Organizers are planning a paddle boat race of epic proportions next month along the Alabama Scenic River Trail, the longest single-state river trail in the U.S.
The 650-mile muscle-powered race will start in Cherokee County at Weiss Lake on Sept. 10 and end 10 days later in Fort Morgan, according to Greg Wingo, race director for what’s being called the Great Alabama 650. Participants have options to navigate the river course: kayaks, canoes or standup paddleboards, according to Wingo.
Wingo said 10 participants who have signed up so far have decided “they want to take on the hardest challenge of their life.”
Wingo said participants will have six hydroelectric dams, including Logan Martin, and three Army Corps of Engineer levies to portage — that is, get out of the water and carry their boats to the next segment of river.
Those rivers are the Coosa and the Alabama; the last portage on the route is the Claiborne Lock and Dam along the Alabama River, and after that, it’s smooth sailing to Mobile Bay.
Competitors are on the clock once the race starts, according to Wingo, and they have the option to either camp out or check into a nearby motel.
“Anytime they sleep, eat, do anything when they’re not on the water, it’s kinda against their time,” Wingo said. There are campsites available for the racers along the route, he added.
One of the competitors is no stranger to paddle racing or Alabama. He’s 58-year-old Scott Baste, who lives in the Florida Keys.
Baste said he competed in the Yukon 1000 in Canada last year, a 340-mile race in Missouri in 2017 and twice in a 300-mile race in Florida. An outdoors enthusiast, Baste is familiar with Alabama and has visited Anniston and the Talladega National Forest for outdoor recreation.
Baste uses a standup paddle board, which he says is part canoe and part surfboard.
“I’ll be standing all day long instead of sitting all day long, which a lot of people think would be harder, but it’s just as hard,” he said. “When the kayakers and canoers stop and take a break, they stand up. When I stop to take a break, I sit down,” Baste said.
Baste said his plan is to break the Great Alabama 650 into 10 65-mile segments and take a three- to four-hour break to sleep between each segment — regardless of whether it’s day or night.
A one-man crew will assist Baste on his journey across the state and will have a sleeping cot ready when he stops.
If Baste wins? He plans to split his prize money with his crew member, who does everything except paddle his craft.
Wingo said $22,500 in prize money awaits winners in a trio of categories: $7,500 each for the first man, first woman and first two-person team across the finish line. The prize money is from the Alabama Scenic River Trail organization, according to Wingo.
Wingo hopes the beautiful diversity of the state will be a takeaway that racers enjoy.
“Our race course being on the Alabama Scenic River Trail,” said Wingo, “is probably the most unique race they will ever take part in.”
Laura Gaddy, media manager for the Alabama Scenic River Trail, said there are few similar long-distance races, another being the Yukon 1000, which traverses Canada to Alaska.
“This will be one of the longest and one of the hardest races in the world, and it really highlights how much Alabama has to offer to paddlers,” said Gaddy.
Gaddy said she hopes the racers will appreciate the natural diversity and beauty of the state and will spread the word to other paddling enthusiasts.
Race organizers will hold a meeting at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Gadsden at the Venue at Coosa River to inform public safety officials and stakeholders about the race.
Wingo said registration will end Aug. 15. For registration and other related information, including detailed maps of all the portages: www.AL650.com.