Following last year’s unexpected weather events and resulting lake paddle instead of the planned river paddle, I think everyone was pretty excited to get back to moving water for the Juniata River Sojourn this year. It was time for the Frankstown Branch on the 3-year rotation cycle, though there were some changes to the previous itinerary for this section of water.
We used to do a couple days on the Frankstown Branch, then move over to the Little Juniata for a day, and finish in Huntingdon on the Mainstem. However, the nature of the Little Juniata is much different from the other rivers—it’s tighter and more technical, and is conducive to a shorter, more maneuverable boat instead of the longer recreational and touring kayaks that many people tend to bring on the Sojourn for the many flatwater sections. And so, as the new organizers of the event, Rothrock Outfitters decided to eliminate the Little Juniata day, instead extending the trip another half day to Mapleton.
Maps I made of the 2015 Sojourn route.
This year there were about 50 participants, mostly familiar faces, but with a few first-timers. Most people arrived Friday afternoon into the evening, in order to set up camp and hang out. The Sojourn is as much a social event as it is a paddling event, if not moreso, and the evening campfire is always a highlight.
I arrived at the Sojourn after work on Friday evening, after grabbing ice and some pizza for Evan and others who were already out there. As I was driving west on Rt. 22, I heard the storm warnings on the radio, and arrived at camp just before the rain arrived. Along with the usual suspects, I found two familiar faces I didn’t expect to see this weekend—Don, an old paddling buddy of the guys at the shop that I’ve crossed paths with a few times in the past but never really got to spend a whole lot of time with, and Luis, an old friend of my family who I haven’t seen since I was in high school.
I caught up with those I hadn’t seen in a year or more while getting cozy under an easy-up to escape the precipitation. The night wore on, the rain finally stopped, and we built a fire.
The first evening was my favorite, mainly because I wasn’t tired yet. After a couple nights of too little sleep and days spent in the sun, I start to fade fast, and staying up past midnight becomes out of the question (I really wish I wasn’t one of those people who need a lot of sleep). But Friday night, I was one of the last to go to bed. I slept in the back of the yellow van, on the cushy bench seat that is the perfect length for my 5’3″ body. This spot has become a favorite resting place for events involving Big Yellow.
I awoke with dawn in the morning. It was still cloudy, but already warm. These next few days were supposed to be hot, humid, and stormy. The forecast was right, though the rain always waited until we were off the water and setting up tents to grace us with its presence.
Because of our proximity to the Lower Trail (by proximity I mean we were right on it), a rails-to-trails project connecting our put-in with the campsite and beyond, sojourners were encouraged to bring bikes to ride to the put-in while the outfitter shuttled their boats and gear. There only ended up being 6 of us that took advantage of this opportunity, despite the easy ride.
Jeff and I brought our fixies, which were super fun on the flat trail. The comfortable pace was a fast one, and we just cruised along, chatted, and tried to avoid hitting chipmunks that would often dart into our path.
The morning went smoothly—there were no vehicle issues (which tends to be a norm on any sojourn), and we actually put on the water on schedule (which never happens). The water was low though, and it did take us longer than expected to reach the lunch spot at Williamsburg, and subsequently to finish at the end of the day. But it wasn’t nearly as bad as that infamous day on the Little Juniata years ago, when it felt like all we did was walk down the river and pull boats off of rocks.
That evening, the rain held off for the most part and we got the lawn games out. Life-sized Jenga was a huge hit! I actually got to set up my hammock, which I’d just found after spending a year thinking that it was lost forever (it somehow ended up in Houck’s truck on the sojourn last year), and spent the night in it without getting rained on. It turned out this was the only night of the trip I could do this, so I’m glad I took advantage of the opportunity.
As soon as we pulled off the water at Edgewater Acres, our camping spot for the night, it began to storm, and it never really stopped for very long. We watched lightning flash over the cornfield as we downed cans of Perpetual IPA. Later that evening, I joined in a tasting of Penni’s homemade wine, which is a sojourn tradition. The dandelion was delightful, but the banana not so much.
On Monday morning, we had a lot of flat water paddling before portaging the Warrior Ridge hydroelectric dam at lunchtime. There is a path to make the portage relatively easy, but it is muddy, rutted, washed out, and in need of some TLC. We are in the process of trying to fix it up a bit, and during the lunch break, sojourners helped to clean up some of the trash along the path while we carried train after train of boats.
We ended up in Huntingdon, and after beaching boats at Riverside Park, there was a swarm of people back to the water for a dip. Later that evening, we all headed over to Rothrock Outfitters for an open house, and Boxer’s Cafe for food and live music by Nick Miller.
My sojourn experience ended on Monday night because I had to work elsewhere on Tuesday, but the group paddled another half day to end up in Mapleton to complete the journey. Next year, we’ll be starting in Mapleton and heading all the way to Duncannon.
For more info on the Juniata River Sojourn, visit the Rothrock Outfitters website.