As Josh Forester paddled toward Tidwell Park on the night of Wednesday, June 12 — nearly a full week after he set off on the first ever attempted circumnavigation of Lake Lanier in one sitting — he saw lights flashing in the distance. He wasn’t entirely sure what all the commotion was about, but he had a hunch.
When the dock marking his final destination came into view, Forester’s suspicions were confirmed.
“It was a welcoming party at Tidwell Park,” he said. “There were about 50 people with signs and pizza and all kinds of stuff, flashing lights.
“I was seeing flashing lights in the parking lot and wondering what was going on and if it was what I thought it was, which was the Lake Lanier Dweller Facebook group and everybody that had helped me out during the Lanier Lap. When I saw that was actually the case, it was just kind of a feeling of elation.”
It was the perfect end to a journey that proved more difficult than Forester expected.
He said he learned a lot about his physical limitations over the seven days, six nights and roughly 400 miles of paddling. As an experienced outdoor enthusiast from a young age, the now 37-year-old Atlanta resident wasn’t expecting this trek (dubbed the Lanier Lap) to test him in any new ways.
But, as it turned out, he couldn’t have been more wrong.
“I’ve summited Denali in Alaska, the tallest peak in North America,” he said. “I thought that this would be comparable to that. But I can say that it’s not. The Lanier Lap was harder than that. Much harder than that.”
Forester said the lack of sleep was the toughest obstacle to overcome. Over the six nights, he slept what he estimated to be about 14 total hours. As the days passed, it became harder and harder to fight through the exhaustion.
“There was a period of three days where I was like one hour, one and a half hours, three hours of sleep,” he said. “When you’re on day four of that, your body is breaking down in really profound ways.”
But the most important lesson the journey taught him had nothing to do with his own physical or mental toughness.
Rather, Forester said the most surprising aspect of the entire experience was the outpouring of support he received from the residents of Lake Lanier’s expansive shoreline. As he celebrated the achievement of his goal with the people who welcomed him onto their docks and provided him with food, fresh water and places to rest along the way, Forester realized it was almost as much their accomplishment as it was his.
“I thought the folks that are cheering for people kind of stopped after high school or college,” he said. “Eventually the cheers die and you’re an adult and you’re expected to do everything on your own. But there are some things that are adult-sized challenges that we need somebody in our corner for. I was profoundly impressed by everybody who rallied around me.”