rate hardly qualifies as much more than feeder water for a river system. As I videotaped the excursion and efforts of individuals struggling to maintain a sense of adventure and humor during this trying period, I could see patience making an exodus. I was beginning to wonder if I would even have friendly associations by the time this was over… Michael and Janet were getting testy with each other and though they began singing, I could see Ira and Mary Ann showing signs of distress. Barry continued to be upbeat even though I could see that his wetsuit was beginning to cause him some discomfort because it was black and he was getting hot from the laborious efforts we all endured. Anita claimed she was ‘having fun’ and Vern quietly and effortlessly continued his quest.
Meanwhile, Jason and Amber stayed ahead of all of us; as though they knew their agenda and were committed to a time frame - they both impressed me. Me?… I was holding my own trying to be oblivious to it all knowing too well that this was showing the makings of a survival tour but I felt it would improve. It worsened. There are considerations about water velocity that drought conditions can promote. The observations I made included the following: Water seeks the path of least resistance. As volume increases, so does velocity. Channels generally follow predictable paths and we didn’t want to be in those paths.
The kayaks we had, though reasonably stable, were not selected for our individual needs. Mine was not only too small for my 6’6” frame and 37” inseam but provided little if any lower back support… I was in pain from the outset of the journey. Barry tips the scale somewhere around 250 pounds and his kayak was probably rated for about 200… his draft was too high and he kept swamping once we had to start negotiating currents and obstacles. Ira, Mary Ann, Jason, Amber, Janet and Michael were all teamed in double kayaks which were not maneuverable in faster water… especially once the lights went out and visibility became a measurable reflex consideration in navigating. Vern’s kayak was fine for him as was Anita’s but she would eventually not be able to sustain the continued efforts of negotiating fast waters over a long time frame. Jason and Amber had the benefit of youth I think and managed immaculately under the adverse conditions. I just did what I needed to do in order to complete the mission. That was my psychological profile… period. I was enjoying the challenge but not enjoying my other concerns. After a couple of hours of dragging, kayaking and generally pursuing our goals, we came upon Harrisville Lake and were finally seeing stretches of water instead of sand and gravel pits. Anita would by this time, injure her left shoulder and become physically and emotionally drained. I met the challenge with positive determination and after being informed by Vern of her dilemma, I turned back and tied her off to my kayak. From this point on, I towed her. She tried to help. I had strained or torn a ligament in a couple of weeks prior to the trip… now it was screaming in pain but I could still use it sparingly if I watched my mechanics. On occasion she needed to steer herself clear of obstacles that would, by virtue of current, pull her into entrapments and strainers. We worked diligently together to overcome our shortcomings and I found this personal challenge acceptable and pleasantly fulfilling. I was actually enjoying the obstacles and effort. Night fell and we had long lost Jason and Amber though Vern and I saw traces of their progress and I was assured to some degree that they were fine… I still worried but have been taught that making something out to be worse than it is does not make matters improve… always anticipate but never egrade the situation.
Ira and Mary Ann had long since gone ahead of the group and soon were in the same mindset that I had Jay and Amber in… I took the attitude that, until proven otherwise, they were okay. Vern remained positive and was my shining light and Barry, though fading, continued to thrive (failure to do so was
not an option). I was impressed by his vigilance under the circumstances he faced… exhaustion, hypothermia and under-rated equipment. By the time we reached camp I was ready to call it a night, but Anita’s Spicy Pork was a heaven-sent meal and we all needed to wind down. Jason, Amber, Ira, and Mary Ann were just as I anticipated… they were okay. We all were okay… some just learned a little more about themselves, that’s all.
Would I do it again?… I wish I was still doing it.
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times! Ok, so I'm quoting Dickens...but it happens to be perfectly appropriate for this trip/adventure that we embarked on - drug-free, I might add! My brother-in-law Gary has been known to come up with some less-than-boring ideas in his day (translation: he's whacked!). Well, the idea to kayak down the Oswego Lake in the New Jersey Pine lands was definitely not boring. I'll also credit this ideas to his life-mate, Anita Fanic (who astounds me with her adventurousness - she's maybe 5',1'' with a quiet disposition, but boy, she can hang with any of the "big boys" when it comes to trying all types of new and different things!) When I was first asked to go on this trip, I was not particularly enthused for at least two reasons: I know I am not exactly the type of guy to jump all over doing different things without mentally preparing myself, and I know when Gary tells me something's going to be basically effortless, it more than likely is going to be the polar opposite (oh, by the way, Gary's an ex-Navy Seal, so effortless to him is considerably different than effortless to 99% of the population.)
So, after hearing Gary, Anita, Ira and Maryann extol the ease of this upcoming trip, I became a bit more relaxed with the idea. After all, how hard and stressful can lazily DRIFTING down a twenty-foot wide, current less body of water be? Apparently, it can be quite the pain in the ass! On to the good stuff: our entourage consisted of myself, my wife Janet (Gary's sister), Maryann and Ira, Barry Burton, Vern Rose, and Gary and Anita (affectionately known as Galanita), and finally Gary's son Jason and his fiancé, Amber (who've never, ever kayaked previously, nor did Barry Burton or Janet and I). Ok, we're all set and ready to rent our kayaks - and my first idiotic move has already occurred before I hit the water! What, you might ask? I had the total lack of forethought to bring this huge, cumbersome plastic bag full of dry clothing and sneakers - just in case I may get myself wet! Ha, Ha, Ha! I'm laughing to myself as I write this because it's just so stupid to do that! Plus, here would I possible change into these dry clothes in a double kayak? (Anyone who's seen a kayak knows how cramped they are, with only room for your body, and maybe some very small essentials.) I hope I'm establishing the fact that I'm not Indiana Jones!
So here we go - we get to our drop off point (and I thought I heard the van driver laugh as he drove off, too!), and I cram my plastic bag into rear of the kayak. My first move, after Janet has quicklyand easily gotten into her seat, is to stand in the kayak and try to rock us into the water so I don't get any part of my body wet - Gary got this on video, and I deserve the embarrassment! I can only imagine how silly that's going to look...I realize why I am averse to getting myself wet with clothes on. It happened on the Fourth of July in the early eighties. I went on a boat with some friends, wearing only a t-shirt and a bathing suit. I had gotten the suit wet, which you'd think isn't a bigdeal, but since there were no towels on board, I just stayed wet. Within a half hour I was itchingsomething terrible!! This itching persisted for the rest of the trip (which was made worse because the engine died mid-trip, and it took us more than several hours to get back to dry land, all the while I was crazed with itching - and, of course, my friends were crazed with laughter with the show I was putting on for them!) Ok, so I'm kayaking for the very first time! I'm amazed at how close to the water we are - only several inches separated the top of the kayak and the Oswego - this concerned me greatly. I wasn't in the mood for any water to get into the kayak or on myself in any way.
After we crossed the first leg of our trip - we got into some frustrating situations. We'd float for twenty feet, then have to drag our kayaks twenty feet (due to very low water levels). This quickly got old! And, if you haven't guessed it by now, I was in the back of the kayak without the first clue how to steer the thing! Luckily for me, steering isn't that important when you're dragging your kayak half the time. However, when we did reach stretches of water that allowed for the lack of skill to be evident, I shined rather brightly! Janet wasn't the happiest I've seen her, I'll tell you that. We hit the banks of the lake and overhanging tree limbs too many times to count - it actually got to the point where it passed anger and frustration and simply went into sheer giddiness. I would laugh hysterically each time we'd hit the bank or bang into a tree limb. Janet didn't. She's always a trooper and has a very high tolerance for my idiocy, for which I'm eternally grateful. We did share some uncontrollable laughter, however, when we would get stuck on a sand bar and try to "scooch" our way out of it. (Scooching, by the way, is referring to when we both rocked our bodies together to gain enough momentum to move us off the sand bar - it's a technique used by the lazy, of course!) After three hours of dragging and scooching, we finally took a break - and we were extremely tired, emotionally and physically. I had an outburst of anger (also videotaped, by the way) at this juncture...I needed food and a bit of rest. Little did we know that this was only the beginning! I thought that our campsite was rather close by, and actually got a little excited for the conclusion of our adventures - sorry, Michael, not so fast.
From this point, though, it was somewhat "smooth sailing" - the water was deeper, and I actually got the hang of steering this beast! I was getting confident and happy with myself now. An hour or so passed, no problems whatsoever - everyone's enjoying themselves, it's all good. This didn't last, unfortunately. The lake seemed to not end - that's as simply as I can put it. Jason and Amber has gone on in front of everyone, and before long, they were out of sight, literally. The group had slowly separated, and it turned into groups of two kayaking alone. Ira and Maryann wound up by themselves, Janet and I were alone for quite some time, Barry and Vern were together for a long stretch, and Galanita were by themselves. This concerned Janet, so we stopped and waited for Vern and Barry. (By the way, Vern used his kayak as though he were born in one, and Barry had quite the difficult time with his, but both men were heroes to me, as I will get to in a bit.)
After reuniting with Vern and Barry, Galanita were also found, so we had our safety in numbers - good thing too, because it was getting close to 8pm by this time (we began at 1pm!). I wasn't very pleased with the impending darkness, and since we didn't exactly know where we were going, and had no idea where Jason, Amber, Ira and Maryann were, it started to become a little scary.(And each time some water entered our kayak I nearly hit high C's, which Janet still laughs at now!) So, here we are trying our best in nearly complete darkness. Then it happens. Yes, you know what I'm going to say, don't you? Oh yeah, the separation of kayak and passengers! This is precisely what I did NOT want to have happen. The current was the fastest it was at this location, which just so happened to be at an overhanging tree (luckily!). We couldn't steer away from this tree due to the current's pull on us, so we got wedged underneath it, all the while water is pouring in (remember, I was hitting high C's when only a few drops were entering our kayak!) - so some rather unpleasant vocabulary was used by myself, in a rather unrestrained way, I might add! Next thing you know, Janet and I are hanging from this tree limb watching our kayak float beautifully down the Oswego - with my stupid bag of COMPLETELY SOAKED clothing and sneakers!! Once again, an extremely long riff of expletives spews forth from me, so Janet decided quickly to just leave this situation. She calmly swam over to shore and made her way up a very bramble-filled section of shoreline, and walked in the dark woods in the direction of our unmanned kayak. What was I doing? Oh, I wasn't quite done yet! I hadn't used every single foul word in the English language, so I just stayed on the log while 55 degree water is streaming over my legs and stomach. Finally, Vern eases over and calmly lets me know that I could be using my energy to get myself out of this undesirable predicament - so I quickly realized he was right, and latched on to the back of his kayak so he could take me over to where Janet had gotten shore. As soon as I grabbed those brambles, I got a bit vocal again! But it was very quickly over.
So, in the darkness, I'm just following the sound of Janet's voice so I can reach her over by the area where our kayak is. This is where Barry proved heroic: keep in mind that he had taken more than 8 spills (completely submerged in this frigid water; he was almost turning blue two hours previous! He was completely exhausted.) By the water's edge, he was holding our kayak in one hand, while keeping his kayak pinned underneath some underwater vegetation - he did all this while treading water! He was once again out of his kayak, in this way-too-cold water, up to his chest, but not letting go of either kayak! Truly amazing! Gary was overseeing Barry, so I knew there were no worries (both are trained divers/rescuers)...we eventually get back into our kayak (after dumping all the water out of it, of course), and proceed to in what we hoped was the correct direction to our campsite. In the dark. Now here's where Vern proves heroic: he's going up in front of us in this total darkness, just to turn back to let everyone know where it safe and where it isn't! Hell, I thought he was just gonna start walking on the damn water at some point!
I was very relieved to be in such good and helpful company that evening. If Janet and I were alone, I think we would've told the kayak rental people that we simply let the kayak find it's own way back to the campsite. We would've been doing some serious walking. (Oh, since I was wearing nylon sweats and a nylon jacket, they quickly dried, and I didn't suffer the crazy itching that I was fearing all along!) After an hour of following Vern's lead, and being rather spooked at kayaking in complete darkness, we arrive at our campsite! Yes, we finally made it! Then, we find out that Ira and Maryann went under just like we did - at the same tree! But Ira told me that he pulled his and Maryann's double kayak up from under water - it was nearly fully submerged! How he did this is beyond me! They made it back safely after that, thank goodness...all the while, the youngest and least experienced team of Jason and Amber were safely back at camp without a single incident!! They are not being invited to any more trips, by the way! (Only kidding - it was Jason who lent me DRY sweat pants to wear when we got back to camp, since my genius idea of having my extra clothes on board didn't exactly pan out.) Then we all had dinner and relived our tranquil, effortless float down the Oswego....in the morning, we noticed that one of our kayaks had been stolen! And it was the one Janet and I were using. I was very happy to not see it, too!
All in all, it was a character-building, and well as character-revealing experience, and if it were an episode of "Survivor", I would've voted myself off the island with no problems! I can't say that I'm in a hurry to go kayaking again, but I can't stop thinking of all the positive aspects of this trip. Great camping, good friends, laughter, even a heavy downpour during the night to batter our tents (which is quite relaxing, by the way.) I can't wait until we have our trip to Shenandoah National Park - it should be quite boring...
MARY ANN DURSO
How to start? Well for starters, Ira and I have kayak/canoe/rafted on the Delaware River many times. Never very wild, because I was along. Never down in the Pine Barrens. Ira has more experience than I do at this kayak stuff. The part I was looking forward to was the camping. Ira had camped for many years up in Sullivan County --- long before I came along. But this would be “our” first camping trip as a couple. Ira has a lot of camping gear. We “tried out” the tent for size and the mats for the sleeping bags for comfort, in our living room. Found out that we really needed to use an inflatable mattress for more comfort. Then we found out it didn’t fit in the tent. Off we went to buy a new “tent”. Now we were ready for the trip.
Since I had no experience in kayaking alone, we decided to use a two-seater kayak. (In hindsight that probably wasn’t a good idea). We had scouted out the area with Anita and Gary a few weeks prior to the trip. (When there was more water, I think). Still, we weren’t sure of the distance we would be kayaking.
At 6:00 a.m. everyone tried to meet at our house. Guess it was a little too early. We didn’t leave until around 7:00 a.m. Surprising as it may be to some, we are not that far from the Pine Barrens---about 90 minutes. We arrived at Batsto Village and got our permit to camp. We were told that the Boy Scouts had arrived at our camping area the day before. So we knew the spot we wanted would be gone; and it was. We looked in another area and found a pot. (Found out afterwards, it really wasn’t a camping area, but a boat launch). We liked it anyway.
We set up our camping gear. Not too bad. Looked like a regular group campsite. We all had tents, except Vern. He would be sleeping in a hammock from a tree, with a tarp as a cover. Brave man. I for one liked my inflatable mattress. It would be very comfortable. That was as close to comfort as I was going to get. We decided that lunch would be a good idea. So we ate lunch, put snacks in our bags, and now we were ready to get to the kayaking part of the trip.
The rental place takes you to your “drop in” point and you are on your own. We were told that they weren’t sure how deep the Oswego River would be during our trip. The idea was to kayak and photograph and end up at our campsite for dinner. Then get up the next morning and continue down the river. Then come back and break camp. That was the plan. Once I got in the kayak and the water, I will say I was nervous. But since Ira and I were in the kayak together, I felt much better. I knew I was not ready to go in a single kayak by myself. I figured this was my trial run and maybe the next time I would be brave. Kayaking over the lake was really great. When we got to the other side we realized that some of this river would not have enough water to kayak in---especially with two people in one kayak. It seemed our trip would be kayak, portage, drag and pull. Mostly drag and pull and “hike”. Never realized how tiring that could be. This river twisted and turned quite a bit more than I liked. Not a real straight route. Frustration became a part of this trip. Because of all this “work”, time passed rather slowly. We weren’t able to kayak as fast as we had planned. Everyone seemed to be dealing with things as best they could.
By the time we got to the other lake, (Lake Harrison), it was starting to get dark. By then Barry had tipped over a few times and he decided he needed something warm to drink. We waited a bit and then Ira and I decided to cross the road and get the kayak into the river on the other side. So we did. We weren’t sure where Gary’s son and daughter in law were. We only knew they were ahead of us, hopefully already at camp. We figured everyone else would be getting into the water soon, so we started down the river. In the meantime the clouds had made the sky darker than it should have been at that time, so light was not on our side. We got to one part of the river and weren’t sure which way to turn. We decided to wait for the rest of the group figuring it wouldn’t be too long of a wait. WRONG!!! We waited around a half hour and still no one. We also realized that we were the only ones with a two-way radio, so no point trying to call the others. Ira decided since it was almost dark we should go forth and try to find our way. I was in the front of the kayak with the flashlight. I was the headlight. Well the “headlight” left a lot to be desired. I had no depth perception. So whatever I saw, I wasn’t sure how far away it was. And Ira really couldn’t see over my head. I was beginning to think we made a wrong turn, because we felt we should have been very close to the campsite. Hurrah! We saw light. It was the Boy Scout camp. Now we were confident that our campsite was around the corner. WRONG AGAIN!! Too many twists and turns. And around one of those turns was a tree. A BIG tree! (Directly in our path). By the time we realized it, the current had taken the kayak and turned it sideways. We did our best to turn the kayak, but the river current won. We flipped over. I grabbed the tree as soon as I realized what happened. But, totally forgetting that I had my life jacket on, I panicked because I couldn’t touch bottom.
Ira had the big choice---help Mary Ann, save the kayak and oars, grab the camera gear or save himself. Since I had the tree and part of the kayak, he grabbed the camera gear and oar and took it to the bank. Then came back for the kayak and me. I lost my oar. Trying to turn the kayak over while holding onto a tree is not so easy. It took two times and it still had water in it. But we decided to get back in and try again, one oar short. The amazing part was that we still didn’t see anyone else. I felt sure we were lost and possibly going to be spending the night on the bank very cold and wet. But we pushed on determined that the campsite was here somewhere. WHERE was the question?
Not much farther down the river, we saw light again. This time we felt sure it was our campsite. But I wondered how everyone else got there before us; forgetting about Jason and Amber probably already being in camp. Well thank heaven for Jason and Amber and their car headlights. We were saved! We reached camp finally about 8:15 pm. Getting out of the wet clothes and into dry clothes was the best idea. Then we waited for everyone else. As time passed we got more concerned. Then we heard voices in the darkness. Everyone else was returning, hopefully in one piece. They arrived at camp around 9:00 p.m. Apparently Michael and Janet also had a “run in with a tree” as well, and flipped over.
A definite experience for me. But, I will say that after some time passes, I will try it again. The best part of all this was doing it with friends. We all realized it could have been worse, but it wasn’t. We all survived and here we are telling everyone else about it. Our next adventure as a group should be in July when we “camp” at Shenandoah National Park. Definitely “no water” --- only “dry land” and hopefully lots of photography. Gary did take some video, and I can’t wait to see it. We really could have used our own “Video Crew” to get all the action on tape. Maybe next time! Thanks to everyone for being a part of my “adventure”. I look forward to the next one.
It was a trip anticipated for months. I have paddled a canoe, but never a kayak, and to paddle with friends was to be a new experience. Gary had ‘promised’ a stable platform for conveyance to a ‘wilderness’ photographic paradise and I was looking forward to trying out some new approaches and a new subject. A welcome bonus would be the opportunity to compare images taken with my F100 and those attempted with a range finder (Nikonos V) acquired as a iscontinued item, complete with Aperture priority (my current favorite program).
Janet incurred the wrath of her brother, Gary, the night before when she fell into a trap laid out by Ira. I got caught in the web, getting her message to change meeting place, and not Gary’s confirmationof the plans left on my voice mail later the same night. Thank goodness I was running late…after finally falling to sleep around Oh Three Dark Thirty! Calling Gary to ‘excuse my tardiness’ allowed me to exclude 30 errant miles. Grab a coffee, and see a co-worker from years before (my prior, painful, professional life).
Ira and Maryann are remarkable hosts, and opened their house and kitchen to us while awaiting Janet and Michael’s arrival. I must admit to a little trepidation hearing Ira talk of all his white water miles and seeing the paddle float on the living room floor. I was sure he was ready to ‘rescue’ anyone about! I had been doing the Barry thing, and reading all I could about kayaking on the internet, but somehow, I just felt something was missing. Well, I have long taught that good judgment comes from experience, and experience oft results from poor judgment. Boy did I learn a LOT! We met up with Gary’s son and new daughter in law about two hours later, signed in to the park, and found, we thought, our camp site. Roughing it was what I expected. Little did we realize we were OUTSIDE the camper area and on the launch and take out bank. Camp Churchville was erected, gear was secured, and….we sat for lunch! The women (thank God, the ones with brains) wanted to eat. Glad we did, because it turned out to be a long time till dinner! Thanks, Janet for the sandwiches and crackers!
I hurriedly ‘selected’ my gear to leave at camp and locked the essentials in Vern’s car, and off we shuttled to the outfitters. Something was missing, but what? The river looked calm here, and the sky was fair. A warm breeze was blowing, so I could tolerate the dive skin I was wearing, but even so, I questioned if I should take it off in favor for a T-shirt. It was so warm, I abandoned my plan of carrying a fleece bag and bivy for rewarming purposes. After all, who would need it (argh). Anita had reserved some river worthy, maneuverable craft for us, and I guess the outfitter and his trainee thought we knew enough, so we were sent to the lake in the van from Hades to put in. Some discussion between us, the Forest Ranger at camp, and the Outfitter ‘suggested’ that we may be able to make it down the Oswego, even though the waters were a bit low. WRONG! We should have read between the lines! The outfitter also neglected to review our body weight and loads with us, but did at least assure that we had the mandatory PFD’s (Life Vests)! Though most all of our crew are svelt or sweet small packages, I run a bit on the dense side at 250 pounds. The little Otter I was paddling was a bit over loaded at that weight, but we didn’t know that until a bit later, and by then, it was all over!
The put-in was a breeze. Mike managed to enter without getting wet, and we all crossed the Oswego lake to the first portage without a hitch! It was like Washington’s armada crossing the Delaware, but on a uch warmer and brighter day! When we re-entered the ‘river’ the major part of the ‘leisurely drift down stream’ turned into a ‘energetic hike of the Oswego river bed’ dragging kayak’s or poling while ‘hopping’ and ‘bumping’ in our seats to try to get some flotation! The effort of getting in and out of the kayak every time I grounded out (about every 20 or 30 feet) began to wear me out! I started trying to stay in the narrow channel at the outer margins of the turns to maintain what little depth there was, since my craft would not float with me in it in less than 8-10 inches of water. Unfortunately, this meant that I was always trying to roll to keep my face from being scratched in the brush, and every time I rolled, since we did not have ‘skirts’, my underrated craft took on some water (flooded). This also happened every time I tried to use a “J” stroke to steer quickly, which I was using since my shore side arm was bound by bushes. I was quickly losing enthusiasm for this kayak thing! Then I dumped for the first time, trying to drag the kayak through a shallow, and stepping into a 4 foot sink hole of muck! Thank goodness for the dive skin. Why didn’t I bring the fleece bag? Should have bought a bilge pump. Gee maybe I shouldn’t have left my throw bag in the truck. These things get VERY heavy when they flood with water. Maybe that’s what they meant when they say ‘flotation bags’help by reducing the amount of water that can get inside!
Two, three, four dumps more. In and out, turn it out. Keep going back for more. Janet and Mike test their love. Anita starts to slow down. Gary’s posture is failing. And Vern is our cheerleader! Now in reasonable deep water, we can finally drift. We get to the target area, 3 hours late, and NO ONE feels much like photography. A little further, and although it is four hours to civil dusk, the light is starting to fail. Storm clouds! I drift a bit, try to image the saw grass (can’t stay still without a drag anchor), the bank (forgot to set the range), and the tree line and sun (missed the exposure,because of ‘exposure’). When I catch up to the group, Janet wisely observed a faint blue tinge aboutmy face and suggested I put on my cover layer. I had forgotten just how “blonde” hypothermia will make you!
We crossed Harrison Lake in the rain. Rested on the beach by the flood gate with hot instant WAWA cappuccino (I really needed that). Put back in below the dam in dusky light, and tried to find our way to camp. In the twilight, the buried branches and sinks made mince meat of my boat, and I was ‘sucked under’ at least three more times, the last time in a strained that took my hat, Maryann’s hat and my 85mm Nikons finder (right out of my pocket) as a toll for riding this byway. Thank God for Vern. That guy can maneuver, and like a true Scouter, always was there to lend a hand! But the worst was yet to come. In the dark, the swarthy couple of newbie kayakers, our friendly leaders Mike and Janet, got picked off by this nasty little tree that just shook them out of their boat! Janet was treed! Mike (who really didn’t want to hear he might get wet in a kayak) had been baptized by the river. And the kayak had decided to find its own way home! Well, the thought of walking in the Jersey Devil’s Pine Barrens at night with but one flashlight any number of unknown miles (I also forgot my topo) didn’t appeal to me. With Janet and Mike safely tucked in for the moment (not that I had a chance of any buoyancy in my craft) I shuttled off to locate the errant boat. Unfortunately, when I found it I went swimming again. Now the last dump had me remembering my dive drills when in an “overhead” environment and the ‘tangled grass” experience. I must say I didn’t think I had an ounce of reserve after getting my waist and knees caught in the last tree. But being dumped here, with no bank in sight, and the river actually running through a strainer in another downed tree just made me question why I had come at all! I climbed up in the tree, and plain made the decision this river was NOT going to get the best of me.
With the reassuring recognition that my life was not flashing before my mind’s eye, resolved to make the best of what was left of our gear. Janet and Mike were now on the opposite shore, and Gary had just come up behind t ‘safety’, so I swam (with hiking boots) the paddles over to Janet, and swam back to “help” their kayak through the tree. Teamwork was essential here, and is the only way this ‘self rescue” worked out! Gary, Anita and Vern were back, I think, and my kayak was next retrieved. Boatsbailed, spirits resolved, and off we went again.
I suffered one more dunking, and one more critical grounding, in sight of Ira’s car lights. It felt so good to strip away the wet clothes and lay down without having to paddle again, I almost missed dinner. That would have been a mistake, for Anita had made some wonderful pork, along with some cheese, crackers, and coffee. I needed that to repair my muscles, even though I knew I would not be fit to boat in the morning.
It rained that night, and the river looked so inviting the next morning that I thought, briefly, of returning to the original float plan. Reason, however prevailed, while sore muscles hammered away at the subconscious. Thanks, Gary, for playing lead car home. I’m sure I must have been mentally asleep for at least half the drive back to Bucks!
Well, a warm bath eased the body into a blissful sleep. The gear has been cleaned and repacked. The muscles barely remember their trial, and yes, I will go back in the water at some point.
Thanks to all my comrades on this trip. You ALL made it an enjoyable, memorable, experience!
I would like to start out by saying, not many photo images were taken but the images in my mind will never be forgotten. It was a journey of smiles and frowns, strength and weakness, endurance and fear, and the finale was that of a bonding of friends ! ( Who may never set foot in a kayak again!)
To begin, I was very excited about the trip and was looking forward to getting away from work and being with people who enjoy the things I do. I had fun helping Gary plan out the trip. When we first got into our kayaks I could feel the excitement from everyone and was thankful the rain had held off.I didn't even mind the portaging although I could feel the frustration of others around me.When we reached higher water, everyone seemed to be more at ease and enjoying the ride. Then my shoulder started to get sore. I started to slow down and lag behind. I could feel sharp pain and numbness and I couldn't lift my arm anymore to row. The worst feeling was that of being helpless and having to depend on Gary to help me through who was already suffering from a bad arm. I was ready to call it quits at the lake because I didn't have a good feeling about the rest of the trip. I think fear struck me when we were coming around the bend and I saw Micheal hanging onto the branch in a panicked state and Janet scrambling through the brush. I had visions of us being stranded in the pine barrens overnight. I knew I didn't have the strength to go down the river on my own without turning over. I felt frustrated that I couldn't help anyone and fearful that I would be left there alone . I was happy Verne stayed with me till Gary came back.
The happiest moment was when we saw the headlights and I saw the others safely on shore. It felt so good to put on dry warm clothes , to put some "hot" food in my belly, snuggle up to Gary in our " get close" tent and most of all the bonding of new friends!
I had never been on a kayak ‘trip' before. Although I had a brief sit on one in the past, in a quick race around a buoy in Jamaica. But in retrospect, if someone had asked me if I wanted to sit on a rowing machine for 8 hours with a group of people, for the ‘fun' of it, would I? Never. Let's put it this way. It was supposed to be a 4 to 5 hour trip; it turned into 8 hours. It was one of the experiences of my lifetime that I will enjoy in my old age.
The worst part of the trip was having our kayak getting swept under a fallen tree in a strong current, while Michael and I clung to the tree as if our lives depended upon it, getting wet, experiencing the madness of frustration, kayaking in the dark when there was no light to see by, and feeling like I was in a Hitchcock movie that would not end.
The best part was Michael and I clinging to the tree and realizing that no one was going to save us, we weren't going to die, but we were going to get wet and jumping back into the stream to swim to shore. Another ‘best' of the trip was getting out with a group of friends, feeling the grit of determination go up your spine, laughter at our new experiences, and taking the rest of the trip on that kayak (instead of swimming). We had pain, fear and anxiety and hope at every turn. We felt such a rush when we turned the last corner and saw the headlights that were aimed in our direction from the campsite. We were cheering and rowing to the shore, and Vern was there to take our pictures at the end of the line with his instant camera. One of the pleasures of getting home to camp safely, is peeling out of the wet clothes and shoes and getting into warm, dry clothing. We sat around the camp light, at a wonderful meal prepared by Anita Fanic and happily shared our many harrowing experiences. We laughed at our pain and we passed the ‘mineral ice' for our sore muscles. Tucked into our camp tents and sleeping bags, the rain came down and we were all safe. We woke to birds singing, a beautiful morning,coffee, tea, hot cocoa, and breakfast and a stolen kayak. We ask you...who in their ‘right' mind would steal a kayak?
I am thankful that we all had a chance to meet an individual who stopped in for his first club meeting, Vern Rose. On his first night, he signed up for the trip. God must've been watching over us. Vern is like a waterbug in a kayak. He tripped ahead in the dark and giving us directions to keep our kayaks out of trouble. He's an amazing person. But all of the people who came are amazing people. Michael, Gary, Barry, Anita, Vern, Ira and Mary Ann, and Jason and Amber (Gary's son and his new pregnant wife). I want to especially thank Gary and Barry for digging in when the going got tough, pulling our double kayak to shore and finding my dry bag with my Olympus OM4t in it. Believe it ornot, the bag held up and I have no excuse for buying a newer camera or lens.
Getting back to the moral of this story: The ending to this saga, represents why we feel that group trips are so important. We need to know each other as friends. We came through it together and our friendship shares a common experience. We can laugh together about this trip, for years to come.
The Great Oswego River Portage Race
by IRA J. SCHNELLER
Remember the childhood song with the words…Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream… Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream? How about ... Pull, pull, pull your kayak, drag it through the mire… grunting, complaining, whining and cursing, this trip is beginning to tire.
That’s how Maryann and I felt shortly after starting out on this much-anticipated trip to the New Jersey Pine Barrens for some leisurely kayaking and photography. Could the water have been deeper? Definitely! Should we have started earlier? Absolutely! Did we anticipate and have a plan for coping with emergencies? Not exactly! Frustrating as all this was, there were some positive things. For most of the day, the weather was on the cool side, with a steady breeze and partly sunny skies. This plus the early spring season kept many of the annoying bugs away during the early daylight hours. I found the fragrance of the Pine Barrens almost intoxicating. And listening to the “colorful metaphors” coming from the other kayaks was somewhat reassuring as we attempted to float down a river that had more turns, fallen trees and under- water obstructions than any obstacle course I’ve ever been on. The clear, cool water and gentle breeze brought back images of past trips as I tried to put on a “happy face” by singing a song. (Row, row, row your boat…) My, how time flies when you’re anxious to get back to your campsite. The day wore on as we continued to fight exhaustion, frustration, an approaching storm, wet clothes, the early stages of hypothermia and darkness. This adventure was turning into achallenge that would test our resolve, our endurance, and our ability to whine. On occasion, I can whine with the best of them. But every time I thought I was winning the whining contest, someone else would outdo me. I just couldn’t win. Sometimes I thought we were the main characters in a bad Alfred Hitchcock movie. Or was it the Twilight Zone?
In the darkness of night we hit a tree and the kayak quickly capsized. We watched helplessly a one of our double paddles floated downstream and we realized that our camera equipment (which was in a dry bag) had sunk to the bottom of the river in five feet of water. However; I was confident that everything would end up all right because I felt this had to be a really bad movie, and when it was over we would go safely home.
We eventually up righted the kayak, got back in and continued down the river. Finally; cold, exhausted, and concerned for our companions, we arrived at our campsite. I thought this must be how Christopher Columbus felt when he saw land. Eventually everyone showed up by 9:00 pm. Anyway, the fact that we all survived and still liked each other at the end of the day is a testament to our friendship.
What makes this kind of trip worthwhile is being with people that I know and like. We have a deep respect and appreciation for nature and each other, so anything that happens to one of us is almost certainly felt by the others. That’s part of what creates the bonding between people, when adversities and triumphs are shared. I would certainly go on another trip with any one of them, knowing that together we make a good team.
For the sake of repetition, I have purposely left out some of the finer details of the trip. I feel my companions have done an admirable job in that area. Please take a few moments to enjoy their stories. Having spent more than twenty-five years actively camping and canoeing/kayaking in the outdoors, this trip was to be enjoyed in a different way. It was to be shared with good friends who also happen to be terrific photographers. I was hoping to get to know them on a more personal level. That goal was achieved, and today our friendships are stronger than ever. Thanks for the memories.