Paddling the Tennessee River
A Voyage on Easy Water
In late August 1998, Kim Trevathan and his dog, Jasper, set out by canoe on a long, slow trip down the 652 miles of the Tennessee River, the largest tributary of the Ohio. Trevathan wanted to experience the river in its entirety, from Knoxville’s narrow, winding channel, which flows past rocky bluffs, to the wide-open waters of Kentucky Lake at its lower end.
Over the course of the five-week voyage, Trevathan rediscovered the people and places that made history on the Tennessee’s banks. He crossed the path of the explorer Meriwether Lewis along the Natchez Trace, noted the sites of Ulysses S. Grant’s Civil War battles, and passed Hiwassee Island, the spot where a teenaged runaway named Sam Houston lived with Cherokee Chief Jolly.
Trevathan also came to know the modern river’s dwellers, including a towboat pilot, two couples who traded in their landlocked homes for life on the river, a campground owner, and a meteorologist for NASA. He placed his life in the hands of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lock operators as he and Jasper navigated the river’s nine dams.
Paddling the Tennessee River is a powerful travel narrative that captures the river’s wild, turbulent, and defiant past and confronts what it has become—an overused and overdeveloped series of lakes. But first and foremost, the book is the story of a man and his dog, riding low enough to smell the water and to discover the promise of a slow river running through the southern heartland.
Kim Trevathan, who earned his M.F.A. in creative writing at the University of Alabama, works as a new media writer and producer and writes a column for the Maryville Daily Times. His essays and short stories have been published in The Distillery, New Millennium Writings, The Texas Review, New Delta Review, and Under the Sun. He lives in Rockford, Tennessee.