By Russ Corey, Staff Writer
FLORENCE — In 1998, Kim Trevathan and his dog, Jasper, embarked on a journey to paddle the entire length of the Tennessee River.
An associate professor of writing communication at Maryville College outside Knoxville, Tennessee, he wrote a book about his experience, “Paddling the Tennessee River: A Voyage on Easy Water.”
Twenty years later, Trevathan wanted to paddle the river again, but this time he decided to paddle upstream.
“I wanted to see how the river has changed and how I’ve changed,” he said. “I’ve turned 60.”
Trevathan plans to write a follow up, which will contain some geography and descriptions of people he encounters on the way. It also explains where the river begins and ends.
For this trip, which began on March 21, he left at mile zero in Paducah, Kentucky, and expects to end his trip in Knoxville, Tennessee, sometime next month or early June.
The first trip took five weeks to complete.
This time around, Trevathan has a new companion — Maggie, “a 10-month-old mutt puppy.”
“She’s great in the canoe, but when we get on shore she can be a little rowdy,” he said.
Trevathan said he hasn’t encountered any significant changes from his last trip, though he has noticed a couple of new bridges.
“I haven’t been struck by anything worse than it was 20 years ago,” he said. “The people have been great. Everybody has been great helping me out.”
Even though he’s paddling upstream, Trevathan hasn’t noticed the current that much. High water did force him to leave his campsite just upstream from the Colbert Fossil Plant. Wind has been a factor. Tailwinds are helpful, headwinds are not.
He paddled 21 miles on Sunday and 14 miles Monday before stopping at McFarland Park to camp overnight. He resumed his trip early Tuesday morning.
Trevathan said he has been canoeing for years, but his experience is mostly with flatwater canoeing with a bit of whitewater rafting around east Tennessee. He used to write an outdoor column for the free weekly “Knoxville Mercury.”
For this trip, Trevathan is trying to raise money for Tennessee Riverkeeper, an organization that monitors pollution on the Tennessee and Cumberland river basins.
“Tennessee Riverkeeper is inspired and energized by Kim Trevathan’s passion for the river,” Executive Director David Whiteside said. “Extraordinary paddle adventures such as this educate many citizens about their water and raise awareness about pollution issues. Flat-water canoeing is tremendous exercise, and it’s certainly more strenuous paddling against the current.”
The Tennessee Riverkeeper Facebook page contains a link to donate to the organization. So far, Trevathan has raised $778 of his $1,304 goal.
“We are honored Kim Trevathan chose to support nonprofit Tennessee Riverkeeper with his heroic 652-mile upstream paddle from Paducah,” Whiteside said. “This is an heroic feat; stay tuned to Tennessee Riverkeeper’s Facebook page for updates on the journey.”
Trevathan said wind and waves have been his main concern. The first four miles of the trip where the Tennessee River begins in Paducah almost made him question his decision to paddle the river again.
“There was a tail wind and huge waves coming up behind us,” he said. “We were having to constantly paddle.”
Trevathan said he brought a supply of dehydrated foods, granola bars, tortillas and peanut butter.
While the towboats and barges and bass anglers have been great, some cabin cruiser operators have come a little too close for comfort, causing Trevathan to have to jump their wakes to keep from capsizing.
“I haven’t seen any other canoers,” he said.