The boats have spent all night under a Georgia State Highway bridge, resting cheek-to-jowl in the midsummer dew, supervised by an off-duty police officer. There are hundreds of them—kayaks and some canoes—patterning the banks of the Coosawattee River like a psychedelic parquet floor. At about 6:30 AM, a black Volkswagen pulls up and a bluff, sunburned redhead named April gets out, dismisses the cop and starts rummaging around in the trunk of her station wagon.[Canoes and kayaks await their riders at a Paddle Georgia launch site on the Etowah River in 2006. Photo: Joe Cook.]
Shortly, a school bus arrives, and people file out: surgeons, refrigerator salesmen, a shy German couple, inner city kids, cattle farmers, retired people with high-tech binoculars hanging from their necks, suburban families. They stumble and pick through the aggregate of candy-colored boats, and, finding their own craft, drag it down to the water. They lose their towel-camera-lunch-sunglasses, they shout questions over the heads of others that have to be repeated, they laugh giddily with a friend over a cup of coffee spilled down the front of a bathing suit, they find their towel-camera-lunch-sunglasses, they threaten their kids with the count of three to put on their PFDs and get in the canoe.
In the meantime, another school bus arrives, and eventually another, and another. During all of thise, April is checking peoples’ names before they get into their boats, and one by one they slide into the water and disappear behind a bend in the river. Today, there will be 15 . . .