Bear, snail, snake and sunburn on river

WILKES-BARRE (AP) — Sure, there was the bear cub that seemed to disappear into thin air, the snail they named Gary and the snake named Rizzo. There was the evening movie about peoples native to the river, the obligatory (and tasty) campfire s’mores and the realization most people make the first time they actually paddle the Susquehanna: It’s a lot cleaner than you thought.

But then there’s the sunburn.

“I learned to always put more sunscreen on earlier than you think you need it,” Meyers High School senior Victoria Collum said of her number-one lesson from a recent school outing club three-day paddle from Sayre — just 18 miles south of the New York state line — to Sugar Run, some 40-plus miles further south as the river bends.

That lesson was, well, glaring as she sat with five other schoolmates to recount the highlights of the three-day trip. Her arm sported a blotchy sunburn — “apparently I don’t know how to apply sunscreen” — and glistened from the Neosporin she had rubbed on that morning. Even as she and the others spoke, one or two casually sprayed some Aloe Vera concoction on arms, or picked at peeling skin.

“We cleaned CVS out of aloe,” Ashley Bruno laughed.

Done under the auspices of the Endless Mountain Heritage Region and Endless Mountain Outfitters (full disclosure: math teacher and outing club adviser Sam Elias doesn’t hide the fact that he is affiliated with the Outfitters), the sojourn often attracts more than 100 students, Elias said. But many canceled this time, leaving the Meyers students teamed with some from Tunkhannock Area High School. With chaperones — including Elias and fellow Meyers teacher Keith Eberts — the group numbered about 24, Elias said.

Along with the immediate, pleasant surprise regarding river water quality upon putting in, they said the first connection with nature was the bear cub that appeared after about 15 minutes of paddling.

“Where was its mother?” Dylan Romero asked.

“The bear was cute,” Ashley added, “But it was by a straight cliff. Where did the bear go?”

They also encountered, predictably, ducks and geese, with the latter leaving the bigger impression. “I wanted to take one home,” Emma Barker said.

They learned to put up — and take down — a tent, got hungry enough to consider eating the plates, according to Dylan Romero, and lived without their smartphones. Which meant that, around the campfires, they “told stupid ghost stories, made s’mores and talked about vines,” Victoria explained.

No, old fogies, she didn’t mean the creeping plants, or even the cherry-flavored licorice strands. She clarified that the reference was to the already-defunct short-form video computer app known as Vine, purchased by Twitter in 2012 and shut down as a separate service in January 2017.

Talking about apps, rather than using them, was a big reason Elias said he decided to help run the outing club this year, without any extra compensation from the district.

“I think many kids are not environmentally aware,” he said. “And they can’t really learn about it in a book.”

Sunburn aside, when asked if they’d do it again, every one of them eagerly said yes.

“I want to go somewhere this summer with more whitewater,” Victoria insisted, her arms still glistening from the Neosporin.