From Canoeing in Pennsylvania to a Wedding in Rochester, New York
From Canoeing in Pennsylvania to a Wedding in Rochester, New York: June 19, 2019 – June 23, 2019
Wed, June 19, 2019: Off to the “Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania”
A month ago, after the B-16 Rally on the Susquehanna River, we hiked down to the Pine Creek and saw this beautiful, fast flowing river cutting through Pine Creek Gorge, with a rails-to-trails bike/hiking path running along side it. We decided that we must get back here soon to canoe, bike or hike. Since we have a wedding to attend this weekend just a few hours north of Pine Creek, in Rochester, New York, we decide this is the week to do it. Also, it has been raining so much this spring and early summer, we figure that we will get a good run on the river. Mike has been in touch with Pine Creek Outfitters, where we will rent a canoe and they assure us that the water is sufficiently high, unusual for June. If the water is too high, we will bike or hike. To make packing easier, we decide to rent a canoe and/or bikes, but still, packing for all these contingencies took more time than we expected. We set out at about 2PM, heading for Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, about five-hours east of Cleveland. We are driving CruzMobile, a luxurious, loaded, extended length Advanced RV rental.
At Snow Shoe, Pennsylvania, we stop at a rest area picnic table to eat kale salad and smoked salmon from home. Near Lock Haven, we get off I-80 north onto Rt. 220 to Rt. 44, just west of Jersey Shore. We follow Pine Creek north on Rt. 414, a narrow road through the Tiadaghton State Forest, with several single lane bridges, hamlets and riverside cabins. We pull into Rattlesnake Rock Access Area, where the outfitters will pick us up in the morning. We level the camper and settle in for the night. Before dawn, we are both awakened by diesel engines from trucks pulling into the parking area and we feel a bit uneasy, but in the morning, we realize it was friendly fishermen getting an early start.
Thursday, June 20, 2019: Paddling Pine Creek
In the morning, we hike about three miles on the rail-to-trail and get a good look at Pine Creek. It is high, brown and rushing. At 10AM, Pine Creek Outfitters pick us up, along with a couple about our age who are biking the trail and a young couple who are rubber ducking the river. At the outfitters headquarters in Ansonia on Rt. 6, we learn the water level is above four feet, almost flood stage, and they recommend renting wet suits. They explain that if we need to help other boaters we will need to get into the water, still a chilly 60 degrees. About 11:30AM, we set out in our farmer john wet suits (full body, long legs, but no sleeves), paddling an Old Town Discovery canoe in excellent condition. The air temperature is about 70 degrees, the sky overcast, and showers are predicted.
The water is “pushy,” high and fast, but we quickly get into a paddling rhythm. A mist is rising from the river, birds are singing, and a river otter is swimming ahead of us. This takes us back to younger days when every summer we did an adventuresome canoe trip into the Canadian wilderness, usually in Algonquin Provencal Park in Ontario. Our paddling skills come back to us. At this water level, few rocks are exposed and the rapids are mostly washed out, but there are still some big waves. Rather than plunging down into them and getting swamped, we back paddle to rise up over them and stay mostly dry. Biting flies cover the backs of our life jackets and find the skin left exposed by the wet suits, but the scenery is worth it. Paddling through this 1000-foot deep gorge, we see many waterfalls tumbling off the steep sides, large rock outcroppings and deep, dark forest on either side. We scare up two bald eagles and get a good look at one that lands in a tree just above our heads. We get a few short rain showers. It is hard to get out on the flooded banks for a rest, but we pull over for a late packed lunch and the couple in the rubber duckies soon pulls over, too. We chat with them again about an hour later when we pull over for another stretch at Tiadaghton.
At the Blackwell Access area, our last stop, we read the plaques honoring the volunteers in the Babb Creek Watershed Association who led the restoration of Babb Creek, which joins Pine Creek here. Surface mining from the 1950’s into the 1980’s led to acid pollution of the streams and creeks, so that by 1990 Babb Creek was dead and sterile, with no fish. Because of the efforts by this volunteer group, plus the state and federal agencies, the Antrim Mining Co., and academia in the area, diversion wells and treatment plants were built and abandoned mine land was re-vegetated. Now, wild trout and other types of fish are thriving.
At 3:45PM we pull out at Rattlesnake Rock, about 20 miles from our put in, and as the outfitter instructed us, we store the canoe, paddles and wet suits up the bank. We make the short hike up the road to the access area where we left the camper. Our muscles tell us that we had a good day of paddling and we are proud of our accomplishment.
We drive up Rt. 414 to Rt. 287 north to the town of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, a charming little town, with a Main Street lit by gaslights. We have burgers and beers at The Roost, a popular local pub. At the downtown Penn Wells Hotel, 150 years old, the manager tells us that for the best breakfast the locals go to Harlan’s Family Restaurant, a few blocks away. We go in and tell Stephanie, the owner, that we want to eat breakfast there in the morning, and ask if we may we park our self-contained camper overnight in the back, where there are about five parking spaces in a gravel lot. She says, “of course,” and directs us to a spot out of the way of the garbage truck, which will be picking up in the morning. Right next to us, there is a fast running, concrete sluice, so we enjoy a “water feature” in our downtown camping site.
Friday, June 21, 2019: Wellsboro, PA; Elmira, NY; Montour Falls and Watkins Glen, NY
At 6:30AM, we go into Harlan’s and Harlan himself is having breakfast with a few old buddies at the table next to ours and they ask us how we slept. Apparently, our camping out back was the subject of local talk. More men arrive to make a table of 10 apparent regulars. They talk about the local news, including a neighbor’s recent suicide, and then complain about the continuing rain. Mike, never missing a chance to get some insight into people’s political views, asks if they think all this rain is a sign of man-induced climate change. He gets one answer, “It’s just rain.” When Mike asks about the restoration of Babb Creek, they refer him to the head of the Watershed Association, who is sitting at the end of the table. A thin, bearded old guy, under a too large baseball cap, who describes himself as “just a hay farmer,” he surprises us with his expert knowledge, as he explains that the old diversion wells and treatment plants were not designed to handle this much precipitation. They are working hard to come up with better solutions.
After breakfast, we head north to Elmira, New York, my hometown. We visit the family graves at St. Peter and Paul’s Cemetery and then stop at my former family home. As we pull up, the current owners come out on the porch, and when I explain who I am, they invite us in. Sally and Doug show us around the first floor and out the back, all of which looks great, even my mother’s old wallpaper in the living room.
From Elmira we make the 30-minute drive north to Montour Falls, where we decide to stop for a coffee and ask for directions to the falls. We turn around on Main Street and there are the roaring, cascading, frothy falls, more than 15 stories tall and looking like they should be wiping out Main Street. At the coffee shop, we are treated to good lattes, scones and the history of the area. We walk up to the falls and around this quaint little town.
We head up to Watkins Glen State Park, about 10 minutes away. At the entrance, the guard tells us that the Gorge Trail opened just two hours ago, after being closed for flooding from so much rain. We hike the “challenging 3-mile” Gorge Trail up through Couch’s Staircase, Cavern Cascade and Jacob’s Ladder to the Upper Entrance, enjoying many plunging waterfalls, some we could walk behind; stone stairs covered in ferns; and, plunge pools and lookouts. I came here as a kid for picnics, but today I have a better appreciation for this natural wonder.
At 5PM, in Rochester, New York, we are at the parking lot for ARTISANworks, the site for tonight’s rehearsal dinner party. This is a 40,000 square foot art space in a renovated factory building, which gives space to regional artists to foster their creative development. Its eclectic collection includes about 500,000 items. They offer a service of helping select and then loaning artwork for display in other spaces and businesses. Art work for the new Advanced RV office space in the future? The party is great and afterward we drive to our friends’ house and stay the night in their neighbor’s driveway.
Saturday, June 22, 2019: Camping at the Wedding Site
This morning we walk from our friends’ home in Irondequoit to Durand Eastman Park on Lake Ontario. The water is so high there is little beach. We have to hustle to make it to the wedding in Churchville, a rural town west of Rochester, at Mills Creek Golf Club. We shower and dress in the camper, as people are streaming by to get to the wedding. It is a sweet outdoor wedding, the first day without rain in a long time. That night, with permission, we stay in the camper overnight in the parking lot of the Golf Club.
Sunday, June 23, 2019: One More Family Connection and then Home
For breakfast, we meet my sister and her husband, who live in the Rochester suburb of Brighton, at The Breakfast Club in downtown Churchville and head home from there. CruzMobile has performed perfectly, making this trip comfortable and carefree. From canoeing Pine Creek, to visiting my home town, to hiking the gorge at Watkins Glen, to celebrating the wedding of the son of dear friends, we’ve packed a lot into this five day “camper” trip and feel grateful for all the meaningful connections we’ve made.