Many attendees at this year’s 24th Schuylkill River Sojourn make the journey to spend time in nature, appreciate the beauty of the river, make new friends and reconnect with old friends from past stays.
For Mark Cholewa and his son Andrew, it was a time to bond over the long Father’s Day weekend.
Mark, 65, of Sinking Spring, has participated in 22 of the visits and has been joined by Andrew, 30, of Wernersville, since Andrew was 10 and made his first trip on the river.
Though they share the excitement of adventure, there’s a slight generational difference: Mark goes old school in his long, green canoe, adorned with lots of stickers from past voyages, while Andrew prefers a sleek, colorful kayak.
For Mark, the stay started with seeing the river.
“Having been born and raised in Reading, I never knew much about the river – just that stretch,” he said. “And then when I heard about this trip, I thought it would be a great way to learn more about the whole thing and say I paddled it.”
Both are looking forward to attending the event and doing at least partial travel like they are doing this year.
“It’s something to do with my dad and over the years I’ve met a lot of people and become almost like family to them too,” Andrew said.
“There are a lot of kids Drew’s age that have been on the river with him every year,” he said. “There were a lot of those kids, and now they’re young adults, and they still like it.
“You meet so many people – friendships and relationships with a lot of people who just keep coming back. “Someone described it as a summer camp for adult children. So it was.”
The stay had a kickoff event in Schuylkill Haven Friday night and set out on Saturday for the final destination of Philadelphia’s Boathouse Row, a meandering, 113-mile, seven-day journey, according to Elaine Schaefer, executive director of the Schuylkill River Greenway. the sponsor of the event.
The flotilla averages about 15 to 18 miles per day.
“This year about 250 people are taking part,” said Schaefer. “On the river we have about 125 max each day for safety reasons, so the mix of people changes every day. But we have 65 people doing the whole trip and camping every night.”
The Sojourn landed in Port Clinton at Jim Dietrich Park in the township of Muhlenberg on Sunday evening and left Monday morning to explore the Reading section of the river.
This section of the trip is known for its Crazy Hat Day, which helps alleviate some of the intensity of the rapids at Kelly’s Lock, which is one of the most daunting sections of the river for beginners.
Those who don’t have much experience on the river are guaranteed to become more intermediate beginners after the Kelly’s Lock experience.
The group had lunch at Riverfront Park and then entered the river with the Allegheny Aqueduct and Beidler House in Gibraltar as day destinations, a distance of 16.3 miles where they will camp for the night.
The stay concludes Friday after stops in Pottstown, Mont Clare, West Conshohocken and finally Philadelphia.
“We have people from 13 different states — Michigan, Hawaii, New Jersey — from everywhere,” Schaefer said. “Some people come here with friends and family. Many people come alone and make many friends this week.
“It’s a really fun, tight-knit community that connects on the river.”