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Sep. 16, 2019
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Joshua Forester completes Lanier Lap

By Jane Harrison
 
Lake Lanier seems to lure strong-willed adventurers who chase extraordinary goals its between its shores. Legends of the lake have put their bodies on the water for miles facing down challenges unfathomable to the average lake lover. A new one joined their ranks in June on a 400-mile journey-by-kayak around the lake in less than a week.
 
“It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done,” Atlanta area adventure racer Joshua Forester, 37, said moments after he rolled out of his kayak at nightfall June 12 at Tidwell Park. Whitecaps reverberating against the boat ramp seemed to portray the lake’s unwillingness to give up the courageous journeyman who’d seen every cove, inlet and finger of the vast body of water.
 
The endurance athlete who jumped from high school and college distance running onto bikes, kayaks and crampons described the Lanier Lap as more grueling than his 14-day ascent of Denali, the highest peak in North America. The night before he launched, he pondered the daunting task ahead.

He expected “a lot of drudgery, suffering, highs and lows, and moments of euphoria when you see something that strikes you as awe inspiring, like a sunrise, or the 20,000 canvasses God painted for you in nature.” But it was something totally unexpected that helped him complete his mission.
 
The champion adventure racer admitted he underestimated the difficulty of the odyssey that began 6 days, 14 hours and 27 minutes before he met the cheers of erstwhile strangers at the park where he started. He’d been pelted by rain, flashed by lightning, tossed by waves, chilled by unseasonably cool nights, reddened by sun, wracked by nausea and made sore by the repetitive motion to keep alive his goal to complete the fastest ever circumnavigation of the lake in a kayak.
 
His biggest surprise
What surprised him most was the generosity of a lake community that fed him steaks, sushi, shrimp and tacos from shore and laid out cots and blankets on their docks for him to bed down an hour or two. Rallied by Gainesville resident Lu Treadway, friends in the Lanier Dwellers Facebook group adopted Forester as “our boy.” At the finish, he blinked back tears as he thanked the core group of supporters he’d never met before he took paddle in hand.  
 
Without them, he’s not sure if he could have made it. “I truly didn’t know hard it would be,” he said as new friends congratulated him with champagne, beer, pizza and chocolate cake. “I had no idea 10 years ago that so many would help me chase down something like this.”
 
Hundreds of Lanier watchers got caught up in Forester’s dramatic pursuit through Facebook and Strava, a social media network that tracks distance athletes and posts their progress through texts. He kept them enthralled with regular witty, good-humored and sometimes near-poetic posts that drew them into the journey. He shot photos and videos of “secret whitewater” surging after a downpour, hard rain falling like pellets, and unusual night sky illumination, which he dubbed “Aurora Lanieris.” He followed a notorious clip of him chugging a pint of cream with the revelation that he later vomited. Self-deprecating photos showed a weathered wayfarer looking out of it, cross-eyed and fatigued.
 
Forester followers on Strava traced his whereabouts on cell phones and computers through a blinking dot on a Lanier map. They’d curl up in a comfortable bed at night, find the pulsing dot, and marvel “he’s still out there.” Tracking the Lanier Lap became a near addiction to folks who checked on Forester repeatedly, electronically or face-to-face.
 
Just a little sleep
On day three, one dot watcher waved to him from under Wahoo Bridge off Mount Vernon Road. The paddler edged in close to say hello. “It’s amazing what an hour of sleep will do,” he said, smiling and looking amazingly fresh as he dipped his cap into the water to cool his head. “My muscles are probably cannibalizing each other,” he added, alluding to searing pain in his arms. He turned down a couple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and set out for a sleep stop at Don Carter State Park.
 
Dot watcher Peter Markey stopped at Lake Lanier Olympic Park to catch a glimpse of Forester paddling by. The south lake resident happened to be driving a delivery on the north end and checked Forester’s location on his cell phone. “I had to see if this guy is for real,” he said. He got out of his truck, waited, and yelled encouragement as Forester and a training partner paddled by. The two were overheard on the Olympic channel chatting about Olympic paddler Ivan Lawler, a British multi-medalist who Forester said taught him the sport.
 
At the state park, Shanna Irving, Forester’s fiancée, welcomed him to a lakeside campsite, an arm massage, and tacos. She later told Lakeside News she never doubted him. “I know him to do things like this. This is the biggest so far. He impresses me every day with his brilliance and stamina. He’s not one to give up. When he started, I knew he’d finish.”
 
That finish came more than a day after Forester was expected back at work as a Georgia Tech research technician. Night fell as a couple dozen Lanier Dwellers mused about interactions with the sojourner. “Lake Mom” Treadway, who rode her jet ski like a aquatic food truck, said she’d open up a goodie bag of “things a mom would bring,” strawberry smoothies, orange juice, chocolate shakes, and he’d take his pick. She witnessed him in a few down moments, but “once he got his rhythm up and ready, he was in good spirits.”

Self-described Lanier Lap “groupie” Diane Rothberg, who actually swam a veggie burrito out to Forester, described her inspiration as a “Navy Seal” type, someone with courage and integrity who practices service before self. “He’s not just some ‘me-first’ trying to make an end for himself.” Brenda Musone, who served him breakfast on her dock on the Chestatee, reflected how Forester’s endeavor highlighted the sense of community around the lake.  “We’re like a family. We take care of each other,” she said.
 
Cheers at the finish
When the welcome back party spied the paddler’s headlight slowly tracing along the cove across from the Tidwell boat ramp revelers rushed to the water’s edge. Cheers erupted when jeep headlights illuminated Forester’s reflective vest as he got closer. Finally, back at the boat ramp, he took a watery bow and emerged nearly glowing. “After all he’s been through, he’s still got a big smile,” someone remarked.
 
His love for the lake never wavered, he said. “It’s gorgeous, but I don’t know how I feel about paddling right now.” He deemed the “transcendent experience” on Lanier a milestone toward his next adventure, something even more “grandiose” in September. Forrester followers can track his next move at www.joshuaforester.com.


Other ‘legendary’ accomplishments on the lake
 
Following are a few recent endurance athletes who completed personal challenges on Lake Lanier. Many others, including Olympic rowers and paddlers and Ironmen triathletes, have felt the lure of the lake to test their mettle.
 
  • Mario Delgado, 2009: Lake Lanier Rowing Club member rowed a 30-mile solo round trip between Clarks Bridge and Browns Bridge. He later teamed up with doubles rowing partner Gary Sickinger to stroke to Buford Dam from Clarks Bridge.
  • Chris Shoup, 2012: Buford swim coach swam 23 hours to complete a 43.3 mile round trip between Buford Dam and Thompson Bridge.
  • Dana Richardson, 2015: The Hall County teacher paddled the circumference of the lake in sections to complete it within four months. The pancreatic cancer survivor raised thousands of dollars for Relay for Life.
     
Outtakes From Lanier Lap
Joshua Forester kept Lanier Lap watchers enthralled with Facebook posts. Here are some:
  •  “Puttered out to a crawl as the sun rose (I’m told there is a sun behind all the thunderheads) so I decided to bivouac on a small grassy peninsula. 1-hour rainy nap on the bank and I was completely refreshed.
  • “Somebody let me know if the dock full of women cheering for me and a dude offering me a beer was real or nah? It’s getting to that point.
  • “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!
compiled by Jane Harrison

Posted online 6/28/19
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