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Canoeists paddle 631-mile trail from Ga. to Gulf

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- David Haynes of Blount Springs and his golden retrievers, Roscoe and Bailey, are just a day or two away from completing a 631-mile canoe trek from the Alabama-Georgia border to the sandy shores where Mobile Bay meets the Gulf of Mexico.

It's an epic journey to be sure, but Haynes isn't even the first this year to make it.

Two paddlers already have finished and four more launched June 1, according to Fred Couch, the founder and president of the Alabama Scenic River Trail.

Couch attributes the surge in long-distance paddlers, at least in part, to the exposure generated by the 8-page spread in the April edition of Sea Kayaker, an internationally distributed magazine for paddling enthusiasts.

"More people have done the Alabama Scenic River Trail this year than in the entire history of the trail," said Jim Felder, executive director of the nonprofit that develops and promotes the trail.

The trail, founded in 2008, starts on the Coosa River's Weiss Lake and moves through the chain of lakes on the Coosa, then follows the Alabama River to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. ASRT offers detailed maps of the course, including marked portage trails around dams.

Haynes, a 57-year-old freelance writer, is blogging about his trip as he goes and plans on writing a book about the experience for The University of Alabama Press. Bad weather currently has him stranded at Meaher State Park on the shores of Mobile Bay.

"It is not very much fun right now," he said. "But it will be good material for the book."

Haynes thought he had clear sailing on the wide open bay after navigating the spider web of channels that make up the Delta. But earlier this week he found himself facing dangerous white-capping waves, a 12-foot alligator, a boat with two heavy and nervous dogs, and a shoreline of grass. He turned about and high-tailed it back to the park.

"We got in a pretty serious situation. We were right on the edge," he said.

The rare moments of peril and occasional discomfort of mud were worth it for the natural beauty and the camaraderie of the river, a place where a cold beer is currency of kindness.

"There are days when it is hard and tough and there are days when it is just fantastic," Haynes said.