My birthday loomed and I contemplated what might be a good way to celebrate. Not a milestone this year, just a higher number checked off the calendar. Still, a celebration, muted as it might be, a way to mark the passing years, rejoice that I made it this far and hopefully have quite a few years left.
It is summer, the season for outdoor activities. Gardening comes to mind, but that sounds more like work than fun. Spending the day on a lounge chair in the back yard or the beach is a cop-out, enjoyable but not memorable.
|The view from my kayak.|
Correspondence from Pinelands Adventures, a kayak/canoe tour company, got my attention. The arrival of the email was karma. Kayaking down tranquil waters on a sunlit day. An age appropriate adventure.
I booked a trip for two.
Mentioning our upcoming adventure to friends, they jumped on the idea and immediately made reservations.
Four of us met at Pinelands Adventures headquarters 9:00 a.m., eager to set out on the river. Handed lifejackets and a laminated sheet outlining the river route, we boarded a rickety, reincarnated school bus to our launch site. No loading and unloading hefty equipment for us seniors! We carried snacks from home (cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers and carrots), water bottles, sunscreen and bug spray (not needed), and a cell phone (for pictures and to text when ready to be picked up).
The bumpy ride tracked a dirt road known in the 1700s as the Tuckerton Stage Route, a highway for goods unloaded at Tuckerton on the Jersey shore and transported by wagons to Camden and Philadelphia. No trace of stagecoach stops, inns and taverns remain, only a couple of abandoned wood buildings dating from the 1800s.
We arrived at our starting point, a small clearing on the Batsto River in the Wharton State Forest (south Jersey. I know, who would think of pristine land in the midst of Jersey, but it exists!).
|Our kayaks ready to go!|
Wiggling into kayaks we paddled calm waters, the river narrow, widening miles later as it entered a lake. Stumps and fallen trees created obstacles smoothly (usually) maneuvered around. The path was rarely straight, rather a series of S-twists. Low-hanging branches kept us bowing low to avoid being hit. Mostly cloudy in the 70s, a perfect day for low-impact water activity.
|Taking a water break, checking the map.|
Surrounded by trees that prevented the sun (when peeking out between clouds) from baking us, we meandered gently down river, silence broken only by birds chirping and an occasional, “Did you see that large turtle? And the babies?..I see the mile marker!” The entire 4+ hours on the water only two other kayakers passed by. The dark waters prevented viewing fish, but bubbles and ripples demonstrated their presence.
There were not many places to beach the kayaks for a break but we came across two clearings. The first stopover the guys peed. At the second rest stop we unpacked snacks and refueled our bodies.
|The river widens, the kayakers tire, clouds darken |
and threaten rain.
The last mile clouds darkened and raindrops plopped into the water and onto our bodies. But it never became a torrent, and by the time we arrived at the end of our journey the rain ceased.
The ride back to company headquarters travelled paved roads through forest, the town of Hammonton, and the pine barrens– the blueberry capital of the world, passing fields covered with ripening blueberry bushes. Migrant laborers worked the fields, harvesting berries by hand. A stark contrast – Haitian workers toiling the fields, American retirees returning from a recreational outing on the river.
I am fortunate, but sometimes forget how blessed my life is.
Sometimes we must look outside our own backyards
to realize how big the world is and how blessed we are.
- Eugene Nathaniel Butler