You pick a route around each long narrow island, left side or right, whichever looks more interesting, never mind the guidebooks’ suggestion. It is usually the narrower of the two sides, where you can find whitetails coming down for a drink or a bald eagle spying a fish to spear for the young ins.’ You might have to get out of your boat and line your canoe over the shallows, slide around the slimy round river rocks in your Crocs with the worn off tread, but it’s worth it, it’s always an adventure. Minnows dart in the shadows, a river snake wiggles by, a kingfisher squawks, and long river grasses look as if they are hairs and the water is combing out the tangles.
The Allegheny River is big water, with dependable water levels for paddling as it is released from the mighty Kinzua Reservoir upriver. For 45 miles, this wild and scenic river travels through the beautiful Allegheny National Forest, the only national forest in our state, located in the northwestern corner. But although it is big water, it often doesn’t feel that way, mainly because of the islands… of which there are over 60 in this stretch. Some are federally protected for there are magnificent examples of old river bottom trees on these islands- with huge many hundred year old willows and sycamores with great outstretched limbs to keep you company at your campsite.
You can pick any island that you want and camp anywhere that you want, and have the place all to yourself. It is great fun for a handful of boys, ages 13 to 20- all acting alike- skipping stones, body surfing through the riffles, swinging off rope swings, catching frogs and crayfish, just what you would expect of a kid during a glorious summer day, what boys should be doing outdoors.
Our family traveled to the Allegheny River to paddle down to Tionesta with the Holliday family- two canoes stuffed with coolers of frozen juice, dry bags of gear, super soaker guns and bailing buckets for serious water battles. There was a lot of “fighting” going on and as a result, not a lot of sweating.
We floated past vacationers lounging on inner tubes just enjoying the cooling waters. We passed folks sitting in the water on lounge chairs chatting it up with each other, a beer in hand. We saw grandparents with youngsters kicking back in little motorboats, reeling in fish. No one anywhere was using their thumbs to text.
We made campfires and roasted marshmallows and baked apples and set off fireworks and got up to pee in the middle of the night and was amazed at the white glow surrounding our camp on all three sides- as the ¾ moon lit up the fog- then we knew we were living on an island.
We spent three days paddling the Allegheny River but on our way north, we stopped at my friend Hop’s home- his swinging bridge sanctuary on the First Fork of the Sinnemahoning (see my blog of a spring gobbler hunt with Hop) for an overnighter. He told us we had to first go to his secret swimming hole in a deep hemlock forest along Lick Island Run. We jumped off a mossy rock into this deep freezing cold water and let out a scream as it froze our brains. We HAD to first do this because Hop was making us a special dinner- he had prepared an elk & vegetable meat pie in his homemade crust and was cooking it in a Dutch oven over a campfire. We had to be soaked and chilled from our swim in order to handle cooking over a fire. He scraped hot coals over the top of the lipped lid and underneath and soon we enjoyed a delicious meal. For breakfast the next morning, he fried up fresh elk scrabble, and made waffles with organic berries and his own maple syrup. Doesn’t everybody live like this? And that was just the start of our little adventure.
On the way home from the Allegheny River, we realized we were driving right through Cook Forest state park where some of the most magnificent old growth forest is located in the entire eastern seaboard. We stopped abruptly for a quick hike through the Forest Cathedral on the Longfellow Trail, walked up through the creek valley with the bursting rhododendron flowers, and topped the day off with a climb up the fire tower, one of the last remaining open ones in the state. We also planned to take in a quick ride on a roller coaster as he motored past Elysburg and Knoebel’s Grove but it was 11 pm and the place was closed- but we were ready for one last adventure!
You don’t need to book an expensive trip to a foreign country to find adventure- just a road trip within our fine state can make that possible. For our family believes like our pal Helen Keller believes, “Life is either a daring adventure , or nothing at all.” Now, we can MORE happily get back to painting houses (the boys) and sitting at a computer (the girl) …until the next time we get rammy and need some lively deviation (probably by next week!)