The Background

This year’s 4th of July was marred by the overturning of Roe V. Wade just a few weeks prior. I imagine many Americans found it hard to feel much patriotism during the holiday when our country’s judicial system seems utterly broken at the highest level. Despite this unfortunate timing, I made the most of my opportunity to experience Independence Day in Washington DC by embarking on a daring aquatic voyage with my college buds down the Potomac.

Boating on a Budget

Four inexperienced Carnegie Mellon undergrads, a $300 inflatable boat, and some locally brewed wheat juice made for quite the night. I don’t often arrange big outings, but for this weekend I put together one hell of a plan. We would inflate the boat and practice in the calm canal, launch our boat into the Potomac at Chain Bridge, and paddle the almost 6 miles downstream to the perfect viewing point to enjoy the firework show on the national mall.

Chain Bridge - No Dock Needed! Chain Bridge River View

It was going to be perfect, besides the popping risk from a small portage of a few hundred feet on an unmarked trail and over some dangerously smooth piedmont river rock. Unfortunately, I’m an urbanist and only navigate by bicycle or metro, so when we tried to travel DC by car on possibly the busiest night of the year, the plan’s flaws became clear. After spending an hour stuck in my first, and hopefully last ever, big-city traffic jam two times in a row, I decided to switch our launching point to Fletcher’s Boathouse, a few miles further downriver.

An Easy Portage Boat Portage

This boathouse was probably a much better option. We inflated the raft, carried it to the river, and then started sinking. Fortunately, the boat was fine, and the only thing plunging into the Potomac were my legs as the swamp tried to consume me. Why didn’t we launch off the dock? I still ask myself that every time my water shoes surprise me with more mud. Once into the Potomac proper, I paddled us away from the crowds of gawking Kayakers and tried to figure out how to turn.

The Calm Before the Show Potomac River

I was honestly a bit dissapointed when I learned that the Potomac is an incredibly scerene river once you get past the Great Falls. In hindsight, the water was just right for our little raft, but I did the miss class 5 rapids on the Monongahela. At this point, we still had a few miles to go and only around an hour before the fireworks started. I handed over the oars to our new human motor, and enjoyed the awesome ride - Thanks David! We didn’t quite reach our intended destination with an unimpeded view of the national mall, so at 9:09 we anchored at a spot between Key Bridge and Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Jealous Spectators on Key Bridge Bridge