Jim’s Travels: Let’s talk about strange canoe fellows

Published 11:14 pm Thursday, June 29, 2023

Editor’s note: This is another chapter in Mr. Harris’s ongoing travelogue, detailing his journeys outside of Farmville. 

When Jim Harris, UVA-66, and Joe Schmierer, VT-70, look at one another when eating breakfast at IHOP every other Thursday, they could have unpleasant thoughts about their rival schools. Jim might think, How could anyone go to a football game and eat his own mascot? Joe could think, How did Jim go to such a wimpy school where the males walk around with Bermuda shorts and bow tires?  

They usually don’t think such thoughts because they have too much in common. They were both raised in rural areas and are die hard outdoorsmen.  Jim grew up near Hampden Sydney and Joe near Ashland. 

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As an example, on June 17, they decided to take a canoe trip on the Rivanna River from Crofton to Palmyra, only 6.5 miles. It had rained the night before and should have raised the river slightly with minimum dragging and running into boulders and what could go wrong? The brochure said Novice Level for canoeists.

The primal urge to return to nature hit both of them as they arose in their homes at first light and were on the river at approximately 8 a.m. This is the same river that goes by Thomas Jefferson’s home and Jim had many good thoughts about the Father of UVA but Joe was probably thinking, Yeah, I sometimes have to pass Charlottesville on I-64 to get to Tech but at least we’re going downstream from such a weird place.   

During the trip they negotiated mild rapids with no problems. Jim, who is an avid deer hunter spotted a deer and almost shouted “Wa Hoo Wa” he was so excited. Of course, just to make Joe’s day.

Joe saw some Canadian Geese and didn’t chant “Hokie, Hokie” as he may be thought about delicious goose legs.

The trip was supreme…the day was warm, the stream ran good (water was shooting off a bank from a branch into the river at one place) and wildlife abounded everywhere. Monarch and other butterflies, tad poles, minnows, a terrapin, ducks and other waterfowl, and even a long bodied Longnose Gar in clear water were spotted.   
                                                                                                                                                                                  Joe was enthralled by trees near banks with multiple roots projected on bank edges and took pictures of these. Sycamores that had partially leaned into the river would have made good diving platforms for the young at heart and if the water was deep enough.

The trip became very leisurely and they stopped on sandbars at various times. In shallow water Joe got out of the front and pulled Jim and the canoe into deeper water.  Since  Jim occasionally had to get out of the back for the canoe to go and had trouble with his “football  knees” Joe being the gracious VT partner offered for Jim to ride in the front where there was more room.

As the trip got nearer to Palmyra, they spotted people in the water, some even sitting in camping chairs in the water and allegedly fishing, hikers along the banks, and ever present pets when you see people. At one sandbar when they took a break, an almost grown German Shepherd broke from its masters and tried to lick Jim and Joe to death as it became an instant friend. A woman wandered over in a bikini and returned her dog to where the couple was hanging out. Jim almost wanted to shout, “Give me a U, a V, and an A” for Joe if nothing else but kept his mouth shut (this time). 

What could go wrong after such a refreshing trip? They went by the rock tiers for a bridge from yesteryear and Joe saw the Palmyra boating landing. As usual there were a couple of options for getting to it and Joe said go over to the hanging vine on the right where water was falling off a shelf but didn’t look that dangerous. 

They got past the vine and into a somewhat rapid flow and then because of Jim’s weight in the front and the downward, curving action of the river they did a barrel roll right in front of all of the landing on-lookers. Jim was under the canoe with glasses and hearing aids but finally got from under the “sinking ship.” 

Nothing was lost by Jim except pride, but Joe met him in church on Sunday and said his cell phone continued to act erratic. He had enclosed it in a plastic bag but had to fold the plastic bag to get the bag and phone in his pocket and the zip didn’t seal properly.    

The night after the spill Jim lay in bed and thought more about what went wrong. His flying experiences came back to him and then he remembered about weight and balance. If Joe at 185 lbs. had been in the front, the canoe would have cleared low water areas better and the nose would have ridden through swift, curving water with the nose up.   

Oh well! They both went to church the day after the experience and no one needed to baptize  the Cavalier and the Hokie. They had been completely dunked like a good old fashioned religious experience.