The Daily Times
By Amy Beth Miller
Kim Trevathan planned to hit the couch Thursday night and watch a Cubs game.
After paddling 652 miles up the Tennessee River over the past eight weeks, Trevathan said he was ready for baseball and maybe a pizza.
If he had known what the first four miles would be like, he might not have done it, Trevathan said during a phone interview Wednesday, the day before he completed the journey at Holston River Park in Knoxville.
“It was really difficult at first,” he said.
When he first paddled down the Tennessee River two decades ago, Trevathan started in late August. The latest journey started in Paducah, Ky., on March 21, with winds about 20 mph and the temperature around 40 degrees.
He already had delayed the launch by about a week because Kentucky Dam was spilling so much water — about 200,000 cubic feet per second.
A friend pushing off the Old Town Discovery canoe pushed down on the gunnel, letting water in the boat that soaked Trevathan’s arm. Big swells on the river made it like paddling in the ocean, Trevathan said.
“You could almost say I’ve gone through four seasons since March 21,” he said. This week the temperature topped 90 degrees.
While the first month was hard, as he completed the journey Trevathan said, “I feel really good.”
An associate professor of writing communication at Maryville College, Trevathan took a sabbatical this semester with a grant from the Appalachian College Association.
His first journey led to his writing the book “Paddling The Tennessee River: A Voyage on Easy Water.”
Now he plans to write about the changes in the landscape, environmental quality and culture along the river, as well as the changes in himself, physically and mentally. Trevathan’s 60th birthday was in April.
Traveling with Trevathan this time was a mixed-breed rescue dog named Maggie, about 9 months old and 60 pounds when they started.
She took to the canoe the first time Trevathan took her out as a puppy on Tellico Lake.
While she stays still in the boat, Trevathan said, “on land she kind of goes berserk,” jumping on people with the enthusiasm of a puppy.
About 200 miles into the journey, however, she jumped out of the boat as the doors were opening in the second lock, Pickwick. The lock operator saw what happened and closed the doors.
Maggie apparently learned from that experience not to swim off, but she’s a different dog on land.
Trevathan sometimes paddled up to the bank and let Maggie take a break when he stayed in the canoe, until the day she took off in a heavily wooded area near Wheeler Lake.
He left the canoe and made his way through the woods to a road, looked both ways and saw no sign of Maggie. Back at the canoe, however, his phone already had a message from someone who had found her, thanks to a HomeAgain tag.
“After that she’s been my prisoner,” he said.
Not quite roughing it
Trevathan powered his trip with a double-bladed paddle and no motor, wanting an experience close to the American Indians and fur traders who first navigated the river.
His hands were sore and cut open at the beginning, but the first month prepared him for the rest.
Knowing the river well, he wasn’t in a hurry and some days didn’t paddle at all.
Three huge rains hit while he was traveling through Mississippi and Alabama, one flooding his campsite.
Although he took dehydrated camping food, he sometimes ate at restaurants or stayed with friends.
After one rough stretch he spent a night in a floating cabin at Hales Bar Marina on Nickajack Lake to reward himself.
Changes along the river
Trevathan’s trip was also a way to raise awareness of the condition of the Tennessee River, the source of drinking water for millions of people, and the need to protect it.
While in many areas the water visually appeared to be fine, Trevathan also saw eddies where trash collected and a place near Guntersville with large items including a refrigerator, television and toilet seat in the river.
The trip brought attention to Tennessee Riverkeeper, a group dedicated to protecting the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers and their tributaries. A Facebook fundraising page set a goal of $1,304 and by Thursday evening had raised $1,210.
Trevathan plans to quickly write a first draft of his new book. However, first he’ll have to determine whether he can retrieve notes from a voice recorder that also took a dip in the water.