Once a week or so, the Fuqueas try to head out to a local river to spend a few hours kayaking. But on June 15 the couple headed to Withlacoochee River near Valdosta to participate in a week-long paddle trip led by Georgia River Network.

Though Sonja and Ronald Fuquea only participated in the weekend segment of the 2019 Paddle Georgia adventure, they were two of 350 participants to kayak an average of 15 miles a day along Georgia rivers. The entire trip covered 92 miles and allowed paddlers to explore the native habitats and local bodies of water within state borders.

The Fuqueas have participated in the Paddle Georgia adventure for four years now, each time only kayaking for two days of the week-long event.

“Saturday and Sunday, that’s as much as we want to do,” Sonja said. “We were pretty worn out after that. The days are longer than what we usually paddle, as we’re on the river anywhere from 11-17 miles a day.”

While it might stretch them and challenge their skills, this paddle event has allowed the Fuqueas to kayak along the Withlacoochee, Suwannee, Etowah, Conasauga, Oostanaula and Ogeechee rivers, giving them experiences they will remember for some time.

Though this event is one of the ways they celebrate their love for kayaking, the couple typically enjoys paddling by themselves.

“I like paddling (the two of us) more,” Ronald said. “On Paddle Georgia, everyone wants to paddle – it’s distracting, but during the week it’s a lot better up here on the rivers.”

The Fuqueas’ journey of paddling actually started when they were on vacation in St. George Island, Florida, years ago and bought a kayak after renting it for a day. After their first trip out on the ocean they fell in love and found a long-lasting hobby.

The Fuqueas do admit that kayaking on the ocean and on rivers are two different beasts, yet being natives of Calhoun, they can’t help but take advantage of the many rivers in their home town.

Being used to having rivers to themselves, Sonja and Ronald found while on Paddle Georgia it was hard to spot wildlife, more difficult to enjoy the solitude of being on the water and they didn’t get to choose their own pace, especially with 350 other paddlers on the river.

Yet, Paddle Georgia, they said, is an opportunity to connect with other paddlers and it reminds them of how important local rivers are and how communities need to protect their natural resources.

“It increases awareness of the need to protect our rivers and the need to clean them,” Sonja said. “You come away understanding there are a lot of people working really hard at the government level and grassroots level to (raise awareness).”

Both Sonja and Ronald are involved with organizations such as the Georgia River Network, Coosa River Basin Initiative and the Apalachicola Riverkeeper. They say that the best way to appreciate the local habitat is to spend time in it, and they would love to see more Calhounites get into kayaking.

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