Schuylkill Sojourn Day 5: It’s a Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall

Dun dun dun...

Waking up in Pottstown, Schuylkill River Sojourners were greeted to a cool morning, a pretty sunrise, and clear skies. That all left by the end of the safety talk.

Cloudy skies turned foreboding by the first bend of the river that revealed the Limerick Generating Station’s nuclear cooling towers, their white columns of steam contrasting the black-as-hell clouds that much more. With close to 18 miles on today’s log, the usually optional water stop (to refill your water bottle and to, you know, make water) became mandatory when the reds and yellows on the radar forced everyone into said water stop at Thompson Pavilion in Linfield, just below Limerick. Again the skies turned loose before the sweep boat was even pulled in.

Get to know your neighbors in scenic Linfield.
Get to know your neighbors in scenic Linfield.

Before we even got to Limerick, though, a beach on river left featured some installation art I’d heard about on Day One. I couldn’t figure out whether the beach, a sandy one on a bend, was a party spot or just the unfortunate recipient of high water trash deposits. At any rate, some creative soul married a shopping cart, bird bath, traffic cone, a red cup, and other objects into a riverside sculpture exclusively for Schuylkill passersby. Well played, sir or madam. (I did not get any photos of this on my phone, but I did get one on the Nikon camera I can’t connect until I’m back in Philly. Thanks for understanding this irritating explanation.)

The beach had other objects to choose from, including two more traffic cones and at least five tires. Big day for tires, with a final count at 21, and Tim Fenchel from Schuylkill River Heritage Area told me that, were the river not so muddy and murky today, the count would have likely doubled under just the Spring City bridge.

As though the cooling towers on the apocalyptic sky weren’t creepy enough, apparently a dude on the Chester County side of the river thought raising himself a peacock farm was a swell idea. The June vegetation is thick and green so you don’t see any giant birds with the showy tails, you only hear their unfamiliar non-native calls that sound somewhere between children on a playground in a nightmare with reverb and several cats painfully dying. Not a pleasant sound when you don’t know there’s a peacock farm on the other side of the knotweed stand (speaking of non-native). Or ever, really. And if that’s not enough, across the river hums—nay, roars—a rusty generator to nowhere with a hose in the river, either pumping river water up or filling it with something that makes the whole river warm. (And it was warm, warmer than the air.) All this in plain sight of nuclear cooling towers. Let’s get out of here.

Doug and Chris enjoy Sojourning the Schuylkill in all habitats.
Doug and Chris enjoy Sojourning the Schuylkill in all habitats.

After the storm subsided, we hit the river again, bound for lunch in Royersford. Rofo in this mofo! Lunch in Rofo’s Victory Park was a veritable summer cookout, the clouds pulling the curtain on a welcome warm sun after the cool rain, with burgers and dogs and potato salad and coffee… from Exelon Nuclear! Hot diggity. Royersford even made us a cake.

Chocolate and vanilla cake with chocolate and vanilla ice cream (not pictured). This is livin'.
Chocolate and vanilla cake with chocolate and vanilla ice cream (not pictured). This is livin’.

Mother Nature spazzed out again as we attempted launching, with another quick squall that rained down hard and left the wind in place for the rest of the day. The tailwinds were great! The headwinds… eh, they weren’t awful. Put us to work as we passed under PA-113 bridge in Phoenixville on our way to Schuylkill Canal* Lock 60.

*”Schuylkill Canal” is the misnomer of the Schuylkill Navigation Company. The Schuylkill Navigation was actually a hybrid of river and canal, the canals built in places where the river was not navigable, namely rocky places like Manayunk and Phoenixville. The Schuylkill Canal’s legacy was the theme of last year’s Sojourn. This year’s is the 100th anniversary of the National Park System, and park rangers and staffers have joined us to present topics on the national parks. Today’s lunch gave the mic to ranger and comedian Bill Troppman from Valley Forge National Historical Park (where we’ll lunch tomorrow), who made the story of the winter of 1777 the most entertaining it’s ever been. Ask him to pronounce Baron von Steuben’s full name.

Ladies and gentlemen, Ranger Bill Troppman!
Ladies and gentlemen, Ranger Bill Troppman!

Dowwn at Lock 60 in Mont Clare, the lock itself is usually one of the highlights of the Sojourn, with lockmaster Dan Daley and his wife Betsy hosting folks on the grounds and helping to run Sojourners through the locks. Unfortunately, it’s down for repairs on this trip, but Dan and Betsy still helped Sojourners portage the lengthy alternate to the lock down the canal, and it’s rumored but unconfirmed that Phoenixville/Pottstown stalwart Sly Fox Brewery was on hand at the lockmaster’s garage with cold, delicious, refreshing Schuylkill River Trail Ale in cans that feature Schuylkill River mileage along the rim of the can.

Tomorrow, we break 14 miles for Valley Forge and West Conshohocken. And Friday, we take it on home.

Schuylkill River Sojourn in pictures, Day Five:

Turkey Hill "Big Chiller," soda in styrofoam cups. Ugh.
Turkey Hill “Big Chiller,” soda in styrofoam cups. Ugh.
Oh no, it's raining again. And you know, it's hard to pretend.
Oh no, it’s raining again. And you know, it’s hard to pretend.
An hour later... Blue skies, nothing but blue skies, do I see.
An hour later… Blue skies, nothing but blue skies, do I see.
Dan Daley's got the Schuylkill on lock; portage train leading to Lock 60 at the end of Day Five.
Dan Daley’s got the Schuylkill on lock; portage train leading to Lock 60 at the end of Day Five.