Submitted by Lauren Cappuccio
On a beautiful sunny Thursday, I packed up my work things and traded my work clothes for a t-shirt and jeans. For my first trip in Franklin County kayaking on a creek, I was pretty confident that I could hold my own.
We were going be paddling on the Conococheague Creek (CON-OH-CA-JIG), otherwise referred to as “The Jig.” Named by Delaware Indian’s for “many-turns-river,” in the early days, this creek was a big resource for settlers. Weaving throughout Franklin County and into neighboring areas until it empties into the Potomac River, the creek flows at a steady pace, with some small rapids but is fairly easily sailing with trees lining the banks, providing a nice shade.
While preparing to go in the creek, our guides showed my boss and I the basics, such as how to sit and position our legs so we wouldn’t be too sore the next day. They also showed us the proper way of using the paddles and hand positions. I chose to wear a life jacket even though it wasn’t required. After the guides got us into the kayaks with no casualties, we were off.
The first thing you notice on the river is how manmade things and noises fade into the background. Almost immediately after we started down the Conococheague Creek, the sounds of cars, machine noises and human voices faded. In their place, the sounds of birds, frogs and the serene sound of flowing water over rocks.
Overhead, a guide pointed to the largest nest I’d ever seen in a nearby sycamore tree. It dominated the branches it was nestled in.
“A bald eagle is nesting here,” he said. “We haven’t seen the babies yet.”
The eagle propelled itself into the air and my vision was clouded by the bird that was, by my guess, only 200 feet from me. And this was after I had barely gone a mile down the river. It was the first of many, birds, frogs and even a groundhog that we saw on our trip down the creek.
The creek, which was clear enough to see small fish swimming against the current, still held the tell-tale reminders of people. A fish darted past what looked like a coffee filter. Tires, aluminum foil, beer cans, a sofa cushion, all littered the banks and water. It was sad, but a reminder how quickly we as people can change our surroundings with laziness.
I asked, what I found out, were the usual questions as I tried to hold on my own on the river. Had they ever fallen out of the kayaks? Did they ever see snakes? How old was the oldest person who tried kayaking? As they gave me the answers, yes, only two in 15-some years, and a lady in her upper 70’s, it suddenly dawned on me that I was talking more with them and my riding companion then I had done in a while.
“It can be like one long conversation out there,” said one of my guides earlier in the ride. I was slowly finding out that he was right. It was easy to fall into conversation and then have it slip away to listen to the stillness of nature.
As we paddled down the river, they continued to teach me about the proper way to paddle and how to slow down. It was about building muscle memory, they said, and almost like the instinct to turn a car the opposite way during sliding against ice, paddling backward on one side would cause the boat to go in the other direction.
After getting myself stuck several times on low-lying areas, I realized I wasn’t quite as skilled as I remembered. In an effort to make me feel better about my “skills,” one of the guides told me he had some kids from the city out on kayaks who had been scared of crickets and told me one man flipped his kayak several times down the river in a matter of hours.
I was assured I wasn’t that bad at kayaking, which was something.
In my time on the river, a few things kept coming to my mind. One, was how simple it was to just cast off into the river and spend several hours paddling and relaxing. It felt like once you were out there, the kayak and paddles became an extension of your body. Two, was that I had promised to take pictures, but my phone, wrapped in a plastic bag to keep from getting wet, remained there for the duration of my journey because I didn’t want to miss anything.
The minutes became longer until we reached our ending point. After a hand to make sure I didn’t fall into the river (thanks guys), I was back on dry land. My mind was clear and I was laughing with everyone about what we’d seen, including the eagle, which I still couldn’t believe had been that close to me.
It was after we were driving away from the river, that I could put my feelings into words. Kayaking was not only good exercise (as I felt a little of the strain the next day) but I had felt close to nature, closer to