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From NY to Havre de Grace: Man’s 19-day journey of kayaking, hiking and snorkeling celebrates Susquehanna River

Some of the most difficult waters Keith Williams faced in his hundreds of miles kayaking, snorkeling and hiking from New York State were the most familiar to him as he paddled home to Maryland on Tuesday — completing a 19-day journey of more than 400 miles from Cooperstown, N.Y., to Havre de Grace along the length of the Susquehanna River.

Williams, 53 and a Conowingo resident, has posted a video log of his expedition to Facebook, from seeing the highest hill in Lancaster County — which is a landfill, he notes dryly — to floating down the Susquehanna and admiring the schist characteristic of his home waters on the tail end of his journey.

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After paddling under the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge, Williams completed his journey a little before 5 p.m. Tuesday as he pulled up to Millard Tydings Memorial Park in Havre de Grace.

Though he enjoyed the trip, Williams said he was happy to be back home. He camped for almost all of the past 19 days, only staying in a hotel for two days when his kayak broke about a week into the trip.

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With that, he thought his voyage was over, but friends and strangers encouraged him to keep the trip going — offering tips on how to patch up his boat and some even offering to loan him a kayak to continue on.

“It really restored my faith in humanity, this trip,” he said. “Solo but supported thoroughly.”

His purpose in starting the trip, was his desire to explore the river, he said after coming ashore. Though he had driven over it hundreds of times, he realized that he had not taken the time to more carefully explore it and paddle its length.

He was aided by time, as well. Having recently written a book on snorkeling, Williams had a book tour and trips planned for the spring, but that fell apart due to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, he decided to make the best of it.

“Even though I have lived really close to the Susquehanna pretty much my whole life, I did not really know that river,” he said. “Time was always the limiting factor to do the river so I was like, I am just going to jump on this and do it.”

The Susquehanna is often discussed in the context of its contribution to the Chesapeake Bay, bringing in much of its fresh water, Williams said in a log reflecting on his trek.

He said the river’s ecosystem was important enough on its own merits to warrant conservation and restoration. Not as if the bay’s conservation is unimportant, though, but the trip reinforced an appreciation for the east coast’s longest river. Restoration of the river would flow downstream to the bay.

“I think we need to start changing that vocabulary a bit and start talking about protecting the Susquehanna for the sake of the Susquehanna,” he said in the video. “We need to do so much more than what we are doing right now for this river.”

After paddling hundreds of miles, negotiating tough terrain and camping for all but some of it, Williams knew what he wanted Tuesday when he stepped out of the boat that had ferried him an average of 30 miles a day. He had zero regrets he said.

“I want to get something cold to drink,” he said. “And then I want to take a shower and I want to go to bed.”

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