Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Surfing the shelf just below Riegelsville.

Yesterday's canoe trip was remarkable for the transformational nature of my 'Baptism' in the Delaware River - PRAISE BE!

Chris M and I set off for a long trip between Riegelsville and Frenchtown with the primary objective to scout for trash in advance of the upcoming river cleanup. Little did we know, I would be called by the River Gods to a sudden and ultimately lengthy swim in the clean and surprisingly warm water.

This occurred just after our break at the Indian Rock. More specifically I was dunked at the last and largest of the rock ledges at the top of Upper Black's Eddy. While surfing this ledge I found a nice groove side-surfing back and forth in front of it. Then I found myself on top of the ledge and in front of a hole. The River God whispered something and moving closer to hear the message I noticed a gorgeous Mermaid lying on the bottom, smiling up at me. What else could I do but fall for this adventure?

It was a surreal experience in that I could see that I was about to be swallowed up by the hole but rather than taking evasive action (employing a strong brace for example) I passively allowed it to unfold. I succumbed, swooned, and sank in the frothy current.

An impromptu and unexpected swim is usually a rude surprise. This one was strange in that I did all that I could to allow it, short of simply plunging head first out of the boat, which in reality is what occurred.

Once the Baptism began it was all about self rescue, with the assistance of my paddling partner. It was a long swim through easy rapids as I was dragged downriver by the partially submerged canoe (one of my floatation bags was deflated too). My first thought was to save Sharon's camera or face a cruel punishment. That was easy enough since the expensive piece of equipment was tied in and contained in a dry box. Then I spied my $20 coffee mug floating downriver - help! Chris snagged it, Praise Be.

It seemed like I floated in the strong current for at least a half mile, although it was in reality probably half that distance. The river was clean (hopefully since I gulped a bunch) warm and challenged me to scissor kick from the center of the river all the way over to the PA shore. It was a lumpy swim as the riverbed was studded with large, submerged boulders, which I banged into every so often. Part of this swim featured shallow water of 3 to 4 feet but very strong current. The temptation to user the river bottom to advance towards the shore was great, but that was nearly impossible and brought my feet and legs in contact with the big rocks. Much of the time was spent on my back, feet up, in deep and swift moving current that allowed a side-swim to shore.

Good news: the camera dry box works, the coffee mug doesn't leak, and my cell phone really is water proof (it was in my pants pocket).

That was my first Baptism since a rocky swim in the Tohickon Creek on a cloudy, raw January day a few years back. Other notable Baptisms have taken place in the Musconetcong, Lehigh and Perkiomen.

This one was not so bad although it marked the end of what was an exhilarating surfing session. As it turned out, we observed a surprisingly small amount of trash along the way. Unfortunately that means the considerable amount of litter we observed back in June was carried downriver by the high water events of summer.

As to the transformational nature of the 'Baptism' it is good to be humbled by the river and submit to its power, especially in warm weather.