Paddling 1,500 Miles for Science and Adventure
July 27, 2013 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Starting on September 22 last year, Professor Robert Fuller of the University of North Georgia spent four months paddling down the Chattahoochee River system, from the Chattahoochee's headwaters in northern Georgia down through the Apalachicola into the Gulf of Mexico, studying water quality along the way. Then he paddled 200 miles through the Gulf, turned at the mouth of the Mobile River, and paddled another 750 miles upstream on the Mobile, Alabama, Coosa, and Etowah Rivers all the way back to northern Georgia—a total of just over 1,500 miles of solo paddling in his Kruger Sea Wind. Along the way, he kept a blog, "ate a lot of Beanie Weenies", and faced difficulties including cold, hunger, injuries, and river obstructions. Incidentally, he did all this while living with leukemia.

From the second to last link above, here's a little more detail on the water quality science:
I traced a fluorescent dye going down the river from the Chattahoochee Spring, testing the temperature, pH levels, and conductivity. Conductivity tells you a lot about the dissolved minerals in the water. It shows if something is being added in the water. I saw some pristine water at the Chattahoochee Spring. As soon as you get into the suburbs of Atlanta, there’s a steady increase in conductivity, indicating the runoff of minerals, most likely fertilizer from lawns.
Fuller's blog covers some of the practicalities of moving himself and his supplies up and down undeveloped stretches of river, such as this account from the upstream portion of his trip:
Upriver of GA 372, I encountered unpaddleable rapid that was so deep and fast that it was impossible to wade, and the banks were too steep to walk and line the boat up. In fact, the bank was too steep to stand and unload the boat, so I pulled myself up the bank with the aid of exposed roots and vines, and then pulled the loaded boat up the bank. That took every bit of strength that I had, but I got it done. Unlike an earlier portage, the growth at the top of the bank was too thick to allow easy maneuvering, so I unloaded the boat and slid it along the face of the bank, keeping it from sliding back into the water with the support of trees growing along the bank. The whole portage was no more than 80′ to 100′, but it was a challenge.
Wikipedia links for the Chattahoochee River and Etowah River. See also the American Whitewater River Database entries for Georgia for descriptions and photos of the rivers and their rapids, such as this description of how part of the Etowah flows through an abandoned mining tunnel (and some people run the tunnel in their boats).
posted by Orinda (10 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
How appropriate that he used a Kruger.
posted by HuronBob at 11:43 AM on July 27, 2013

Four months boating in the Southeast. Jeez. Some people have all the luck...

um...wait....holy crap. What a guy!
posted by mule98J at 11:53 AM on July 27, 2013

350 pounds of gear but he's only eating tinned foods? What else was he carrying, a typewriter?
posted by docgonzo at 12:02 PM on July 27, 2013

docgonzo, at least some scientific instrumentation, given he was making tests.
posted by tavella at 12:36 PM on July 27, 2013

Tell me about the insects, Clarice.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:37 PM on July 27, 2013

I always like reading these stories of people accomplishing amazing feats, but also of the people they befriend on the way. The kindness of strangers shows how great life can be.

Also, enjoyed this line from the AJC link:

Canoeing is sweaty work, Fuller wrote in an early-October blog entry. Near Morgan Falls, he took an “inside the pants” bath:

“It may look a bit strange when one is washing inside the pants,” he wrote, “but probably less traumatized to someone than seeing a naked old man in the river.”

posted by mlo at 1:57 PM on July 27, 2013

As a fellow Georgia freshwater ecologist, I am extremely jealous of his downstream trip and have no desire to copy his upstream trip. This is really cool, and I can't believe I'm just now hearing about it.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:14 PM on July 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

some friends and I did a similar thing (without the leukemia) after college

I recommend it.
posted by eustatic at 3:04 PM on July 27, 2013

Shooting the 'hooch with a cooler of beer in tow is a popular summer pastime in Georgia. That pollution in the water isn't runoff.
posted by three blind mice at 5:09 PM on July 27, 2013

I would have expected more Deliverance jokes ...
posted by k5.user at 11:58 AM on July 29, 2013

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