published Thursday, January 30th, 2014

Rhea County native completes 3,000 mile kayak trip

In a case of one big adventure literally leading to another, Rhea County native Brad Tallent recently finished a kayak trip of more than 3,000 miles from Nova Scotia in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Tallent made the paddling journey with Austin Graham of St. Francisville, La., a small town near Baton Rouge. The two met on an Appalachian Trail hike that started on April 1, 2012, and decided to try a long-distance kayak trip during a one-day break at Erwin, Tenn., when they took small rental boats down the Nolachucky River. That was not long before, in southern Virginia, Tallent left the rest of the hiking group that bonded soon after leaving Springer Mountain in Georgia, including Rusty Packard of Harrison.

That was the first time Graham ever was in a kayak. Tallent had done quite a bit of paddling, mostly canoeing, since boyhood, but his experience also was limited for the venture that began last June 16 at Cape Breton Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

"I had a couple of kayaks before, but nothing like the one I have now," the Evensville resident and 2007 Rhea County High School graduate said. "This one is 17 feet long, so it's pretty big. The one I practiced Eskimo rolls in before the trip was an 11-footer, I think -- a 1980s whitewater kayak that was a hand-me-down from my father. These are quite a bite different, so it took a while to figure them out.

"The biggest adjustment, though, was being on the ocean. I had never paddled on an ocean before," added Tallent, who tore the rotator cuff in his left shoulder later in the expedition..

"I hadn't been in a real kayak before this trip, so I pretty much learned it all from Brad," said Graham, who plans to move to this area while he and Tallent edit their video footage in the next several months for a documentary they agreed to do as part of their sponsorship agreement with Johnson Outdoors, which provided the Necky kayaks they used.

  • photo
    Brad Tallent of Rhea County, left, and Austin Graham of Louisiana stand on the shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia on June 16 as they prepare to begin a kayak adventure that ended seven months later in the Gulf of Mexico at Long Beach, Miss.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The trip would have been more than 5,000 miles if they had followed their planned route through the Great Lakes and then entered the Mississippi River near its source in Minnesota. They adjusted to an excursion down the Allegheny River and then picked up the Ohio River where it begins in Pittsburgh and hit the Mississippi at Cairo, Ill., where the Ohio spills into the Mississippi.

They finished at Long Beach, Miss., just west of Gulfport, on Jan. 18. The trip is documented on Facebook.com/gulftogulf.

"I think we ended up doing about 3,300 miles," Graham said. "But if we had taken the path originally planned, we probably still would be on Lake Superior, fighting a lot of negative elements. On flat water we could go only about 2.5 miles an hour, compared to anywhere from 5.5 to 7 on a river."

Tallent admitted that he was disappointed to miss the beauty and challenges of the uppermost Great Lake, in particular, but said the adjustment "was a blessing in disguise. The Allegheny turned out to be my favorite part of the whole trip. We were by ourselves a lot in that stretch, and it was really beautiful."

The Ohio was "very, very interesting," he said, but they skipped a big chunk of its many dams and locks for a Thanksgiving break to go to their respective homes. Tallent's dad met them in West Virginia about the same time Colton Calloway -- a Louisiana friend of Graham's who with his girlfriend and dog finished the AT hike with Graham and Packard -- arrived from giving a presentation about the hike at Outdoor Chattanooga and took Graham home.

They hooked up again at Paducah, Ky., on Black Friday and completed their journey, which included a portage from New Orleans to Lake Ponchartrain near the end, for the final ride through Lake Borgne.

Before acknowledging they were behind schedule and portaging to the Allegheny, Tallent and Graham paddled along the St. Lawrence River and into the Gaspesie Region of New Brunswick and took a weeklong hiking break on the International Appalachian Trail -- resting their arms and backs -- and then had their boats transported to the Richelieu River east of Montreal, from where they paddled upstream to Lake Champlain in New York and then down the Hudson River and west through the Erie Canal to Buffalo.

Besides being born three days apart in October 1989, the kayaking partners "view the outdoors the same way and share opinions on society and interests in other things," said Graham, who played tennis and soccer and ran cross country growing up.

They stayed in hotels only "four or five nights" during their seven-month trip, preferring to "sleep in tents," he added. And in a sense that trip is far from over, as they prepare to complete their documentary.

"I know it's going to look good," Graham said. "I get all excited every time I look at what we shot. We should have a trailer [on the Facebook page] within a week.

"We saw great wildlife: whales, seals, dolphins, bears, foxes, beavers, deer, otters -- Brad saw a family of moose. It was really cool. Our very last day in the Gulf of Mexico, a dolphin swam right next to us, about six feet away. It was a really good ending to our journey."

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

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