She ain’t exactly a thrill ride, and she ain’t always pretty.
And in the past she’s been downright mean.
But the Susquehanna River belongs to the region, and plenty of people love her just the same.
Dozens of them kicked off Riverfest 2014 Friday with a kayak trip, paddling several miles from West Pittston to Nesbitt Park in Wilkes-Barre.
Boaters met in a parking lot near the route’s end where two school buses shuttled them to a private boat access.
This was Herb Wiedlich’s third Riverfest trip on the Susquehanna. His first time, he said, he and his grandson Alex took the six-hour Saturday paddle from Harding, and they’ve been hooked ever since.
“We’ve just been following up every year. We look forward to it,” said Wiedlich, of Kingston.
Alex, 9, made that first trip at just six years old (and he said he wasn’t even scared), and he seems to be counting down the days until 2016, when he said he’ll be ready to go it alone.
But his grandfather is hoping Alex might take the reigns a bit sooner.
“I’m hoping that he can oar for me next year,” Wiedlich said laughing.
The Riverfest trip became something of a family affair two years ago when Alex’s aunt Leigh Ann Wiedlich joined the excursion. She’s said she has since graduated to white water rafting, but said even a relatively calm paddle like the Susquehanna can be quite a work out.
“You definitely felt it for a couple days afterwards,” she said. “It’s a real good workout.”
Take it from an aching reporter, she wasn’t wrong.
The Times Leader put out with Endless Mountain Outfitters led by owner and Water Trail Guide David Buck.
As kayaks floated along, Buck pointed out landmarks, like the site of the Knox Mine Disaster, or — like a scene from the “Wizard of Oz” — a displaced house, crash landed on an island. And alongside mini-history lessons, he provided Susquehanna River news flashes, filling in “anyone who cares” about talks of adding what he called a much-needed boat launch along the route. The nearest public boat access, he said, is miles away in Harding.
In his 10 or 11 years (he said he can’t quite remember) leading the annual trip, he said he’s picked up a thing or two.
But the scenery remains the real attraction. The sometimes lazy Susquehanna allows the paddler ample time to soak up the majestic landscapes that go too often unnoticed when zipping over bridges and highways. Still the current picks up on occasion posing a firm reminder to boaters of the respect the river demands.
The excursion moved largely as a group, with some straggling behind and a few powering ahead as skilled paddlers slalomed about. Megan Mance and Patrick Brown looked like they knew what they were doing, but Mance said her watershoes were responsible for that illusory impression. The waterproof pants didn’t hurt.
“A lot of people badmouth the area and say there aren’t a lot of fun things to do,” said Brown, a Hazleton native who currently lives in Colorado. But the Riverfest kayak trip is proof, he said, that there’s more to do here than waste time in bars.
Mance, of Kingston, and Brown were joined by Mance’s father Val, of Sugarloaf. The Mances said this was their second time on the Susquehanna after their first trip on Father’s Day.
“And now it’s a cool way for all of us to hang out,” Brown added.
The trip concluded in just under two hours, faster than Buck said he anticipated.
“The river’s up,” he said, “and people were paddling and having a good time.”
Buck said he’s currently involved with producing a digital map of the Susquehanna River, so boaters can find their position via GPS.
He said there’s still room available on a four-day river trip, launching from Hunlock Creek next week and featuring music, food and camping. For more information visit www.emheritage.org.
Riverfest continues today with a festival at Nesbitt Park from noon to 5 p.m.