Riding the Tennessee River

A fantastic two-day JetSki trip with Kawasaki

Have you ever had one of those great trips that you wished you could go back and relive over and over again? Well it happened to me just last month when I flew over to Huntsville, Ala. for some fun on the mighty Tennessee River with a group of friends.

The days leading up to the ride, I just could not wait to get my life vest and gloves on and hit the water. Little did I know the river was bigger than life and I was in for an unforgettable time.

We drove about 30 minutes from Huntsville to a town called Decatur, Ala. where I met up with Jon Rall of Kawasaki. Jon had plotted us out a course with the help of his skilled professional teammates. After a good night’s rest we headed down to breakfast at the hotel lobby. During our early morning breakfast on Wednesday we began to talk about just where and what we had in our daily plans. Jon mentioned we would be going around 70 miles up the river today and I just held my breath for the punch line. Seventy miles in one day on a jet ski seemed a long way, but I really wasn’t sure how to respond at all when it was mentioned that we would go over 130 miles the next day. All I could say was bring it on!

Heading down to the river I was able to get a short glimpse into the town of Decatur. I noticed that it was a very suburban type town with many factories and industrial businesses. This is actually home of the Meow Mix brand of cat food. Who knew, right?

We pulled into the boat ramp and had a brief overview of the awesome Kawasaki Ultra LX. In a flash I was shoved out into the wild, wide-open river to fend for myself. I started the mini Yacht up and immediately figured out that this was going to be a great time. After the other three on the adventure joined me on the river it was time for some pictures and the throttle was pinned. The bridges and overpasses seemed miles high in some places and I can tell you its different seeing these things from the water.

Cruising along on the Kawasaki Ultra LX I felt as if I was floating on air. This craft picks up and rockets forward and neither wake nor rough water affected my ride. It even has reverse.

You feel pretty small next to these huge rock walls.You feel pretty small next to these huge rock walls.

Cruising up the Tennessee River there were many things to check out. We passed a huge rock ledge section that had walls extending up from the river over 65 feet. It looked like the river had just cut through the side of a mountain over the years. The trees seemed to just balance over the edge and some had managed to grow right out of the side of the rocks. It was crazy stuff indeed. I also heard there is a one-mile hiking trail along the banks that takes you past a cave that was used in the civil war by miners looking for saltpeter, which is a basic ingredient in gunpowder.

My first big wow moment came with the maiden voyage through one of Tennessee’s great Lock systems along the river. If you are claustrophobic it may be a little intimidating, but with the rush of things going through my mind it didn’t faze me at all. This was called the Guntersville Lock and it is simply amazing. The Lock is 110 feet tall and more than 600 feet long. It is named after a town just about nine miles up river, also called Guntersville. A Scottish settler who had been adopted by a Cherokee Indian tribe established the town of Guntersville just a year after the revolutionary war. His name was John Gunter. Who knew I would get a great history lesson on this area just by riding on the river.

When we arrived to the lock gate there was another of the Tennessee River’s great travelers exiting the lock. River transports come through the lock system here near Guntersville at a rate of about 5,000 vessels per year and they carry over 8.7 million tons of cargo to businesses downstream each year.

The lock holds an astounding 22 million gallons of water and it only takes it 10 minutes to fill up and lift you over 40 feet to the river waiting behind the upper doors. This was just one of many highlights on the trip and one I will not soon forget.

So the doors swung open slowly and to our surprise there were what seemed like hundreds of PWCs of all makes waiting to get inside the lock and head down river. The timing of our trip put us right in the middle of an annual river ride called the Tennessee 600. This is a benefit ride put on by personal watercraft owners everywhere that helps the Children’s Miracle Network in the state of Tennessee. The sight of all these personal watercrafts together was amazing and these folks were some of the friendliest people I’d ever met. After chatting for a while we watched as the PWCs were being moored one by one into the lock for a chance to get on down south. If you are interested in riding with this group on next year’s Tennessee 600 just visit the official site and register.

It's not every day you get to dock your JetSki right at your hotel.It’s not every day you get to dock your JetSki right at your hotel.

We tweaked the throttle on our Kawasaki Ultra LXs and off to Guntersville we rolled. Coming into a huge lake the Tennessee River flows right through the middle of the beautiful town of Guntersville. This was a postcard picture town with many great amenities for those who choose to ride the wild river from city to city and even state to state. The Hampton Inn hotel had a great dock for the Jet Skis to rest while we took in some great dining at Wintzells Oyster house. Atmosphere is everything on these trips and it seemed as if everything was planned perfectly every second of the journey. There are even small water cabins, or maybe they are closer to houseboats, that you can rent if you feel like you need to be close to the water at night. Great food, great friends and an awesome ride made our first day a success.

Rolling out of bed on our second day of riding was exciting as I couldn’t wait to hit the water again. The trip on Thursday was to be over 130 miles and loads of wide-open riding. The captain of our team, Jon Rall, let us know that we needed to move on up the river to get into Chattanooga before any expected storms and so it was on. We cruised along the river taking in the unbelievable sights one by one. The Bellfonte nuclear facility is a nuclear plant along the river and you can see the reactors from the water’s edge. We motored on up past Crow Creek Island and past the town of New Hope. There were many campgrounds and plenty of homes along the river that just took my breath away. The amount of money people spend on their homes here is amazing. Huge palaces on the mountain tops and smaller versions right on the river with concrete boat ramps that just disappear under the water.

We made it to our second lock system and by then I was a seasoned veteran. This was the Nickajack lock and it was really no different from the one we went through the previous day. I knew what to expect so we waited for the lockmaster to let us in. And we waited and waited until finally we had to call and make sure the lock had an operator that day. Seems maybe they had been enjoying lunch and didn’t notice us little guys down near the entrance. After all it was made for a ship, not for a tiny vessel like a Jet Ski. Getting through this lock was a cinch and our gas stop was just a few miles up river. After parking the Skis at the dock to be filled up with gas, we all took a breather and decided an ice cream was in order. Does life get any better than this?

We eased out of the Small marina next to Hales Bar Dam and set our sights on the final destination of Chattanooga, Tenn. The sun was still shining when we pulled into Chattanooga and the riverboat called the Southern Belle was cruising down river with a load of visitors.

After a few photos we loaded out of the big Tennessee River and headed into the heart of Chattanooga for some much needed food and rest. The rain had held off until we arrived at the hotel and then the bottom fell out.

The ride had taken us over 200 miles and it was something that I will never forget. Our Kawasaki Jet Ski Ultra LX machines and the sporty Jet Ski STX-15F made our trip one to remember.

If you get the chance you really need to try this river out as the accommodations are there and the food is great along the banks. Just pack some sunscreen and a GPS and go for it.

This is just the beginning for me so check back to see where we go from here!

Rick’s Riding Gear
Rick is outfitted in Slippery Switch vest, jersey and gloves.
Visit SlipperyWetsuits.com for more information.