By DAVID RAINER, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Adventure apparently has no time constraints for cousins Will and John Denton, who decided to make the 650-mile journey along the Alabama Scenic River Trail recently after answering two questions.
“John was just finishing up hiking the Appalachian Trail, so he had the camping experience,” said 79-year-old Will. “But, he didn’t know if he could paddle that far. I’ve been kayaking for about 40 years, so I knew I could do the paddling. But I didn’t know if I could sleep on the ground.”
Even though John was not an experienced paddler, he was considering a trip down the Mississippi River before Will found a better idea.
“I allowed I had given that some thought, and I might be interested in doing that with him,” said Will of the trip down the mighty Mississippi. “About the same time, I found out about the Alabama Scenic River Trail (ASRT), and I suggested we try that first.”
The two decided to combine their skills to start the paddle about 4 miles from the Alabama line in Georgia.
The fact that Will’s home on Lake Martin wouldn’t be that far away should something go awry also contributed to the decision.
Will had only paddled a few miles of the ASRT, Moccasin Gap just below Jordan Dam to Wetumpka, and had no idea what to expect on the rest of the trail.
“Except for Moccasin Gap, it was all new to both of us,” Will said.
Will loaded up his trusty kayak with supplies for the trip while John, 66, opted for a Verlen Kruger vessel, kayak-canoe hybrid. They paddled across the state line and headed down through the six lakes on the Coosa system.
“It took us five or six days to kind of hit a rhythm and find a pace that was comfortable,” Will said. “We could paddle about 3 miles an hour with no more exertion than if you were walking. We were comfortable paddling at about the same speed.”
The paddlers saw a variety of wildlife during the trip, although Will admitted that John was more inclined to notice because of his passion for hunting.
“John is a big turkey hunter,” Will said. “He spent more time looking for stuff along the bank. He would call my attention to some things. Sometimes we paddled side by side. Sometimes we were on opposite sides of the river. We were looking for eagles quite a bit.
“On our (Coosa) lakes part of the trip, we averaged seeing about an eagle a day. By the time we got to Wetumpka and Montgomery, we didn’t see any more from there south.”
Will said the biggest interest from friends and family he’s told about the trip, which began September 1, is the numbers of snakes the duo encountered.
“I saw one cottonmouth and John didn’t see any,” Will said. “He saw six alligators when we got to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. He pointed two of those out to me. He saw a bobcat. We heard a bunch of hogs at night. We saw deer, and we saw a lot of fish-eating water birds. Interestingly, we saw more of those in the upper end.”
Will, a former public health administrator, and John, a retired farmer from the Mississippi Delta, had only a couple of episodes of difficult paddling during the adventure.
“Really, we had one day on Logan Martin when we had an afternoon trying to get to School Bus Island,” Will said. “We paddled into a strong headwind for two or three hours to get to the island, which was a wonderful campsite. It was about our only option to camp on the lower end of the lake because it is all developed down there. Until we got to Mobile Bay, that was the hardest day of paddling.
“When I look back at the pictures I took on the way, the water was as slick and calm as it could be. The water conditions were wonderful.”
During the time on the Coosa section, rainstorms popped up all around them, but they encountered only a couple of light showers. It turned out to be the calm before the storm.