Friends get to see life along the river Trip: Two Maryland men spend 12 days canoeing the length of the Susquehanna, living an adventure born more than 40 years ago.

July 18, 1998|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

It was a trip that would have made Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer proud.

Two friends, 56-year-old Robb Newman and 69-year-old Gerhard Heiche, landed at the Tidewater Grille in Havre de Grace yesterday after a 12-day canoe trip down the Susquehanna that began at the mouth of the river in Cooperstown, N.Y.

With stubbly beards and dusty clothes, the pair pulled ashore with only thoughts of grabbing a cold beer and getting out of the hot sun.

"Any beer would have been fine," Heiche said after he and Newman settled in the shade of the restaurant with two glasses of Oxford Blond Ale. "For the past week and a half, it's been nothing but water."

The adventure stemmed from an idea Newman, a resident of Ashton, a town near Silver Spring, had years ago. An avid canoeist, Newman was reading National Geographic in the 1950s when he stumbled upon a story about a group of young men who traveled down the Susquehanna in 25 days. Newman, who began canoeing 40 years ago as a Boy Scout, thought he might like to try the same thing.

"But I didn't have the time," Newman said yesterday. "I was going to school, then there was work and having kids."

An engineer with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory near Laurel, Newman continued to canoe and participate in races. But he never forgot his dream to replicate the National Geographic trek.

He enlisted the help of his friend of 15 years, Heiche -- a retired chief scientist for the Navy who has traveled to Alaska, Russia and Mexico. With an eagerness to explore, the pair set off with the support of their families.

"My wife knows I'm crazy," Heiche, a Silver Spring resident, deadpanned yesterday.

They carried with them a change of clothes, canned goods, a stove, tent, sleeping bags, fresh water, rain gear and plenty of sunscreen, all lashed to the canoe with bungee cord in case it capsized.

For 10 hours a day, they sat on football stadiumlike seats Newman had attached to the canoe for a more comfortable ride and made their way through rainstorms and sometimes oppressive heat. And at night, they camped where they could find a spot and dined like discount kings.

"I had gotten some sloppy Joe mix, and I thought the meat came with it," Newman recalled yesterday. "It's just the sauce, so we mixed it with powdered milk, beans and hot dogs."

Added Heiche, "Things taste good when you are hungry."

Yesterday, they recalled the small towns and the people who made the trip memorable: the Millersburg, Pa., woman who filled their water jug with ice; the man near Three Mile Island who let them camp on his property -- and the next morning left them two bottles of beer, chicken wings, peanuts and grapes.

The trip went faster than they expected because rain kept the river high and travel smooth. Newman's wife, Betsy, visited with them in a few towns in New York.

She was there yesterday, along with Newman's daughter-in-law Julie, when the dusty pair ended their journey. They're even better friends now, the two say, and are considering tackling the western portion of the Susquehanna.

Maybe next time, they'll do it on a raft.

Pub Date: 7/18/98

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