Racing the “Powell” & Exploring the “Gap”

CumberlandGapFollowing an invitation to participate in the inaugural Powell River Regatta (Tazewell, TN), my wife and I decide to make a weekend out of it and also explore the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park, an area new to both of us.

The Powell River Regatta turned out to be a gem of a race. Turning into the race venue at the Well Being Conference Center in Claiborne County, TN you pass deep green pastures peppered with boulders, herds of curious cattle and aging log barns barely standing. The conference center itself was a well manicured facility almost completely surrounded by the Powell River and the reason we were here in the first place. I hosted a forward stroke clinic for the race participants thru the NOC Paddling School and the Well Being Conference Center the evening before hand, giving us all a chance to get a feel for the river and the challenges it could hold. The race would be 12 miles down the Powell River and would include numerous rapids in a spectacular setting. PowellRapidThe Powell is hugely important as it’s one of only two undammed and free flowing headwater basins of the Upper Tennessee River system. The Powell River was also designated by the EPA as the “second most biologically diverse aquatic system in the nation.” The race itself was incredibly well run while the river never disappointed. The whitewater was just challenging enough for those of us that decided to race composite boats, while the scenery and water clarity kept your visual senses on overload. The 1 hour 27 minutes of racing seemed to be over before I knew it and was good enough to secure the overall win, with my wife taking the same honors in the women’s race. By the end of the day, the Powell River Regatta had become my new favorite race because it ticked all the right boxes in terms of venue, organization, competition and community, and I am confident that Claiborne County is onto a winning combination that will result in this event becoming massively popular in the future.

After refueling at Angelo’s in the Gap and getting caffeinated at the Gap Creek Coffeehouse in historic downtown Cumberland Gap, it was time to start exploring Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. This park is of National significance as it was one of the few natural breaks in the Appalachian chain used by wildlife, the native Cherokee Indian’s and then the settlers as they started migrating west,followed then by the railroads and roads. The towering broken limestone bluffs around the Gap make the area feel more like the Colorado Rockies than the Appalachians. The steep hike up the Lewis Hollow Trail past vast fields of trillium to check out Skylight Cave was made even more memorable by the gentle sway of the basking white flowers in the gentle afternoon breeze.

The next day we hooped on our bikes to explore the Wilderness Road which was originally MartinStationbuilt by Daniel Boone in 1775 to connect the interior of the country with the populated coastline via the Cumberland Gap. The road exits the Park and travels east on a gently rolling trail traveling past fields of bison, other cattle and open pasture, but all the time the presence of the tall Cumberland Mountain looms over your left shoulder. We ended up at the reconstructed Martin’s Station which was a frontier fort of critical importance. Following a very educational visit thru Martin’s Station we continued on to the Wilderness Road’s terminus just beyond Caylor before the inevitable race back to the vehicle broke out.

I’ve already committed to returning to the incredible Powell River Regatta and the beautiful Cumberland Gap National Historic Park next year (if not sooner) after such a fun filed weekend of adventuring.