Kayakers set out on grueling trip down Mississippi

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 14, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; With its deceptive current and enormity, the Mighty Mississippi is not the place to go for a leisurely swim.

But an increasingly popular kayak race is proving that Old Man River does offer safe and challenging recreational opportunities.

The second annual Phat Water Kayak Challenge &045; a grueling 41.6-mile race from Grand Gulf to Natchez-Under-the-Hill &045; featured over 45 paddlers on Saturday.

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&uot;This is eco-touring at its finest, in my estimation,&uot; race founder and Natchez resident Keith Benoist said.

Benoist began kayaking about 10 years ago and first conceived the race after paddling the course in March of 2002.

&uot;I saw then that this was a viable course,&uot; he said.

Single and tandem kayakers as well as canoeists competed in their classes, putting in the river at 8:30 Saturday morning at Grand Gulf, about 20 miles south of Vicksburg.

Lisa Harris and Tracy Ertle of Bay St. Louis took first place in the tandem class, paddling the distance in five hours and 45 minutes. Ertle has been kayaking for about 20 years, but Saturday’s event was Harris’ first major race.

&uot;The river was real good to us today.

And it was overcast, so it wasn’t too hot,&uot; she said.

Local kayaker Dr. Randy Tillman, who trains regularly by paddling upstream from the Natchez landing, said the race was a tough challenge.

&uot;That’s a serious distance with non-stop paddling. That was the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done,&uot; Tillman said.

Fellow kayaking enthusiast Melissa Farish-Morrison helped Benoist organize the yearly event, which is sanctioned by the American Canoe Association.

&uot;Last year, we only had 11 paddlers.

Now, we already have commitments for next year’s race,&uot; she said.

The $25 entry fees for the race benefited the Adams County Humane Society.