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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Rick Barkley's Journal--Kayaking The Allegheny-Part 8

Rainy Day Paddle

Day 9 dawned with rain, not quite pouring, but steady. Bev was great helping tear down camp and get it packed in the kayak, so I could push off by 7:30. the locals had told me I’d need 8 to 10 hours to reach the Dam, as it was supposed to be 25 to 28 miles, and no help from the water. Zipped up in the skirt, I left in a thick mist, but the landscape was visible at water level, and I didn’t have to worry about anything in my way. Most of the way, rain came down heavy, but it wasn’t any problem for me, and was kind of cool to see all that splashing out in front of me, and I imagined it would all make for easier movement below the dam for a day or two.

I was pleasantly surprised to see the split in the land in front of me, meaning the Wolf Run Marina was on the left, and the Dam wasn’t far away. At noon, I was in view of the dam, and my first hurdle, the trash boom. Looking like a Pop-Apart chain, large orange vinyl pontoons, about three feet in diameter, and about 10 feet long, were strung all the way across the reservoir, and the only way is up over. I found a place to stand in the water, a little more than knee deep on the rocky edge, and began pulling the kayak up in between two pontoons. It was still raining, but there’s nothing could be done about it, so the skirt was off, lying behind the cockpit. When I lifted the front of the kayak up onto the boom, part of the skirt flipped over backwards, and some went into the water at the back of the boat.

I knew my phone was in one of the mesh pockets on the skirt, but it was in a Ziploc bag, so I didn’t worry. I finished getting the kayak up on the boom, moved ahead in the water, and pulled the Murlene off the boom, back in the water. I still had 150 yards or so to paddle to the Corps’ boat launch, so I climbed back in and headed over. When I reached it, I decided, being almost five hours early, to walk to the top of the breast to try calling Carolyn Spilka, my contact to help the portage over the Dam. Carolyn, from the Warren Chamber of Commerce, kindly agreed to help after I got to know her in an early recon trip. She sent maps and information on the area, and I reeled her in when she found out what I was in for getting over the Dam.

It was about 120 yards from the launch to the top of the breast, but it didn’t matter in comparison to what I found when I opened the bag to get the phone. All I saw on the display screen were bubbles, and the phone was a goner. You can imagine how I felt at that moment. Standing in the pouring rain, boat taking water, looking up at the top of the hill, no more contact with anyone, no sling or duffel to help with the portage until 5 p.m., and another half mile down over the other side to the water.

It only took a second to realize I had no choice but to portage the hard way. I took a double armload of gear, and trudged up the concrete ramp to the top. I realized it wouldn’t be good enough to get to the top with the gear, because there was too long a walk down over and around the other side on the access road. I walked down around the hill, and figured I could leave the gear on the access road, most of the way down, and no one would be able to see it from the public road along the river. Three trips got all the gear transported, but there was a casualty.

On my way from Salamanca to the Marina, I found, believe it or not, a volleyball. A Wilson volleyball. I was pretty tickled at the prospect of having the same mascot as the Tom Hanks character in the movie Castaway. Paddling along, I thought about whether I’d put a face on him, and what kind. Carrying gear down over the access road, he popped out of my arms, and bounced left down over the hill into a gorge. I thought I’d walk back up in from the bottom and find him, but not until after I had everything else transported.

Once all the gear was on the access road, I decided to move the kayak all the way down the hill to the edge of the fish hatchery, some hundred yards from the water’s edge. Steve Lauser had granted me permission to put back in there, which is a good quarter mile above where signs restrict access to the river. There was only one way to get it to the top: pick it up and carry it, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought, because I was able to turn it sideways across my back, walk bent over, without problem. Once over the top, I realized the grass strip along the side of the access road was a lot nicer for the boat to ride over, than much of the terrain it had navigated further upriver. I led it down the hill, around the curve in the access road, and then straight down a grassy hillside, to the lower part of the access road, and down a path toward the river.

The last part of the portage was an interesting section of combined mud path, steep downhill over large rocks, and a weedy trail to the edge of the river. Once the kayak was there, I made three trips with the gear, and everything was moved, by about 3 p.m. At that point, I had had plenty of time to think about how bad I felt for Carolyn, who would drive out to the base of the access road, and wait for me, while I was already downriver and gone. I’d put in here in May, so I knew it was about an hour or a little more into Warren. It hit me I could make the Glade Bridge in Warren by a little after 4. Allegheny Outfitters, the Lindells’ other canoe livery, was on the right bank, and I could tie up there, walk up onto Hemlock Road, which is the only route out to the Dam on the West side, and perhaps I could catch her on her way out.

By now the rain had stopped. I had drained all the rainwater out, at the boat launch, and again before I packed it, so I was as light as I could be. I got moving, and paddled with a purpose along the scenic stretch into the city. I made it by 4, grabbed a bottle of Gatorade and a granola bar, and hurried up to Hemlock Road. I kept looking at my phone as I stood there, partly because I wanted so much for it to recover, and partly because Salamanca was still in my mind, and I wanted people to see I had one. The more I looked at it, the more I knew it wouldn’t ever work right again, as the light for the camera flash was on bright and steady, and wouldn’t shut off.

At a couple minutes before 5, I saw Carolyn and her boyfriend, Scott Anderson, go by, and I was able to flag them down. It really made me feel better to know they weren’t going to sit out there for nothing, and they were as surprised to see me, as I was happy to see them. After exchanging pleasantries and some stories, they took the phone to try to dry it out, and since I had passed by the islands I had planned to camp on, they suggested Betts Park, at the other end of town. We said goodbye, and I paddled through town to find my home for the night.

The rapids at the refinery were in fine form, and I had gotten a tip from Teresa, to try to approach them from the left side. I managed it, and the water was a lot more manageable than it had been in May, when I took them head on. With an empty kayak or canoe, the middle would be more fun, but loaded down as I was, I was happy to get through with minimal turbulence. Past Grumpy’s Bar, under the trestle, and there was the park on the west bank. It was good camping, but I have to admit I felt uneasy as a guy and his son came walking along. They had fishing rods, and it turned out to be a pleasant conversation, but I was on edge now, and was pretty sure I’d stay that way throughout the remainder of the trip.

I ran a clothesline, and did the best I could to get some things dried out. Pretty much everything that hadn’t been bagged was soaked, and even some things in bags were damp from condensation. It’s one reason not to try to paddle more hours a day. It’d change the schedule greatly, inconvenience people set to meet me at certain places and times, and make it even harder to get the tent and gear somewhat dry. It only takes about an hour to get the tent dry after putting it up, but overnight, it gets damp again, and stays that way all the next day. Even though no condensation actually gets into the tent to make anything inside damp, it does get through the rain fly, so the walls are damp when it gets rolled and folded up for the day, and what runs down the side gets the bottom wet on the outside, which further dampens the body when folded up tightly in the bag.

Indianwaters at Last

I was looking very forward to getting to Indianwaters, the canoe livery on the river, about 4 miles north of Tidioute. My first layover day had been rather stressful, and I wanted to relax. I knew I would be on familiar and friendly ground there, and my PA fishing license would kick in, letting me spend some downtime, as well as having good conversation with Piper and Josh.

I said a little Happy Birthday to me as I pulled in, as Day 10 was my 59th. I was welcomed first by Josh, and after some chat, I set about putting up the camp for a drying time. Intermittent showers slowed the drying process on the 11th, but I was able to hang stuff in their shop, to keep it from getting wetter.

Piper came out to let me know there would be homemade lasagna for dinner tonight; music to my ears. If it was anything like the chili she served me in May, I could happily leave the camp stove in its place of rest. Having stayed on the west side of Warren the night before knocked almost two hours off the trip to Lindells’, compared to camping on an island just down from the Dam, so I got there just after lunchtime. I checked my watch when Josh offered me a beer, and he assured me with a smile it was legal. I tried a can of Piper’s corn for bait later that afternoon, but with no luck. Josh gave me a few night crawlers, but nothing doing there, either. The water’s not real deep right at the livery, but I didn’t care. I was sitting, sipping Yuengling, and fishing. I discovered Josh had golf clubs in the shop, and he told me a ball couldn’t be hit across the river from the front yard. I gave it a shot, but he was right. At least, this old body couldn’t git ‘er done.

Piper’s lasagna was everything I hoped, and I went back for seconds. I spent the evening getting caught up noteswise, looking at the map, and reflecting on the first half of the trip. I mentioned to Piper about how the journey had been so much different than I had anticipated, and she reassured me that I was on the real river now, and could begin to relax and enjoy it.

The next day, I accompanied Piper, Phoenix, and Lily to Warren, to pick up some water, Gatorade, and hopefully, a pair of cheap shoes. I needed something I could walk in, to let my feet stay dry, and let the blisters start to heal more. I had brought flip-flops and water shoes. The shoes stayed wet up to then, and would still start out every day that way, between dewy grass and having to stand in water to push off. Flips are worthless when wet. They’re actually a good way to injure yourself, as the surface of the sandal is very slippery, and your ankle spins out on you at every possible slope. I found what would work at Wal-Mart, and convinced Piper to let me repay them for their kindness with steaks to grill for dinner. She’s tough, but I held my ground.

Josh did a nice job with the meat, and dinner outside on the picnic table, with all three kids, Ash, Lily, and Phoenix, was a pure joy. Josh introduced me to a honey wheat beer with a name longer than train smoke. Had I written it down, I might be able to let you in on it. As it is, it’s his secret.

We shared one particular laugh around the table; in the morning, Josh came over to the tent to talk. I was going on about how without wildlife or people to see along the river, there are parts that can become a little boring, as it’s the same vista from one end of your view to the other, hour after hour. I spread my arms to illustrate the length of the vista, and then demonstrated piece after piece of the same thing. Piper got a quizzical look on her face, then told me she was going to come out and talk, but Josh was hunkered down, she couldn’t see him, and she thought I was looking out over the water, doing yoga. If you know me, the only way I could achieve yoga positions, would be with the help of a couple strong guys to bend me in position. The thought of me doing yoga made me laugh out loud, and I soon had company when the visual caught on.

In the tent that night, I thought about how I was a little torn between the desire to get on down the river, to complete the journey, and the feeling of complete contentment where I was. I was lucky to have gotten to know these folks, and this respite came at the perfect time in the trip. I must say, for historical importance, and to visit a great little city, go to Coudersport. Enjoy the people, the triple divide, the countryside. For a wide open paddle, with some great views and good hospitality, camp out of the Onoville Marina, and paddle the Kinzua Reservoir. To really enjoy the river, however, as it should be experienced, start thinking about where to put in, at Warren or below.

The Lindells can set you up with everything you need for a day or overnight paddle. They can take you up to Warren or to the dam, or you can start at their place, and paddle down. This is the area where the river matters to the people on it, and they appreciate what they have. It’s no wonder this stretch of the Allegheny is known all over the USA as a classic paddler's dream.

You might have a little trouble getting to sleep, as I did my second night there, as the neighbor dog was reading the riot act to some deer that came down off the mountain, across the road, and into the river near my tent. All I have to say is, had I taken my bath ten minutes later than I did, it would have been a little crowded in the river for a few seconds. I wonder who would have jumped higher, me or them.

Eighth Installment: Rick Barkley kayaked the Allegheny River from it's beginning near Gold, PA to it's end at Pittsburgh this summer. Solomon's words chronicled that trip from Rick's brief reports from the river. This is Rick's in depth journal of this adventure of a lifetime, presented in installments, as it is quite lengthy. I think you will find it very interesting. Editor.

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