And on to the final push, the home stretch, the last leg to Boathouse Row. If it’s even possible to have better weather than we had on Day 6, we had it. An absolutely perfect day for paddling the final 16 miles from West Conshohocken to Boathouse Row.
Camping in West Conshohocken is a trip in and of itself. Norfolk Southern’s freight trains rumble through approximately 14 inches from everyone’s tents, and in the train’s intermittent absences, the Blue Route keeps the noise white in the background. I didn’t even realize West Conshy had a riverfront park on a bluff about 20 feet above the river, but there it is, shielded by those awful high-rises and parking garages that define the place from the Schuylkill Expressway.
Speaking of that maligned roadway, a big shoutout to the geniuses of the 1950s who decided it best to build a four-lane limited-access highway through the heart of Fairmount Park from Valley Forge to Center City, in the process usurping the definition of “Schuylkill” to most people who live in the Philadelphia region. It’s called Schuylkill Expressway because it snakes alongside the river that’s rolled from coal country to the Delaware since time immemorial. Take back the Schuylkill!
The first part of the final day’s journey took us through familiar (to me) territory, a section of river I’ve ridden with my man Hollis on his 25-foot pontoon boat on River Road, docked next to the best tiki bar you’ve never heard of. Arriving at Flat Rock Dam, we took our final portage on river right and waited for final safety instructions from Allan to pass through the last rocky rapids of the trip. Fun to think that one of the most difficult (but not that difficult) runs of the 115-mile trip is right here in Philadelphia, a rocky stretch above Manayunk.
After passing through that section one at a time, everyone waited just downstream. Eddying again with the fellow trash-minded Megan and Dave, I counted six tires on a small muddy beach. I finished with eight total for the final day—89 total for the week—again recognizing that there are many many more below the surface. The banks immediately below Flat Rock Dam were a little messy; among the plastic bottles and styrofoam, I also found a Native American spin drum. Shame the skin was broken.
Beyond that, the only other place where there was any litter to speak of was within the jurisdiction of the Schuylkill Navy River Stewards Committee, the group headed by Alan Robinson at Boathouse Row doing the good work of cleaning up the Schuylkill River in its rowing sections. In fact, the day before the Sojourn pulled into Boathouse Row, they’d just done a big cleanup on the silt island behind the Fairmount Dam that netted 360 plastic bottles.
Coming in through Manayunk was great fun, passing under Green Lane, Manayunk, CSX, and Pencoyd bridges one after another. And it gave me great joy to paddle just a little upstream the Wissahickon Creek as we made our final stop for lunch at the Philadelphia Canoe Club. Sandy Sorlien was on the bank waving hello, and she made a great and short presentation for lunch on the ruins of the Schuylkill Navigation Company that included a plug for the great Fairmount Water Works. Schuylkill River Heritage Area’s Tim Fenchel also presented a record 79 people with “I paddled the full Schuylkill Sojourn” stickers that I assure you will go on the sticker table I’ve been adding to for over 20 years. And while the final kudos and thank-yous were made to all the right people—SRHA for organizing, Take It Outdoors for outfitting, Bad Adventure for being there with first aid just in case (it was never needed), and Canoe Susquehanna for being superb guides—it was everyone’s grandma Fran who brought a Schuylkill tear to everyone’s eye for offering a sincere thank you on behalf of the seniors on the trip to everyone who helped them make it down the river.
The final four miles through Fairmount Park went by strictly on autopilot. Normally the domain of scullers and their captains, the lanes were clear on this sunny Friday while joggers and cyclists and tourists populated the banks, drivers on Kelly and MLK Drives none the wiser to the 114 people finishing 115 miles in kayaks and canoes. Beautiful stuff.
Welp, I reckon this is signoff—for Day 7. I have a whole other camera’s worth of photos to go through, so I’ll put together a wrap-up and photo essay some time next week. I also have a related photo essay to finish—something along the lines of “Every Bridge Over the Schuylkill River,” which I think I was diligent enough to complete between Schuylkill Haven and Boathouse Row. I’d like to also get those over the tidal Schuylkill in Philadelphia and maybe take another trip up to get the ones above Schuylkill Haven and Pottsville. But first, these photos of Day 7.