Sycamore Island Canoe Trip

by Dot Procter

Sycamore Islander, August 2001

The author and her husband taste the joys
of the river on their first club outing.
Finally, my first glimpse of Sycamore Island. For several years now, I have seen people boarding "the ferry" and quietly envied them. Today, #163 on the waiting list, I would finally get my chance to ring the bell and take a ride.

As I boarded the ferry, I had the feeling I was back in camp and there were no counselors. It was just me and the other campers. I liked that feeling. No one directed us, or checked us off a list or even greeted us. Like kids, I just asked some fellow campers, "What do we do? Where are the canoes? Where are the paddles and life vests?"

Sherry Pettie and Ann Lucy glide in the shade along the canal.
Walking up to the storage porch and through the rickety screen door, I felt right at home. Yes, I know this place. I have been here many times in my life. I know the smells, the pile of paddles, and the old lockers lined with signs of summer: faded beach towels and drying bathing suits. It was all so familiar as waves of childhood summers flooded my memory -- Maine, New Hampshire, Canada, etc.

With paddles chosen and life vests on, we picked out canoe and Dave greeted us with a counselor's reassurance (maybe an assistant counselor, helpful but still one of us). Soon we had all managed to get our boats into the river, out of the river, and into the canal. And we were on our way.

Paddlers dine chez Lock 8.
Shaded by the overhanging trees and vines, the canal was inviting. Smooth, with a gentle breeze, we comfortably paddled our way towards lock 7. There were six canoes and two kayaks. Dave and Jane were our hosts and guides. Then we had Ann and Sherry, Bill and Jane, Steve, his two sons, and Jennifer and Mike, and Marc and myself in the canoes. Tamar and Paul each had their own kayak.

With yellow, red and blue life vests, various colored shirts and hats, and one yellow and one turquoise kayak, we were a colorful mix, winding our way along the murky water surrounded by a tunnel of green foliage.

Jane and Bill Hill relax near the Virginia shore.
We had our first challenge portaging over Lock 7, but soon continued our dreamy paddle up the canal. At Lock 8 we hauled our boats out and found a shaded grassy spot to eat our picnic lunches.

Now to the river, our next challenge. Navigating through stinging nettles, poison ivy and mud (while admiring the wild bergamot flowering profusely) we all made it safely into the Potomac.

The sun was hot, but the breeze and the water soothed us. We all took on the challenge of the mini-rapids with Dave's wise guidance and enjoyed our drift down-river towards the Island, dangling our feet in the water to cool our steamy bodies. Timeless.

As we passed by the swimming floats, we could tangibly feel the pleasure of a cool dip in the Potomac. I had been waiting for this dip for many years. And after making our way around the island, to the boat dock, getting all the boats out and cleaned off, equipment properly stowed, we were free to jump in.

Sherry Pettie helps Jane Winer swim against the current.
I walked over to the docks, through the dappled light, drenched with sweat and full of anticipation. The Potomac. A swim in the Potomac finally, after all these years. And, it WAS heavenly. It was delicious.

But it turns out the adventures for the day weren't quite over. As Sherry and I wallowed on the float, we heard a small, sweet voice beside us, ever so politely, asking for help. Jane had jumped in with a full set of clothes on, including blue jeans, a long- sleeved shirt AND shoes. She was making her way out to a rock when she realized she was beginning to be overwhelmed by the heavy wet fabrics surrounding her. Sherry jumped to the rescue and led her back to safety.

Tamar, Jane, Dave, Marc and I then made our way back to the ferry. Sherry stayed out on the float, taking full advantage of her day on the Island. What a treat!

Dot Procter and Marc Bergeron live within walking distance of the Island. They look forward to moving up on the waiting list.