Summer is over for young people as many return to the classroom this week. Parents flock to area stores to purchase school clothes for children that grew inches over the summer.
The question, “what did you do this summer?” will be asked by friends or given as an essay prompt by teachers.
A group of boys from the Abingtons and surrounding areas have quite a tale to tell.
Jeff and Etienne Nunemaker of Clarks Summit, Matt O’Brien of Factoryville, Nate Manwarren of South Abington Township, Cody Stang of Meshoppen, Seth Kashuba of Scott Township and Isaiah Forba of Tunkhannock took a three-day trip on the Susquehanna River on a raft they made themselves.
A few of the teens went on a similar trip in 2018. They built a smaller raft and floated down the river from Tunkhannock to Falls. The boys immediately started planning for 2019 and got more friends involved.
Each participant took part in the planning. Everyone was assigned a different role and contributed supplies needed for the trip. From start to finish, the raft build and trip was planned by the teens. Planning occurred over a year and a date was finally decided on. They discussed safety and how they were going to sleep and eat.
It all came together on July 1.
Like something out of a Mark Twain novel, the friends decided they would “rough it.” They brought extra food but planned to fish. They didn’t want to purchase a raft, but built it instead with supplies they already had.
Pallets, plywood and 55-gallon drum barrels were used to create their vessel. They tied two drums under each pallet and nailed plywood on top. The large barrels help the raft float, and when they ran out of drums for the size raft they wanted, they used plastic totes. Rope and ratchet straps held everything together. A canopy was added for shade and a cinder block fire pit was built on the raft for cooking.
They brought extra supplies to make repairs along the way and wore life vests for safety.
Ages 16–20, many of the boys were getting ready to finish high school or go off to college. As a last claim on childhood and their purposeful effort to lay hold of good old-fashioned adventure, they set off on a beautiful day from the boat launch in Falls Township.
The boys checked in with parents every day. They shared about people they met along the way who cheered them on, waved from shore or traveled alongside for a while. They stopped to explore islands in the river along the way. They fished and spotted eagles.
“I went into it thinking the fishing would be terrible, because the water was pretty high,” said Etienne Nunemaker. “But I had a fishing guide book and that gave me good tips. I fished from the raft and from shore. Using crawfish lures worked well. I caught walleye, smallmouth bass, rock bass and catfish. I had never caught a walleye before, so that was cool.”
The teens slept under the stars on their raft tied to the river bank. They dealt with slow moving current at one point and struggled navigating a raft with no motor. Using a kayak to help guide the raft and oars to paddle, they made their way.
The boys experienced a little rain and the loss of some gear. After traveling through rough water, the boat began to come apart. They were undeterred.
“We had to keep adjusting the barrels. Because the raft wasn’t level, it kept wanting to break up,” Jeff Nunemaker said. “We were taking on water at one point so we had to stop and do some repairs.”
The friends worked together to repair the raft and soon were on their way again.
“We didn’t realize how easy it is for the whole thing to come apart,” said O’Brien. “But we’d do it again. Building it ourselves made the whole experience more interesting, and it kind up ‘upped the stakes.’ In my opinion, that made it more fun. The bridges in Wilkes-Barre and the last bridge we went under in Berwick were really exciting because of how quickly the current moves. It was tricky. We had to kind of set the raft where we thought we were going to go, either left or right behind the pillars, and then let the current take us. We figured it out as best we could, and it was exciting. Those were the best times.”
Away from the distractions of television, computers, family and jobs, the boys found a chance to relax and bond before many of them left for college.
“We had nothing but a little hand-held radio,” O’Brien said laughing. “I think that set us back a few decades in technology. Without the usual distractions of everyday life, there was so much more time to get to know each other better. You have to trust each other and work together on a trip like this. Obviously, with this group of guys, everyone gets along really well so it was a positive experience.”
Even with the repairs they had to make at one point, they still managed to travel 47 miles in three days. They were soaking wet and tired but full of stories when their parents picked them up in Berwick.
“Going under a bridge at Berwick in rapids was scary but fun,” Stang said. “The wake from a motor boat probably saved our raft.”
“We almost hit the bridge at one point,” Jeff Nunemaker said. “We worked together and the wake of another boat helped and we made it through. That was really fun. We ordered Dominos Pizza on shore one night because we were pretty hungry.”
Parents filled their vehicles with muddy, wet teenagers, their gear and the remains of their raft, to drive home.
The summer of 2019 is one for the books.
Some of the teens will start school in the Abingtons this week. O’Brien leaves for a year abroad, while others are already on college campuses across the country. The river and lure of adventure will keep calling, even as time – like the mighty Susquehanna – rushes by.