FLORENCE — On just her first day of her first delve into the Tennessee River 600, Martha Stafford was hooked.

"I'm already planning on coming back next year," the Fayetteville, Tennessee, resident said during a stop Monday at Florence Harbor Marina. "I've been wanting to do it for years. It's very interesting. You meet a lot of fun people, and we first-timers get a lot of help from the others."

This is the 23rd year of the Tennessee River 600, which is a week-long 600-mile journey through the river on personal watercraft.

The event also serves as a fundraiser benefiting Children's Miracle Network hospitals and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, said Kendra Beckley, one of the organizers and daughter of event Director Dennis Beckley.

She said 92 people and some 60 to 70 watercraft are in this year's event, which typically includes people from 15 to 17 states. This year, participants have come from states as far as Hawaii, and it has even expanded to include some Canadian riders.

The harbor was filled with watercraft Monday as participants paused for fuel refills, meals and supplies before locking through Wilson Dam.

For Williamsburg, Virginia, resident Craig Larson, this is the first time to participate.

With Williamsburg's Atlantic coastline proximity, Larson often journeys some 15 to 20 miles into the ocean on his watercraft. He makes sure he is prepared for anything.

"First-aid kit, GPS radio, cooler," Larson said, listing off everything he has strapped to his watercraft. "I'm over-prepared."

This is the fourth time Wayne Mooney has joined the annual ride. With his son, Jake, riding alongside, Mooney said it has become an entertaining tradition.

"We had heard about it and thought it would be a neat trip," said Wayne, of Cumming, Georgia.

He said the scenery is remarkable along the route.

While it is a pleasant experience, Mother Nature can make for some particularly lively encounters.

"When the weather picks up and it gets windy and the waves get really choppy, it's something," he said.

bernie.delinski@timesdaily.com or 256-740-5739. Twitter @TD_BDelinski


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