Caravan of kayakers arrives on the Schuylkill

More than 100 kayakers and canoeists paddle down the Schuylkill near Manayunk after a 100-plus mile trip in the 17th annual Schuylkill River Sojourn. The journey began June 6 in Schuylkill County, and participants traveled an average of about 16 miles each day. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)

About 1 p.m. Friday, dozens of candy-colored kayaks began arriving on the shores of the Schuylkill.

The Philadelphia Canoe Club offered a cool, shady haven to the 100 or so paddlers who clambered out of their boats and into the building for lunch.

They'd begun their voyage six days previously.

"It's an effort to do it," conceded Jim Showalter, 64, a veteran kayaker who was making his 17th consecutive Schuylkill River Sojourn, paddling between 14 and 18 miles each day since June 6, when the trip began in Schuylkill County.

He and his fellow kayakers, though tired, laughed and joked with one another as they dragged their kayaks ashore. The spirit of camaraderie, many said, is the best part of the trip.

"It's like a reunion," Showalter said. "You get to know people."

Even newcomers are quickly incorporated into the fold of the community, which forms through days of paddling, eating, and camping with the same people.

John Wolfe, 61, a first-time participant who had never kayaked before the trip, said he loved the experience and plans to return.

"It was a great introduction to the river; it was a great introduction to the sport," he said. "There's a lot of things you can do in your own backyard."

Kayakers can sign up for the entire trip or join the group for just one day. The 184 participants this year hailed from 14 states, and included one paddler from Switzerland.

Beyond the social ties formed throughout the trip, kayakers also finish with a deeper appreciation of the river itself. At rest stops along the way, paddlers listen to talks and performances about various aspects of the Schuylkill.

"We're hoping people will really just develop a connection with the river," said Laura Catalano, communications director of the Schuylkill River Heritage Area and an organizer of the event. "That in itself creates a lot of camaraderie."