South Branch, Raritan
by Bob Rancan
Sunday, July 29, 2017
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... Hey, if you're going to quote someone, why not Dickens?
The weather forecast was for several days of rain, some of it heavy, throughout the week. So with a little rain and some water being released from Spruce Run into the river, I planned a trip which would bring us into the neighborhood of the 35th Annual NJ Festival of Ballooning. With the dire weather forecasts, the Spruce Run spigot was turned off and the river level started to drop steadily. The predictions of 60%, 70% and more chance of showers later in the week kept me on the edge of my seat. Then, these fronts were supposed to come later and later, probably lingering into Saturday. Would the overnight downpour fill the river but stop or at least lessen enough to allow for a pleasant day of paddling and then safe conditions for the evening balloon flights? Reflective of the politics of our times, these are complicated issues.
Turned out that hardly a drop of rain fell over that area all week. Still hopeful on Friday night, I had everyone meet at Clinton for a run down to Stanton. When we arrived, the river was low so to hedge the bet, we moved downstream about 5 river miles and started there. Dressed and ready for a rainy day, the sky got more and more blue as the morning wore on. 12 other people actually showed up and followed me. It was a nice, fun paddle, beautiful day and it didn't matter that most got stuck on sand and gravel bars several times. There were lots of cedar waxwings hunting over the water, common merganser families, red tail hawks and an osprey near the take-out. The paddle was an unqualified success.
Then, we were the first to claim prime picnic tables at the highway rest stop on Rt. 22, about an hour before the scheduled 6:30 launch of the balloons. Beautiful blue sky....breeze. First bad sign was the local flags were blowing the wrong way...next bad sign was the steady, steady strong breeze. We put tablecloths on the tables, set out the tailgate vittles and even found out that a local pizzeria would deliver to a rest stop. When we mentioned they should look for 10 cars with kayaks and canoes on the roof the reply was "boats?" It all came together. In the end, after many phone calls to the Quik Check festival, it turned out the yellow caution flag never came down and the balloons never lifted off. We were all dressed up with no place to go. Regardless, the camaraderie was priceless; even got to try Monica's inflatable couch.
Thanks to the loyal followers: Mark G., Al G., Sumonnat K., Carole B., Joan V., Stan L., Chris M., Henry D., Jim M., Dave M., Herta D., and Monica O., she of the wonderful artsy photos.