Nothing was unusual about driving my green Volkswagen Rabbit down the Pennsylvania Turnpike on the way to Towson, Maryland. I did this trip frequently. But, this time, my car sported a silver canoe on top. I thought it looked pretty slick. The canoe was mine, an Aerocraft—rated second only to Gruman. I was very proud that I had saved the money to buy it. I couldn’t afford a Gruman, but my Aerocraft had high sides and good balance, cut nicely through the water and was perfect for me. On this sweltering Friday in mid summer of 1978, the Susquehanna River was calling.
Sister Andre to others but just Andre to me—my good friend and colleague from Bishop Boyle High School joined me on the trip. In Towson, we would stay with another friend, Chris Mc Bride, who I also met as a teacher but at Resurrection Grade School. Andre and Chris had never met though both had heard of each other from me. I was the friend in common among us three. I had hiked and camped individually with both Chris and Andre. The three of us, in our 30s, viewed ourselves as rugged women and anxiously anticipated another outdoor adventure—this time canoeing down the Susquehanna.
We launched our adventure at 5:00 AM the next morning over a breakfast of oatmeal, eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. The cooler, packed with fruit, brownies, beverages, sandwiches for lunch—and sandwiches for dinner just in case our trip was longer than expected—was loaded into the car. We had calculated the canoe trip to last until two or three in the afternoon though I don’t remember how many miles it was. Excitement grew as we began this journey.
As is typical of a trip down the river, we took two cars. At our final destination, we parked Chris’s VW Bug. Then we drove back to our beginning point in my car. We removed the canoe—it took Andre and I together to lift it from atop the car—and put it near the edge of the water. The cooler, two paddles and the life jackets and were placed inside. Finally, we moved the car just off the bridge and parked it. Susquehanna River here we come!
I sat in the front of the canoe calling to guide the direction of the paddling, and Andre paddled in the rear. Thus, the quiet journey was occasionally punctuated by my vocalized “paddle to the left” or “paddle to the right.” I paddled on my left and Andre paddled on her right. Chris sat in the middle, from her position around the food. Chris was the novice in the group although Andre and I weren’t that much more experienced. Having never been on a river in a canoe before, we eagerly proceeded on this enterprising trip.
It was a beautiful sunny day. The riverside was lush with greenery at each bend. At one point, however, the river took a turn to the right, and before me, were about 20 cows spread out all over the hillside and spilling into the river. I yelled, “Paddle to the right!” Both Andre and I paddled to the right vigorously to get around the cows. They never bothered us—and they never seemed to be bothered by us. But they didn’t look like they were going to move either. To us, it felt like a close call.
Taking note of the beauty on either side, we roamed through the winding Susquehanna River taking note of the beauty on either side. The river was calm with a steady flow and an occasional small rock with white water. This is when we would “paddle to the right” or “paddle to the left.” And our quiet and peaceful morning moved into lunchtime.
A tree limb on the bank invited me to grab hold so that we could pull ashore and tie up to it for lunch. As I grabbed the limb, I saw a bees nest there and yelled, “Paddle backward,” as I flopped myself back on the seat, Chris and the cooler. Andre paddled us out before the bees even realized we were there. Relieved, we paddled on and looked for another tree limb, found one, tied up and enjoyed our sandwiches, fruit and beverage. This was the life—and quite adventurous for us. It was our first river excursion.
We continued to paddle down the river, veering to the left or right, as small obstacles cut through the water. Then Chris asked if she could paddle. Andre and I agreed, and Chris proceeded to the front. Chris was doing well, when, all of a sudden we saw a huge rock to our right with white water all around. Chris did not warn us fast enough to clear the rock. Soon, we were sinking, and the canoe was being squeezed into the rock. All three of us were out of the canoe, but there was ground below our feet.
With as firm a footing as we could manage, we held on to the canoe and lifted the cooler and paddle to the top of the boulder. One paddle floated away. Then, we turned the canoe on its side and began lifting it—to the chant of “1-2-3 lift”—the adrenaline was flowing as we proceeded to remove the water a little at a time. Finally, we bailed out all of the water and lifted the canoe to the top of the rock. We were jubilant. We had succeeded and saved the canoe, one paddle and the cooler. The life jackets had saved us. We could manage with one paddle—people did that all the time. It was time to celebrate, so we sat on top of the boulder, broke out the brownies and ate ravenously!
We then carefully lowered the canoe down the other side, and, while Andre was holding on to it, Chris and I put in the cooler. Off again to finish the last part of our journey, we felt proud about overcoming such an obstacle. However, soon stress returned: we were near the time of finding our car, and we realized that we had forgotten to tie a cloth on the bridge to identify where the car was located. We came up to a bridge, discussed whether it looked familiar and concluded that it did. I climbed up the hill to check. Amazingly, our car was there. Loading things into the car and tying down the canoe followed. Now, relaxed enough to be hungry, we devoured our reserve sandwiches. But we were pleased that we had done so well—we had been successful on our first river canoe trip.