A few days after paddleboarding 26.6 miles on Lake Lanier, Chris Wakefield thought his body would feel worse.
“I’m kind of shocked,” Wakefield said. “I thought I might not be able to walk or crawl.”
Not that Wakefield wanted to minimize the accomplishment. It was a slog at times, particularly when the headwinds came through. But Wakefield, a Forsyth County resident, along with Mark Bullock, Mike Crawford, Hans Daniels and Hub Talbot, relished the challenge and the journey on Tuesday.
Starting at Lake Lanier Olympic Park, the five adventurers paddled out at 7:04 a.m., July 23 in the morning stillness. There were no boats, Wakefield said. Construction crews waved as the group passed under the Cleveland Hwy./U.S. 129 bridge. The lake was smooth.
“It was so quiet out there, and just relaxing,” Wakefield said.
The group made their way to near Gainesville Marina & Boat Sales and stopped at a little island for a quick lunch. When they turned south, the wind picked up.
Forecasts had called for 7 mph winds that day, Wakefield said, but soon it was 8 mph, then 10 mph, then stronger and stronger, straight into the group.
“If it’s going to be like this the whole way,” Wakefield remembers thinking, “we’re going to be in trouble.”
But the wind subsided by the time they reached Browns Bridge. Around 1:30 p.m., they pulled into Port Royale for lunch. Wakefield had a bowl of rice for the carbohydrates.
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They set off again, and when they reached 3 Sisters Island, the wind returned, this time a heavy side wind that was barreling down on the group by Six Mile Creek. It scattered the group.
“It would’ve been a perfect day for kiteboarding,” Wakefield said.
They met back at a small island just past Cocktail Cove and prepared for the final leg of the journey. Wakefield drank pickle juice and swallowed three tablespoons of honey, he said.
Around 6:30 p.m., the group paddled to shore at West Bank Park in Forsyth County.
They had calculated the trip would be 21-22 miles. It turned out to be 26.6.
“That’s big,” Wakefield said. “26.6 is extremely a long way.”
Wakefield is no stranger to the wilder side of outdoor sports. He competed in barefoot waterskiing for several years. He’s ridden in the Six Gap Century, a road bike race through six of the steepest parts of North Georgia. He’s kiteboarded on Lake Lanier and in the Bahamas and has regularly done CrossFit the last six years.
Wakefield dreamt up Tuesday’s journey five years ago. “It sounded like something cool to do,” Wakefield said, and with Crawford’s help, they resolved to finally undertake the challenge this week.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, Wakefield talked it up at the gym and elsewhere. More and more of his adventure-inclined friends were intrigued, Wakefield said.
With this year’s success, Wakefield now plans to do it again next year. There may be more members of the group, and he’s thought of extending the journey, maybe long enough to require an overnight stay at a park.
After all, Wakefield was feeling good after 26.6 miles.