Competitors race toward Fort Morgan as Great Alabama 650 begins

By Melanie LeCroy / melanie@gulfcoastmedia.com
Posted 9/22/21

The Great Alabama 650, the world’s longest annual paddle race got underway Sept. 18. The 650-mile race across the state of Alabama began on Weiss Lake with nine individual racers and four …

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Competitors race toward Fort Morgan as Great Alabama 650 begins

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The Great Alabama 650, the world’s longest annual paddle race got underway Sept. 18. The 650-mile race across the state of Alabama began on Weiss Lake with nine individual racers and four two-person tandem teams. The racecourse begins in the northeast section of the state, through the core section of the Alabama Scenic River Trail and finishes in Fort Morgan on the Mobile Bay.

The field of competitors this year consists of many returning racers including Salli O’Donnell who is competing for her third straight year. In 2019 she was the only solo female to compete and led much of the race. She has won the Solo Female title two years in a row and is looking for number three. Enterprise, Ala. resident Jim Lewey is back this year in his second attempt to finish the grueling race.

In the tandem division, two Great Alabama 650 alums and Florida residents Bobby Johnson and Rod Price have joined forces and are competing as a team this year. In 2019, Johnson won the overall title for the Great Alabama 650 and won the Suwannee River 230 this year, beating his previous record.

With just 10 days to finish the race, competitors will spend long days on the water. Racers spent their first day paddling in rain. By the close of day one, most teams had made it through Gadsen and were heading toward Lake Martin. By the end of day two the lead racers were at mile marker 207 and the back of the pack at mile marker 122.

The Great Alabama 650 racers paddle without the cheer of crowds for encouragement; instead they encounter southern hospitality from “Trail Angels”- paddle and river enthusiasts who offer assistance throughout the trail. Crew members also use technology and word-of-mouth to scout sites to meet and supply racers while they are on the course.

The race is designed for virtual viewing using an up to the minute live map that tracks racers as they move from the foothills of the Appalachians to the Gulf of Mexico. Updates and information can also be found on the Great Alabama 650 Facebook and Instagram pages. Over the last two years, the map and social media content generated a lot of engagement from an audience that grew as the race progressed. The racers were especially encouraged by spectators that spontaneously came out to the riverfront to cheer them on as the race crossed their community.

Keep an eye on Mobile Bay as racers paddle to the final check point located at the mouth of the Bon Secour River. After they check in at checkpoint three, racers will paddle for the finish line located at the Fort Morgan Public Launch located on Highway 180 in Gulf Shores. Prize money will be awarded to the winners of each of the three categories: team, female solo and male solo.

Visit www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com to find links to the live tracking map, information about the race or information regarding the Alabama Scenic River Trail.

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