The Daily Times
By Amy Beth Miller
Kim Trevathan planned to begin paddling up the Tennessee River on March 15, but with the Kentucky Dam spilling water at about 200,000 cubic feet per second, he’ll wait until later this week.
The lock there is one of nine he’ll pass through on a 652-mile journey from Paducah, Ky., to Knoxville — the reverse of a route he paddled two decades ago.
With a grant from the Appalachian College Association, Trevathan is on sabbatical this semester from his job as associate professor of writing communication at Maryville College.
During the journey, he’ll be looking at how the river has changed since the 1998 trip downstream that led to his book “Paddling the Tennessee River: A Voyage on Easy Water.”
Same boat, new companion
He will be paddling the same Old Town Discovery canoe as 20 years ago, but this time with a two-bladed paddle while sitting in the stern.
It’s a good flatwater canoe that tracks well, not one made for quick turns, he explained.
At one point he considered traveling alone in a kayak.
The first Tennessee River trip he was accompanied by a dog named Jasper. Then a German shepherd named Norm accompanied him on trips along the region’s lakes and rivers, but the dog has since died.
Photographer Randy Russell joined him on the journey for the book “Coldhearted River: A Canoe Odyssey Down the Cumberland.” But Trevathan observed, “I meet a lot more people when I’m alone.”
He didn’t plan on picking up a new dog, certainly not a puppy or a female. But through the Knox County Humane Society he met Maggie, a mix of German shepherd, boxer, Siberian husky, beagle and Labrador, according to a DNA test.
The puppy weighed about 20 pounds the first time he took her on Tellico Lake in the canoe. “She just loved it,” Trevathan said.
Now at 60 pounds, the 9-month-old already has outgrown one life vest and is still learning with treat rewards to stay in place on the canoe.
Although the boat is the same, some of the equipment is different. “I spent some money on a real nice sleeping pad,” Trevathan said, and this time his Nikon camera is a digital model.
He’s taking Army Corps of Engineers navigation charts, dehydrated camping meals, a voice recorder to supplement his notebooks, and a mobile phone he can power with solar chargers. Most of the time, he’ll have it turned off anyway.
Don’t expect frequent updates on his personal Facebook page, because he plans to focus on the experience and write a book when he returns. However, Tennessee Riverkeeper, a group dedicated to protecting the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and their tributaries, hopes to raise donations through its Facebook posts of his journey.
When he returns, Trevathan said he plans to write a quick first draft of his new book. He’ll dive into the changes along the river, not only the landscape, environmental quality and development but also the river culture and how people behave on the river.
“I’m also looking for how I’ve changed in 20 years,” physically and mentally, he said.
“Some of what I want to write about is aging,” said Trevathan, whose 60th birthday is April 28. “I’m not going to get preachy.”
Friend and Maryville College art professor Carl Gombert is among those who have told Trevathan, “You should have done the upriver 20 years ago.”
Mainly it will be a mental exercise, staying near the bank and reading the current, said Trevathan, who stays in shape by playing tennis, lifting a few weights and running.
He rejected suggestions to add a small motor to the boat. “I like the idea of traveling up the river on my own power,” he said, because it connects him to the earliest people who traveled on the river and does not leave much of a carbon footprint behind.
Trevathan has a “hypothetical itinerary” and plans to paddle perhaps 10 miles a day. He knows he won’t have a campground to stop at every night, but he also has friends and family along the route.
“My sister has a lake house at mile 55,” said Trevathan, who’s originally from Murray, Ky.
“I remember a lot of the river,” he said. “We’ll see how much I remember.”
Currently he plans to start the trip on March 20, and he expects it to take at least eight weeks.
He doesn’t know if he’ll be allowed to lock through all nine dams along the river and has a small cart in case he has to portage the canoe.
Traveling downstream going through a dam is like the water draining out of a bathtub, he explained. He tested going through upstream at Watts Bar, and it wasn’t too rough, but later he learned that the person controlling the flow of water had slowed it because of the canoe.
At the end of his trip 20 years ago, Trevathan paddled for about 16 hours on the last day, arriving after 9 p.m. to be met by his whole family.
“My mantra this time it to take my time,” he said.