Hart of the Issue: “Let That Sink In”

By John M. Hart, III, Esq.

The summer is finally here and in full force. The days are getting longer and certainly hotter.  Kids roam the streets looking for ice cream trucks, stand in line on Blakely for some Italian ice, and coordinate meet-ups at their lucky friend’s house that has a pool, and when all else fails, they turn to natural water sources wherever they can find them.

And what links the ages together… we all try to stay cool during the summer months as grownups, too.  I’ve tried every trick in the book, everything stated above, and through my travels I’ve visited most waterways our great Northeastern Pennsylvania has to offer. One favorite pastime of mine is kayaking.  

Kayaking is an all-around great hobby, you get exercise, you get to experience the beautiful outdoors, and yes, you get too cool off on those exceptionally hot days. I started the hobby back in the early 2000s when I interned at a downtown law firm. I remember driving my boss, mentor, and still close friend, up to Towanda to meet with clients he was helping during the infancy of the fracking boom in our area.  

He was brainstorming to think of ways to help a friend of his raise money for spinal cord research as we drove along the endless bends of the Susquehanna River on our scenic venture to Bradford County. That’s when it hit us… kayaking. At that time, neither of us had ever tried it before, so we stopped by a local outfitter to give it a go.  

If I recall correctly, he was bitten by a spider, and we were both exhausted because we paddled upriver for our test run that day. But despite the hurdles, we recognized it was doable and so we started planning our first kayak fundraiser.  

We got a river map and marked the spots where to camp overnight and created a kayak run that went 75 miles, starting in Towanda and ending in Pittston. It took us four days. After all the planning was done and we got the first trip in the books, we did it for 10 years straight! 

While we ran the event for a decade, and like all good things, it came to an end, my love for kayaking remained. I tackled all of the big-name rivers in our area, including, and regrettably, the mighty Lehigh River.  

You see, it was on the Lehigh River, where I came the closest to meeting my maker and cutting my otherwise enjoyable life short. I’ll never forget that day either. We had heard of dam breaks on larger rivers to keep a good flow of water throughout the summer for recreational purposes among other reasons.  

And on our trip, we were encountered by a game commissioner or forest ranger before we set off.  Hesitant of the aggressive appearance of the Lehigh, we asked him if it was safe.  His words… “there’s no dam release this weekend.  You could float down on an air mattress if you wanted to.”  Boy, do I wish I got his name that day because I would’ve had some choice words with him after the experience that ensued.

That godforsaken river was not the right venue for the “touring/recreational” kayaks that my brother-in-law and I brought for the day. We both have long 14-foot kayaks, and if you ever get the nose spun to point anywhere but forward, you better start praying and hope for the best… which is exactly what I did that day. 

I came around a bend that had a huge influx of water rushing towards a narrow rocky section of the river and the nose of my kayak veered to the left, exposing the broad side of my boat to the rushing water. The immense force of the cascading water knocked me out of the boat and the now, water-filled vessel weighing thousands of pounds, pinned me up against a rock. I was a goner.  I was a quarter mile ahead of my group, and they couldn’t get to me fast enough.

 So how am I writing this story? Through the miles and miles of uninhabited nature we paddled through that day, my near-death experience happened to occur right in front of a group of professional water-rafting tour guides who were on the bank of the river gathering their gear. They saw me in distress and jumped into the river and the three of us were able to move the burdensome water-filled kayak and set me free. I lost my driver’s license, some cash, a croc, and a click wheel iPod (look it up if you’re a younger generation reading this).

Fortunately, that trip didn’t discourage my kayaking hobby, but it definitely taught me to appreciate larger types of boats a bit more.

Now that I’m older and arguably wiser, I get to pick and choose a bit more carefully where I want to go to cool off.  Through personal experience, I prefer places that don’t risk death!  But that’s not always the case.  Because no matter what equipment we have, no matter how big a boat we sit in, we have to be reminded that we aren’t infallible.  

Until the day that our bodies grow gills, and we can breathe underwater naturally, we have to be safe when we are trying to cool off via recreational activities around bodies of water.

I was lucky that day on the Lehigh River, but we have all heard of tragedies that have happened where people weren’t as lucky and may have lost someone close to them.  We have also all heard of people getting injured when playing near bodies of water.  I hope everyone gets to enjoy their summer in the most fun and safe way but if an accident does ever happen, be smart, call Hart.  

Leave a Reply