Nuggets while they last

Matt Aiken captured some great photos and wrote a very nice article, which is currently available online (  ).  I don’t know how long it will be up, but I would imagine that next week’s edition will replace it.  Matt made one little mistake about which river I started in (the Chattahoochee, not the Etowah) but that’s no big deal.  I appreciate the great article and the attention it brings to our rivers and to UNG.

the Atlanta Journal Constitution has also interviewed me and others about the project. I believe that the story is scheduled to run tomorrow, Sunday, February 24.

Categories: Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Another fine story by Shannon Casas, Gainesville Times

Shannon Casas is someone to watch. This young woman has now written three pieces on my trip, and she always gets it right. She listens, she gets the facts right, and she writes well. Her stories are available online. The latest, with a nice attached video, is at .

Categories: People, The Trip | 1 Comment

Done, but just beginning

Wednesday, 2/13/2013: 0.1 mile
Trip: 1,502.7 miles

I officially finished the trip at Elvin and Nancy Hilyer’s house Wednesday afternoon by paddling up to Chuck Shoals to the incredibly warm welcome of a crowd of friends and supporters. The really big surprise was seeing daughters, Erin and Sarah, who came over from Auburn, Alabama. Elvin, Nancy, and Andy Leavitt had arranged the party that followed, and it was a doozy. Elvin and Nancy opened their beautiful home to us all and threw a fine party!

So, what’s left? There are still some small river segments that flooding kept me from paddling, and, while i have paddled these in the downstream direction before, i still intend to go back and paddle them upriver when waters recede to a manageable level. But the big thing is to share what I have learned and to find more to glean from the trip. There is a whole book of water quality data waiting to be analyzed, but the big task will be writing. I have notes stored in two books, on a digital recorder, in this blog, and in hundreds of photographs. In addition to sorting and trying to make sense of all of this stuff, I plan to retrace part of my route by car in April, with my Sea Wind canoe on the roof, of course, to visit a few of my new friends from the trip, to paddle those missed sections, and to take more photographs. I will have already begun writing, so I should have a good idea of what I need to photograph.

As part of this assembling of data effort, I will also begin to weave my experiences into my class material. I will be back in the classroom in August, and I anticipate incorporating some of what I have learned into those classes.

I have heard from a lot of you folks who have followed my trip via this blog, and I thank you. I suspect and hope that many more have found some value here. This trip has been about many things, but at its core, it has been about discovery. I set out to make some scientific discoveries, to learn first-hand what was out there on these rivers, and to discover what I had inside me to meet the challenges that I knew I would encounter. The journey provided all of that, but it provided a whole ‘nother element of discovery that I was not expecting, and that was the people. I met a lot of fascinating people along the way, people with all sorts of backgrounds, occupations, belief systems, and economic circumstances, but I found that I formed bonds of one sort or another with many of them, and I found nearly all of them to be open and generous. That was my greatest discovery, I suppose, and the one that I treasure most.

I thank all of you who have shared the trip with me. Some have come to my aid along the way, some have offered their comments on the blog, by email, or by phone, and many have not advertised their participation, but have been there none the less. I thank you all and hope that you have found something worthwhile in my journey.

Dr. Robert C. Fuller
University of North Georgia

Categories: The Trip | 5 Comments

Richard Grove

If you paddle the rivers of Georgia much, there is a good chance that you have met Richard, but whether you have met him or not, you have almost certainly benefited from his efforts. Richard is tireless in his efforts to clean up Georgia’s rivers. One week he will be pulling tires from the Yellow River and hauling them to a recycler, and the next will find him removing dangerous strainers from the Etowah. Then you might find him organizing a group of volunteers to pick up trash in the Chattahoochee, followed by giving an interview with a reporter designed to raise the public’s awareness of the value of rivers to our society.

Richard helped me so many times on this trip that I truly have lost count. He provided me with a wealth of information on both river systems that I paddled, the Chattahoochee-Apalachicola and the Etowah-Coosa-Alabama-Mobile, because he has paddled both systems in their entirety. He drove to Alabama to haul me and my equipment around Weiss Dam. He paddled and camped with me near Rome, as I filled in some sections that flood waters had kept me from paddling earlier. He picked me up and put me back on the river numerous times, and he told me important things about the river that made my journey safer and more enjoyable. When he wasn’t with me, helping me directly, he was upriver cutting out downed timber to make my progress upriver easier and safer. After all of that, it never failed that he would say, “If you need anything at all, call me,” and I would know that he meant it.

Categories: People | 1 Comment

Stopped just short

Today’s miles: 5.1
Trip: 1502.6 miles

I am essentially done with my expedition, but I stopped just a tenth of a mile short of completion. This was so that friends could celebrate the conclusion of the trip with me next Wednesday. This was the toughest section yet, although yesterday was the tougher day, due to its longer mileage. Today’s 5.1 miles took right at five hours, over half of which was spent out of the boat, wading through the ~40 degree water, dragging the boat behind me. Early on, I was forced to wade chest-deep, which really ate away at my body heat. I kept moving, though, and was able to keep my core temperature up,to a functional level. One unfortunate result of the cold, though, is that I seem to have injured a big toe. I thought that my foot moved rather badly on a rock at one point, but both feet were pretty numb, so I couldn’t really tell. Judging by the color of the toe and the pain, I guess that I was right. It will heal, though. (Reminds me of 7th grade dance class: “Heal, toe, heal, toe…”)

I had a surprise visit from Ben LaChance and his grandson, Jackson, just downriver of where I stopped for the day. Ben sold me my first canoe, introduced me to canoe travel, and is a living example of what a productive, responsible citizen should be. Ben was the first person I ever met who went down the river by himself for the sole purpose of cleaning up other people’s trash.

My incredible wife, Kathy, an accountant in tax season, took off work to meet me with a bottle of champagne for our own private celebration. She remains my number one supporter and best friend. In spite of the pressures of running her business and her many civic activities, she has resupplied me, picked me up, taken me to the river, shopped, shipped supplies, and provided constant comfort and encouragement by cellphone and email. I still don’t know how I got so lucky.

Categories: The Trip | 9 Comments

My friends warned me

Today: 8.3 miles
Trip: 1497.5 miles

Richard Grove, Steve Harris, Mike Saunders, and Joe Smith all helped get me in the water at GA 136 this morning and shuttle my car up to Castleberry Bridge. Richard and Steve put in at Steve’s house near Castleberry Bridge and spent the day clearing trees from the river. These friends had warned me that this was going to be a very tough section to travel against the current, and they were right. The 8.3 miles took me right at 6 hours to negotiate. I lost count, but I think that I was out of my boat around 15 times, wading, lifting, and pulling myself and my boat up rapids and over trees in the river. It was every bit as tough as I expected and then a little. I have a few new bruises on feet, shins, and face to show for it, but I made it!

I will almost finish the trip tomorrow. I intend to put in at Castleberry Bridge at 9:00 and paddle/drag the boat most of the 5.2 miles to Elvin and Nancy Hilyer’s house, the journey’s ending point. I will stop short of completion tomorrow because a lot of friends have asked to be present at the trip’s end. With heavy rains predicted for a couple of days after tomorrow, I decided to schedule the actual trip end for Wednesday afternoon. That will allow me to nearly finish before the river level comes back up from the expected rain, but will also allow some of my friends and supporters to be part of the journey’s culmination.

Categories: People, The Trip | 4 Comments

Three very tough but successful days

Sorry I haven’t written for a few days. I’ve just been so cold and tired that I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Yesterday was the easiest of the three, so I got my journal current, which I will now share:

Tuesday, 2/5/13: 15.2 miles; Trip: 1468.7 miles
Wednesday, 2/6/13: 11.9 miles; Trip: 1480.6 miles
Thursday, 2/7/13: 8.6 miles; trip: 1489.2 miles

The daily miles tell part of the story. As I approach the river’s headwaters, the river gets steeper and steeper, and the paddling gets tougher. I haven’t counted, but I think that I’ve averaged having to get out of the boat 7 or 8 times per day these last three days. Most of these events have resulted from encountering rapids that I simply couldn’t paddle up, but a few have involved getting around trees that were blocking the entire river. This far up the river, the channel ranges from about 25′ to 100′ wide. Where it is narrow, it is normally fairly deep and fast. The wider sections are usually the result if rapids. With the recent heavy rains, a lot of undercutting of the river banks has occurred, often sending trees into the river, where they sometimes block the channel.

Getting out of the boat has ranged from very difficult to quite easy. One of my earlier out-of-boat experiences was the toughest. Upriver of GA 372, I encountered unpaddleable rapid that was so deep and fast that it was impossible to wade, and the banks were too steep to walk and line the boat up. In fact, the bank was too steep to stand and unload the boat, so I pulled myself up the bank with the aid of exposed roots and vines, and then pulled the loaded boat up the bank. That took every bit of strength that I had, but I got it done. Unlike an earlier portage, the growth at the top of the bank was too thick to allow easy maneuvering, so I unloaded the boat and slid it along the face of the bank, keeping it from sliding back into the water with the support of trees growing along the bank. The whole portage was no more than 80′ to 100′, but it was a challenge.

The easiest encounter was actually fun. A multiple-trunked tulip poplar was completely blocking the channel, but at one point, one trunk was submerged and two were above water. I was able to pull the bow of the boat under the lower of the two exposed trunks, step over the trunk, back into my boat, duck, and pull boat and self under the other one. That all took no more than two minutes. The only hard part was keeping the boat in place as I stepped out and then back in. It was reminiscent of military training obstacle courses.

During the course of each of these three days, I benefitted greatly from my new, Kokatat, knee-high, paddling boots, until I was forced into water higher than the boots. Their waterproofness worked both ways, keeping my feet nice and dry, even when I was briefly in water over the tightly cinched tops, but keeping my feet immersed for the rest of each day after I had to wade a while in thigh-deep to waist-deep water. I supposed that I could have taken the boots off and emptied them, but that takes a while and requires a stable place to get out of the boat, which never seemed to be handy.

I camped one night of these last three, going home to wash and dry gear the other two. I have had great support from dear friends, Richard Grove, Tom Lamb, Murray Lamb, Mike Saunders, and Joe Smith. These guys shuttled me, helped me carry boat and gear, and met me at times that were tough to pin down with the variable river conditions. I will never be able to fully repay them for their kindness.

Enough blogging. I am meeting Mike, Joe, and their wives over breakfast this morning, and then the guys are going to help me put in and shuttle my car from Ga 136 to Castleberry Bridge, the section I will paddle today. Richard and his friend, Steve, are paddling the same section, but downriver from Castleberry Bridge today. I am looking forward to seeing them. I just hope that they don’t go through the gold mining tunnel while I am working my way upriver around it. That would actually be kinda funny.

Categories: Geography, The Trip | 1 Comment

Almost bit off more than I could chew

Today: 14.0 miles Trip: 1453.5 miles

Richard Grove took me back to the point upriver of Canton where he took me off January 22. With the owner’s permission, we portaged the boat and equipment down through a pasture, loaded the boat (probably a mistake) and then maneuvered down into the water. It was a difficult site, and if I had it to do again, I would have put the boat in first and then loaded it. No do-overs, though. The new paddle continues to come apart where it had started to delaminate on its second day in the water. It got so bad and difficult to use that I ended up using the kayak paddle almost all day. The river was still up from the heavy rains, so much so that paddling was quite a challenge. Four rapids were so fast that I was unable to paddle up them, and the water was too deep and too fast to get in and walk the boat up. I did have to get out of the boat, but used my bow-line to pull the boat up the rapids from the bank and/or shallow water near the bank. That worked for three of the four un-paddleable rapids. There were trees along the shore in the fourth that made it impossible to line the boat up, so I had to pull it out, unload it, portage about 150 yards, reload the boat, and launch it. All of that took about 45 minutes. I finally made it to GA 372 after 9 hours and was met by Richard. I will repair the paddle again tomorrow and get another single-blade, canoe paddle. I will be back on the river at GA 372 Tuesday morning.

Categories: The Trip | 4 Comments

Sidelined by floods… again!

Paddled 1-29-13: 16.4 miles (4.1 miles were repeated from previous week)

Trip: 1439.5 miles

Richard Grove and I went back below Rome Monday to work on the sections of the Coosa River and the Etowah that I had skipped.  I’ve written about what a great day Monday was, knocking out seventeen miles that I had thought would take two days to paddle.  We ate like kings that night in our camp at Lock and Dam Park, downriver from Rome—grilled steak, potatoes, whole grilled onions, and salad.

Tuesday was also great, for me, at least.  Richard and I started out at GA 1 Loop on the east side of Rome, which was 4.1 miles below where I had left off in that section, but was the closest put-in available.  That meant repaddling those miles, but it’s beautiful country, and I looked forward to it.  Unfortunately, Richard injured his arm early on and had to turn back, which was particularly unfortunate because of the beautiful rock formations along this section of the Etowah.  Richard is a fine paddling companion, and I missed his company, but still had a good day.

The river was much lower this day than it was when I was here earlier.  The lower water level and velocity made my progress upriver easier, averaging just over 3 mph against the current.  The lower level led to a good deal of river-walking, though.  In all, I was out of the boat, pulling it up through shoals and over fish weirs six times.  I was able to paddle through more shoals and up over more fish weirs than I had to drag the boat through, but I did have to switch from my preferred, single-bladed paddle to a two-bladed, kayak paddle for most of those.  The two-bladed paddle allows me to deliver more power for pushing through really fast water, but I cannot sustain that level of effort all day like I can my cruising rhythm with the single-bladed, canoe paddle.  Besides, I am a bit of a sloppy kayak paddler and tend to get pretty wet slinging that two-bladed paddle around.

I had already figured out that the approaching storm was going to dump quite a bit of rain and expected to be sidelined for a day or two.  Unfortunately, it’s looking like it may be a bit longer.  Here are the most recent river gage readings below Lake Allatoona, where I still have a little over 20 miles to paddle, and above Canton, the final section of the trip.  The trends are looking like I may be sidelined a few more days.

Categories: Geography, The Trip, Zero Days: R&R | 2 Comments

Got my confidence back.

Today: 17.0 miles
Trip: 1423.1 miles

Richard and I met at a convenience store west of Rome this morning, dropped a car a Lock and Dam Park, and then drove to the Old River Road boat ramp on the Coosa. We paddled the ten miles upriver to Lock and Dam Park with no great difficulty. Richard then ran shuttle for me as I paddled the remaining 7 miles into Rome. We had a fine grilled steak, potato, onion, and salad dinner at a campfire in tithe park, where we will spend the night. Back to the Etowah tomorrow, east of Rome.

Categories: The Trip | 3 Comments