Seven Deadly Questions: Bopenski Watersports’ Joe Borden Rides the Tennessee River 600

The Tennessee River 600 is an annual event for personal watercraft (PWC) enthusiasts to raise money for two children’s hospitals and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). Funds raised from participants and sponsors are divided equally among The Children’s Hospital, Birmingham, AL; and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. According to the official Tennessee River 600 website:

“The Children’s Hospital, Birmingham, AL is a member of the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, an alliance of premier hospitals for children and one of the world’s leading children’s charities working to save and improve the lives of millions of children. The TWRA is an organization dedicated to the preservation, conservation, and enhancement of Tennessee’s outdoors, including fostering the safe use of the state’s waters. The event is also designed to promote Tennessee tourism and water safety, as well as to portray PWC’s in a positive light, and is the longest running organized event in the United States for personal watercraft.”

Celebrating its 22nd year (beginning back in 1997), the Tennessee 600 has raised nearly a quarter-million dollars for these charities and organizations while welcoming riders from across the US, Canada and beyond. This year, Joe Borden of Bopenski Watersports (y’know, the guys who make the awesome KickBack PWC chair) thought he’d try out the 8-day event. Once the saddle sores mended, we reached out to see what Joe thought.

The Watercraft Journal: How did you first hear about the Tennessee River 600 (TNR600)?
Joe Borden: I heard about the ride from a couple we met at the MudBug in Morgan City, Gregg and Jenn Andreachi. They said the TNR600 is the first ride they put on their calendar every year, it’s that good.

WCJ: What helped you make the decision to go? Who joined you?
JB: I was having a conversation with my brother, Jamey about how much fun my wife, Shari and I had riding through the bayous at the MudBug with the groups, and that he and his wife, Georgia would love it. He asked if there was another ride coming up anytime soon and I told him about the TNR600. It was decided about 2 minutes later.

WCJ: Tell me a little about the trip to Knoxville, how was the drive?
JB: It was an easy 880 miles – no troubles. We reworked the bearings and put new tires on the trailer prior to the trip – like our dad always said, prevention is easier than correction. We hadn’t been through Arkansas and Tennessee in many years, so getting to spend time with my brother and see some beautiful country was a lot of fun. The drive from Nashville to Knoxville is just stunning.

WCJ: How long was the first day’s ride? It’s typically the most grueling.
JB: We went about 140 miles through 3 locks on our way to Chattanooga, but it didn’t feel like a haul at all. The river was calm with postcard views around every bend, not to mention the homes/estates we were able to encounter, beautiful places. It was our first time experiencing a lock. Watching the walls grow 50 to 100 feet in about 20 minutes was incredible.

Dennis Beckley and his team of TNR600 organizers did an outstanding job informing everyone (especially us newbies) of the day’s scheduled stops, river rules and regulations, and marina locations for pit-stops and refueling. Each day, Dennis had organized at least one meal we would all gather as a group for, which was a great time to hear the day’s stories.

WCJ: What cities (or landmarks) did the group stop at?
JB: First and second nights were in Chattanooga. Day 2 was a play day. You could site-see around Chattanooga or explore the river. We came to ride, so my brother and I took the opportunity to ride the Gorge (Chattanooga to Hale’s Gate about 35 miles) by ourselves – what a beautiful ride! And we were able to take our time and really soak in the views in the canyons.

The third night was at the Wyndham Garden Lake in Guntersville, Alabama. It’s right on the water and close to the next day’s lock – Guntersville Lock. The fourth night’s stay was probably my favorite at Joe Wheeler State Park – I could have spent several days there between the beautiful scenery around the river, golf course and miles of hiking trails. The sunrise from any of the room’s balcony is incredible, and the staff is outstanding.

The fifth day ride from Joe Wheeler to Pickwick State park was a lot of fun as well going about 70 miles. We stopped by the River Bottom Grille at Florence Harbor (AL) for lunch and the burgers were excellent. A lot to see and do along this stretch including a great cliff to jump off of. Pickwick State Park is also a great stop with plenty to do, including the famous fifth night fish fry Dennis and his team put on for the group.

Great food and a lot of laughs from all the stories being told from the last 5 days of riding. The last day is about a 140 mile ride, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. This stretch of the Tennessee River is as beautiful, yet different from the rest, and we found ourselves stopping often for pics and to just take it all in. We made it to the end of the ride at Paris Landing in about 4 hours and although a little tired, we found ourselves wishing we had a couple more days.

WCJ: Tell us a little of your day-to-day; did you develop a routine in packing your ski, riding styles, etc?
JB: Gregg and Jenn prepped us really well in what to take and how to pack. In the skis we had bumpers for each side, two dock lines, tools for pulling out anything that might get caught in the impeller (and needed once!), rain gear, face mask, goggles and our KickBack. The only things we took to the hotel each evening were a small backpack containing our valuables, snacks, the Garmin and coolers. (If you leave food in your ski overnight the raccoons can make quite a mess.)

Everything else including the life vest we left on the ski in the marinas and never had a problem. Having the rain gear, goggles, facemask quickly accessible for the occasional shower made riding in the rain fun, something we would have found hard to believe prior to the trip. And the way Dennis and his team handled all the logistics of our luggage from hotel to hotel made the trip so easy, everything would be waiting for us when we got off the water.

WCJ: Give us some concluding thoughts – did you like the group? Did you like the average speed? did you like the selected stops each night?
JB: We had a blast! And we will be back next year along with several others from our clan that are already sold from the pictures, videos and stories. Did we like the group? Absolutely! Within a couple of days everyone started to feel like family, and the way everyone helped each other made us feel like we hadn’t left Texas! There were 10-20 people we rode with each day that enjoyed riding the speeds we did. As a group we rode between 40-50mph with frequent stops just to kickback, talk and enjoy the views. For most of the 600 miles the water this year was glass (or close to it), which just begged for speed. With there being almost 100 participants, no matter what speed you enjoy riding there is a group for you.

All images courtesy of Bopenski Watersports’ Facebook page.

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Kevin Shaw

Editor-in-Chief – Kevin Shaw is a decade-long powersports and automotive journalist whose love for things that go too fast has led him to launching The Watercraft Journal. Almost always found with stained hands and dirt under his fingernails, Kevin has an eye for the technical while keeping a eye out for beautiful photography and a great story.

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