The unforgettable canoe trip
... marriages are tested in many ways
by Jeanne Maure
Editors note: The author of this adventure story is a long-time Melrose resident, who is a frequent visitor at the Milano Senior Center. She described this escapade to one of the SilverStringers, who encouraged her to submit the story for publication in the "Melrose Mirror"
My husband and I rarely spoke of our unforgettable weekend canoe trip down the Delaware River. The pictures Dick took as a reminder of the trip are what makes it so unforgettable.
One morning in July 1978, Dick was reading our local paper, The Bucks County Courier Times, when his attention was drawn to an item describing an up-coming canoe trip. I was in the laundry room when I heard, "Jeanne, come here! Listen to this! A weekend canoe trip down the Delaware River sponsored by the Bucks County Recreation Department working out of the Churchville Nature Center, and it's free!" I listened to this and thought, here we go with one of his cockamamie ideas again.
Dick was raised owning his own canoe that he enjoyed paddling up and down the Pennypack Creek near where his home was located. I, on the other hand, was raised in the city where canoes were hard to come by on a city street of row houses. Besides, I had no interest in a canoe trip down the Delaware River or any other river. I did not swim and was not fond of the water. When I was hesitant with this information he said, "Oh come on, Jeanne, this sounds as though it could be fun!" I went along with it and attended an orientation meeting the Friday evening before the day we were to leave.
The meeting was conducted by two delightful, laid-back young men, Wayne and Chris. In attendance were several couples with their sons and two young ladies. We were told the canoe, paddles, and life jackets would be provided for a small fee of $15.00, but, of course we were to bring our own sleeping gear and food. What remained of our food, after we had eaten, was to be completely disposable, because there were no facilities for disposal of garbage on the island where we were to spend the night. The group seemed congenial and I began to feel relaxed - perhaps I may even enjoy it.
The two "fearless leaders," as Dick nicknamed our guides, went on to explain that the one sitting in the bow of the canoe should watch for white water 'V's. Some 'V's would look like a 'V' and others would be inverted 'V's. If you see a 'V' with white water on either side of it, you could be sure there was a good-sized rock lying just at the surface of the water. With one 'V' you would steer to the left and the other to the right or vice versa, I can't remember which. In either case, you dont want to hit the rock. We were also told that we would glide over a small waterfall. At this point, I was beginning to get butterflies in my stomach and I attempted to get Dick's attention, but would he respond? Indeed not! Sheets of paper with instructions and pertinent information were handed to us as we left the building, with a reminder to meet there the next day at 6:00 a.m. sharp.
Dick made light of the 'V's as we drove home, saying, "Didn't George Washington cross the Delaware in the same area, in a light boat, and it didn't turn over or sink!" The Delaware River is more shallow and tranquil that far north of Philadelphia. We stopped at the market on the way home for cold cuts, chicken and salad makings. Dick packed the pup tent and sleeping bags while I fried chicken, hard-boiled eggs and made sandwiches.
I went to bed feeling more at ease, but about 5:00 a.m. we were awakened by a violent thunderstorm. My first re-action was "I am not sitting in a canoe in the middle of the Delaware River in a thunderstorm!" Unfortunately, the storm subsided and we left for the Nature Center. Members of our group were milling about, but they were not the couples we had met the night before - something was wrong! There were fathers with their sons and two young girls who, we found out later, were nurses from St. Mary's Hospital. I mentioned my observation to Dick and he replied, "The mothers probably chickened out." There was not much I could do about it now, so off we went. Dick spoke to the fathers later on and asked them why their wives had not come. One man said, "Oh, she had no intention of coming; she doesn't like sports such as canoeing. That's for fathers and their sons." So much for family fun!
We drove our own cars to the Point Pleasant Canoe Rental where a huge parking lot accommodated the vehicles. A bus was ready to take us to Easton, Pennsylvania, our embarkation point. The canoes were piled on top of the bus to be portaged to our destination. The bus took the scenic route, winding along River Road that followed the Delaware River. It was a beautiful summer morning riding through parts of Bucks and Northampton counties. The early morning storm made everything seem fresh.
Upon arriving at Easton, we readied the canoe with our supplies, donned our life jackets, and prepared to shove off. Our "fearless leaders" had a few words to say to Dick and me. They suggested I sit in the bow of the canoe, acting as a lookout for those strange 'V's. I wondered if I resembled the carved figure built into the bow of the old sailing vessels known as a "figurehead."
We paddled and paddled for fourteen miles before stopping on the side of the river for lunch. I was not an experienced paddler and Dick was getting the brunt of it. He complained that his arms were aching. I don't think I was paddling as much as I should have, but then again I was busy looking for the 'V's.
The young people seemed to paddle with much greater ease compared to Dick and me. The Dads were about in their forties, their sons - eleven to thirteen. The two nurses were in their early twenties, and Dick and I were in our middle fifties. Maybe that was the reason for our weariness.
I was still apprehensive about the 'V's even though I was doing fairly well in identifying them. The small waterfall had not as yet appeared, and our "fearless leaders" would only say, "We will let you know in due time." My question was: is their idea of small the same as my idea of small?
It was thirteen miles more before we arrived at the tiny island, in the middle of the Delaware River, for our dinner and overnight stay. My menu for dinner turned out to be all wrong. The chicken bones and leftover salad did not burn in the campfire. We had to place them in a plastic bag and hang the bag from a high branch of a tree so the critters would not raid our campsite. Later on we had to carry that plastic bag of garbage all the way back to the canoe rental place, just because I did not have sense enough to take food wrapped in a substance that could be consumed in the campfire. A posted sign on the island read, "Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but your foot prints." The sign was probably an environmentalist's delight; had I had seen that sign before I planned my menu, I may have done it differently.
Dick ate very little chicken (no salad) and crawled into the pup tent with his legs from his knees down extended out beyond the flap of the tent. We had misjudged the size of a pup tent that was really meant for children -- not two adults. I cleaned up and talked with the guides as they built the camp fire. It was getting dark, the fire was blazing and this body was weary. Dick had spread the sleeping bags on the floor of the tent and was sleeping on top. I crawled in beside him and his snoring sounded laborious. Perhaps it was the roots we were sleeping on because they were the circumference of a young sapling. We felt them right through the double sleeping bags. However, falling asleep was easy since I was so tired as I listened to the strains of "Green Sleeves" played ever so softly on the recorder by one of our guides.
Sunday morning could not come soon enough because the thought of sleeping in our own bed Sunday night was a joy. Breakfast consisted of one hard-boiled egg each, and the shells were added to our garbage bag hanging high in a tree. There was no "wake up and smell the coffee" -- we could have used the caffeine not to mention a shower and change of clothes. Dick packed the canoe and we shoved off for the last seven miles of the trip.
We paddled for about five miles when the young ones noticed people swinging from a long rope and jumping into the river on the New Jersey side. Our guides spoke up, saying, there is a picnic and swimming area where we could stop to eat our lunch and have a swim. They also told us there was a ledge quite a way up looking out over the river named the "Devil's Table." They did not advise anyone to try it - there had been some very bad accidents with college kids having drinking parties there and falling off.
I don't recall Dick and I jumping up and down for joy, but after all, we were the older minority. While we ate our sandwiches with the bread slightly stale, the cheese hard on the edges and the meat starting to curl, Dick asked, "Is there a steak home in the freezer?" The young folks talked of their swim at lunch break, while Dick and I spoke of a hot shower with a Bengay rub to follow. The last two miles were sheer anticipation of home.
The river was very calm and, guess what? We hardly felt the dip of the waterfall. I'll bet they were pulling our leg!
Our neighbors were having a family cookout when we pulled into our driveway. We knew the family very well and were invited to join then for dinner. While we were eating, I overheard Dick telling a group of men about our canoe trip as though we we had one of the greatest trips in our entire married life. I did not say anything at that time, but I thought, we will discuss this trip when I am rubbing his back and shoulders with Bengay tonight.
During the remaining years of our married life, the words "canoe trip" never entered our conversations.
January 4, 2002