Boonsboro, MD, paddling on Antietam Creek
Memorial Day Weekend, May 26-28, 2018
Despite a looming thunderstorm forecast, the troop’s second annual paddling trip went ahead as planned. True to its motto though, the troop was ready to tackle any weather by purchasing four big canopies the previous night, just in case. The plan was to take the trip an hour at a time and defer to the river guide as to when we would have to call it for the day.
Saturday morning dawned bright with sunshine, giving us a lot of hope for the trip. The scouts gathered at Andrew Chapel at 6:30 am and left for Devil’s Backbone Park, MD around 7 am. After dropping the scouts and a young adult by the put-in point at the river, the rest of the adults drove ahead and parked the cars at the campground. The scouts were given some kayaking instructions and, after few minutes of practice in the water, went down their first rapid of the day. Fortunately, they seemed to have listened well to the instructions as we had very few “swimmers” on that first rapid!
As usual, the scouts and chaperones were divided into groups to facilitate easier supervision and spacing arrangements as we went into each rapid. There were 2 groups with 15 scouts, 3 adults, and 2 guides each. Some of the scouts (and adults) brought water guns/soakers so even if one did not fall into the water (due to the rapids, rocks, steamers, or friend-inflicted kayak-flipping) one could still get very wet. Luckily, most of us brought our dry bags for our lunches and snacks, otherwise we would have had some very soggy meals.
About halfway down (4 miles), we stopped at an island in the middle of the river, had our lunch, and quite a few of scouts entertained themselves by rock skipping. After about an hour, we continued our journey down the river, with more and successively bigger rapids, culminating at the longest rapid of the day. Group 2 (of which this writer was a part) began exhibiting some lack of listening skills as the day progressed, resulting in less than optimal technique in tackling this last rapid. The scouts were too close to each other going into the rapid and, as a result, there were more than a couple of “swimmers” as it was much harder to control the kayak with the extra “human obstacles” in the river.
On the bright side, the thunderstorms held off so we completed the first day of 8 miles of kayaking. When we arrived at the take-out point by the bank of Rohrbach’s Campground, we found it to be pretty treacherous as it was steep and very slippery. Not only did we have to climb the slippery banks ourselves, we also had to haul our kayaks up and stack them for the following day’s trip. Once that was accomplished, the scouts took their personal and crew gears from the cars and carried them to the campsite where they set up their tents and the patrol canopy. The scouts with water duty collected all the personal water bottles, as well as the patrols’ 5-gallon water jugs, and went with an adult to fill them at the Antietam National Battlefield Visitor Center.
The day was still fairly early so some scouts took naps, others played cards, and some others threw the frisbee and football around. Fortunately, the weather still held beautifully. In fact, according the radar map, our general location was skipped altogether! There were bands of thunderstorms both to the north and to the south of us, but we remained untouched. Dinner was then prepared by the patrols and a fire was built for nighttime enjoyment. Around 10 pm, all of the scouts and adults retired to their tents.
Given the ominous forecast, nighttime drizzle followed by a rain-free morning was certainly a welcome outcome. After a hot breakfast, we went back to the slippery bank to put down our kayaks and once again started paddling in groups. Given the previous day’s antics, the lead guide warned the scouts to stop flipping each other’s kayaks because the day’s rapids would be bigger and closer together than on Day 1. Although it was a shorter trip of only 4 miles, they would learn how to surf the rapids properly by directing the kayak against the rapids.
Both groups stopped at the third to last rapid and we spent about an hour honing our skills in controlling the kayak. We crossed the river from bank to bank in front of the rapids, facing our kayaks against a mini waterfall. Most managed to survive the rapid but a few still flipped over. However, most of the scouts were able to go back to their kayaks with very little assistance. Then we continued on our journey towards the last two rapids of the trip, the biggest and longest ones. The practicing paid off as there were no casualties on the second to last rapid with one exception, this writer herself! She got wedged between 2 rocks that were parallel to the rapid and didn’t know what to do. A guide had to get out of his canoe and push her kayak free and back to the rest of the rapid.
Finally, we got to the last rapid of the day before merging into Potomac River, which looked very calm. However, we were warned to stay close to the bank as the calm river masks a very strong current. There was some concern that some of the kayakers might not have the strength to paddle against it in order to get to the take-out point, which was about 100-200 yards upstream. Like the previous day, the steep bank was very slippery. Nonetheless, the scouts persevered. They climbed the bank, passed up the paddles, hauled their kayaks up, and brought them to the road where the outfitter truck was waiting, finally loading the kayaks on the trailer.
We arrived back at the campground just as dark clouds were looming and the wind started picking up. The thunderstorm came within 30 minutes after we had secured all loose items, taken the cooking gears out from under the canopies, and lowered the canopies to better withstand the wind. Some scouts hunkered inside the tents, some chose to admire the rain under the patrol canopy and played cards. The thunderstorm came and went and, thanks to modern technology, we knew that, once again, the next band of thunderstorms skipped us.
The patrols then started preparing for dinner and played around. Nobody was much inclined to stay up late after two days of kayaking so no fire was built and we turned into bed much earlier than the previous evening. Monday morning greeted us with plenty of sunshine. The scouts woke up at 6:15 am, had a simple breakfast, took down the tents and canopies, packed personal and patrol gears, and loaded everything into the cars. Then we went to Burnside Bridge, the location of a particularly bloody battle between the Confederate and Union soldiers on September 17th, 1862. The lead guides, Mike and Greg, gave a moving reflection about that day. ASM Wilson then continued with a little more discussion on why we observe Memorial Day.
After that, the scouts headed to Moly’s landing to do a “Good Turn”. They mulched the landing area so it will be less slippery for future boaters – at least for this season as the next extreme high water will, for sure, wash away anything that the scouts put down. They were happily rewarded with a stop at Cici’s All You Can Eat pizza buffet before heading back to Andrew Chapel.