Canoeing down the Potomac

My friend and co-worker, Jay, went on a terrific  vacation in April. It’s his annual “male -bonding” canoe trip with some of his buddies.  This year was a little different because he was about to become a dad so there was some debate as to whether he should go or not. Finally after getting the doctor and his significant other to sign off on the trip, he headed off to rough it for a week.

From the beginning we planned to share his experience with everyone right here on Aroundustyroads but life and a stork intervened. Before I had time to sit down with Jay and get his stories he became a proud First- Time Papa to a bouncing baby boy.

“AJ”  or Jay’s mini-me, of course took center stage and rightly so. The birth of a child is a wonderful event and eclipses anything else that may have come before even more so when it’s the first. I’m happy to report that the whole family is doing well; Mom, little AJ and Papa Jay.

The consequence of the happy arrival was, however, that writing Jay’s vacation story slipped to the back burner. It’s now been almost 2 months since little AJ came into this world and Jay is settling into his role as Dad. He’s now ready to share his Virginia/West Virginia odyssey and raft trip. So without more ado, Heeeere’s Jay!

DR: So Jay, tell me about this rafting trip you took. As I understand it this is an annual trip. Is it always the same guys?

Jay: Before we get started I just want to mention that we’re not on rafts. We use canoes. It’s the same group of guys but not everyone can make it every year. We’ve been going on these man trips for 11 years. The most that have gone was 12 , the fewest, 4. This trip there was 8 of us. Most of us served together in the military or are friends of one of us.

DR: How long is the trip?

Jay: The trip lasts 4 days. We all met up on Thursday night in PawPaw West Virginia. The canoes are arranged for through an outfitter, 2 men to a canoe so this year we had 4 canoes. We put into the river Friday morning. We float along spending about 6 hours a day on the river. We usually try to camp on the islands in the river so as not to disturb the wildlife. This year because of the height of the water we camped on the Maryland side of the river. We’re very careful to take out any trash. We believe in packing everything out. Leave only footprints. 🙂

Whenever you tell people  you’re going canoeing on the Potomac they think of Washington D.C. but the Potomac is a long river. It winds through the Shenandoah Valley. It travels through a state park and is part of the National Parks system. It’s pretty rugged and remote. We take guns with us for protection from animals. There’s black bear and coyotes and one trip we even saw a mountain lion. I think they call them catamount in that area.

The wildlife is a big part of the trip. On the trip 2 years ago we saw two deer swim the river and climb a bank that was more cliff than bank. I ‘d estimate the incline was 80 degrees! That’s how steep it was and they climbed it! When they jumped into the river they practically landed in our canoe. We had to back paddle in a hurry. We’ve seen hawks and bald eagles too.

We make a stop at Little Orleans to pick up supplies. You may have heard of it.  It’s located on the Maryland side of the river and it’s home to a  motorcycle  rally. That annual rally is called the “Sturgis of the East”. Any way we pick up our supplies and have a quick burger then it’s back on the river. We’ve been coming  here for so many years that they always remember us.

DR: Speaking of supplies, what do you guys eat while your on your trip? Do you use camp stoves or do you use a campfire?

Jay. We eat pretty good. We cook over the campfire but we don’t skimp on supplies. We have steaks or chicken. We make instant mashed potatoes. This year one of the wives sent a pasta dish along. We put that in a pot over the fire to heat it up. We aren’t angels though. It is a “man-trip” so we have beer and maybe a shot or two but we don’t drink on the river. We keep our heads about us. Mostly we use the shots to toast special events in our lives. This year a lot of it was toasting “Jay Dawg” and his new “little pup”. 🙂

Over time we’ve accumulated more gear. When we first started out we had a tent and sleeping bags. Now we have cots and so on. After all, we’re getting older…or the ground is getting harder.

Over the years we’ve canoed the upper Potomac and the lower and some of the tributaries. We’ve made the trip anytime from the first weekend in April to as late as the 3rd weekend in May so we’ve seen the river in snow, rain, flood stage and drought. We’ve been hot and we’ve been cold but no matter what it’s been a great experience.

Just before we reach Hancock, West Virginia there’s a short stretch of rapids. I’d say they are probably around a class 3 depending on how high the river is. Then we reach Hancock and that’s where we pull out. The end of the line.

DR: How do you get back to your vehicles in Pawpaw?

Jay: The outfitter we hired meets us, packs up the canoes and brings us back.

DR: In the pictures you showed me you were in a tunnel. What was that all about?

Jay: That’s a tunnel over  the old canal. It actually runs under a mountain. It’s the Chesapeake & Ohio canal sometimes known as the “Grand Old Ditch”. We’d seen that tunnel every year but we had never explored it. This year we decided to walk it when we all got together on Thursday night. The tunnel is 3118 feet and we walked the whole thing that night.

The canal itself runs for around 184 miles starting in the Washington D.C. area. George Washington was a big advocate of using waterways to connect the eastern seaboard. John Quincy Adams presided over the ground breaking ceremony on July 4, 1828!

DR: Wow that’s really historic.

Jay: There’s a lot of history in the area. It seems it’s played a big part in the country’s history from colonial times through the Civil War and now it preserves some beautiful, un-touched wilderness.

DR: I can see why you make it an annual event. It sounds like something that would be hard to miss.

Jay: I try not to miss it. Once the little guy is big enough to go, I’ll take him along too.

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DR: Jay, I want to thank you for sharing your story with us and your great pictures. It makes me want to go on a trip like that. It’s been years since I’ve gone camping or canoeing. Good times!

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