Schuylkill Sojourn Day 3: Rapids, Reading, and Ruins

That's what's up.
That’s what’s up.

All that rain yesterday left everyone good and wet all right, but it also raised the river a good four inches. Combine that with the sunny and 82° (with fluffy Simpsons clouds) and you couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions. Day Three was a gem.

It started with a gradient orange-to-blue sunrise and coffee that was already on by 6am and the discovery that the bank we docked on was gone. The tires I noticed when taking out of the river in the rain last night were fully submerged, and a can of Yuengling Premium sidled up to them, because Pennsylvania. The morning safety meeting drew oohs and ahhs with mention of Kelly’s Rapids, and Pinning Rock induced maybe just a little terror.

But before we even got to these Sojourn milestones, we had to run the minor rapids of the former Felix Dam. That dam, built of concrete and wood in the 1800s, created a three-mile pool of Berks County lakefront property. It breached during Hurricane Floyd in 1999, turning residents’ lakefront docks into high-up staircases to nowhere. The ruins of the dam previously created the most hazardous portage on the Sojourn, but its removal in 2007 created a new water feature first thing out of Jim Dietrich Park. This was the first of at least a half dozen places I took on as much water as I could in traversing the waves. Wet all day. And it RULED.

But Kelly’s Rapids are the main attraction on Day Three—the most coaching, the most risk, the most fun. A few people went swimming on the single-file run, but I redeemed myself for my Day One dunk. Almost immediately after Kelly’s, the Schuylkill starts showing signs of life heading into Reading. And where there’s population, there’s trash.

As I predicted and confirming what Sojourn veterans had told me, the Schuylkill becomes much less pristine entering Reading. Like Philadelphia, Reading doesn’t have the resources to carry out street cleaning, and like anywhere, litter on the street becomes litter in the waterways, much faster after a storm like yesterday’s.

Plastic bottle eddy was no friend of mine.
Plastic bottle eddy was no friend of mine.

The first obvious sign you’re in a city is the massive Carpenter Technology plant abutting the river, which started out as a small steel company in 1889 and still exists with nearly 5,000 employees. Some workers were outside on a smoke break watching us pass. The Schuylkill Avenue Bridge was the first of four concrete arch bridges in Reading proper (there were several more throughout the day), and trash wrapped around its support columns. The next arch bridge, however, is early contender for trash trophy for Sojourn 2016. Buttonwood Street Bridge is currently closed to traffic while its arches are restored and its deck completely rebuilt. A temporary work pier has two-thirds of the river blocked, funneling all kayak traffic and trash to the western side. Bottles, blunt wrappers, a shoe, aluminum cans of bad beer (Milwaukee’s Best), Kool-Aid Jammers… for a moment, it was One Man’s Trash redux. Pulling into the landing at Riverfront Park, more trash greeted us on the shore, including a can opener.

This isn’t a knock at Reading, though. I love the city, the second largest on the Schuylkill River, population 89,000+, home of the Reading Phillies. (I refuse to formally call them the Fightin’ Phils. That’s a nickname. They’re the AA affiliate of the Phillies. They are the Phillies. Stop the madness.) The Pagoda is a wonderful icon. Just up the mountain from it, the Mount Penn Fire Tower affords amazing views. The Mexican food is outta sight. Look for Alebrije. And in spite of the littered beach, the Riverfront Park is a nice amenity, including the large red steel sculpture Ruins XXVII by Ernest Shaw.

Heading out of Reading, we passed under a trio of bridges, and looked overhead to see an eagle circling. Three days, three eagles. At the next set of bridges, Pinning Rock awaited. Its biggest danger is that it’s hidden in the waves, but the crew leaders got everyone through unscathed. We arrived at 4:30 at Allegheny Aqueduct Historical Park, where the namesake was built by the Schuylkill Navigation Company in 1824 on land owned by the Beidlers, who operated a grist and saw mill built in the 1760s (now a ruin) and lived in a house built in 1783 where I type these words on a little Sharkk keyboard for ipads on an ancient wooden table with a museum cherry pie with ceramic lattice.

Elsewhere on today’s trash list, I observed a big metal panel that I’m guessing was the door to a walk-in freezer; an archery target; a rubber garbage can and an orange Home Depot bucket; a blue Christmas ornament(!); a green two-liter plastic bottle that joined the Sojourn for a mile or so. And finally, four tires – which again, is a small number considering how many must be submerged, especially in higher brownish water.

Despite the major uptick in trash, today was still the highlight day so far. Oh – and Day Three of the Schuylkill Sojourn is always Crazy Hat Day. So, here go some crazy hats and a collection of today’s photos. Tomorrow, we head to Pottstown.

This is Fran, "everyone's grandma." She's a better paddler than most, and she gets down to Crazy Hat Day.
This is Fran, “everyone’s grandma.” She’s a better paddler than most, and she gets down to Crazy Hat Day.
First light on the Schuylkill, 6am, Muhlenberg Township.
First light on the Schuylkill, 6am, Muhlenberg Township.
Morning devotion with Alan and Jeremy, safety leaders.
Morning devotion with Allan and Jeremy, adventure guides from Canoe Susquehanna.
US-222 twin bridges.
US-222 twin bridges.
Carpenter Technology complex: industrial Reading.
Carpenter Technology complex: industrial Reading.
Safe channel → (for kayakers and trash)
Safe channel → (for kayakers and trash)
Buttonwood Street Bridge construction in the background, trash accumulation in the fore.
Buttonwood Street Bridge construction in the background, trash accumulation in the fore. Don’t even play, Coors Banquet is gross.
Lunch break, Reading Riverfront Park
Lunch break, Reading Riverfront Park
Last leg of Day Three.
Leaving Reading on the last leg of Day Three.
Allegheny Aqueduct, built 1824.
Allegheny Aqueduct, built 1824.
Ruins of the Beidler Mill, built 1760s.
Ruins of the Beidler Mill, built 1760s.
To take us home, an important and topical message from the kindly people at Seyfert Camp Meeting, who let Sojourners shower every year. Cleanliness is next to godliness, after all. Keep it clean, people.
To take us home, an important and topical message from the kindly people at Seyfert Camp Meeting, who let Sojourners shower every year. Cleanliness is next to godliness, after all. Keep it clean, folks.