TVCC – The Early Years – The Lure and Lore of Overnight Trips

This is the 13th installment of the TVCC history series and was first published in the March 2001 TVCC newsletter.


by Jack Wright


TVCC current member Bill Mitchem started it all.  He lived in Nashville and was a member of TSRA in 1970.  Most TVCCers were also TSRA members then.  Bill called John Alden in Chattanooga and asked if John would lead a TSRA trip on a river that was proposed as a “National River”, the Buffalo, out in Arkansas.  Forty TSRA members went on that trip.  The next year, they led a joint TSRA/TVCC trip and seventy people went – a huge crowd in those days.  In 1974, the Buffalo officially became one of the first “National Rivers” in the country.  The picture this month was taken at the end of that first 1970 trip.



Cruise Master John Alden has led these trips since 1970, except 3 years when he and the family lived in Sweden and 1 year in S. Korea.  Kent Overbeck filled in those years.  John chooses a river for our overnight trips on the basis of the least amount of man-made features visible from the water.  Many trips are set in the early spring to catch water flow.



TVCC is unique in that our overnight trips go on Class I, II, and III water, which requires some skill at paddling and maneuvering, with your gear aboard.  They’re not all flat-water trips, as some may think; and don’t confuse them with flat water trips for the new style sea kayaks.  Those don’t maneuver well in the class II and III water we do.  Other clubs have maybe 1 trip per year, but we schedule many.



Comfortable, peaceful, quiet, restful, remote, romantic, serene, and tranquil are descriptive words for these trips.  Regular trippers say it is the best way to unwind from the stresses of today’s life.  One thing hasn’t changed much in 30 years; you can do the same beautiful trip this year, on most of these rivers, as was done back in the 70s.  Lots of parents bring the kids; it’s great for them.



Remote Exploring:  John Alden says he tries to arrange overnight trips with the “Original intent’ of the open canoe itself.  Just like Lewis & Clark.  Remember what a canoe was worth in 1806, as told in last month’s column?  John has studied the entire published trip logs of the Lewis & Clark expedition, and led a TVCC overnight trip on a section of one of the rivers they traveled out West.  Camping is always primitive; no running water or toilets.  Usually, local people are contracted to shuttle vehicles.  The group provides great support with lead and sweep boats.  There never have been any serious injuries.



What has changed in 30 years of overnight trips?  Today, we have better camping equipment, tents, good waterproof bags, and Polypro and fleece clothing is better (was heavy wool).  Water filters now mean we don’t have to carry heavy loads of water for the whole trip; we filter fresh water every day.



Established traditions of overnight trips; here are a few:

“Camp Dogs” are people who don’t bring enough food.  However, the group has never failed to feed them.  Phil Sottong once brought a cabbage and gnawed on it all week.

Say “Mooooo.”  Sometimes you wake up in the morning, peep out of your tent, and see that you’re in the middle of a large herd of cows, down at the water for their morning drink.  Campsites are chosen the night before for easy and flat access to the water, without a cow in sight.

A “Divorce Boat” is one where a man and wife are not seeing eye to eye, or having some disagreement.  Usually a temporary condition.

“I wanted to go swimming.” Someone will just jump right out of his or her boat into the water. Sometimes this is to avoid that snake which suddenly dropped into their boat from that low overhanging limb.  This happens on short day trips too, like the local Hiwassee.

Trivial Pursuit is often played after dinner, around a roaring campfire.  Teams are either men/women (men are historically ahead), or East TN/ Middle TN.  One trip, in frigid March water, the losers had to go for a cold swim.

“Chainsaw Ernie” was the instant name given to Ernie Stewart, when he brought along a chainsaw one trip, for ease of cutting firewood for the after-dinner group campfire.

Not done it yet?  You’ve missed the boat!  So, get ready for one of the many overnights planned this year!  Check the schedules and make your plans.

What equipment is necessary?  The two considerations are weight and space.  Lighter and smaller is the goal.  Lightweight food can be right from the supermarket.   Either carry enough water, or take a filter.  Two types of clothes, paddling and camping.  Be prepared for rain.  Waterproof bags for clothes and sleeping equipment.  One small lightweight tent and stove.  One 16’x20’ fly is carried for the whole group, to cook and