On the first day of a 112-mile journey down the Lower Flint River in Georgia, 36 kayakers and canoeists were tasked with navigating through a persistent storm.
Potential Tropical Cyclone Three had arrived in the southeast after rising from the Gulf of Mexico. As an experienced paddler, 59-year-old Powell Andrews of Bowling Green knew how to combat the tempest.
“If you keep going you’ll get there,” Andrews said. “It’s just a matter of putting your head and shoulders down and keep paddling – maybe look up once a minute to make sure you’re going in the right direction – but you have to keep going.”
Andrews and his traveling party managed to carry on despite the unfavorable conditions, which lasted beyond the first 24 hours of the trip.
“There was a fair amount of rain and horrible winds that blew straight into our faces, but everybody just buckled down and kept paddling,” he said.
Andrews, a Georgia native, has participated since 2013 in Paddle Georgia, a long-distance voyage over a seven-day period in June. Paddle Georgia is organized by the Georgia River Network, a nonprofit group that seeks to conserve the state’s rivers and promote recreational activities. The annual paddle attracts about 300 kayakers and canoeists in normal circumstances, but due to the lingering presence of the COVID-19 pandemic, only a small fraction of kayakers and canoeists converged on the Lower Flint in 2021.
During a typical Paddle Georgia campaign, a bus shuttles the paddlers from their daily stopping point along the river to where they’ll be spending the night. Eventually the shuttle would return them to the Flint. The group of 36 from the recent trip had a different experience.
“This year, because we had a small group, we camped on the side of the river the entire time,” Andrews said. “That was really nice.”
To prepare for a paddle that varies between nine and 22 miles each day, Andrews and his Kentucky-based paddle partners practice on a local waterway every other weekend. Voyages on the Green River might span 30 miles over two days or 45 miles during a four-day period. When Andrews and his squad are out on their boats, they constantly stay active.
“We’re not a floating group,” Andrews said. “We paddle.”
Andrews moved to Kentucky in 2010 when his quality assurance manager position at Russell Athletic, a subsidiary of Fruit of the Loom, was relocated from Alabama to Fruit of the Loom’s offices in Bowling Green. He now serves as senior manager of technical services for Fruit of the Loom. Outside the office, Andrews leads and organizes events for the Bowling Green Canoe and Kayak Club.
Andrews’ contributions to the local canoeing and kayaking scene have not gone unnoticed.
Duane Beckett, an Austin resident who has completed multiple Paddle Georgia trips with Andrews, described his fellow paddler as kind, adventurous and outgoing.
“He’s just like a brother to me.” Beckett said. “He’s helped me become more social.”
Having the physical strength to handle a long-distance paddle is important, but participants have to stay motivated to finish the journey. Andrews often gets through a voyage by listening to the sounds of doves, bobwhite quails, barn owls and whippoorwills. He also likes to hang out with his friends nearby.
“We usually stay together – a fair amount – so we’re usually talking and conversing while we’re paddling,” Andrews said. “We just keep each other going till we get there.”
Andrews and the 35 other paddlers had ample time to enjoy the nature of southern Georgia this year. The group did not see a bridge for 37 or 38 miles, Andrews said.
In addition to completing the lengthy paddle, the kayakers and canoeists are asked to raise at least $1,000 for GRN’s river protection efforts. This year’s Paddle Georgia unit had raised more than $44,000 as of July 7. GRN’s conservation platform does extend beyond fundraising, Andrews said. The group used one day of the trip to collect the Lower Flint’s accumulation of garbage. After placing trash into mesh bags, the bags were dropped into a large dumpster.
“We usually end up with some odd and interesting things,” Andrews said. “I got part of a wooden Adirondack chair out of the river this year.”
While at home, Andrews assists organizations that collect trash along the Barren and Nolin rivers.
“It’s sad that so much stuff ends up on the banks and in the water,” Andrews said. “Some of it is accidental, some of it is unfortunately intentional, but we do all we can to help with the cleanup.”
On June 26, Andrews and the other Paddle Georgia participants ended the final leg of their journey at Bainbridge Boat Basin Park in Bainbridge, Ga. They were greeted by the Flint Riverkeepers, another organization that focuses on river conservation in the Peach State. The Riverkeepers presented the accomplished paddlers with a fish fry for lunch. The fried fish feast always produces lasting memories for Andrews.
“It’s always good food when they do it,” Andrews said. “We had a ball.”