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Woman completes 444-mile solo kayak run the length of the Susquehanna

Cathy Mumford, of Colts Neck, N.J., left, talks with Jeff Reinert, of Kutztown, Pa., at the Havre de Grace City Marina Thursday after she completed a 444-mile solo trip down the Susquehanna River in her yellow kayak.
Cathy Mumford, of Colts Neck, N.J., left, talks with Jeff Reinert, of Kutztown, Pa., at the Havre de Grace City Marina Thursday after she completed a 444-mile solo trip down the Susquehanna River in her yellow kayak. (David Anderson / Aegis staff / Baltimore)

A New Jersey woman completed a 444-mile, 26-day solo kayak journey down the length of the Susquehanna River Thursday, and the first thing she wanted was food and drink.

After pulling in at the Havre de Grace City Marina around 4:30 p.m., Cathy Mumford's goal was to find a place where she could get a burger and a glass of wine. She had not had a proper meal all day while navigating down the river.

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"I'm paddling, thinking, 'a burger, a burger,'" she said.

Mumford, 56, who lives in Colts Neck, in Monmouth County, N.J., suspects she is the first woman to complete the trip from Cooperstown, N.Y., where the river begins at Otsego Lake, to Havre de Grace, where it meets the Chesapeake Bay.

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"I'd just like to encourage young women to get out there more," she said. "I see lots of fishermen, lots of Boy Scouts; I hardly ever see girls."

She started her journey on Mother's Day, May 14.

She tied up her yellow 9.5-foot, 35-pound kayak, which she nicknamed "Sparky," along a small dock in the Havre de Grace marina and set out to find a place to eat.

She chatted with Jeff Reinert, of Kutztown, Pa., who keeps a boat in a Havre de Grace slip and was at the marina with his wife.

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Reinert said later that he has seen kayakers at the marina in the past, but he knew Mumford's situation was different when he saw her gear strapped to her kayak.

"She told me she started in Cooperstown, N.Y.; I said, 'Holy cow, that's a long ride,'" Reinert said. "She should be proud of that trip."

Mumford generally camps alongside the river or one of its many islands, according to her finance, John Brennan.

"She is an adventurer of sorts who hopes to inspire others, particularly women, to get out into nature and reconnect with it, particularly rivers like the Susquehanna," Brennan noted in an email.

Mumford linked up with Brennan, who drove from New Jersey to meet her, at the Tidewater Grille in Havre de Grace.

Mumford works part-time as a painting instructor at a "paint and sip" art studio and as a photographer.

She and Brennan are planning to get married in July, and she said she made the trip as she reaches a new chapter in her life. She also wanted to make it into the "444 Club" of people who have kayaked the river solo.

Her trip took her past industrial areas in Pennsylvania, past the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station in Delta, Pa., and through reservoirs behind hydroelectric dams along the river, including the Conowingo Dam in Darlington.

She said the water was clean for the most part, and said a bit of scum she found on the water near Peach Bottom, just north of the Maryland border with Pennsylvania, could have been a coincidence.

"I'm looking to highlight the beauty of our rivers and how important they are for recreation," she said.

Mumford had to portage her kayak herself around some dams further upriver, but said she got help from utility workers at the last three – Safe Harbor and Holtwood in Pennsylvania and Conowingo.

Her journey has produced many interesting tales, including having her 9 1/2 foot plastic yellow kayak and her gear stolen in Marietta, Pa., only to have it recovered the next day through a social media campaign initiated by caring locals in Marietta, Brennan said.

The City of Havre de Grace will amend its firearms discharge ordinance to allow continued waterfowl hunting off the south side of Tydings Island -- which will be annexed into the city -- thanks to the intervention of decoy carver and waterfowl hunter Joey Jobes.

Mumford noted there are not enough campsites along the river, and she spent a third of the trip sleeping in hotels, a third of the time at campgrounds and the final third wherever she could find a spot.

She said she camped in some people's yards along the river, and stayed in a tree house on an island one night.

In 2010, Mumford was the first female paddler to complete the Northern Fores Canoe Trail, a 730-mile network of rivers, streams and lakes beginning in the Adirondak Mountains of New York to Fort Kent, Maine.

Mumford stressed she grew up on a lake in New Jersey, has years of experience canoeing and whitewater kayaking and has worked as a lifeguard, swim instructor and water safety instructor.

"As soon as we could walk, we learned how to swim," she said.



Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.
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