Had to say goodbye to an old friend today

imageToday I officially said goodbye to an old friend. We have shared many miles together in the woods since March 2011 and he has been with me through the good and bad.

He was right by my side for countless miles never saying a word when things were rough and I kept going – in fact, he was always ready for an adventure. From the beginning, I knew Charlie didn’t have any legs and I would have to carry him everywhere we went.  I carried Charlie and in his own way he helped me when no one else could.

He had been with me while I traveled everything in red on the map – and that doesn’t even account for our adventures outside the Sipsey Wilderness. Sadly,  Charlie was quietly lost by recklessness.  I was careless one time, didn’t secure him properly and he quietly slipped away to live forever in the woods he so loved. Maybe he’ll get lucky and be found by someone who will cherish him as much as I did. Charlie Compass, you will be missed, but your replacement was in stock at Academy.

 

 

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Bankhead Forest Winter Adventure

Life has been interesting recently and my priorities have shifted so I do apologize for not updating my blog recently. But fear not – you haven’t missed anything because I haven’t done much of interest recently. Until two weekends ago.

I have been volunteering with my church to organize/lead outdoor activities for a wide range of age groups and abilities. A couple of weekends ago we had a trip planned but canceled due to the possibility of snow and/or ice. Since I had planned an adventure and I REALLY needed to get out, I called up my trusty all weather adventure buddy, and we made plans for early Saturday morning.

He picked me up in his 4X4 Jeep and off to Bankhead National Forest we went. The anticipated North Alabama blizzard of a couple of inches did not come to fruition (at least where I live) but we did see a dusting once we begin our ascent into the Warrior Mountains. We really didn’t have a set agenda, but did have a few places we wanted to check out. After driving around on the Forest Service Roads a bit, we did hop out and check out one promising area that held a waterfall just a few minutes from the car.

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Just a few minute walk from the car

 

From there, we had heard about a nice waterfall that was not marked on the map. After a minute or two, we found our starting point – an old cemetery. I thought it was interesting that the markers were mostly modern but the dates were in the 1800’s and early 1900’s. The oldest marker had a date of 1833, but there were many graves just marked with plain stones that could have been older.

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new marker – born in 1827 and 1833

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old marker – born in 1864

After surveying the cemetery, we headed toward our destination. To summarize, we saw a small 6 ft waterfall and turned around. After we returned home, we discovered that if we had continued there was a huge bluff shelter with a waterfall about a fourth of a mile further. Oh well, now we have an excuse to return. We did manage to catch some pictures of snow and icicles, though.

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Icicles and snow

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Waterslide

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Small Waterfall

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Being underwhelmed by what we had seen up to this point, we decided we should check out at least one more spot on the map that we had been wanting to see. After looking at the map to decide the best route, we headed down another Forest Service Road and parked at a clear cut area. After following a logging downhill, we finally came to Collier Creek.

Here we saw something interesting – an underwater bridge. It was a fairly wide wood bridge resting on the creek bottom. It didn’t appear extremely old, but it was out of place as there didn’t appear to be a crossing at this location, and bridges are a pretty uncommon sight in Bankhead. I’m making the assumption that it was washed downstream by the recent heavy rain, but I may be wrong.

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Bridge under cold cold water

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Some idiot wading across when there’s snow on the ground.

After looking downstream, I decided to tough it out and cross the stream here. The far side of the creek was fairly level,easy terrain and the near side appeared challenging to say the least. Yes, the water was extremely cold, but I was thankful my quick draining shoes and wool socks. After a few minutes, we arrived on the top of Collier Creek Falls. There are two stone columns here dating to the early 1900’s (I’ve heard 1907) built to support a mill at this location. The only problem was that it was the end of a box canyon and we did not see a way down to the water and base of the columns.

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The top of the columns are visible on the left

Seeing the resemblance of a game trail to the left, we decided to go downstream to find a way down. The trail (which is an over-exaggeration of what we were following) continued downstream and it seems that every 50 feet or so we heard another waterfall. We continued to explore safe options down to the water, but the walls of the canyon were nearly vertical. Finally, I made the call. If we could not find a way down to the water in the next few minutes, we would have to come back as I was running out of time until the time I promised to be back.

I told my adventure buddy that I would check one last time to see if I could find a way down and went toward the edge of the bluff to explore my options. Alas, once again it was too steep. Dejected, I climbed back up to where we had split ways only to find trees instead of someone waiting on me. I wasn’t worried – I figured we was also looking. I took the few minutes I had to shed some layers for the hike out, drink some water, and have a quick snack.

Then from the distance I heard a voice. It couldn’t be – the voice was below me! He had found a way down to the water! I followed his directions, climbing down and came across the beauty.

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Shangra La Falls

Although this appears tropical, this is North Alabama in late January with snow on the ground. The green are mostly Hemlock trees and Mountain Laurel. Although we swore the water was blue because it felt like ice, it is actually from the dissolved calcium from the limestone rock. This was gorgeous and worth every bit of crossing cold water, climbing through Mountain Laurel and following a game trail. We decided to go upstream to the stone columns and hopefully find an easier and shorter route out of the canyon.

With the recent rain, the water level was up a bit. That is great for waterfalls, but it is not so great when you are hiking up a creek without a trail. If there was a trail, it was underwater. We didn’t care – we had found a way down to the water and now just upstream was our destination.  Lots of pretty things to see within a short distance.

 

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Icy Branch

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Icy Bluff

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Another waterfall

Around every bend was another cascade or waterfall. I’m sure several of these are only active during and following a heavy rain, but it was awesome! There was a place or two where the water covered the entire floor of the canyon and we were forced to climb up the waterfall very carefully.

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cascades

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more cascades

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cascades/small waterfall

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ripples in the rock formed by the water

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everything was frozen and cold

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another waterfall

Finally we arrived at the base of the stone columns. After pictures and a quick snack, we decided to head out looking for a shorter way out since we were not excited about retracing our steps on the way in. After a few minutes, we found a narrow ledge that if we could climb onto it would allow us to climb to the ridge line and bushwhack our way back upstream.

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Collier Creek Falls

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Stone columns at Collier Creek Falls

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Collier Creek Falls

Luckily we made it without anyone getting hurt (it was still pretty icy and slippery) and we made it back to the Jeep in record time. It took a long hot shower and some thick wool socks under a blanket for my feet to feel warm again – but I would do it again without thinking twice.

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Caney Creek Falls in Bankhead Forest

After hiking all but just a few miles of official trails in the Sipsey Wilderness, most of my time is now spent far from any road (or official trail) exploring the many sights the area has to offer. I generally enjoy being off the beaten path for the solitude and it seems the best scenery or sights are “off trail.” There are several locations that have been on my list for some time to visit, but because they are short hikes (1-2 miles) that I just haven’t made the time for up to this point.

Caney Creek Falls in Bankhead Forest is one such location. Once you find the spot to park just off the road (a quick Google search will pull up multiple sets of directions), it is nearly impossible to not find the upper falls as you just follow the old roadbed straight ahead.   Following the well worn path, one will arrive at the upper falls just under a mile from the parking area and it is well worth the walk. As a note, there is a footpath trail on the right (with your back to the road) that I assume takes you toward the lower falls, but more on that in a minute….

After parking the car, I was greeting by “Red” – the friendly four legged welcoming committee that lives across the road.  My yellow lab and “Red” got along great as he (I think “Red” is a male) joined us on the hike. I gathered my gear, locked the car, and headed down toward the falls.  The very beginning of the trail has several spots where the path has been eroded by rainfall, but the rest of the trail is great condition.

The trail intersects Caney Creek just above the Upper Falls and I went upstream just a bit to take a picture down toward the falls.  Climbing down to the water below the falls is a little tricky but just go downstream a little bit and you will find a way down.  Be careful and don’t slip here! I went down to the water and took several pictures.

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Looking downstream above the falls

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Approaching Upper Caney Creek Falls

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Upper Caney Creek Falls

After enjoying a quick snack I decided to venture down to Lower Caney Creek Falls. My research informed me the far side of the creek was the preferred route so I crossed and downstream I went.  As with most unofficial trails, the creek was crossed several times to stay on the easiest route. While there were a few areas where trees were down from storms, enough people have been this way to easily see the way around.

After about 3/4 mile or so Lower Caney Creek Falls was within sight.  It is a little more tricky to find your way down and around, but several ways are available.  More pictures were taken and this part of my trip was over. (Besides wondering just how far this trail followed Caney Creek which may turn into a multi night trip.).

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Side Falls on Lower Caney Creek Falls

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Lower Caney Creek Falls

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Lower Caney Creek Falls

 

Now I had a decision to make.  I could retrace my steps all the way back to the Upper Falls and out to my car, but my map and compass told me it was shorter to go out following a creek and I thought I remember seeing a trail branch off in that direction.  If the trail followed the drainage all the way out, it appeared that it would bring me out on the footpath I referred to earlier in this post and be a little shorter.

To spare you the details, I missed it. Looking at my GPS track, I think I turned one creek too early but I followed what I suspect to be an old logging road then bushwhacked the last 100 yards to the road.  I came out about 0.1 miles east of my car, so I just walked down the road – no big deal.  Total distance covered was just over 3 miles.

Except now I want to know where the mystery footpath leads – that may be one of my next trips!

 

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Bankhead Forest Group Hang Trip Report 23-26 October, 2015

About twice a year we try to have a group in the Bankhead National Forest.  This is an ideal location because there is a large area to car camp for both hammocks and tents and we can also take small groups hiking in the Sipsey Wilderness during the day.

Wolfpen Hunter's Camp

Wolfpen Hunter’s Camp

I was so excited for this group hang until last week when I learned of a fire in the area. Conditions have been very dry without any rain in the forecast and a fire had been reported burning in the middle of the Sipsey Wilderness.  From my understanding, there are limited actions that can be taken in a national wilderness – even when it concerns wildfires and I was concerned that this would have a large impact on our plans. A flurry of messages was exchanged, a scouting trip was conducted, conversations were held, and the decision was made to go forth as planned.  I am so glad that decision was made as we had a great time.

Of all the people attending the hang, I live much, much, closer than most (maybe the shortest distance?) and when I finally arrived at Wolfpen Hunters Camp on the south side of Cranal Road, I was greeted by several that had driven much further than me but had beat me to the group hang by several hours. Greetings were exchanged, gear was set up, and much relaxing was done while others continued to flow into the area. This process (arriving, greeting, setting up, and relaxing) was the theme for much of the weekend. We also had several tents in the area as the Wild South volunteers also set up there for the weekend. In fact, a fire ring was removed from under one of the Wild South volunteer’s hammocks and moved a short distance and we also ensured that all combustible materials were raked a good distance away from the area.

As we sat around a SMALL campfire, most of us caught up with the others we have not seen in many months while other new friendships were made.  Of course, many jokes, stories, and maybe a couple of lies were told as the night progressed. Many of us were also initiated into the “Roasted Peep Society.”  Instead of roasting marshmallows, hold a marshmallow Peep over the fire until the sugar coating on the outside begins to melt.  Remove it from the heat and blow on it.  The sugar will caramelize but the inside is still melted.  They are pretty yummy.

We were also treated with “Tales from Thomas” as he spoke of the history and stories of the area as he has learned from relatives and others that have lived in the area for many years. He grew up in the area and spent much time in the woods as a child.  He also has relatives that actually lived there before it was Bankhead National Forest. By speaking to this generation, he has learned much of the history and things to see that are not labeled on any map. Sadly, much of this history is being lost as the older generation perishes and should be captured in some form while there is still time. But I digress…

Friday night was cloudy with a very small chance of rain – so I decided to sleep without my tarp which was something I have never done before.  I kept hearing about how great it was to sleep tarpless, but I have never tried it. All was great until I woke up to the sound of a very light rain.  I hopped up and slid the tarp out of my snake skins and quickly staked it out.  Of course, the rain did not last very long, but I left the tarp up the rest of the weekend.

Early Saturday morning the light rain had stopped and people slowly wandered to the group gathering area for coffee and breakfast.  We were glad Kirk and Austin were there the night before, but sad to see them leave and think football was more important than a group hang.  We did manage to take a group picture before they left, though.

Saturday Morning Group

Saturday Morning Group

Since most of the Sipsey Wilderness was closed due to the fire, a “meeting of the minds” was conducted and a plan was made for some sights to go see.  Just as we were about to leave, we had a VERY SPECIAL guest – our very first female participant of the Bankhead Hang.  (Go Charlotte!)  Just to note: any female is welcome as we do not discriminate whatsoever, but for some reason up to this point all of our participants have been male.  Once again, greetings were exchanged, gear was set up, and then we loaded up for our adventure. What an adventure it was!

Just down the road from Wolfpen and a very short hike, we came upon a concrete “dipping vat.”  These are located throughout the area and were built by the government in the early 1900s to “dip” the cows in order to control ticks by mostly an arsenic solution (doesn’t that sound healthy?).  This one was dated 1919 and there was also an old well nearby. Hopefully the well was used to fill the vat, and not drink from since it was very close to the dipping vat.

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Dipping Vat

Our next adventure was further down the road and we followed Thomas and parked at one of many blocked/old roads in the area without any sign or description. We headed down the old roadbed “off trail” meaning this wasn’t a maintained trail, but you could see a resemblance of a trail from people walking the same path.

Old Roadbed

Old Roadbed

After some time, we went “off – off trail” meaning we were heading in a general direction without any trail whatsoever.  Downhill we went, playing follow the leader and picking our way through vines and thorns. After what seemed much longer than ¾ of a mile, we arrived at this huge shelter area where we enjoyed lunch.

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Bison Bluff Shelter

Deer tracks covered the soft ground and we spent some time taking pictures and enjoying the sights of the area. After lunch, we went just around the corner to another huge bluff, where it was sickening to see the destruction caused by people digging out the ground looking for artifacts.  Of course, this is illegal, but that doesn’t stop some people. Several of the locations in the area had been dug down to depths of six feet and there wasn’t hardly a single place under this bluff where the ground was level due to all of the digging.

Vandals!

Vandals!

Vandals!

Vandals!

We worked our way back to vehicle taking several breaks due to the nearly 300 ft. change in elevation – most of which was “off-off trail.”  We also stopped by Kinlock Shelter where a group picture was made, Native American petroglyphs were viewed followed by a stop by Kinlock Falls. I have been to these places previously, but for many in our group it was the first time.

Kinlock Shelter Group

Kinlock Shelter Group

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

Native American Rock Carving

While most everyone headed back to camp, Thomas was kind enough to show me a spring that I had asked about on a map. You wouldn’t find it by accident unless you were REALLY lost and I wouldn’t drink out of it, but I’m always interested in different areas I find on the map and was happy to find this one.

Old Spring

Old Spring

Saturday evening the world renowned “Hate Beans” were made, consumed, and appreciated by all.  A huge “thank you” goes out to Todd for making them for us.  I think they should be called “Love Beans” because there’s nothing to hate while you are eating them. Another night of sitting around the fire hearing a few more jokes, stories, and maybe a couple of lies as we enjoyed the evening.

Sunday morning was different than any other morning I have EVER had while in the woods.  First, a cell phone went off.  Not once, but twice.  OK, someone had an alarm set and forgot to turn it off – but we won’t mention any names, will we Wayne?  Then, as the Wild South volunteers got up, a car alarm went off.  At that point, I just got up as it was after sunrise and I knew I wouldn’t be going back to sleep.  THEN as I was enjoying my coffee and the somewhat stillness of the early morning, I hear a guitar and someone singing.  Then a harmonica. Now, I’m not against music by any means, but before 7 in a crowded campground MAY not be the time or place.  Maybe it’s just me….

A light rain moved in and the forecast was for more rain.  That’s great for the forest fire, but not so great for hiking.  People began to pack up and leave.  Goodbyes were exchanged and the crowd dwindled while the rest of us sat under the large tarp enjoying the company and not really wanting to leave.  After a couple of hours, we all decided it was time to leave, so we packed up, ensured the fire was completely extinguished, and said our final words until next time.

Oh, and the fire in the Sipsey Wilderness? We didn’t have any smoke in our area until Sunday morning and I couldn’t smell the fire until I was on my way out after 11 am on Sunday.

There was also a rumor of a Bankhead Winter hang in a few months – possibly late January.  Keep posted for details and I hope to see you there.

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Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve

I had the pleasure of hiking at the Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve in Northwest Alabama this past weekend. This place is amazing for several reasons.

One of the reasons this place is amazing is the scenery.

The Preserve is situated around a complex of small sandstone canyons in the upper portion of the Cane Creek watershed of the Tennessee River basin. The area has rugged topography that includes a number of waterfalls, creek cascades, boulder fields, and rock shelters. The hiking trail that descends to the main Cane Creek Canyon has approximately 350 feet of elevation change from ridge top to creek level. It is listed as “moderate” in difficulty. 15 miles of marked and maintained trails lead the hiker to scenic canyon overlooks, rich wildflower areas, creek access points, pioneer cabin sites, and other natural, cultural and archeological features.

Another reason this place is amazing:

The 700 acre privately protected and maintained scenic natural area is open year-round during daylight hours at no charge for hiking and other outdoor educational and recreational activities…. The property has been granted official status as a nature preserve through a conservation easement with The Nature Conservancy of Alabama.

The very friendly couple that owns this property is amazing. When you arrive, you must sign in and then sign out when you return. Laminated maps as well as trail/geology descriptions are available where you sign in (and on the Facebook page). There are hiking trails for all ages and fitness levels. Water stations and privies are located throughout the preserve and are labeled clearly on the map. Benches are located in various locations if one needs to rest a bit. Of course, “Leave No Trace” principles apply to all visitors. Camping is only allowed for groups such as Boy Scouts or other outdoor educational activities – it’s best to contact them with questions prior to arrival about camping.

The REAL reason this place is amazing is it is a beautiful, privately owned preserve. The trails are very well maintained, and while not “blazed,” every intersection is very well labeled and very easy to follow. The preserve is always open (during daylight hours) and doesn’t charge admission. No donation bucket is visible, but the owners may take a donation if offered. I know I wanted to contribute after seeing the beauty of this area and how well it was maintained and organized.

As of 10 October, 2015, a bridge was out on the main road coming from the highway, but they offered an easy to follow alternate route that took me straight to their location. If you are headed that way in the near future, that is something to keep in mind. Here is their address: 251 Loop Rd, Tuscumbia, AL 35674.

All quotes are from the “Friends of Cane Creek Canyon Nature Preserve” Facebook Page (https://www.facebook.com/Friends-of-Cane-Creek-Canyon-Nature-Preserve-126802417335447/info/?tab=overview).

I will be going back in the near future. This place is amazing!

Here’s just a sample of the scenery available.

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One Hundred

This was written four years ago while watching the sun rise from a hospital room.  I do apologize for the length, but read it all, please.  Thank you.

One Hundred. What is it? Is it just a number? Is it different than any other number? I mean, one hundred dollars really won’t set you up for life financially. Most people have more than one hundred friends on Facebook. Some people can hold their breath for more than one hundred seconds. Most movies are longer than one hundred minutes. So why is one hundred different? Let me tell you about a very special one hundred.

This story begins as a tale of two people. Although not related by birth, they had formed a special bond as “step-sisters,” and this is where our story begins. Skylar and Lauren had one of those love/hate relationships that was really all love – it was just too much fun to pick on each other. One would play jokes on the other, and the other would respond with a friendly insult or two. They grew so close that they referred to themselves as “sisters for life.”

On Friday, October 7, 2011 the story takes a turn, and this is really where the story begins. Skylar was taking Lauren to her car so they could both go to their respective jobs. This was probably something that they had done more times than they could count. It was just another day doing another thing that didn’t seem any different than any other day. They probably made plans for that night after work, or the next day, or even next week. I can guarantee that what happened instead was NOT in either one of their plans. It wasn’t in their friends, family, or community plans either. But sometimes things happen we don’t plan for or want to happen, and those things can turn your world upside down. This did.

Without giving the details (because they really don’t matter), there was a horrific accident. In that single vehicle accident were two very special people – Lauren and Skylar. Both Lauren and Skylar were ejected from the vehicle by the force of the accident. In the aftermath of the accident, two things were immediately clear. First, all of the plans they made were suddenly changed. Secondly, there were two very seemingly different outcomes of the “SFL.”

It seems that Skylar was killed instantly by the impact, and somehow Lauren’s life was spared. Why? I can’t understand the reason behind it. But I can explain what happens next. The normal accident things happen. Police and medical experts were called to the scene, and they probably responded and did their jobs like they do every day, repeating duties that they could repeat in their sleep. They were living their lives not knowing that they were witnessing the very beginning of something that can only be described as a miracle. I’m sure that there are aspects and things about this story that I don’t know. I’m just telling you my version and what I know.

So I’m eating a late lunch on Friday at 2 PM. My phone rings, and I receive the news of a wreck, and there are no details. I start praying because that’s all I know I can do. A few minutes later, I get another call and hear that Lauren is being transported by Med Flight. I work less than 10 minutes from the hospital – so I leave work, assuming we are headed to the same place. On the way I am praying because all I know is that there has been a wreck, and my daughter is in serious condition. I am in baby panic mode. I just need to see her and know how she is.

I arrive at the hospital, go to the emergency room, and inquire about Lauren. Of course I have to wait a few minutes. After what seemed like hours, they send someone out to get me, and they take me back to another mini waiting room. It’s just the nurse and I. She sits down, and I fear the worse. She informs me that Lauren in getting a CAT scan and that Lauren has multiple serious injuries, but that she is responsive. Another seemingly forever goes by and they come and get me to take me to Lauren. We meet in the hall coming from different directions. I will never forget the sight of Lauren when I first saw her. Daddies should never have to see their daughters like that. I go to her, touch the bottom of her foot – at this time the only area I figure is not hurt — and gently say, “Hey Lauren.” To my surprise, she looks over, sees me and replies, “Hey, Dad.” I ask her how she feels and how is she doing. Her reply is “I’m just chilling.”

“Just chilling?” Seriously? Does she know she’s been in a serious accident and ejected from the vehicle with injuries serious enough to require med flight? Does she know she is lying in an emergency room? Yep, she does. As the onslaught of doctors, tests, and activities ensues, one thing becomes very clear. Lauren has been blessed. I can’t explain why. I have more questions than answers. I’m hurting. In one way, I am so relieved, but at the same time in mourning for her best friend.

As the doctors and the results start pouring in, I am in shock. Lauren, who is “just chilling” has injuries that are unbelievable. She has a fractured skull, broken ribs – three of them — a broken collarbone, and a broken pelvic bone. Her liver has small tears, and she is bleeding internally, She has a bruised kidney and bruised lung. A small section of her lung has collapsed, her eye is nearly swollen shut,  and she has more scrapes and bruises than I can count. But then other results follow the initial report. EVERY injury that she has IS serious, but in some way it is “ideal.” For instance, you really don’t want a fractured skull. But if you HAVE to have one, you want one like Lauren has that is very small and can vent pressure as needed so to reduce the chances of surgery. The list and examples go on and on. The injuries – all of them – are serious injuries, but they have happened in such a way that they are the “best case scenario” for that particular type of injury. More results continue to come back and they are the same. It is serious. Many of her injuries could turn bad very quickly and require surgery, but right now, the doctors want to wait, see what happens, and do more tests. They inform me that about five or six hours after being admitted to the hospital, they are moving Lauren  to the surgical intensive care unit. She’s no longer a trauma case, but  she needs to be monitored very closely so she can be whisked away at a moment’s notice to the operating room if that is needed.

I have to leave my daughter’s side, knowing I won’t be able to see her for hours – and then only for a few minutes at a time. I’m hurting emotionally, and she’s hurting mostly physically, and we are forced to say our goodbyes. She tells me, “Dad, I’m gonna be OK – I’m a fighter.” I walk out into the waiting area and am shocked by the outpouring of love and support from friends, family, classmates, and community. It appears as if we are having a revolt in the hospital. We have taken over the place there are so many people there. We have our first visitation hours in ICU, and I go see Lauren. She already seems to look better. I tell her that there are tons of people outside that want to see her, and she says that she wants to see as many as possible. The nurses and staff are wonderful – they allow us some extra time to allow many friends and family to see her.

After countless visitors, it is time to do and witness one of the toughest things I’ve ever seen. After hours of her asking, Lauren is informed by Skylar’s Dad that Skylar did not make it. It wasn’t fun to see, and I can’t imagine what he felt when he had to tell Lauren. She takes the news in typical Lauren fashion. After a few tears, she starts making us laugh as she tells us of things that the two sisters for life had discussed.

I have a conversation with the doctor, and he gives me an update on Lauren. They are still very worried about the injury to her head and liver, but if everything continues as it has been, there is a possibility that Lauren may not have to have any surgery. None. This is almost unexplainable with her injuries. By Saturday morning, this is confirmed by the various specialists treating Lauren. She will make a full recovery, and I prepare for an extended stay at the hospital. As expected, the next few days are a blur: visits with friends and family, short visits with Lauren, and coordinating as many people seeing Lauren as possible because that is what Lauren wants. By lunchtime on Saturday, it becomes official – unless something drastic changes, Lauren should be able to heal completely without any surgery.

Every time I see Lauren over the next couple of visits, she shocks me. The rate at which she is healing is unexplainable – a word I have used a lot this week. By Sunday morning – IN THE ICU – I am told that Lauren will be moved to a normal room AND should be able to attend her best friend’s funeral. I am so thankful but absolutely shocked. Of course, the word spreads quickly, and Sunday is a flurry. Flowers, balloons, cards, pictures, friends, and family come pouring in – but just right so it doesn’t overwhelm Lauren.

On Monday as we are prepping to take Lauren on a very difficult trip, the doctor comes in, and we discuss the details. He gives me very direct and precise directions. I ask the doctor if there is a “curfew” or time she needs to be back. He looks at me and says, “I don’t know that she has to come back.” WHAT? Are you freaking kidding me? Unexplainable. We decide (actually Lauren decided) that it would be best to return to the hospital after the funeral for the night and leave the next day, so that’s our plan.

We take Lauren and she does great. Keep in mind, she has only walked to the bathroom from her bed – a distance of about ten feet – since being in the hospital. That is amazing in itself. She gets to the funeral and decides she is walking with her family, and she doesn’t need the wheelchair. And she does it. She walks in and out of the church and to the car unassisted (but with a very nervous dad watching very closely). Unexplainable.

By Tuesday morning I’m sitting here typing this as I’m watching my last sunrise from this room. I’ve had many conversations in the past couple of days and have seen many things that I don’t understand and can’t explain. They are truly unexplainable. Although this has been lengthy, it doesn’t even begin to include everything. It would take too much time but I can tell you this: I have seen multiple miracles in the past few days.

One hundred. What is it? It’s just a number. Why is this one hundred different than any other one hundred? Because God was in TOTAL control, and I saw how He can orchestrate the universe and use tragedy for His good. It’s something I have heard about over and over again, but when you see it, it is unexplainable. Everything that has happened since Friday afternoon has taken less than 100 hours. The effects of the past 100 hours reach much further than my family and my daughter’s friends. Their story has literally spread all around the world thanks to prayer chains and the internet, and the message it shares should not be taken lightly.

One hundred hours ago my daughter and her best friend were acting like they would on any other day. Since then, there has been tragedy, triumph, victory, and miracles beyond belief. One earthly body was lost while the other was protected from serious injury and injected with healing power that does not come from this world. As one wise man has said more than once – “I can’t prove it, but you can’t prove me wrong, either.” Lauren has endured more pain and suffering than I have ever endured while cheering those who come to comfort her. I have heard more laughter than tears.

In the past 100 hours, my daughter has healed at rates that are unexplainable. Medicine and science can’t explain it. Yes, God has given individuals the knowledge and skills need to test and treat the broken, and I really appreciate that. But in the big picture, the doctors have only run some tests and prescribed medicine. That is very important and I’m thankful, but THE doctor has done the healing. It can’t be explained any other way.

In the past 100 hours, I have seen relationships instantly healed where there has been years of bitterness. In the past 100 hours, I have seen a community realize that this world is not the prize and that this afternoon is not guaranteed. In the past 100 hours, I have seen the most perfect funeral where at least twenty people have made a decision to follow Christ and search for the real prize. I have seen how we are to take what this world gives us – imperfect and painful –  and filter it through God and reflect His Glory.

In the past 100 hours, I have felt the comforting effect of prayer more than I have at any time in my life. I know this situation has been soaked in prayer, and it shows. Yes, we will miss Skylar Ann Mays, and that hurts. But Skylar lives on. Her legacy and story continue. It has made eternal changes, and she’s up dancing and singing with God and rejoicing with us that we are here to share her story.

In the past 100 hours, I have been changed. We should all have been changed by what we have seen. That’s what Skylar would want. Her leaving this world for the next is painful, but in the end, it has brought healing, reconciliation, and more miracles than I can count, and it all reflects the awesome power of God.

Please don’t let your next 100 hours be like your last 100 hours.

Trust me, one hundred – it’s much more than a number.

Posted in Faith, God, Tradegy | Leave a comment

How NOT to pack like a Noob for an Overnight (or two) Backpacking Trip

During the first several backpacking trips I found myself digging through my backpack looking for an item that I “knew” was in there, but didn’t know where. Believe it or not, there have even been a few items that I thought I had packed but I had not, while having unnecessary duplicates of other items. I quickly realized my backpack was packed incorrectly – or at the very least – inefficiently. Hopefully what I share below will keep you from making some of the silly mistakes I made in the beginning. Also, if you have additional ideas or questions, please feel free to use the comment section. I welcome your comments on any of my posts. I like feedback!

First, make a packing list. This may seem too simple, but it’s really the most important step. It is important to write the list down and go over it several times (and even the next day) to ensure nothing is missed. One method is to make the initial list in chronological order from the time of getting dressed for the trip to the moment of return to the ride home. List EVERY item “skin out” (This means items things are worn/carried, not only the items put into the backpack.) Don’t forget emergency items such as a first aid kit and signaling devices. Some people chose to make a comprehensive list on Excel that can be easily adjusted according to the season and length of the trip and there are several web based programs as well. Either electronic method may be time consuming initially, but because the information is already assembled it is very quick and easy to plan for future trips.

If reducing your pack weight is an idea of interest, the first step would include buying a cheap digital scale and listing the weight of EVERYTHING on your packing list. This will be a huge assistance when cutting down the total pack weight – something that may be addressed in a later blog post. Another advantage to weighing EVERYTHING is knowing the total pack weight before packing the very first item. THAT’S helpful!

Second, (after the complete packing list is made) and just before starting to pack, gather everything together in one location and organize as much as possible, not forgetting to include carried/worn items in a separate pile. Basic categories such as Packing/Storage, Shelter, Cooking, Clothes, Tools, Health Items, Water, and Food are good basic categories to use. By looking at everything in categories, it has been helpful to remember items such as batteries, knife, light, etc and to ensure I only carry the items needed. Before the first item is packed, plan where each item will be located for the most convenient access at the needed time and always carry items in the same location unless you decide to make a change. This will reduce the amount of time spent searching for items when they are needed.

Third, pack in reverse order, checking items off the packing list as you place them in the pack. The items needed last (sleeping insulation, spare clothes, etc) should be at the bottom of your pack and the items that may be needed first/quickly should be on top or somewhere with easy access. Also consider the center of gravity of your backpack. Heavier items should be carried from the middle of your back toward your head packing it closest to your body within the backpack.

Finally, your packing list should be all checked with the exception hiking clothes and items not carried in the backpack. Be sure to check around and make sure nothing was left out.

Below is an example basic load and placement and are listed in the order of being placed in the backpack, from first to last:

Backpack: Ohm 2.0 with sweat bandanna on right shoulder strap

Pack Liner: Trash Compactor Bag. Everything that needs to stay dry gets packed in here.

Main compartment – (inside trash compactor bag)

  • stuff sack containing sleep shorts, sleep shirt, spare socks, and spare underwear

  • Top Quilt in stuff sack

  • Bottom Quilt (loose)

  • Hammock and suspension

  • If these are all the items that MUST stay dry, the trash compactor back is then purged of air and the top is twisted and folded over.

Main compartment – (on top of the sealed trash compactor bag)

  • Bag containing First Aid kit, Emergency signal device, Health and Beauty Aids, etc)

  • Food in a gallon Ziploc bag inside the Ursack food bag (with any hiking snacks removed)

  • Cook kit minus fuel

  • Rain gear/light jacket if needed

  • Tarp on very top.

Small mesh pocket inside pack

  • Small insect repellent

  • Fire kit

  • Head Lamp (unless dusk/night hiking)

Back mesh pocket

  • “poop kit” consisting of hand sanitizer and toilet paper/wipes in a waterproof bag

  • Tarp Stakes in bag

  • Map

Right Back Pack Pocket

  • Water bottle (Gatorade Bottle)

  • Refletix Sit Pad (secured by strings on the side of the pack)

Left Back Pack Pocket

  • Water Filter (Sawyer Squeeze)

  • Fuel (denatured alcohol in a sealed container stored in a Ziploc bag)

Right Hip Belt Pocket

  • Camera with Stick Pic

  • Compass (attached to pack)

Left Hip Belt Pocket

  • Hiking Snacks

Attached to outside of pack

  • Temperature Gauge (top left side)

  • GPS (top for best signal)

By packing this way, every item has a “home” and it is very easy to find. Also, all of the items that may be needed first/quickly are on top or easily accessible, while the items that won’t be needed until it’s time to set up camp are further down in the pack.

How do you pack? Suggestions? Comments?

Posted in Backpacking, Hammock Camping, Hiking, Report | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment