652 Miles in 7 days on a river... can it be done?

I am interested in attempting to paddle the entire Tn. River in 7 consecutive days.

Such an ambitious goal demands answers and advice. Has anyone paddled this distance that fast before? What does training and diet look like leading up? Equipment suggestions?

I’d love to hear what you think! Thanks.

I suspect there are people out there who could do it, but more common seems to be shooting for 15-40 miles per day.

If the rive has some current, that would help raise the miles you could possibly make. But too much current creates white water, which actually slows most people down.

Dams or other portages will slow you down.

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For example…
The Everglades Challenge is an unsupported, expedition style adventure race for kayaks, canoes, and small boats. The distance is roughly 300 nautical miles depending on your course selection. There is a time limit of 8 days or less

Most entrants don’t make it but many do. For some it takes multiple tries…

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Of course, depending on how many hours a day you plan to paddle and river current. Look to the Yukon Races. The Yukon River Quest is 440 miles and can be paddled in about 50 paddling hours, not including two mandatory rest stops, one of 7 hours at about 190 miles in (pit support allowed), another of 3 hours about 100 miles from the end (no support). The race starts at noon on a Wednesday and the faster finishers end on Friday evening, including time out for the mandatory stops, slower boats dribble in up to a day longer. The Yukon 1000 mile (no support allowed at all) is typically finished in just a bit over 6 days, including mandatory non-location-specific primitive camping stops of 6 hours per “night”. In my 60’s I’ve completed these races 5 times so far.

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And then there are are some guys who do the 300+ miles in three days and a few hours.

Unless involved in a race, why try to set a land/river speed record? Enjoy the river and journey.

Unfortunately more and more it’s turning into a small sailboat race or kayak with sail race.

Sadly that’s true. WaterTribe is what got me interested in paddling a kayak. I discovered there was much more to it than bobbing around on calm water doing nothing.

I never bother following the sailboats; only the kayakers like Greg and a couple others. Am in awe of their endurance and determination.

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There are still a few sailers in it that I use to race against in the ol’ days. I got tired of towing/storing trailers and boats and went diving instead.
May go and greet the kayakers at the end of this years race…

Not these folks - this video is amazing…

Who says you can’t paddle rapids in a loaded tripping boat. Makes me question my humble tandem paddling skills.

I don’t know the TN RIver but to the best of Wikipedia ( and I have heard of the TVA which generates electricity from…dams) you will have at least 9 dams to lock through and the process for each takes about an hour. The dams have reservoirs in back of them presumably with flat water with little current. Shipping traffic abounds.
Lets confine the discussion to the OP’s river of interest. To me it looks like it is a hard slog and to do in a week a superhuman effort. Even without rain. The Everglades Challenge and the Yukon River ( and I have paddled in both areas but not the Challenge nor any race!) have nothing to do with the Tenn River

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I’ve done 340 miles in 60 hours (including a couple of short rest breaks) during the Missouri River 340 Race, but it wasn’t a lot of fun, and not something I’d recommend without training or significant experience. You’ll need a support team for food/water resupplies because you won’t want to be carrying any extra weight (especially if you have portages around dams). I don’t know that river, but you’ll need to cover almost 100 miles per day which is going to take a fairly significant caloric intake at a steady rate. Think constant snacking or many smaller meals versus breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

To maximize daylight you’ll want to schedule your attempt near the summer solstice, but unfortunately that will mean higher temperatures and sun exposure. You’ll need to be very careful how you dress. You’ll be hot during the day and cool in the evenings. Sunburn and exposure have knocked many good paddlers out of endurance events.

Yes, I’m sure it can be done, but you better do your homework and know every facet of your course including portages, resupply points, etc. Good luck!

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It would be a very good idea to call the Tennessee Valley Authority and ask if they have portage trail for use.

When we tried to organize a race down the Hillsborough River we asked for permeation to portage around the Tampa Water Department Dam. They refused because it violated their containment of the area. Dams are currently considered to be threatened targets for National Security.

Showing up and trying to get around one might not be dangerous to safety, it might get you arrested.

Nearing 100 miles a day for 7 straight days sounds like a professional athlete to me, with a strong current at his back.
If you paddle 12 hours a day you would have to average just over 7 3/4 miles an hour… Average!
I know I couldn’t do that for a shorter period let alone a day or seven of them! I don’t think I could come close to paddling 12 hours a day without training.

The Everglades challenge requires you to paddle 20 or more hours a day if you want to be a front-runner. I’m usually planning for around 3 hours of sleep per day at best, with some short “power naps” to take the edge off, but you suffer and need an attitude of “embrace the suck”. For a longer effort you would need more sleep to be sustainable. The EC is starting soon, on March 7. Knowing that someone is rooting for you always helps, so I hope that folks here follow it!

That said, for something closer to the original question, Bobby Johnson completed the Great Alabama 650 in seven days, eight hours, this year. This was a supported race.

Greg Stamer


Hi Greg… We live about 2 miles from the finish line…
Maybe I can get “Gator Bait’s Mate” to bring me down there…:sunglasses:
Good luck!

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On a flatwater river such as the Tennessee this will require a superhuman effort, lots of pit crew support, a fast solo canoe, lots of training and practice. 652 miles in 7 days is 93 miles a day and at 6mph average speed requires paddling for 15 hours a day. You won’t have much current to help you, you will be contending with large boat traffic and wakes, Training should include lots of long days on similar water until you can do 93 miles and still have some gas in the tank. I do a 3 day 90 mile race each fall that is big lakes, and slow rivers, and multiple long portages. We drink about a gallon to gallon and a half each day and consume 8-12 ounces of gorp each day. A good breakfast and lots of vitamin I . Equipment: I prefer canoes, but for your purpose a fast surfski would be better. In a canoe I would use something meeting the USCA standard class specs,. the faster competition 3x27 solos do not have enough depth or seaworthiness to handle big waves or wakes. a decked expedition canoe like the Kruger Seawind would also work. Good luck!!

Note in my previous post about the Yukon River 1000 mile race, which has a 6+mph current, in which we average of over 160miles/day, it can be done by trained 6+mph flatwater paddlers, including mandatory 6 hour “nightly” rest stops.

Plaidpadder is obviously talking about the staged 3-day Adirondack 90 miler canoe classic race. Some of us like to do what is unofficially called the Cannonball-90, in which we paddle the entire route all in a single long day around the summer solstice. I like to begin at midnight, and it takes about 19 hours, virtually all on flatwater, and includes an accumulated 10 miles of walking (non-race speed) land portages. I wouldn’t recommend planning on that much effort and mileage day after day, however.

I’m sure it can be done - by somebody. Its a question of crazy amounts of dedication and perseverance. It strikes me as amazing that nobody has yet mentioned Verlen Kruger, other than by way of his boats. Whenever the question of “can it be done/is it possible” is mentioned regarding paddling long distances fast, he’s the guy to remember. His practices are at least worth through study. And I’m sure there are more than a few folks here who have, at least among those with an interest in expedition paddling.
And the answer will almost always be “yes, its possible” but you have to be, like him, an absolute paddling monster and devoted to it beyond the capacity of most.

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I do not know much about the TN river and currents, traffic. I think 652 in 7 days will be a feat but can be done. It will require paddling at night and 16-18 hrs/day. I have paddled 270 miles solo in just over 5 days on the Colorado River in Texas. I was in a very slow heavy kayak. There was very little current and 3 dam portages, two of which consumed a lot of time and energy and had to be done in daylight. This required holding up some to stage the portage. I started Dec 26 and completed Dec 31 at the Gulf of Mexico. Due to hours of daylight that time of year I had to paddle at night with some while raining and foggy. I usually started at 2-4 am and stopped about 5pm. Mostly making 48 miles/day with my last day being 60 miles and 17hrs of paddling. It was fun for me but it not something my friends wanted to do. Despite eating well and often I found myself constantly hungry but not weak. I am actually looking at rainfalls here in TX and gages on the Brazos river and may pull the trigger on a 450 mile paddle from Waco to the Gulf as early as this weekend but in a much faster boat and better, lighter equipment. My target is 5 days. Below is a link to my Colorado river trip report.

Just go do it,