James River site of 100-mile paddling event

It’s just the largest event of its kind on the East Coast. NO BIG DEAL!

Beginning Friday, people across the country will join local river enthusiasts to paddle a 100-mile stretch of the James River over two days during the James River Rundown.

“It’s 100 miles of paddling, however they want to get there: canoe, kayak, paddle board, surf board, whatever you feel comfortable taking down the river,” said Kevin Odberg, chair of the James River Rundown committee that worked with the James River Association to create the event that spans the 100 miles between the James River State Park (northeast of Lynchburg) and ends at the American Legion boat ramp in Richmond.

The James River Rundown joins a relatively short list of ultramarathon paddling events. “They’re not very common. They’re kind of spread out throughout the country [but] they’re really gaining momentum and popularity,” Odberg said.

One of the longest events in the US is the Missouri River 340, which Odberg first paddled with his brother four years ago. “I saw what it did for the Missouri [River]: the increase in the paddling community there, and the people who appreciate the river volunteered to help on clean-up crews and take more ownership,” he said. Why not bring that to the James?

He eventually reached out to a local organization tasked with stewarding and promoting the river. Sherrie Tribble, director of Special Events at the James River Association, said the group became “excited about putting together something that would get people out on the river,” she said. The upcoming river-based event joins others the JRA sponsors to get people on the James. “I think by participating in events like this, people develop a greater appreciation for this wonderful resource that we have and really realize how important it is to protect it.”

Odberg designed the course to spotlight the James beauty. “There’s no industry on that stretch of the James. It’s really just a pristine, secluded area,” he said. The James reinforced its unique beauty to Odberg during a recent test of the course’s final stage. “We saw about eight bald eagles. One of them was carrying a fish–a bass that was still wiggling–right over our head up to a nest,” he said.

Paddlers will have two days (or 40 hours) to complete the course. “That should be enough for everybody to paddle just during daylight hours at a comfortable pace and get there,” Odberg said. “We really wanted to make it an event that was not just for extra paddlers or ultramarathon-type enthusiasts, but something that’s attainable and achievable for anyone who feels comfortable in a canoe or kayak.” But the event will also appeal to experienced marathoners. “This is going to be about the longest annual paddle race on the East Coast of its kind,” he said.

There’s a good tips section on the event website for those considering the ultramarathon event.1

Two official checkpoints (in Scottsville and Cartersville) will give paddlers a place to camp2 and to restock water and food supplies. Tribble said officials will monitor paddlers to ensure their safety. “If you’re not at a certain point by a certain time, we’re going to have checkers out there and we would ask certain people to stop at that point if we feel like they’re not going to be able to make the whole race,” she said.

There will be a free after-event party open to the public at the American Legion starting at 4:00 PM featuring live music, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery beers, and food sales.

Odberg and Tribble anticipate that 50-75 paddlers3 will participate in the inaugural event. Both said the event may evolve to also include shorter and longer courses in the coming years.

But this year, the two want to establish the event, as well as bring more attention to the James River. “The mission of the James River Association is to be guardians of the river. So all we do is focused on protecting and restoring the river for current and future generations,” Tribble said. “We would like to see people who participate in the race take an interest in the river, want to help protect it, [and] get out and use it.”

Odberg said fatigue, sore muscles, and hunger will ebb and flow throughout two-day marathon race. But perseverance will help paddlers prevail. “As long as they’re willing to stay in their boat and keep going, they’re going to make it,” he said. “The reward for finishing is better than the multiplication of the suffering.”

The James River Rundown takes place Friday, June 20th – Saturday, June 21st.

photo by Tony Alter

  1. The website encourages people to stay in their boat: “The current isn’t swift, but it’s there so use it. Take breaks in the boat. Eat in the boat. Pee in the boat (in a container in the boat preferably).” 
  2. Another camping spot will be at the confluence of the Slate River. 
  3. With people from Mississippi, Colorado, Wisconsin already registered. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Jacob K on said:

    Wow, I wish I would’ve known of this sooner! I would’ve love to have done it. Oh well, I guess there is always next year.

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