By Mike Makufka, Juniata Clean Water Partnership
With the smell of breakfast gently filling the air with pleasing aromas, the group of campers hastily finishes packing their tents and breaking camp to begin another day on the river. This group (officially called sojourners), numbering a little over 100, are on the first day of what will be a seven day adventure on the Juniata River. Each person is here for different reasons, but they all share a love for the outdoors and the beauty of the river. Some are veterans of many a trip but there are also a number who are experiencing this event for the first time. Once breakfast is done and vehicles packed; people begin assembling along the river’s edge that is lined with canoes and kayaks of many different colors. They are checking equipment, filling water bottles, and putting on their personal floatation device in anticipation of the day’s adventure. All are anxious to hit the water as they say. What you may be asking is this madness that overcomes normally sane people? It is the annual Juniata River Sojourn and it happens every year during the second week of June.
The Juniata River Sojourn is a multi-day floating trip down the river that combines beautiful scenery, a touch of history, and great friendship into a fulfilling vacation.
Any trip on the river, whether one day or several days is technically called a sojourn, the Juniata River Sojourn is an organized
event in which all participants float together, eat together, and camp together. It is a bonding experience with like-minded people. An added feature we provide is that the trip uses professional outfitters provided by Rothrock Outfitters who know the river well and can offer help with paddling and always stress safety first. You kind of leave the driving to us. All of your comforts are met. Well almost all; sometimes showers are at a premium and port-a-potties are the norm. But as far as outdoor adventure goes, I can promise that meals are good and hot and the campsites are usually cozy. But the best feature of all is the fact that the trip is family oriented and is the perfect place for parents, children and sometimes grandparents to enjoy the outdoors together.
All this begs to ask “what is a typical day like? ” A typical, if there is really such a thing, begins with a six AM wakeup. For all you sleepyheads; you do get used to it. The first order of business is breaking camp and packing gear which all needs to be done before seven AM. At seven, breakfast is served. Each day catered meals are provided and every effort is made to accommodate people with
special dietary needs. All you need to bring are eating utensils and an appetite. Once breakfast is Getting started A Hazy Morning
concluded at eight AM, drivers of all vehicles assemble in a convoy to shuttle gear and vehicles to the next campsite. A bus awaits them there to shuttle people back to the launch site. Once everyone is ready to go, a brief safety talk is conducted and we are on the water. Just the sight of so many boats in one place is inspiring.
The dew hanging low on the water in the early morning gives peacefulness to the beginning trip. As boats slowly drift downstream the excitement of what lies ahead and the pure freedom that you feel is hard to duplicate anywhere else. Paddling along with people you only met yesterday or with old friends from many a sojourn past, you begin to form bonds that sometimes last a lifetime. Sharing the sight of a bald eagle soaring aloft or the splash of a river otter as it slips into the river makes you appreciate the natural beauty the river has to offer. But wildlife is not the only sight that awaits you.
You are also floating through history. The Juniata River and its three branches, the Raystown, Frankstown, and Little Juniata are steeped in history. From Native American trails and old campsites to the Main Line Canal to the railroad; the Juniata River helped shape American history. The remnants of bygone days are there for the viewing if you know where to look. A journey as part of the Juniata River Sojourn group can help you discover these glimpses into the past. Each section of the river offers a wide-ranging visit back into history. You may drift under an iron truss bridge in Huntingdon County (circa 1870), the partially restored structure of a woolen mill (circa 1800’s), numerous historic foundry buildings, structures from the canal days, or covered bridges the Juniata River
offers it all. Float the Raystown Branch and you can see the remnants of the double covered bridge near the site where British soldiers forded the river and you feel yourself drift back in time.
After several hours on the river when the sun is high in the sky; it is time for lunch. Lunch is usually a catered affair at a pre-determined stop with each day’s menu different from the next. After the meal a short program is offered. The program is always tied into a unique feature of that area. Occasionally though, lunch is on the river and then the group decides where and when to stop. In that case, you can revel in the surroundings or take a dip in the cool refreshing water. After lunch it’s back in the boats for the
The afternoon float offers similar experiences as the morning but it also has something that is just a whole lot of fun; and that is water fights and rope swings. There are many places along the river for opportunities to swim, swing off of rope swings, or just play. The Juniata Sojourn certainly provides many chances to do just that.
The days on the river are very relaxing and the outfitters allow plenty of time for enjoying the wonderful experiences the river provides. So kickback and allow the stress of everyday life to drift away.
As the afternooon fun begins to wane, the day’s trip is nearing its end. The evening’s campsite comes into view and tired but happy people crawl out of their boats and begin to setup camp. Tents are erected, clothes are changed and the wet ones are hung out to dry. If available, Old railroad bridge near Cypher Water Battles showers are in order. Nothing feels so good as a shower after a day of playing in and along the river. On most days the float ends around three-thirty or four PM. Since dinner is at six, there is time to relax have a few beverages and talk about the day’s events. And there is always plenty to talk about. At six o’clock dinner is served and a hot meal
along with cold drinks and desserts replenishes the body and tops off a good day. Or so you think. The evening provides still another surprise. An evening program, maybe a campfire talent show, or exploring the hidden treasures near the campsite await you. Evening programs start at seven PM and a varied in nature. Previous programs included history talks, local geology, environmental presentations, flyfishing lessons, swimming, first aid, wilderness survival, storytellers and music. There is something for
Nighttime brings an air of silence and peace. The full day of activities and great food leaves a person satisfied and sleepy. Those tents sure look inviting and the sleeping bags bring relief to tired muscles. Sleep comes quickly and as nature’s nighttime sounds fill the air, dreams of the what lies ahead tomorrow fill your head. Just another day on the Juniata River Sojourn.
The 2013 Juniata Sojourn will be held June 8 thru 12, 2013 on the main stem of the Juniata River. Registration will open on April 8 and can be accessed at www.jcwp.org.
You do not have to be an experienced canoeist or kayaker to join the fun. Just remember that everyone had to start sometime and what better place to learn than with experienced guides/teachers and a group of friendly helpful people. If you do not have a boat, Rothrock Outfitters (814-643-7226) will gladly offer rentals to fit your needs. Ask for Tony, Paul or Evan and they will put you in business. If you are looking for new adventures or taking up kayaking again, a sojourn is just the ticket for you.
If your interest is peaked than call Mike at 814-506-1190 and I can answer any questions you may have. I look forward to seeing you on the river.