About a year ago my aunt Mimi started asking if I was going to come to the family reunion in July. I had missed the last one about 30 years ago. How do you say no? You don’t.
And you start thinking about what other adventure you might tack on before venturing out east to Ohio. I knew that my grandparents James and Margot Jackson had been big advocates for the creation of theNational Park. I had a fairly new pack raft….
During day time distractions, I found a few old trip reports of people kayaking longer distances on the. I also found a yearly canoe race from Kent State to Cleveland. And I found newer reports of severe flooding near Kent State. Mimi sent me some newspaper clippings with people clinging to trees mid-river. Deep thought ensued.
After a fair bit of vacillation, I decided I would go and bring my smallest pack raft. The waters were receding and if they still looked too high when I got there, I would just put everything in my backpack and do my best to walk north along the nearby Erie Canal tow path trail to Cleveland where my sister would meet me en route to the reunion. There was no huge pressure, I knew that if I was slow, bending the route even 50 more miles wouldn’t bother her anywhere near as much as me.
But my first look at the river, in the narrow strip of trees behind the baseball diamond in a municipal park north of Akron filled me with butterflies. It was careening down a bend, half-drowned trees sticking out in the middle of a rapid waterway. I found a path to a gentler section of the river and after sinking to my ankles in the muck, I launched.
About half way through the first day – I pulled over at the Ira Road Crossing and hid my pack raft in the woods. A quick jog up the road, toward the Hale Farm Homestead, found me at a memorial stone for my grandparents Margo and James Jackson. Further up the road I found their house which I had last visited 30 years prior. The new owner gave me a tour and spoke appreciatively of what my grand parents had done to help with the park. Halcyon days floating across my mind and a short downhill jog took me back to my magic carpet. ride.
Most of the next two+ days were an adventure. The river moved about 3-4 miles in most places which isn’t that fast; but every section had submerged trees in it and I was kept on my toes. I had never rafted by myself and quickly came to appreciate the warnings against doing so. There were several section of class II- rapids from all the swollen water and at one point I hit something hard which required a detour for a patch.
On the afternoon of the third day on the river I floated under a bridge near the north end of the park – hollering up to my Mom, Rafael and Robin. Hugs all around and and then we were off…motoring a lot faster than 3 mph to Wooster, OH.
We were in Aunt Mimi’s kitchen in no time. The last time I had been here I was literally running through! But this time my Mom, Rafael and a whole lot of other relatives were there. The reunion was a lot of fun. Some cousins I had not seen in 30+ years. It is such a strange and comforting feeling to be surrounded by relatives.
I spent time talking to my Uncle John. I had grown up hearing stories about sailing exploits with his wife Georgie. They raced (and still race) and had sailed their boat on a multi month journey along the east coast. John has extended an invitation to come and visit North Carolina to sail with them more than once. My excuse has usually been work in Nepal or some other reason, but this time I committed. In late October I flew to North Carolina with the goal of having a good time visiting John and Georgie and also building on my limited sailing skills.
Their house is pretty great – in front is their very own sailing slip where they keep their sailboat – Their retirement community has over 500 houses like this along with a canal system that links them to the Neuse River which is right around the corner. I spent 7 days at their house with a good chunk of it spent on their boat ‘Georgie Girl’ or looking at neighbor’s boats.
On the second or third day, we sailed further down the river where we joined the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW) which is essentially a water-trail (markings, maps, and a linear community) which provides fairly protected passage from Washington DC south to Florida as I understand it. At one point, when I was at the helm, I caught some movement off the port side and there were dolphins swimming alongside us! It’s not a very good picture – but my only proof.
On my last day, we were joined by Julie who is a neighbor, friend, and sailing student of John and Georgie. Put in charge of the boat, Julie and I took turns practicing tacks and jibes and heaving ho.
Back in the Pacific Northwest and on terra firma – Ellen and I headed for the mountains to run and camp a little in the shadows of Mt Rainier. A little land sailing if you will before the snow comes.