Hinesville resident Jim Gray is gearing up to paddle 105 miles this week as part of Georgia River Network’s eighth annual Paddle Georgia 2012.
The annual event, a week-long canoe/kayak journey on the Altamaha River from Baxley to Darien, draws more than 300 people from across the United States and Canada.
The trip will begin at 8 a.m. Saturday near Baxley. Paddlers will travel 105 miles of Georgia’s largest river and end amongst the marshes of McIntosh County near Darien next Friday. This will be the first Paddle Georgia to finish on the Georgia coast.
The GRN said the trip has become the largest week-long canoe/kayak camping adventure in the country. This year’s trip sold out in about two weeks, according to the GRN website.
Gray, a kayaker who has been paddling local creeks and rivers for years, said it will be his first time participating in the event.
“The farthest trip taken has been approximately 10 miles,” he said. “This trip is over 100 miles and will prove to be interesting.”
Gray said the paddling bug bit him a few years ago.
“I’ve always been interested in water sports and have spent a lot of time on the water,” he said. “I took my daughter to Southeast Adventure Outfitters on St. Simons Island years back where we did a paddle in the salt tidal marsh. From that point forward, I was hooked.”
Gray said paddling offers him peace and tranquility and spectacular views of the local wildlife, flora and fauna.
“When drifting with the current, you have the opportunity to see and experience more of the outdoors that you would miss in a boat with a motor,” he said. “I truly can’t paint with words the beauty of our natural resources as seen from a kayak. I highly recommend the sport to everyone.”
Gray said he is excited and ready for the adventure. He said his favorite paddling spot is Ebeneezer Creek, a backwater tributary off of the Savannah River. He has paddled parts of the Altamaha, Ohoopee, Canoochee and Ogeechee rivers and salt water tidal marshes.
He thinks the event will prepare him for future expeditions.
“I am making plans for some Florida rivers and an expedition down the St. Mary’s River,” he said. “I just love water — be it the ocean, a river, a creek or a ditch ... Give me a paddle and I’m there.”
Fashioned after the annual Bicycle Ride Across Georgia, Paddle Georgia includes educational programs on the river’s cultural and natural history, tours of facilities and historic sites along the river, nightly games and entertainment and a research program in which participants will help collect chemical and biological data to give a snapshot of the current health of the rivers.
At night, participants will camp at Tattnall County High School, Wayne County High School, Altamaha Regional Park and Darien.
In addition to supporting GRN’s efforts to protect Georgia’s rivers, proceeds from this year’s Paddle Georgia will also benefit the Altamaha Riverkeeper.