BRILLIANT - For close to 10 years, a group of friends and fellow firefighters from the Brilliant area have explored the Ohio Valley's rivers by means of canoe, hearkening back to the early settlers.
Brilliant firefighter John Goosman said he became interested in the sport around 1994.
"I started reading about the river," he said. "I wanted to be like pioneer friends and jump in the river and go where I wanted to go. Just the adventure of it."
Brilliant firefighter John Goosman, right, with fellow Ohio Valley river canoer Jimme Donald with the American Queen, during a 1995 trip on the Ohio River. Goosman has been interested in canoeing since 1994, and for nearly 10 years, he and a group of friends have explored the valley’s rivers via canoe.
A trip can include 75 river miles or more. He added that the experience also drives home an appreciation of the first pioneers and the endurance they called on.
"It's very physical. It takes a good bit of stamina to be on the river for a week," he said, adding that he and his friends attempt to make the trek a yearly event. They usually plan a trip for June or July.
While on the river, they have the opportunity to follow the routes of some early trailblazers.
"We camped at several places where George Washington camped when he surveyed the Ohio Valley," he said, adding that some sites include those in Mingo and Powhatan. "It connects you with your past history."
Fellow canoeist Rodney Roe added that they faced some doubts about whether it was possible to canoe through several locks, since the water could be turbulent.
"We proved that not to be true," said Goosman, adding that it was necessary to contact river authorities in advance and plan the journey.
"We've been through every lock from Pittsburgh to Marietta," he said, adding that this totaled seven locks. "Which is a thrill sometimes."
Along the way, they observed sights such as Blennerhassett Island, Middle Brothers Island, and the American Queen.
Goosman added that the sport made the canoeists themselves a sight to see along the banks.
"There's not a lot of people canoeing the Ohio River," he said, adding that they often received a warm welcome. "We met a lot of nice people along the river. There are some interesting people."
Goosman noted that journeying by river offered a unique perspective. He added that they traveled around the point in Pittsburgh.
"It's like taking a tour of the city, only on water," he said.
Their trips can sometimes have an element of danger. During a 1993 trip on Beaver Creek in Pittsburgh, they were caught in a tornado. On the Muskingum River they also once ran afoul of a whirlpool where water exits the power plant.
One of the highlights on the Muskingum River occurred when a child fell into the river and Roe pulled him out.
The firefighters' sport has also come in handy during emergency situations closer to home. During past years' flooding, they have used canoes along with the station's fire boat in order to search homes for medications and fire hazards after residents had evacuated.
Goosman said they use craft from Old Town Canoes.
"They're pretty sturdy and hard to tip," he said.
For anyone considering the sport, Goosman cautions that is difficult and demanding as well as rewarding. He advises planning ahead and studying river charts to better know where to stop and where food and water is available. They also recommend stocking the canoe with spare clothes and vests, and watching the sun.
Canoe enthusiasts should also know lock crossing procedures.
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