We got to the boat put-in before sunrise. Fog sat thick on the water. I paddled with Puzak and followed Bakken and Chandler in the other canoe, their glow sticks faint points of light in the haze.
We got caught up in bays and bumped into logs half-submerged. The river and the main route was ahead, but sleep pressed in, the mind convinced after so many hours on the move that it was time for bed.
Headlamp beams floated in the fog, and our teammates took the form of silhouettes in the boat ahead, their voices echoing in a dreamscape on the river.
Sunrise renewed our spirits. Soon, we were counting the miles down. The end was a few hours still to go, but finally it was in sight.
We nabbed checkpoints on the way down the river. A caving section had each team send one member deep into a narrow slot for a penultimate challenge.
A paddle into downtown Knoxville capped the race for our squad. But in a last twist the course led us into an underground river, a trek through a massive culvert system in the dark, rushing water at our feet, as a passageway into downtown.
We finished at an event tent in a city park. The fanfare was minimal, though people gawked as ragged adventure racers ran through town.
After 30 hours on the move we could finally stop, finally sit down and think about the massive journey it took to get to the end.
—Stephen Regenold is the editor and founder of GearJunkie. He also raced with the Team GearJunkie/WEDALI in the 2012 Checkpoint Tracker Championship event.