The Lanier Lap - How We Did It

Joshua Forester recalls lessons from paddling The Lanier Lap, a 400-mile non-stop shoreline circumnavigation of Georgia's Lake Lanier by kayak.

The Origin

Do that enough and you eventually arrive at the finish line, look back, and wonder how you ever had the courage to begin such a journey.

It started as a curiosity. Back in 2010, I was the captain of the adventuring racing team Team ROC Gear, and we had signed up for an expedition race in the Mojave desert called The Desert Winds. Because this race was a 5-day long, non-stop multi-sport event where we all had to travel together, I reckoned we ought to train properly for it. I conjured up four training events for the team to complete leading up to it, which I estimated on their own would be longer than any single leg of the race. There was a 12 hour hike along the Appalachian Trail, a 100 mile mountain bike ride in the Bull Mountain area in North Georgia, a 50-mile downriver paddle of the Chattahoochee River, and finally a 50-mile Lake Lanier circumnavigation. These “uber workouts” would prepare us mentally because whatever the race director of the Desert Winds, Robert Finlay, threw at us in the race would not be as tough as each of these. Never mind that the race had many legs, we could at least say at the onset of the upcoming one, “We’ve done harder than this...” and begin it. Do that enough and you eventually arrive at the finish line, look back, and wonder how you ever had the courage to begin such a journey.

Our first Lake Lanier Circumnavigation

One of the uber workouts stood out the most—the Lake Lanier circumnavigation. We had undertook it in a canoe—an 18 and a half foot kevlar Wenonah Minnesota II outfitted with a 3rd, middle seat. Ben Culbertson and Stefanie Newsome filled the other two seats of the canoe. And we began and finished as The Lanier Lap did—at Tidwell Park.

There were some differences though—we began at night and ended the following morning—a “mere” 12 hours later. I remember acutely how hard it was on my body—my left wrist inflamed and the tendons audibly clicking as I used it. But one of the primary differences between the two was that we didn’t really circumnavigated the lake. Not really. We did a loop of the main body of the lake, portaging the canoe a couple of miles to connect the northwestern and northeastern fingers of Lake Lanier. And while it was a massive undertaking in and of itself, it wasn’t a true circumnavigation in my head. I remember being curious what a true shoreline paddle would involve, and if it could even be done continuously. At the time, I didn’t even have the courage to investigate the distance a real shoreline circumnavigation. But that was 10 years ago.

Growth

It’s an unnatural feeling to me to know that in some way others have allowed my successes and failures to inspire their own hearts.

Courage has many forms. Most people that exhibit courage at points in life don’t realize it because they view forms of courage unlike their own as genuine courage. The form they exhibit is familiar to them, and in familiarity loses its luster. I guess I’m not an exceptional in this regard. I’ve been told I am courageously ambitious by a number of folks and while I consider this “courage" more of a lapse in sanity, I have to concede some truth to it when it’s been expressed so often and by people I trust. But I don’t like to because when one is placed on a pedestal, he or she now bears a responsibility in standing atop it to use the position of influence to better and inspire others’ lives. It’s an unnatural feeling to me to know that in some way others have allowed my successes and failures to inspire their own hearts. And my response to it is most naturally to dismiss it and immediately disappoint.

 

Photo Credit: Gainesville Times

 

Perhaps it’s cowardice to not assume the mantle others have freely given me--something tied to my own internal fears of not living up to the hopes and expectations placed on me. My fiancée, who has been a teacher for the past decade, ascribes these feelings to a phenomenon in psychology called “impostor syndrome”, which basically labels a common feeling amongst individuals who accomplish something grand that they will eventually be exposed as a “fraud”. It’s hard to argue. I can say that feelings of being undeserving of my past successes were ever prevalent in my youth and while they persisted into my adult years, they diminished and all but petered out…until my divorce. The feelings of inadequacy became a dominant force in my life again, and even dictated many of the decisions I made, much to the detriment of both my mental and physical health, as well as that of the relationships that were most precious to me.

 

Sunken ship on the shores of Lake Lanier

 

Out of that darkness, I did what many lifetime athletes in a similar position might do—I trained. I found the familiar and retreated into it. I trained harder and longer than I had ever before, and my efforts earned me a National Champion title. That was the beginning of the second (and hopefully final) end of self-doubt.

 

Photo Credit: Dailyn Matthews

 

Rebirth

…it was high up in the mountains that I could see the power of believing in something before understanding the path to get there.

After a period of reflection, I began a new adventure: mountaineering. I had a terrible fear of heights that needed to be overcome. Immersion therapy began. In two years, I went from a flatlander in the Southeast who had never seen a glacier (much less set foot on one) to a man organizing a self-guided expedition to the top of North America—up Denali (formerly Mount McKinley)—and succeeding. The extensive time I spent on mountains leading to that moment served to grow my confidence in the unfamiliar—to begin believing in the seemingly impossible. It was during this time that I was profoundly inspired by the Zig Ziglar quote that headlines this website’s home page; it was high up in the mountains that I could see the power of believing in something before understanding the path to get there.

It wasn’t long after that something else came up, bigger and bolder than anything I had attempted before. It stopped me in my tracks when I considered the possibility of it. I was never more ready to undertake it in all my life. In truth, all the challenges of the past decade that nearly destroyed me had tempered me for it. It was at that very moment that an old curiosity arose again and began moving toward the center in my mind: “What would it be like to circumnavigate Lake Lanier? Like, really.” I had to answer the question first hand.

 

Joshua Forester at the start of The Lanier Lap

 

If I had succumb to my circumstances--to continue to subjugate myself to my fears instead of denying them the parishioner I had become--my decisions would still be governed by them.

The new project had an ambitious goal, which would need a definition. It would also need a name. “The Lanier Lap” was dubbed months after it was reborn as a curious experiment and a full decade after it was contemplated for the first time on the lake back in 2010. It would be yet another landmark event along my path—one of many milestones that at this point I had more and more frequently enjoyed setting rather than having set for me. I cannot express how deeply I treasure the reward of self-direction that resulted from working so endlessly on bettering myself throughout the ebb and flow of life. If I had succumb to my circumstances--to continue to subjugate myself to my fears instead of denying them the parishioner I had become--my decisions would still be governed by them. Instead, I have enjoyed a confidence that has allowed me to—however unnatural it may feel—be a person that others allow themselves to be inspired by. And the big surprise is it has been incredibly humbling.

The Project

The Lanier Lap is a 400-mile shoreline circumnavigation of Lake Lanier in Georgia, USA. The rules of The Lanier Lap serve to capture the spirit of two fundamental principles of the project: a paddler must circumnavigate the entire lake by their own power, staying within 50 meters from shoreline and he or she may receive support but not with their physical movement.

 

Garmin InReach GPS Tracks from The Lanier Lap

 

Let’s stop for a moment to talk about the 50-meter (read: half a football field) rule and one particularly contentious/misunderstood part of it:

Fingers of the lake are considered shoreline so long as they are at a minimum 50 meters wide. They must be entered and exited to the point where they are less than 50 meters wide or become the spill of a river, whichever occurs sooner. Where it is not obvious what is river and what is lake, recorded precedent from earlier successful attempts will be used.

and prior to that:

For the purposes of the record, “shoreline” is defined as the place where the water meets the land, breakwater structures above the waterline, the lake-facing sides of land-connected docks, or the lake-facing side of any markers for marina spaces or swimming areas.

I created the rules for The Lanier Lap with a couple of things in mind:

Checking in with live coverage during The Lanier Lap

1. Maintaining the Spirit of a “Shoreline Tour”

I wanted it first and foremost to be a shoreline tour by human-powered boat. While this meant at its heart experiencing the entirety of the lake’s shoreline, it also required balance. It did not, for example, mean making countless 15-point turns between stems of river cane at the narrow, marshy tips of the numerous dock-encroached coves on the lake.

Let’s be real for a second. Lake Lanier has nearly 50,000 people living on its shores. While the man-made lakes of Georgia contour with the land they fill, I suspect many of these coves were additionally dredged for housing developers to make room for docks. I paddled past many coves because they were only wide enough for docks on both sides and a single ingress/egress lane for boat traffic. The 50m rule allowed me to skip these sections of the shoreline, which in leisure-paddling circumstances I’d never enter in the first place (violating the spirit of shoreline tour) and because doing so would only serve to add the drudgery of performing countless U-turns in coves barely bigger than the boat’s length to an endeavor with an already absurd number of U-turns. This admittedly shortens the distance of The Lanier Lap, but to be honest I skipped far less coves than I could of if I had a measuring tape.

On the other hand, I paddled up several coves that technically weren’t 50m wide because they were funnel passages to large bodies of water beyond that should definitely be included in a shoreline tour of the lake. In this way, I used the “precedent” clause in the rules to ensure The Lanier Lap didn’t get hung up in the technicality of the 50m rule. In keeping with the spirit of a shoreline tour, I even paddled into numerous coves simply because there was something interesting to see! A good example of this is the upper Chattahoochee River spill, which I followed as far north as Lula Park because that section of the lake is a unique exhibition of the ecosystem that forms where rivers crash into the lakes into which they spill.

2. Laying Down the Gauntlet

I wanted it secondly to be an open challenge for a speed record, to be standardized so that its definition was both clear and repeatable for anybody wishing to challenge the record.

That said, the distance is such that anybody attempting to break the record and either succeeding or failing at it will not do so by seconds, minutes, or even hours. So maybe chill out on whether a cove was 49m wide or 50m from dock to dock on the shoreline.

The Approach

At the time, it was in the middle of winter and while the cold season in Georgia is relatively mild, paddling in 20F weather can be trying without the right wardrobe.

In the initial phases of planning The Lanier Lap, I realized that gearing up was my first objective. At the time, it was in the middle of winter and while the cold season in Georgia is relatively mild, paddling in 20F weather can be trying without the right wardrobe. In the beginning, I was relying on my supply of clothing from mountaineering, which I quickly found to be unsuitable for a wet environment. I began researching clothing for cold-weather paddling, and abruptly realized that there was to be an upfront investment for this project. I realized that partnering with companies for The Lanier Lap was going to be necessity. As with my training beginning months behind when I believed it should have, developing a relationship with a company selling cold-weather paddling clothing would take until spring before it would mature. So I bought stock in neoprene then made my big purchase. The training picked up accordingly. I spoke with several other companies, and settled on partnering with two for The Lanier Lap—Epic Kayaks for my boats & paddle and RailRiders for the warm-weather clothing. Suffice it to say these companies are experts in their domains and were perfect for the project. More on that later.

As I training began picking up, I was talking with more and more people, the idea of it spread. Initially, I believe it was met with curious disregard with anybody but my close friends. After all, I wasn’t a known paddler and here I was with this goal that called into question my mental health. Even still, I pursued paddlers in the Southeast like Dana Richardson, the teacher who first paddled around Lake Lanier over the course of a paddling season—in segments like a section hiker does the Appalachian Trail. When I told her that like an AT through-hiker, I was wanting to paddle it continuously, I’m not quite sure she believed me. Nevertheless, she did help me by providing me with some resources from her inspiring journey to raise awareness for Pancreatic Cancer (and money towards research to fight it), of which she is a four-time survivor and enduring continuing the paddle even after her friend Joe Glickman died of the same disease the day prior. Hers is a jaw-dropping, inspirational story. I wrote about how she has been, unbeknownst to her, a source of inspiration for me this year. Dana also introduced me to several other paddlers in the area, people would would later join me in turning The Lanier Lap into a reality.

Even though it was a 55-hour paddle, I regarded the ‘Toona Run as a practice session, a “warm-up” so to speak to learn what to expect for the more ambitious trip to come. It did prepare me. But to be honest it also instilled in me a reason to question if I had bit off more than I could chew.

By this time, I was regularly training with Ron Sanders, a fellow adventure racer and paddler, and making plans for The ‘Toona Run, a circumnavigation of Lake Allatoona supported entirely by Shanna Irving, Daniel Tucker, and one lake angel. It was less than half the length of The Lanier Lap. Even though it was a 55-hour paddle, I regarded the ‘Toona Run as a practice session, a “warm-up” so to speak to learn what to expect for the more ambitious trip to come. It did prepare me. But to be honest it also instilled in me a reason to question if I had bit off more than I could chew. No sooner than I could give that question any attention, emails began to appear in my inbox by people interested in supporting The Lanier Lap. The ‘Toona Run had caught some attention, the pending question of whether or not I could complete The Lanier Lap would have to be answered in June.

The Support Map for The Lanier Lap

One email in particular, from Lu Treadway, was an outpouring of support. To be truthful, it caught me off guard. I was of course delighted to have any outside support from folks on Lake Lanier, but what unfolded from this email completely dumbfounded me. Lu is an admin on a private Facebook group consisting exclusively of people who live on Lake Lanier, she also works to organize the massive Shore Sweep event annually to clean up the lake. She committed to making The Lanier Lap a success from the get-go. After providing some guidance on the helpful support options for The Lanier Lap, Lu shared it with and what followed was a massive swell of interest that I never could have predicted. Within a couple of weeks, she and I had worked to establish a support plan that involved people, docks, and boats around the lake to add to the group of friends that had been with me since day one. I was both elated and flabbergasted at how marvelously things were coming together. Until...

The Lanier Lap Forecast

The Rain

"the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray"

— Robert Burns

 

Thunderstorms approaching…

 

The Lanier Lap began in early morning on June 6th, 2019, in the rain. Then came more rain. Day and night. Rain. Hard, fat, rain. It was understandably unwelcome, and it was a major hindrance—especially at night. The first evening I had to take an unplanned rest because I was nauseated and vomiting—the last rebellion my body waged against my goal. Even still, I wasn’t far behind my estimates and was making good progress up the western shore of the lake during the day. With fewer boats on the lake, it was calmer paddling. But with the rain, night time progress was slow. There was a lack of visibility at night--the clouds blocked out any skylight the stars and moon would’ve provided, and the rain drops and mist on the lake reflected my headlamp’s light right back at me.

One particularly concerning instance had me colliding with a bright yellow, metal water barrier that presumedly the Army Corp of Engineers had set up to prevent me from paddling straight into a…dam intake.

When shoreline paddling blind at night, you have to paddle especially close to shore in order to see the shoreline and avoid missing coves. Of course, the major risks then are fallen trees and docks—a 5mph kayak closes the twenty feet of visibility really quickly! One particularly concerning instance had me colliding with a bright yellow, metal water barrier that presumedly the Army Corp of Engineers had set up to prevent me from paddling straight into a…dam intake. I still don’t know what it was outside of what it meant for me personally—a 1am collision that nearly capsized me.

After spending the majority of the paddle bilging rainwater out of my kayak hourly, my body was drenched. Contact points with the boat that had been pruned from saturation for days and began to become worrisome. Improvising with paddling and vaseline, and the effects would eventually be reversed, but it was one of those surprises that you only experience in the field in extreme circumstances.

Guided by the Light[ning]

One of countless storm cells sweeping across Lake Lanier

The rain was challenging, but it was the lightning that was the real concern. It came later than predicted, but when it came, it came hard. What was initially faraway rumbles soon became less so. Violent summer storm cells swept across the lake with the ferocity that many in the Southeastern United States know all too well. It wasn’t long before the thunder exploded around me and lightning strikes were not uncommon.

I’m not a thrill-seeker, but I don’t mind them when they come. Here I was paddling into the fourth day with five and a half hours of sleep in the bank over the last three nights—the lone lightning rod on the lake. There were several moments during the paddle where I contemplated the [lack of] wisdom in the choice to proceed. It was my judgment at the time that this blog would come with a disclaimer:

Sometimes decisions are made to improve one’s circumstances—this one was made to salvage them.

Even in that environment, the sleep deprivation was catching up to me. I had about two hours of paddling to get to the next weather-protected dock, but I kept catching myself falling asleep milliseconds before I tipped my boat and fell into the water. I conceded I needed to find a spot along the shore to bivouac. The thought of “cowboy camping” in the middle of a torrential downpour wasn’t immediately appealing to me, but the thought of swimming my kayak ashore and having to do it anyway because I had fallen asleep and found myself waking in the lake was even less so. Sometimes decisions are made to improve one’s circumstances—this one was made to salvage them.

Shivering in Summer

Pelicans, rare on Lake Lanier, sighted during The Lanier Lap

Despite it being June, the rules of thermodynamics still apply. The ambient air was colder than my 98.6F body, and water sheds heat 25 times faster than air; I had been fighting off the threat of hypothermia for the past two days by exercising. But the extreme circumstances I had put myself in did not allow it to keep the threat at bay whilst still. After pulling ashore on a tiny peninsula whose strip of land was bare except for a few small dead trees that looked suspiciously like an electrical shock may have made them so, I quickly changed my shivering body out of my soaked clothes and into a soon-to-be soaked wetsuit. I laid out a pad and turned my wet clothes into a pillow. Be assured I wasn’t ill-equipped to make myself a spot in which to sleep in those circumstances, and to be honest the rain falling on my face while wrapped in my damp Goretex bivouac bag wasn’t really noticeable once I had fallen asleep. What I am surprised to admit, however, was the ease with which my phones alarm—set to an hour and a half, woke me.

When I was done changing, I was embarrassed to find I was NOT the only person on the lake in the squall. Perhaps thirty feet behind the very place I had just stripped completely naked, was a couple of fisher[wo]men in a boat casting towards me.

I was up, packed, and changing—again shivering while doing so—back into my paddling clothes with little grogginess or protest from my body. When I was done changing, I was embarrassed to find I was NOT the only person on the lake in the squall. Perhaps thirty feet behind the very place I had just stripped completely naked, was a couple of fisher[wo]men in a boat casting towards me. When, for a moment, I contemplated the lunacy of there being multiple people on the lake in those conditions, I realized it was unremarkable that one of them be naked. In fact, I’m surprised more people weren’t.

Lightning storms and heavy rain pummeled me for the first four days of The Lanier Lap.

It was a very different lake in the rain—its splendor revealed on a smaller scale. I can’t say I wasn’t thankful for the four days of paddling in the rain. Lake Lanier is, after all, a popular lake and if it weren’t raining there would be far more boat traffic on the lake, albeit mostly in the main channels where I spent less of my time. The lack of sunlight was disheartening but with the sun came a whole other set of challenges for me—my English heritage leaves me susceptible to sunburn and overheating. And while the rain didn’t completely stave off the insects (there was a nightly cloud of trillions of gnats that rose off of the lake just after dark for about thirty minutes that made me VERY thankful that have brought a insect head net), it did make a bug’s life more miserable and—in doing so—mine a tad more pleasant. Finally, one unexpected side effect was because there were so few people on the lake, when those who had heard about The Lanier Lap saw a kayaker on the water, they could be assured it was me.

The Burn

I missed the sun. I missed watching it rise and fall over the lake. I missed the rainbows of colors it pours over the sky—a heavenly canvas mirrored by the surface upon which I flew decorated with a million million sparkles as the water’s ripples become the ticker tape of my passing.

I missed the sun. I missed watching it rise and fall over the lake. I missed the rainbows of colors it pours over the sky—a heavenly canvas mirrored by the surface upon which I flew decorated with a million million sparkles as the water’s ripples become the ticker tape of my passing. I missed the calmness of a clear night—the silky, moonlit quiet of the water. So calm that you feel like the lake is whispering to you to be still for just a moment with her, so quiet that you can marvel at the sound of your own heartbeat carrying over her serene waters. I missed the lake day celebrations, the children swimming under the watchful eyes of their parents, the smell of grilling, and the sounds of splashing.

The sun did eventually come out, and I finally dried out...mostly. I now had justification for lugging around sunglasses for the duration of the paddle, and I went into full sun-protection mode with my clothing. Even with the highly-vented RailRiders clothing, it is difficult to stay cool with a giant PFD trapping all your body heat against you. My number one request during this day would be for ice-filled ziplocks, and people would be puzzled when instead of slipping in my drink it would disappear beneath my PFD.

Eventually, I ended their onslaught. I had won the battle, but soon I would realize not the war.

Towards the end of the day, I was scheduled to meet Shanna at a park. She had laid out a spread of food on the park's sunny boat ramp, but because I had been in the sun all day I was ready for some shade. I asked her to move it to a shady shore with a nice patch of grass on it where we could eat. She set up the camping cot and we relaxed and had a nice picnic. In preparing to leave, I began standing and soon realized I was in what appeared to be a fire ant bed. “Yourch!” They were all over my feet and having not the presence of mind to simply run into the water to flood them off my feet, I began batting at them with my hands. Eventually, I ended their onslaught. I had won the battle, but soon I would realize not the war.

Before eating, I had removed my life jacket and shirt and laid them in the grass. Not long after I had emerged from my skirmish with the fire ants, I was putting on a shirt filled with them. I didn't realize it, of course, until the shirt was on me. This time I threw myself in the water, but they seemed immune to it. I did my best impersonation of a washing machine on spin cycle, and eventually I was clear of them...until I unthinkingly put on my PFD, which also was filled with the little tyrants. It was at this point I felt stupid. Really, really stupid. The PFD was in the grass where my shirt had lain. I clearly wasn't thinking straight. After another spin cycle, the life jacket was clear of ants as well. Frustrated, I told Shanna, "I'M GETTING OUT OF HERE NOW." I started to gear up the kayak and unzipped the cell phone pocket of my PFD to put my phone away. The fire ants poured out of the unzipped pocket. FML.

The Fight

Photo Credit: Lakeside News

The wind provided me with my most challenging day. I had spent the first two hours of the past two days in agony as my left arm and then both the second day revolted against my putting them again to work after a mere two hours of sleep. I admit much of the beginning of those days was spent intermittently crying. It wasn't so much from the immediate pain, but from the fear that it would persist for the remainder of the paddle. Or maybe it was just an excuse for an already much-needed emotional release from the rigor of the days. Even still, there was a large part of me that was enjoying The Lanier Lap, despite all of the challenges and fatigue. But that level of suffering made it hard for even me to smile throughout it. But, happily, it seemed to go away after paddling a bit and thankfully I could enjoy the other eighteen or so hours of paddling.

I had as a matter of policy up to this point avoided taking anti-inflammatory medication so that I could "listen to my body". The fear was that if I didn't, I may write checks by pushing a pace that my body couldn't cash. So I kept the medication that would mask muscle breakdown and other overuse-related symptoms to a minimum. I had taken maybe six Ibu Profen since beginning the paddle in as nearly many days ago. That policy would reverse on this final day; I was flirting with maximum dosage.

After having faced endless rain, violent lightning storms, and relentless sun, this final day was very nearly The Lanier Lap's coup de grâce. But it wasn't. I was too close to finishing, and I had too much momentum built.

The wind allowed for no moderateness in my pacing--the final day's conditions required me to work fiercely to make progress. I was completely exposed to the southwesterly winds that day, which swept unimpeded for ten miles over the water before slamming into the earthen dam that comprises Lake Lanier's south shore. At 20-30mph on the water, the winds lapped up waves and created ocean-like conditions in which I largely had to paddle sidelong. Normally, I would fully enjoy this kind of environment, but I could feel the previous days' toll on my body. Paddling that hard wasn't good for my impaired shoulders, but I didn't have much of an option. Even having taken three full rest breaks in the two hour stretch across the Buford Dam, I was seeing 3mph results from a 6mph effort. It was brutal. After having faced endless rain, violent lightning storms, and relentless sun, this final day was very nearly The Lanier Lap's coup de grâce. But it wasn't. I was too close to finishing, and I had too much momentum built.

 

Photo Credit: Gainesville Times

 

The Momentum

The momentum started on day one. I had paddled into a relatively small cove, and a man came out on his dock phone in hand. It was the first time such a thing occurred, and so I was regrettably awkward with it. He said simply, “I didn’t think you’d be coming up in our cove because it is so small.” There was a brief moment of my wondering if I knew the man, before I blurted, “Yeah, I’m paddling the shoreline.” It was after I was paddling away that I realized that even though he wasn’t on my map of people that had volunteered to support the project, he had heard about The Lanier Lap and despite the rain had come down to his dock to say hello as I passed. I thought that was cool. It was a few hours from the beginning and a few more until it would happen again. But it did. Literally hundreds of times.

From there it snowballed into dock parties filled with people and signs and balloons made out for The Lanier Lap. I had to turn down more beer than I would have imagined I had the willpower to refuse…

It was slow at first, but word on a lake travels fast, and the hype built as I went. It began to have a life on it’s own—evolving into a couple of people relaxing in lounge chairs and cheering as I went by, to strangers who I would later come to know meeting me in the water via boat or jet ski to check on me, offer me food, and see if I needed anything else. The dockside sleeping accommodations became more and more elaborate, with "Hotel Rothberg" even leaving a mint on the pillow of the air mattress they had setup on their dock for me. At 1am, Diane and Tom Rothberg had escorted me by headlamp with their rowing shells to it. Local paddler Heather Frogge and training partner Ron Sanders came out to get in on the action by paddling stretches alongside me as well. From there it snowballed into dock parties filled with people and signs and balloons made out for The Lanier Lap. I had to turn down more beer than I would have imagined I had the willpower to refuse, and I had several entertaining conversations with children full of questions about what I was undertaking—which as a father of four was maybe my favorite part. It moves me to tears to think about how much it meant to be supported as such.

 

Heather Frogge joined me in her “Mermaid Surfski”

 

The Lake Angels

I don’t know how many times I repeated how I was floored by the amount of support that rallied around The Lanier Lap. When Epic Kayaks and RailRiders joined the project, my boat was afloat, and my sails were lifted. But the what filled them were the people who put their encouraging hands on my shoulders and said, “You can do it.” What started with a commitment from my good friend Daniel Tucker and my fiancee Shanna Irving to follow along and provide help during some of the paddle became a community of people. And for that I am ever-thankful. The good will provided by Lu Treadway and those who having initially heard from her or other means spread the news of what was happening became my heroes. It was something that was happening with every paddle stroke I was out there.

It was both humbling and encouraging to meet so many people who came together to support the project. And it all came to a climax the final, windy day.

I kept being surprised by the interest in The Lanier Lap. It was both humbling and encouraging to meet so many people who came together to support the project. And it all came to a climax the final, windy day. It started when I shipped off sometime around 3am by Shanna Irving and good friend Justin Williams from the campsite they were using as a base camp. After the sun came up and I was working my way west along the stretch of Buford Dam, I was met several times along the way by my sister, brother, my girls, and nieces! It was a pleasant surprise for sure.

Joined by Dana Richardson the final day of The Lanier Lap

Later in the day, I had noticed an Epic V10 surfski on the water on a heading to intersect me. Immediately I recognized the paddler because of the paint job of her boat--a bold purple swoosh on the bow had replaced the signature red & black Epic colors. Purple is the color adopted by the many organizations and people fighting pancreatic cancer. It was Dana Richardson, the woman whose project to paddle the perimeter of Lake Lanier in segments became an inspiration for The Lanier Lap. Finally meeting and padding with this legend was a tremendous honor.

It was not much later that Bob and Wendy Panetta, an awesome couple who had been one of the first couples to greet me on the water by boat, and who I had later hung out with at Andrea Porubiansky's dock, had initially heard about The Lanier Lap through a newspaper article. On this last day, they had teamed up with Shanna in meeting me for the last and largest arm of the lake--Bald Ridge. Joined by Matt Williams on his super-powered jetski, they socialized and kept me company during the final hours of the ultra marathon paddled as I increased the tempo in an attempt to get to the finish by nightfall.

The Finale

During the home stretch to the finishing location—the same place I had started nearly a week earlier, I didn’t put much thought toward the past six months of working on the The Lanier Lap. Nor did I being projecting the the next two, during which time the tally would grow to an estimated 400 hours of work in total physically preparing for, promoting, planning, and participating in The Lanier Lap. Instead, I was very much living in the present.

The sun was setting as I circled Pilgrim Point. It was becoming dark quickly, but as I wound my way along the shoreline north towards the finish line at Tidwell Park, it peeked out and hid from view multiple times. I could see the park in the distance even ask dusk turned into night, because it was illuminated by dancing, multi-colored lights. Even though most boats were off the water, the boat ramp was still well-crowded, and as I exited the final cove and it came into view, I could see a welcoming party of fifty people or more awaiting my arrival.

Photo Credit: Gainesville Times

After 6 days, 14 hours, and 27 minutes of paddling over 400 miles, I was elated—not just to be finishing the shoreline circumnavigation, but to be finishing with so many familiar faces. It was like the standing ovation at the end of a play, with each of the people who had made it a possibility taking their bow. With each hug came a flood of memories from The Lanier Lap, and with them an overwhelming feeling that this was, in truth, our accomplishment.

And as if a giant surprise party with cake and pizza and tacos and trophies and so many wonderful people wasn’t enough, there was even a tribute song for The Lanier Lap.

Tessa Bobessa performs "Go Joshua Go", a tribute to The Lanier Lap. Music and Lyrics Credit: Tessa Bobessa

Excerpts from Live Coverage

Thursday, June 6th, 7:07am (update from shanna irving)

He's on his way! What a STUD. Current mood:

Thursday, June 6th, 8:10am

It’s hard to believe it’s already 1% over. You never know how quickly things can slip away. 😢 Hug someone you love.❤️

Thursday, June 6th, 8:53am

First comment from dockside fan: “so you are real!

I sure hope so. If not, I need to work on my imagination skills—this is a lot of suffering to daydream!
😩😂

Thursday, June 6th, 10:07am

3.5 hours in and “the prologue” is complete. I’m staring across this massive cove back at Tidwell Park, the peninsula that began and will end The Lanier Lap, and this is the last time I’ll see it for a number of days. Now the real work begins…

Thursday, June 6th, 11:03am (update from colleague/georgia tech research institute)

We're cheering you on from Tech! Good luck!

Shrimp Cocktail

Thursday, June 6th, 6:25pm

Oh yeah. I get fancy out here.

Thursday, June 6th, 6:25pm (Update from becky burns)

Happy paddling this evening Joshua Forester - you are not alone...we are all backing you and sending you good karma! See you tomorrow!!!

Friday, June 7th, 9:48Am (update from timoree bowsman/port royale marina)

Keep it up! Thanks for the entertainment on these rainy days! Safe Travels! from all of us at Port Royale Marina!

Friday, June 7th, 12:44Am

All, I’m at Mark Bergeron’s dock presently. I wasn’t originally planning on sleeping night #1 but unfortunately spent some time vomiting a couple of hours ago and need to give my body some time to absorb some fluids nutrients. Will take a short nap here before pushing on. All is well and I’m extremely grateful for Mark for setting up a sweet sleeping situation for me and of course the water and food!

Friday, June 7th, 6:36Am

Georgia in June:
2 hours of searing heat as the Death Star rained its photon beam upon me.

Friday, June 7th, 10:35Am (Update from holly saxby)

He has been known to eat pig skins in a race before so his stomach can take pretty odd things. Hopefully, the bad combo (whatever it was) will pass through quickly. Go Josh Go!

Friday, June 7th, 11:00Am

Relaxing at Spa Treadway. 😎 about to have the best breakfast of my life.

Friday, June 7th, 2:07pm

Two shoreline fishermen just asked me if I’ve caught anything yet...not sure how to respond to that lol

Friday, June 7th, 4:24pm (Update by bonny putney)

Josh big storm heading your way, you need to seek shelter

Saturday, June 8th, 12:28pm

My mom EVERY cloudy day growing up: “wear sunscreen you can still get sunburned on a cloudy day!”
Me:
🙄

Bivy

Saturday, June 8th, 12:32pm

I puttered out to a crawl this morning as the sun rose (I’m told that there is a sun behind all the thunderheads), so I decided to bivouac on a small grassy peninsula. 1 hour rainy nap in the bank and I was completely refreshed.

Saturday, June 8th, 11:26pm

Somebody let me know if the dock full of women cheering for me and a dude offering me beer was real or nah? It’s getting to that point…

SUNday, June 9th, 12:19Am (Update from mark ross)

Josh. I did say when it's done beer on me.. looking forward to setting that bet. You got this!!!

SUNday, June 9th, 12:43Am

Thank you U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for the yellow barrier that prevented me from paddling into a ?dam intake? 😳 at 1am...

SUNday, June 9th, 10:13Am

It’s time for a massive shoutout to Becky Burns, Andrea Porubiansky, Brenda Musone, and Timoree Bowsman for setting up spectacular support stations with their docks, letting me use their restrooms, and talking with me while I macked down on their grub.

To the person who witnessed me lose a piece of chewed food out of my mouth as I was shoveling in more and pick it back up off the dock to put in my mouth, I’m sorry. I realize that from another person’s perspective at the time, that may be considered...gross.
🤷🏽‍♂️😂

SUNday, June 9th, 1:03pm

Midnight chili mac meetup. Josh was looking good and feeling strong, ready for last night's push ❤ Jake Anderson's gourmet skills had Josh enraptured 🤣

SUNday, June 9th, 7:36pm (update from ron sanders)

The Lake Lanier community is pretty amazing. They come out on their docks to offer Josh food, drink, and kind words of encouragement. This couple came by boat, then swam to bring some healthy eats. #thelanierlap

SUNday, June 9th, 8:59pm

Enjoying the veggie burrito Diane swam to me from her boat.

Arrived at Don Carter State Park about an hour ago. Cruised up the Lanier/Chattahoochee section thanks to my paddling training partner Ron Sanders paddling with me for a bit but more importantly taking my interview on TV to heart and bringing me Taco Bell. 🤗

My plan is to now bank a full 6 hours of sleep, doubling the sleep I’ve gotten over the last 3 nights.

Monday, June 10th, 6:28Am

Really?? I’ve had enough electricity this trip thank you very much.

monday, JUNE 10th, 12:30pm

I don’t always have filet mignon out here, but I do on special occasions. I’m finally headed back south y’all!

monday, JUNE 10th, 4:48pm (update by DIANE ROTHBERG)

Hey Josh! The “Hidden Spider” hotel and lounge awaits you in Flat Creek. Would leave a mint on the pillow, but the ants might get it.
See ya soon, big guy!

monday, JUNE 10th, 5:54pm

The middle portion of Stage 5 is cove hell—in and out over and over again. I was happy to find this cut-through to the next cove. Just had to do a little kayak limbo. 🤗

monday, JUNE 10th, 9:01pm

Finally a sunset! No thunderstorms 😉

TUESday, June 11th, 8:07AM

Arms this morning from the shoulders out: “We aren’t going a mile further!” <searing pain shoots through my arms>
Me: <washes down 800mg of Ibu Profen with a Starbucks mocha double shot> “Wanna bet?”
Master your willpower. Know your lattes.

TUESday, June 11th, 2:54PM

I caught it from the kayak! 🙃

TUESday, June 11th, 7:09PM

Well I’ve battled with nausea and vomiting, rain, cold, high winds, lightning, and now a full day of heat. Tomorrow I’ll be in the south shores of Lanier where the majority of the big wake is. It’ll be the hardest paddling at my weakest point. 😳 WHO PLANNED THIS THING!? CAUSE I GOT WORDS FOR THEM! 😡

WedneSday, June 12th, 11:59AM

Taking a short break after two thirds of the way through with the southern crossing. Cold front moving in with a vengeance from the north and with it loads of wind. South shore getting hit with 20-30mph consistent. Water is like ocean kayaking and really exhausting start to Stage 8. Also, Holly showed up with my girls so the got the south shore cheering covered.

WedneSday, June 12th, 12:47aM

“But it’s just Holiday Marina.” Contrary to what others may lead you to believe, this is the second most dangerous portion of the trip. Circumnavigating a large marina downwind and open to the main body of the lake requires a surge of focus and paddling strength, doubly so at night.

The waves coming off the lake (in this case high winds generating them) crash into the marina breakwater and rebound, creating a chaos zone of unpredictable, ocean-level chop within 50m or so of the docks. Add nightfall and you have to paddle it nearly blind.

With a lesser kayak, it’d quickly become and emergency situation.

WedneSday, June 12th, 1:43PM (Update from shanna irving)

Josh enjoying his message from my baby sis Megan: "Congrats Nerd! You can put your socks back on!"

She loves him 🤣

WedneSday, June 12th, 6:43aM (Update from justin williams

Heading out for the home stretch! Still smiling. #thelanierlap

Full Live Coverage

Press/Media Coverage:

accessWDUN:

Adventurer almost half way through his “Lanier Lap” of Lake Lanier

facebook (updates and comments):

Updates post:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=2492622487417415


Strava (cellphone app, 3 second intervals, crashes frequently)

Stage 1:

https://www.strava.com/activities/2429888088

Stage 2 Part 1 (before Strava crashed)

https://www.strava.com/activities/2429991250

Stage 2 Part 2 (after I restarted Strava)

https://www.strava.com/activities/2432136438

Crashed west of Browns Bridge & another south of the spill of the Chestatee River.

Stage 3

https://www.strava.com/activities/2434588845

Stage 4

https://www.strava.com/activities/2438615545

Crashed twice at Looper Lake and another at Northlake.

Stage 5

https://www.strava.com/activities/2440603719

Stage 6

https://www.strava.com/activities/2442474239

Crashed west of Raintree East.

Stage 7

https://www.strava.com/activities/2444427853

Crashed east of Misty Cove & another west of Gay Lan.

Stage 8

https://www.strava.com/activities/2445746807


Garmin inReach
(GPS device, 10 min intervals, reliable application):

https://share.garmin.com/JoshuaForester

Prior Media Coverage

Atlanta 11Alive, May 23rd 2019 — Atlanta & Company

In Good Company: Joshua Forester

Gainesville Times, May 31st 2019 — Nathaniel Berg

Forester sets out for unusual claim to fame on Lake Lanier

Blue Ridge Outdoors, June 2019 Issue — Will Harlan

LANIER LAP: 100-HOUR PADDLE

Follow-Up Media Coverage

Gainesville Times, June 13th 2019 — Nathaniel Berg

Kayaker Josh Forester finishes Lanier Lap, calls it harder than summiting Denali

Atlanta 11Alive, June 19th 2019 — Jay Plyburn

Local Man kayaks 400 miles along Lake Lanier Shoreline

Lakeside News, June 28th 2019 — Jane Harrison

Joshua Forester completes Lanier Lap

KNOE News, July 15th 2019 — What’s Your Story

What’s Your Story: West Monroe native paddles around massive Lake Lanier

Photo Credit: Lakeside News

The Lanier Lap Sponsors