MAY 1, 1996
How it all started.....the picture above was taken just minutes after wading into the confluence of the Poor Fork and Cumberland River. Water temp...48F...696 miles to go....I woke up in Harlan Kentucky not believing what was facing me in a few hours. This was D-Day, do or die. After all the planning it was time to actually swim 696 miles down the Cumberland River to the Ohio.
Julee was already up. She had just gotten back from the continental breakfast bar with coffee. She had run into an unsuspected visitor in the lobby. She told me to go get some doughnuts knowing I would run into this person. As I rounded the corner my brother Paul was sitting there with a grin on his face. It was good to see family. We hugged, I told him I was glad to see him. At least one member besides Julee thought it was important enough to be there. I wasn't going to the moon, or climbing Mt. Everest but this was a big deal to me. I was glad two people thought enough of me for support.
Rick Egedi (Whitewater Rafting, Canoeing and Instruction with Sheltowee Trace Outfitters in South-Central Kentucky on the Cumberland River.) was on his way with the river guide Chris McTilton and the river craft we would use for 150 miles. 10:30 rolled around when they showed up. For some unknown reason I was hoping they wouldn't. I was getting nervous about getting in the water. All the "what ifs" go through your mind, most of them negative trying to keep you from accomplishing what you've set out to do. Now there was no time to think that way. Perpetual motion had taken over. Everybody was grabbing bags, and equipment. We were on our way the headwaters of the Cumberland, where the Poor and Martins Fork come together.
I was trying to keep my mind on the task at hand. The media including the Harlan Co. Times and Mountain News wanted to ask me questions. I was trying to avoid them until I was sure that I had everything secure and ready to go. I surely didn't want to take off and forget our drinking water.
In the mean time Julee did an interview as did Paul, and a few other people around. I was busy tying banners and flags onto the raft, and making sure I was mentally ready for what was about to take place. Once I entered the water that was it. This was not going to be a dress rehearsal. I had no idea what I was getting into.
When I finally had my drysuit zipped up and all the equipment loaded onto the raft, I grabbed a hammer and nailed a cedar plaque onto a nearby tree that proclaimed: Here the Cumberland River starts mile 696, Ohio River that way. Capt. Vic Scoggin "I shall return". I walked to the edge of the swift moving, cold river, and finally faced the reporters and expalined to them why I was swimming the Cumberland River. I remember looking from side to side across the river seeing plastic bags, hundreds of them, hanging from the trees. It renewed my conviction even more allowing me the right words to say in front of thousands of people that would see it on the 6 o'clock news. I hugged Julee, shook and thanked Rick, Paul and everybody else that was standing around, then eased into the cold mountain waters of the river that I would live on for the next 65 days. My first thought was "I didn't think the water would be this cold". "Could I survive this for this long"? This is what I was concerned about, so naturally this would be my first thought. Julee yelled "One stroke at a time" At this point I stuck my fist up into the air and hollered "Save the Cumberland". I turned and started the American Crawl towards the Ohio River.
Before I got to the first bridge which was just a thousand yards downstream I started to realize my next fear. The energy it would take to swim 696 miles hit me like a ton of bricks. I was already wore out! How in the world was I going to gather up enough energy to go the distance? I hadn't even finished the first mile!
MORE TO COME