Wednesday, April 22. 2009
How is swimming in the Tennessee River you ask? Dam(ed) good I’ll say. Thanks to the TVA and their power generating stations, the river is now a series of lakes connected by few miles of winding scenic riverbanks with pools of slow moving water between them. In Chattanooga, the river banks are lined with herons, duck nests, fishermen, running/bike paths, parks and floating restaurants (including the Delta Queen). Without the benefit of boat travel, you would generally miss much of the beauty along the river.
Thanks to the Chattanooga Rat Race organizers, you can now enjoy the benefits of river travel without the cost, hassle and inconvenience of boat ownership. For a small fee (proceeds going toward a good cause) you can sightsee and swim this lovely section of the Tennessee River at the same time. While rare, you may even have the opportunity to dodge a river barge while it travels through the area as well. Where else can you have that opportunity?
The shotgun start for the 4.5-mile swim begins at the bottom of a boat ramp just below the Chattanooga Lock and Dam (Creating Chickamauga Lake). The bottom is a bit rocky but it doesn’t last long as you begin your tangent to the apex of the first bend in the river. Kayak support ensures that you do not veer too far in any direction, but while towing is not permitted, course sighting is. No fear of dragging your feet (or other appendage) on the bottom for the next 3+ miles until you reach the end of the 3rd green on the golf course above. [Close to the start of the 1.2-mile event] As you watch from the surface, a big sandbar will suddenly come up from below. It is only with this perspective that you will note the aiding current of the river. The sand bar lasts just long enough for you to realize that the finish is within sight.
As you sight down river you see all four bridges connecting one side of The Scenic City to the other. The second (one of the longest pedestrian-only bridges in the world) stands as your finish line. Swimming through the shadow of the first bridge is somewhat eerie but it prompts the urge for that “sprint to the finish” since people now line the river bank watching you arrive. As you catch your breath and lounge in the river you will be treated to a unique (water level) view of the fabled Mississippi Delta Queen paddleboat.
Once out it’s a quick rinse in the park fountain, change in the adjacent restrooms and into an enclosed pavilion for delicious and well deserved post-race food and drink. Unique awards with local flavor are always popular for those who need additional motivation to take-it-out-hard. In the alternative, take your time and enjoy all that the river has to offer along the way.
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