A while ago I wrote about a couple of former colleagues in West Windsor who liked to sail on the ocean. One of them sailed by himself from New Jersey to Seattle through the Panama Canal, and then on to New Zealand and back via Japan. That kind of adventure was certainly amazing, but not really the thing to do if you have a family and a regular job that requires your full-time attention.
But a few times when I had the opportunity of going somewhere for a weekend without the family, I took advantage of it. Once I sailed with a friend most of the way around New Jersey — from Jersey City to Trenton via Cape May. And on a couple of other occasions I hiked on nearby Pennsylvania segments of the Appalachian Trail with a friend who ended up doing the whole thing — over several years, of course.
But my most adventurous outing on the water was quite modest, yet very satisfying. It was in a canoe with my colleague Jimmy Dunn. He had once worked for the General Electric (G.E.) research lab in Philadelphia before joining us at A.R.A.P. in West Windsor — the place I wrote about a couple of weeks ago (The News, March 18).
At G.E. a group of canoe and camping enthusiasts had started a traditional annual outing where they took overnight canoe excursions on nearby rivers and camped out at convenient sites along the river. Since I had always enjoyed canoeing (from my days at Boy Scout camp), I volunteered to join him and the G.E. group one year. Our trip was to be on the Susquehanna River in northeastern Pennsylvania.
Early one Saturday morning I joined Jimmy at his place on the Delaware River north of New Hope. He had his canoe on a trailer. We then drove both our cars to the campsite downstream on the Susquehanna near Scranton. The idea was to leave one car there and take the canoe north to our drop-in point, where we would have to leave the other car. When we reached our destination we would have a car there waiting to take us back to the other car at the drop-in point.
Our drop-in point was near Waverly, New York, a few miles north of the Pennsylvania border. We canoed all day — 10 or 12 hours —and actually covered a longer route than anyone else. Fortunately the weather was good, and the downstream paddling was relatively easy. I was impressed by the width of the river where we were, probably at least a quarter of a mile for most of the trip. At one point we decided to pull in to a small town where there was a dock-side place to eat lunch. It might have been a McDonalds, but I’m not sure. Anyway, a break from the paddling was welcome.
At one point we saw something that was hard to believe. We were paddling right down the middle of the river and what did we see swimming just in front of us? A gray squirrel. Yes, the very same kind you see in your backyard climbing the trees. We were tempted to try to take it on board and paddle it to the shore, but we decided it must have known what it was doing so we just watched it until it was out of sight.
(Suppose we had ended up taking it back to the same shore it had just left? It would have had to start the crossing all over again. On the other hand, it might simply have fallen into the water from a tree and didn’t know which way to go just to get to dry land. We’ll never know. Next time you see a squirrel swimming, don’t worry too much about it.)
In all the years I’ve lived in Grovers Mill near the pond, I’ve never seen a squirrel or any other land animal in the water. Once in a while — before there was so much traffic on Cranbury Road — someone would throw a stick out for their dog to retrieve, but that was it. And recreational vessels there are virtually nonexistent. No rowboats, no kayaks, no canoes, no sailboats. They’re all allowed, but few seem to be interested.
There is a limit, however, on the size of outboard motors. That came about many years ago when some teenaged boys tried water-skiing on the pond with an outboard-motorboat. The township, worried that it was too dangerous, set a limit on the size of motors that could be used for that purpose. The size limit was so small that water-skiing was virtually impossible.
When the pond was rehabilitated a decade ago, a boat launch area was formed at the northern end of the boardwalk, but I’ve never seen it used. Of course getting to it means hauling your vessel to the parking lot and carrying it by hand to the launch area. That’s a lot of work, and there’s no storage place to leave it overnight.
But it’s still a great place to spend a day on the water. I own a kayak and used to hand-carry it from my house to the pond so I could paddle around a while. But my house is only about a hundred yards from the pond, so it was no big deal to carry it there. (It’s a big deal now, since I’m no longer strong enough to carry it by myself.)
With warmer weather approaching, it will be interesting to see if anyone decides that this is the year to get out on the water and row around or paddle again on Grovers Mill pond. I’ve seen a couple of small boats and canoes near houses in the area, but not in the water.
Back to the Susquehanna. As it was growing dark, we came in sight of the others who had started a campfire and had dinner cooking by then. All went smoothly, and we had paddled more than 60 miles that day. The weather was good all night, and in the morning we broke camp and headed up the river to pick up the other car. I’ll never forget some of the names from that area of rural Pennsylvania: Towanda, Wyalusing, Meshoppen, Mehoopany, Tunkhannock, and so on.
Overall, a very satisfying trip. Ironically, the next day, Monday, I had to make an out-of-town business trip by air from Philadelphia to Washington. What river is the first you see from the air on that flight? The Susquehanna. I nearly saw both ends of it in three days.