For a lot of people, summer is a time to get out, enjoy the outdoors, and maybe get some exercise. For Steve Herrmann, his brother Ken, and his cousin Ed, it was the chance to do something that would fit about a year’s worth of exercise into a three-week trip.
Beginning on June 4, the Herrmann trio kayaked down the Susquehanna River from Otsego Lake in Cooperstown all the way to Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. It was a journey that concluded on the 25th — 21 days and 444 miles later.
“It’s a trip I’ve always wanted to do,” Steve Herrmann said.
Herrmann, 66, is a retired carpenter from West Oneonta who is no stranger to navigating the local waters. He’s competed in the General Clinton Canoe Regatta 24 times and spends a good deal of his free time kayaking and canoeing. But he always wanted to complete a long trip on the water.
After some delays, he finally got around to making that trip.
“It’s always been [on the] bucket list for me,” Herrmann said. “I was going to do it last year and then with COVID I thought it would be more fun to do it when the campgrounds were open. I’m glad I put it off because we had good water this year. Last year it rained every day in June but it didn’t rain until then so there was no water. This year was just perfect; there’s good water everywhere. It was a good year to do it.”
Joining Steve on his journey were his younger brother Ken, 62, and cousin Ed, 67. While not the experienced boatmen that Ken is, they were ready and able to make the long journey.
“They’re always up for a good time,” Steve said. “I’m glad I did it with them. They were the best. They just powered through it, not having paddled as much as I have.”
The route itself was hardly a straight north-to-south proposition. After setting off from the southern tip of Otsego Lake, the Herrmanns’ route took them southwest through Oneonta, Bainbridge, Afton, Windsor, and eventually across the state line into Susquehanna, Pennsylvania. From there, they swung north back across the state line and through Binghamton, recrossing the line again at Waverly and into Sayre.
They then started making their way south through the heart of Pennsylvania, eventually passing through the state capitol of Harrisburg, into Maryland, and finally to the bayside town of Havre De Grace and into Chesapeake Bay.
While such a long trip might seem like a daunting endeavor at first glance, Herrmann said he was careful in planning how much kayaking the group would be doing each day. He said he hoped to cover 20-25 miles per day, with a couple of days of rest thrown in sparingly. With only a couple of days of bad weather on the entire trip, the group was able to use those days to rest and recuperate.
As you can imagine, there isn’t a ton of storage room in a single kayak, so the Herrmanns had to make sure they packed light so that they could take everything they would need — camping gear, food, water, clothes — without having to make constant trips into whatever town they happened to stop for the night.
There were other challenges as well, specifically the 14 portages the group had to make along the way. A portage occurs when an obstacle forces the boater to carry their craft over or around that obstacle to continue on their way. Herrmann said these were for the most part fairly manageable, but every once in a while they ran into a portage that gave them some problems.
“It was tricky because they want you to be safe on these rivers but they don’t maintain any of these portages,” he said. “You pull into a spot sometimes and there’s 10 feet of debris of logs and buildup that you can’t even get through. It was kind of sad to see because no one really takes care of it.”
Herrmann said that for most of the journey, the trio found themselves practically alone on the water, something he didn’t necessarily see as a positive.
“You saw a few fishermen but even that was very rare. You have this beautiful thing for free to use and nobody really takes advantage of it,” Herrmann said of the river, though he was quick to sing its praises as well.
“I’ve always loved it. I go out all the time. I love the river. It’s just a beautiful, peaceful place.”
The Herrmanns weren’t always alone in the solitary beauty of the river. They also received frequent visits from the local wildlife.
“We saw eagles every day and a lot of herons and wildlife,” Herrmann said. “But the eagles were always there every day. At ten o’clock it seemed they came and kind of went ahead of us, diving for fish. It was just beautiful to watch.”
But the thing that Herrmann said was the most enjoyable about the trip was the people they met once they completed their daily mileage.
“The people we met on the trip were unbelievable,” he said. “They take you in, they offer you water if they see you. People let us camp on their land. We’d camp and they’d bring out a case of beer. It was just unbelievable every day.”
While he doesn’t expect anyone else to make a 400-mile trip like he did, Herrmann hopes that everyone gets a chance to get out and enjoy the water in some form or fashion.
“It’s definitely a thing to do if you love it and it’s really not that hard,” he said. “The hardest part for me is getting up every day and doing the mileage but it really wasn’t bad at all. Have some good ramen noodles and you’ll go far.”