Rides: Michael “Smiley” King’s Jackson Kayak Journey 14

Real people and the boats they love

Tennessee's Whites Creek. Photo courtesy of Patty Shultz

Tennessee’s Whites Creek. Photo courtesy of Patty Shultz

Michael "Smiley" King, 46, a telecommunications engineer for AT&T, had a childhood that sounds like the premise for an old country and western song. The eldest of seven children, he romped through the woods of east Kentucky's Harlan County, loving his Appalachian life. He was raised to work hard, but when chores were done, he plumbed the hilltops and hollows for adventure. His early backwoods work ethic and love of wild places are the impetus for his volunteerism, which has led him to become a Tennessee Scenic Rivers Association board member. King partners and networks with federal, state, and local agencies to promote outdoor recreation, paddle sports, and conservation. He also volunteer manages a Nashville area paddling group, Paddle Adventures Unlimited, which boasts close to 4,000 members. Paddle Adventures Unlimited is the host of Cumberland River Paddlefest, a Nashville-area shindig that occurs each year in early May.

CanoeKayak.com: So, why do you love the Jackson Kayak Journey 14?

Michael King: I paddle a lot of different places and the Journey's versatility meets my changing needs. It offers comfort with excellent initial and secondary stability. Its maneuverability allows for creeks and small river exploration, and its tracking provides performance and speed for big river and lake exploration.

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Give us a couple examples of its versatility.

I started paddling the Journey with my son on board at the age of two. We paddle creeks, rivers, lakes, and cypress swamps. I also paddle the Journey solo with a skirt for more challenging water and weather.

TN Cumberland River Ashland City

You spend a lot of time in its cockpit. How does that feel?

The "Sweet Cheeks" seat, "Sure Lock" back band system, and hip and thigh pads offer comfort and fit for a great paddling experience. I also love the durability of the Journey for rocky bottoms and shores. The dry storage capacity allows me to pack for a day or multiple nights of camping. I don't use the rudder system often, but prefer to have it when the situation calls for another maneuverability option. The Smarttrack rudder system provides fixed foot pegs with movable rudder pedals; that gives you rigid foot braces for solid bracing performance.

Is it a beginner's boat or an expert's boat?

The Journey provides stability to support beginners and maneuverability for experienced and technical paddling.

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You said you've paddled a lot of places? Please name a few.

Many Tennessee, Kentucky, and Arkansas lakes, rivers, and creeks, such as the Arkansas Buffalo National River, Kentucky Mammoth Cave National Park, the Green River, and many Cumberland River destinations from the beginning in East Kentucky’s Harlan County to Nashville. Then there's the Tennessee River, Caney Fork River, Red River, West Fork of Red River, Piney River, Duck River, Old Hickory Lake, and J. Percy Priest Lake.

That's quite a list! How about a bucket list place to paddle?

I'd like to paddle the Columbia Glacier area in Alaska again. It takes a charter boat to carry your boat and gear there and you can paddle between floating ice, with the glacier in the background. There are lots of seals, whales, and sea lions and you see and hear a lot of calving, where the glacier's ice breaks away and crashes into the sea. There's always the Boundary Waters too, and if we're talking bucket list, Iceland!

Tell me about a sweet moment on one of your beloved rivers.

That would be camping along the majestic Arkansas Buffalo National River with my son and friends. After paddling beside and beneath the cool, shaded bluffs and along undeveloped, heavily forested shorelines, we camped at the confluence of the Little Buffalo River and the Buffalo River. I loved the crackling campfire and the camaraderie along the pristine rivers, with water so clear you can see fish in the current. We saw deer, eagles, and otter too, but the best part was seeing my son so curious and wanting to do everything from gathering firewood to cooking. We paddled over 30 miles that trip, and he never complained once.

Are you called "Smiley" because you too never complain?

My paddling group gives each other nicknames. They call me Smiley simply because of my smiling.

How do you feel about your nickname?

I just smile about it.

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