By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Kayakers set to travel from Helen to Florida
Alan Brown, left, and Matt Shaw are set to travel from Helen to Apalachicola Bay in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico by kayak. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Traveling down the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola rivers, it’s about 530 miles from Helen to Apalachicola Bay in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico, according to friends Matt Shaw and Alan Brown, who are about to paddle every one of them for good causes.

On Aug. 29, the two will begin a three-week journey that will take them through Georgia, Alabama and Florida before reaching their final destination. Shaw, who previously made an 813-mile trip from Dahlonega to Mobile Bay, Alabama, knows what they’re in store for.

“It’s a Type 2 fun,” he said. “Type 1 fun is you do something and get enjoyment of it. A Type 2 fun is you do something and you enjoy it after you’re done. It’s definitely a Type 2 fun. Between the ants, alligators, snakes, sun, injuries, sitting in a kayak in (the same) position for three weeks straight, you’re going to be injured, there’s no getting around it.”

Paddle for a cause

For an extra source of motivation to complete the trip, both kayakers will be raising money for personal friends.

Brown is supporting Bronco’s Benevolent Foundation, which was started by the family of his young family friend Bronco Reese. He said the 12-year-old has gone through a heart transplant and a form of lymphoma from anti-rejection medications from the procedure, which went into remission in 2016.

The foundation benefits pediatric patients.

“This is going to be a long adventure and a great adventure for me personally,” Brown said, “but I think also being able to partner this up with a benefit and be able to raise money for a cause is going to make me paddle that much harder and put that much more into it.”

Shaw will also be supporting a friend: Grant Searcy, who was recently diagnosed with stage-four of a rare form of cancer. He said thousands of dollars were raised within the first two days his campaign went online.

“It’s an honor and a pleasure to be able to do it for such an awesome dude as Grant,” Shaw said. “He’s an incredible guy, and honestly, being able to raise $3,800 within a couple of days is a true testament to the kind of guy he is.”

Getting ready

Shaw and Brown are not blindly heading into the trip and have spent a good deal of time practicing, researching and getting the right gear.

“We’ve been doing 30-something mile trips and putting in eight hours just training the upper ‘Hooch and doing the first 70 miles of this whole trip,” Shaw said. “I’ve already done nearly 1,000 miles on my last trip and other small trips before, so it kinda takes that danger feeling away; it’s like you’re not scared because you’ve been out there so much you’re careful.

“Now that I’ve got a buddy going with me, I’m ready to roll.”

While the practice wasn’t easy to begin with, the weather over the summer didn’t make it any easier, though there were some benefits.

“Oddly enough, every single time that we kayaked, [there was a thunder storm and lightning] and it was super-hot and very uncomfortable the whole time, which was perfect training conditions,” Shaw said. “There’s no way the weather’s going to be that bad when we leave, and if it does, we already know what it’s going to be like.”

Preparation is key for the journey, including figuring out how to get around the 14 dams they will run into along the way.

“Sometimes you just have to pull your boat up a rocky side of a hill and put the wheels underneath and drag it up to the road,” Shaw said.

They’ve also been practicing locally on Lake Lanier, which they will come through on their way. After that, they’ll soon be past the waterways they’ve been training on.

“Once we get past Lake Lanier though, it’s pretty much going to be, ‘On your own. This is it. This is the sendoff, see you in 20 days,’” Brown said.

While Shaw has the experience of his previous trip, Brown said he is also mentally preparing himself for being away for three weeks.

“I’m going to be away from my family for a while, from my office,” Brown said. “I help to run a company, so that’s going to be tough but I have great people who back me up, so I can do that. And I have a great wife and she can take care of the kids for a little bit,” he said.

Once in lifetime

Brown, a North Forsyth High School graduate, and Shaw, who graduated from Forsyth Central, have been friends since they were 15, where they spent their fair share of time outside.

“My dad had a farm in Dawsonville, that’s pretty much where we met,” Brown said. “We had 20 acres up there and it surrounded ... Dawson Forest. Basically, we had horses and four-wheelers and dirt bikes, so every weekend we pretty much would go up.”

Shaw said he is excited to have someone go with him this time and is expecting both of them to be a little different after an extended period of camping on the riverside, purifying water and eating mostly what they can carry.

“Every drop of clean water that you don’t have to filter from a dirty, warm water source is so amazing. You don’t waste a single drop from the sink,” he said. “Every bit of food cooked for you blows your mind, and you’re so thankful and grateful for it because you’re not eating gas station food 4,000 calories a day just trying not to lose weight.”

Both pointed out they will be in much better shape after the trip thanks to what Shaw calls “enforced fitness.”

They’re also going to make it easy for others to follow their adventure through updates and GPS tracking.

“People are going to be able to track my every move every mile of the river and see exactly where we’re at,” Shaw said. “We’re also posting multiple videos a day and pictures, so people can come along with us and see what it’s like going from the north Georgia mountains to the Gulf of Mexico.”