Our adoption story

I’ll apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I believe it is well worth the read.

First, a little bit of history.  I have two children from a previous marriage and had a vasectomy shortly after they were born.  My wife and I were married in 2007 and we had many discussions about her desire to have children.  My wife had not been married previously and does not have but has always wanted to have children. This has been a desire of hers from a very young age. We knew the first step was to “fix” (or unfix, LoL) my situation but she also has suffered from endometriosis for many years and also has had several surgeries to assist her battle with pain and discomfort.

Several years after our marriage I successfully corrected my situation and we began the process of trying to get pregnant. We were not successful and even tried some medical assistance with the process without any success except for one ectopic pregnancy which was a pretty traumatic experience for both of us (especially her). The treatments from the medically assisted procedures inflamed her endometriosis and became nearly disabling.

We still had the desire to raise a child together and explored different options including adoption.  We attended the local DHR (Department of Human Resources) classes for many months to become foster/adoptive parents.  That process did not work out for several reasons including our work schedules.  We both work full time and with DHR Foster to Adopt, you have to bring the child to DHR once a week during the day to meet with the birth parents.  We did not understand why God was closing the door. More tears followed as we tried to understand why people who didn’t want children could have them so easily while we really desired to have/raise a child but all of the doors were closing.  It was a dark time mentally trying to understand/comprehend for us both although it was probably more difficult for my wife.

After a consultation (and exploratory surgery) with a new doctor, it became evident that it was physically impossible for us to have children. Sadly, we came to the realization that we would not be able to produce a child own our own and my wife was in so much pain. The endometriosis had damaged my wife physically and mentally.  After much prayer and tears, we decided the best thing to do was to eliminate the source of the pain and my wife had a total hysterectomy.  This was a difficult decision but was necessary to improve her quality of life.

We decided to focus on “us” and to address some issues that we had put off too long – namely my wife’s back issues.  It was another situation that needed to be addressed to relieve pain and suffering and finally on May 15th, 2017 she had several vertebrae fused in her lower back. Because we were in an odd stage and life (older without children) and other reasons, we felt led to leave the church we had attended more than 10 years together (and my wife even longer). We visited and eventually joined a new church and signed up to serve on one of the ministry teams.

Less than a month later (Saturday, June 10, 2017) following my wife’s back surgery,  my wife shared something on social media about the teenager (19 years old) that left her two children in the car overnight in Texas. Sadly, both children passed away.  While this is upsetting, it is especially sad to a couple that want children so badly.  She shared the story with the caption: “This is so heartbreaking. If you know someone or you are someone who is struggling with being a parent, I know several couples including us who would love become parents to these little ones.  Please consider adoption over neglect.” It was just an innocent, true, heartfelt opinion shared on social media.

The next day, someone (we’ll call her Beth) sent my wife a message that she wanted to talk to my wife about what was posted on social media.  My wife, being the compassionate and caring person she is, was afraid she offended Beth. When they spoke on Monday (June 12, 2017), Beth stated she knew of someone that was considering adoption for their unborn child. This individual (we’ll call her Jane) was due just about any day and because of her situation was not going to be able to raise her child because she did not have the necessary resources. Jane had mentioned to Beth that she was considering adoption. Beth read my wife’s post and reached out to know if we knew anyone that would be interested in adopting Jane’s unborn child.  My wife said she did – US!

Beth arranged a meeting with Jane, the father of the baby (we’ll call him John), and us two days later (June 14, 2017). We met at a local park on Wednesday afternoon. They (Jane and John) told us their story and my wife and I shared ours. In the end, we basically said that IF they wanted to give their child up for adoption, we would be overjoyed to raise him. Toward the end of the meeting, John prayed for them, us, and the child. We told them to take their time and decide. We were not pressuring them in any way.  The next day my wife received word that Jane and John made a decision. They wanted us to raise their child.

We went into overdrive.  While most couples have months (around 8, to be exact) to prepare for a child coming into their home, we had an unknown but very short time.  Jane had not received much prenatal care so they weren’t exactly sure of the expected birth date but she was close! They shared it was a boy and healthy. Since we had never been through this process we weren’t really sure what to expect or what needed to been done. We have several friends that are lawyers so we reached out privately and asked who they recommended.  They all came back with the same name.

My wife reached out to the recommended lawyer and started telling him the situation and inquiring about private adoption.  Because of our previous experience, we did not want to involve DHR. As she began describing the situation, the lawyer asked if the parents were Jane and John.  This surprised my wife that the lawyer knew their names, but stated that was correct.  The lawyer had met with John recently as they were exploring adoption options.

The lawyer explained to my wife the process and we went to work.  We had to hire a private social worker for background checks, home inspection, etc. to meet state guidelines. It just so happened the one referred to us by the lawyer (quick turnaround was important due to the circumstances) attended the same church as us previously. We sent off our fingerprints for the background checks and met with him together and individually for interviews as he ensured our house met the requirements.

Because Jane and John did not have an ideal situation, my wife reached out to one of the organizations in the community.  They were able to provide hotel rooms, gift cards for food, and some basic necessity items. We were warned by our lawyer to severely limit our assistance as this could appear as if we were “buying” the child from them.  The outpouring of support shown by several individuals (who shall remain nameless on the Internet) was overwhelming. During the next few days/weeks Jane would send my wife messages that “Your baby boy is kicking me.” I can’t even comprehend being able to say that.

On Friday, June 23, 2017 I had one of the most humbling experiences of my life. We picked up Jane and John (they didn’t have a vehicle) and took them to the courthouse (with the lawyer’s approval).  Our lawyer, Jane, John, my wife and I went into the Probate Judge’s office.  Jane and John were sworn in and we watched as both the birth mother and birth father signed over rights to their unborn child to my wife and me. As a parent, I cannot even imagine being able to do this, but as the recipient I was so humbled, honored, and thankful.  It appeared that our dream was going to come true! Jane stated she wanted my wife in the delivery room so she could bond immediately to the baby. As we took them back to their hotel, Jane stated that we were some of the nicest people she has ever known. This is coming from the mother of a baby that she is giving to us.

The next several weeks were filled with preparing for baby.  Did I mention we didn’t really have anything? A baby bed was borrowed. Diapers, baby wipes, outfits, bottles, formula, etc. were bought and/or given to us. We made an effort to keep this mostly a secret except for family and close friends.  There were still issues to work through and things could happen.  It was a crazy, hectic, but hopeful and joy filled time.

On Saturday, Jane called us and she was at the hospital. It was just a check-up, but she wanted us to come.  We were able to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time just days before he was born.

On July 5th, we received THE call. Jane was in labor and the baby was on the way.  We headed to the hospital. Both grandmothers made the short drive over to join us. Before our moms showed up and in the EARLY stages of labor, both my wife and I went back to the delivery room to see/visit John and Jane.  I can’t explain the feeling of seeing someone about to have your son that is not your wife.  Thankful. Humble. Uncomfortable. Exciting. It was all there with other feelings as well. We were asked to leave the room when it was time for the epidural.

Beth was called and she also showed up at the hospital.  When the epidural procedure was complete, Beth came and got my wife because Jane wanted my wife in the room.  I waited with my mom and mother in law.  Just before 12:00 pm, a healthy 9 lb. 12 oz. baby boy was born.  According to my wife, as soon as he emerged, they took him and my wife to the nursery. The initial weight, height, and measurements were made as well as the initial cleaning.  My wife came to the waiting room and got me and I also went into the nursery where we were with him while they finished all of the things that must be done to a newborn.

I have to brag on the hospital.  They were fully aware of the situation.  We had our own room.  Once my wife had the bracelet to match the baby, we were able spend all day with him.  We had a full hospital room to ourselves.  Because of the situation, our name was not on the outside.  The only thing they didn’t furnish was meals.  We spent a lot of time holding him and getting the physical bonding time.  Both grandmothers were able to hold him within hours of being born.  Beth came in and held him.  It was truly a special time and I’m very thankful of the hospital and staff.  Finally, late that evening, we took him to the nursery so we could go home and get some sleep.

The initial report: He was perfect!  Nothing was wrong and he had all of the right parts in the right places.  When the pediatrician came into the room, the question was raised who we were going to use in the future.  That was something we hadn’t really researched fully.  The pediatrician we wanted to use (We’ll call Dr. Q) was on his first shift at the hospital, and he was the one that checked on the baby. Now he was in the room asking who we wanted. When Dr. Q asked, we said we wanted him, but thought he wasn’t taking new patients. Dr. Q said there was a new doctor joining the practice, and he would be honored to take our baby as a patient. Wow.  Just Wow.

Remember that organization in the community that had been helping Jane and John? It just so happened that Dr. Q’s wife volunteered at that organization and had been praying for Jane and John and the adoptive parents (she didn’t know us).  She also prayed that her husband be the one to see/ treat the baby.

The next few days were a blur.  Lots of baby time.  So very thankful and blessed. BUT the parents still had 5 days to change their mind after the baby was born.  We didn’t think that would be a problem, but you never know. On July 7, 2017 we took him home.

He’s just over two months old and doing great.  We have a date set for the official adoption hearing.  It has been and still is an amazing journey and I’m sure I have forgotten details, so future edits may be necessary.

What have I learned from this?  God answers prayers.  He will provide the desires of your heart – especially when you quit trying to fix things and depend on Him.  My wife and I went from hopeless when it comes to children to having a newborn in our arms in just three weeks from the day we initially met Jane and John. God does amazing because then we can see that only HE is possible of the impossible.  Keep trusting and don’t give up.

I know this isn’t normal. I can’t promise that your situation will work out the same. What I can promise is that when God moves, no one can stop Him. EVERY potential barrier in our situation was cleared wide open. There were too many details that worked out WAY ahead of time.  I’m shocked and amazed how smoothly things have gone.

It is too good of a story not to share.  I hope you enjoyed it.

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My LAST (new official trail) hike in the Sipsey Wilderness!

​Well, 

I finally did it! After a couple of years in the process (I’m slow, I know) I have finally hiked every step of every official trail in the Sipsey Wilderness.  That’s just over 50 miles of trail.  I have done several of the trails MANY times and I’ve also hiked many miles on several unofficial trails as well. I can now concentrate my full attention on more off-off trail adventures.  I finished up the last little remnant this past weekend on an easy 7 miler on an overnight trip.  

What was the section I was lacking?  Believe it or not, a section on Trail 209 from the junction of 202 east to where the Little Ugly Creek dumps into the Sipsey.  Ironic that the most popular trail is what I needed to finish, huh?

I left my car at the Sipsey Recreation Area Friday afternoon, I was the only car there and there were only 3 or 4 vehicles at Randolph Trailhead. We hiked in from the Recreation area to an area a little west of Fall Creek Falls and didn’t see anyone the whole time.  It was the first time in a long time that Fall Creek Falls was desolate and no one was on the trail.  We made it to our campsite just before dark and set up camp and started a fire. I was hoping to get a glimpse of the lunar eclipse, but I never saw anything special. I may have missed it and/or the trees blocked our view.  We heard some coyotes in the distance early in the evening,  but otherwise it was quiet. Very quiet. 

Saturday morning was a slow morning just because we knew we didn’t have far to go and we weren’t in a hurry. We eventually left camp around 1030 (which is VERY LATE by my normal standard).  We headed west on 209 and crossed at the 202 junction.  We saw a few people on the trail, but not many.  After crossing the Sipsey, we headed upstream to see Feather Hawk Falls.  Rather than backtrack all the way to the river, we climbed the VERY STEEP hill at the first break in the bluff and came out just a few minute walk down the trail from the big Mossy Tree.

We continued down the trail toward Randolph Trailhead. I hadn’t been on 202 for some time and it was a welcome sight after hiking 201 so many times.  We saw quite a few people headed in – most of them day hikers.  When we got to Randolph Trailhead, it was rather full of vehicles.  We drove to the Recreation Area to pick up my car, and there were over 25 vehicles there.

It was a great trip and I finished up the last little bit of official trail I had not done in the Sipsey Wilderness.


I have now hiked (at least once) everything marked in orange!

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Four Horseman and My Little Pony trip in the Sipsey Wilderness

A couple of friends have been planning a winter backpacking trip in the Sipsey Wilderness since earlier this fall. In the beginning, the trip was planned to be four of us that have spent a lot of time in the Sipsey Wilderness, and Todd, who has limited experience but wants to explore and learn more. Todd (who drove 5 hours from Mississippi) named this trip “Four Horseman and My Little Pony” due to the people that had originally planned on attending. It ended up being Four Horsemen and 2 Little Ponies. I’ll let you decide between Horsemen and ponies….

I met Todd at the Sipsey Recreational Area around lunch on Friday. He was now an official Sipsey Wanderer after buying a map of the area at the trading post. Not wanting to set up camp and sit, we decided to take our time and visit a few new-to-him places. We started by taking the trip down Mize Mill Falls, Turkey Foot Falls, past the old car remains, and hiking out to the old bridge at the Sipsey Recreation Area. With the recent rain, the water was flowing well and the waterfalls were impressive. This is a short hike but filled with lots of great scenery. While I didn’t track this trip, I estimate it to be around a mile

Finally it was time to head to camp. I strapped on my “heavy” 25 lb pack. My pack was substantially heavier than normal because I had planned on a short hike in and I wanted to experiment with a few new items. We headed up Trail 200 from the Sipsey Wilderness area and quickly arrived at the water crossing for Trail 209. Remember the pictures from the waterfalls? Well, the water at the crossing was also up a bit (only a foot deep at the most but cold).  We didn’t have Wiggy Waders and I hear they didn’t help one person keep dry feet (cough, Tom, cough) so plan B was activated. After a very short discussion, we decided Todd needed to mark off more miles traveled on his new map. We decided to travel up Trail 200 to the Borden Creek Bridge, cross over, and hike down the unofficial West Borden Creek trail. We knew this would add around 4 miles to our trip, but we had plenty of time, so off we went.

The trip up and down Borden Creek was mostly uneventful and we saw very few people. I say mostly uneventful because the creek banks were very slick with the recent elevated water level. We both slipped and fell several times, but I was informed it’s not officially “Man Down” until the buttocks touch the mud. After several close calls, we both were officially “Man Down.” Another highlight was the “Fat Man Squeeze” at the northern end of Borden Creek Trail (trail 200). Todd and I decided to be adventurous and climb over the top instead of climbing down through the mud. While this may be possible with day packs, with the recent rain and full packs this was not the smartest idea we’d had that day. After a few pictures, we climbed back down and went through the “cave.” It wasn’t as muddy as I expected and we made it through initially without difficulty. Upon reaching the northern end, Todd discovered his knife had disappeared. He dropped his pack and went back through the “Fat Man Squeeze” to find it. Of course, it was at the very southern end. After retrieving his knife, Todd came back through to continue the journey. So in a matter of minutes, Todd had navigated the “Fat Man Squeeze” a total of three times. Waaaaayne, he is trying to beat your record for trips through in a single trip. LOL.
We stopped at each waterfall to take pictures and enjoy the scenery. We finally met back up with Trail 209 and headed west toward our campsite. We arrived at the GPS coordinates Thomas had provided just before dark and set up camp. While this wasn’t the ideal campsite (one reason hammock are great), who am I to doubt Thomas? We quickly set up camp, filtered water, ate, and started a fire. Instead of the short 1.5 miles we took the scenic route and hiked about 6 miles on the way to camp.

Just as we started to wonder about the rest of our group (Thomas, Wayne, Rex, and soggy foot Tom) we saw headlamps through the trees as they made their way to camp. Greetings were made and I was honored to meet Rex – I have been reading his blog for years. In fact, that is where I first heard of Thomas a couple of years before I actually met him. Small world, right? That evening was normal camping routine – sitting around the fire enjoying the company of others.

We awoke to a chilly morning – one thermometer showed the low of 20 the night before. THAT’S why I love my Hammock Gear quilts. I was nice and toasty until the “pee at 3” but it only took a few moments to warm back up once I was surrounded by the downy goodness of a top and under quilt.

The next day agenda was to explore the Garrison home site and canyon. As many of you know, there were quite a few people living in Bankhead up to the 1920’s or so when the government bought up the land to establish Bankhead National Forest. That’s another story for another day, though.

After breakfast we loaded up and set out. In true Thomas fashion, we went off-off trail, exploring every place that might hold a secret from years ago. Uphill, downhill, uphill, downhill we went. This is not a hike for the timid or out of shape. Thomas informed us to be prepared to see sights that would “fascinate” us and he delivered. We managed to see a few treasures including an old grave, an old tree carving, an old piece of metal (not sure what it is – we assumed a part of the frame from an old buggy), Garrison Falls, the old Garrison home site, a Native American Mortar Stone, and the “Artesian Spring.” After just a few miles that felt much longer, we headed back to camp to relax for a bit. We only hiked a total of about 2 miles but had “scads” of elevation gain and loss.

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Grave of Sue Garrison. The weather was so bad they couldn’t get her to the cemetery


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Old 18?? carving in tree


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Old piece of metal. Any ideas of what it could be?


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Native American Mortar Stone


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One of many bluffs we explored


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Our leader leading the way


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Garrison Falls


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Some type of gears in the bluff under Garrison Falls


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Old Garrison Home Site (1888-1920)


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Another view of the Home site


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The “Artesian Spring”


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OLD tree stand

After a few minutes, we took off for the last adventure for the day. Above and behind Fall Creek Falls is an old marker boundary tree. When they first surveying areas for the National Forest, they marked areas/boundaries by carving in Beech Trees.  They have since replaced them with the official metal markers. From my understanding, this is one of the few boundary marking trees still remaining in Bankhead. You have to outline to carving in chalk to really see it. The newer official marker is just a few feet away. This was about a 1.8 mile hike round trip.

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Old Marker Tree


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Old Rock carving


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Fall Creek Falls

Saturday night was not as cold – a balmy 28 degrees as we relaxed around the campfire. Sunday morning we slowly began the process of leaving our beloved area. I decided to brave the cold water of the Borden Creek Crossing and just in a few minutes and 1.6 miles from camp, we were back at our vehicles at the Sipsey Recreation Area.

This was another great weekend with new and old friends. My total for the trip was around 12.5 miles with a combination of official trails, unofficial trails (off trail), and no trail (off-off trail). As always, much laughter, fun, and tired legs followed another trip to the Sipsey Wilderness.

I nearly always learn something on every trip. This trip I learned I need more raisins in my trail mix and now I know where to find them thanks to Thomas.

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Improved water filter system

​I wanted to provide an update to my water filtration system.  The main reason I changed my system was twofold: Higher rate flow of filtered water and ease of collecting unfiltered water.  While this system works great for me, it may not be your style or too heavy at 10.4 oz.

 My system is actually a combination of several different ideas with the main gravity system coming from here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxi1IFmFXd0&t=21s.  The same person also compares the Sawyer mini vs the Sawyer Squeeze using the same type system in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XfK5rTWxakw for those wondering and wanting to save an ounce or two.

With that being said, I use the following items in my Sawyer Gravity Fed Easy Collection Water Filtration System and include a weight breakdown of parts.

For unfiltered water, I use a Platypus 2 Liter Platy Bottle such as the one in the link.  I added a length of cord by punching two holes in the sealed areas of the bottom of the plastic in order to hang it from a branch.so it would hang from a branch. (1.4 oz with cord): https://www.amazon.com/Platypus-Platy-Bottle-2-Litre-ounces/dp/B000J2KEGY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486392071&sr=8-1&keywords=2+liter+platypus

The Sawyer Squeeze filter (minus the white cap) 3.4 oz: https://www.amazon.com/Sawyer-Products-SP131-PointOne-Squeeze/dp/B005EHPVQW/ref=sr_1_1?s=outdoor-recreation&ie=UTF8&qid=1486392271&sr=1-1&keywords=sawyer+squeeze

Two of the blue connectors (I had to buy two sets since I couldn’t find them individually – 0.55 oz.total) You can buy them here: http://www.dutchwaregear.com/in-line-adapter-for-sawyer-screw-on-filters.html

Four feet of plastic tubing (you can buy by the foot here – 2.0 oz total): http://www.dutchwaregear.com/plastic-tubing.html

For ease of use around camp, I added a syphon hose clamp. A friend gave me one, but they can be purchased.  Mine looks like this one (0.15 oz): https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BTMWSD0?psc=1

For storage of the system, I use a silnylon bag I already had at home (0.55 oz).  

To make filling easier, I added two additional items.  One was a tornado tube to connect the unfiltered water to my “scoop” such as this one (I bought mine locally – 0.4 oz): https://www.amazon.com/Toysmith-TSM4322-Cyclone-Tube-Assorted/dp/B001SAMD5Q/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1486392809&sr=8-2&keywords=tornado+tube and for the “scoop” I cut off the bottom of the cheapest/lightest bottle I could find.  In my case, I used a hydrogen peroxide bottle from Dollar General (1.0 oz).

I also sometimes carry one 32 oz bag that comes with the Sawyer system if I need more clean water storage (1.05 oz).  I generally leave my back flush syringe at home and clean after every trip, but if you wanted to carry it, add 1.10 oz

Here’s how it works.  To fill the 2 liter Platy, connect one end of the tornado tube to the “scoop” and the other end to the 2 Liter Platypus Platy Bottle. FYI: I did have to modify the tornado tube a bit by cutting down the ends so the threads would engage.  Scoop and fill. It’s a LOT faster and I’ll take the 1.4 oz weight penalty.

To assemble/filter water:

1. Remove the tornado tube and the scoop from the unfiltered water.

2. Connect the Sawyer Squeeze directly to the Platypus. 

3. Attach one blue adapter to the free end of the Sawyer Squeeze.

4. Attach the plastic tubing to the end of the adapter.

5. Add the syphon hose clamp to the other end of the plastic tubing

6. Attach the other blue adapter to the free end of the plastic tubing.

7. Attach the clean water container (in my case the 32 oz. Sawyer pouch) and lay it on the ground.

8. Hang the Platypus from a branch a couple of feet of the ground (or hold it).

9. Watch the magic happen.

I found it amazing how much faster this system was compared to squeezing which I have done for several years. It will filter the full two liters in under 2 minutes!  That’s a LOT faster than squeezing!

I will generally filter and fill my drinking water bottle (and 32 oz Sawyer pouch) water then refill the 2 Liter with unfiltered water before making camp. 

By doing so, I have  4 liters of water for eating, drinking, cleaning, and breakfast before I need water again. 

By carrying the sealable containers, not only do I have plenty of water for camp, but can be transport easily without spillage being a concern. 

The syphon hose clamp is helpful by allowing me to have water “on demand” without worrying about all of the water running out. Simply squeeze the clamp and the water flow stops. 
Hopefully you found this as helpful as I did!

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Trailblaze Challenge 2017

If you follow this blog or have read nearly any of it, you know one of my passions is hiking.  I like the physical and mental challenge of hiking.  I love the sights and sounds of being in the woods.   My longest trip to date is 22.5 miles (over three different days) which I have covered in a previous blog post.

I also know life isn’t about me, but helping others.  Did I mention that I like a challenge?  For these reasons, I have committed to participating in the Trailblaze Challenge for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.  I have committed to raising a certain amount of money for them while challenging myself with my toughest hike to date: 26.3 miles on the Pinhoti Trail IN ONE DAY.

Please click on the link below to find out more or to support me in my endeavor.

Click here!

I will be covering my training hikes as well as my personal challenges as I strive to complete this.

Thanks for reading and following!

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Sipsey Wilderness/Thompson Creek area exploration 

My hiking buddy (Wayne) and I had plans to go and explore a new to us portion in Bankhead National Forest this past weekend. I was excited to get back to my favorite area and find some new things now that the weather had finally cooled down enough to make hiking enjoyable.

On my way to Bankhead, I received a text from another friend (Thomas) that is VERY familiar with Bankhead Forest and the Sipsey Wilderness.  His family had lived in Bankhead many years ago and knows the history and location of many of the special areas and enjoys going to find them.  The text said that he was taking his nephew out this weekend and wanted to know if I wanted to join him.  I quickly contacted Wayne and we agreed that this would be a great experience.  We knew hiking with Thomas meant everything was going to be “off-off trail” meaning no trail whatsoever would exist, but the reward would be worth the journey. I replied to Thomas that we were on the way and would meet them there.

All of us arrived at Thompson Trailhead at about the same time – just after dark.  We had planned to camp in Whiteoak Hollow just before the shortcut up the ridge to the Big Tree.  Although we are all very familiar with this area, it is much more difficult to see and navigate in the dark.  After walking in a circle in the correct area (literally) we decided it was getting late and we would camp at the large campsite at the junction of trial 206 and Whiteoak Hollow since no one was there.  We set up camp and settled in around the fire ring by the glow of a battery operated lamp since there is currently a fire ban due to the drought.

Friday night was cool but not cold and we all kept warm in our hammocks.  There was a short but heavy rain around midnight that didn’t provide any water in the streams but at least kept the dust down as we went hiking the next morning.   Our first agenda Saturday  was to find an old moonshine still site in Whiteoak Hollow.  As we headed up Whiteoak Hollow, Thomas had outlined some carving in a tree that many people pass but never notice.  In the tree is carved “J.C. Riddle 1918” and the name “Amos.” This is significant because Amos Spillers married one of J.C Riddle’s daughters.

This is the kind of information that is shared by Thomas and brings the area “alive” by not just exploring but also knowing the history behind the things we find.

Just east of the shortcut up Whiteoak Hollow we found the remains of two stills tucked away in a bluff covered in Hemlock trees.  All that remained were two rock lined holes on either side of the stream and a few pieces of metal.  While to the uniformed they don’t appear to be much, this was actually a pretty popular method during that time and a sign of that particular activity in Bankhead.  I didn’t take any pictures of this site, though.

We headed back to camp after a few minutes for snacks and planning what other adventures we embark on later that morning.  After a few minutes of discussion, Thomas offered to show us some old home sites and another old still site further down Thompson Creek and some sights on the other side of the creek on the way back.  We eagerly took him up on his offer.

Downstream on Thompson Creek we headed and after a few minutes we left the trail and climbed the ridge following an old road.  Eventually we came across the remains of two old homesteads.  All that really remains are a few stacked stones from the fireplace.

One key to finding things such as this is to remember stacked or symmetrical rocks (such as circles) do not occur naturally and it must signify something.  Sometimes the “why” may not be known but as you research and explore sometimes they can be figured out.  After a few minutes at the old homesteads, we headed around the ridge to the old still site.

This site was further off trail so more item remain.  There were the remains of an old cook pot, a barrel, a metal bucket, some wagon parts, and other scraps of metal.  Just off to the side of one cook pot was the remains of a larger in-ground still similar to the ones we saw up in Whiteoak Hollow.  We stayed here for some time as Thomas showed us pictures on his phone of various sites around Bankhead he has discovered.

Now we headed back, crossing the dry Thompson Creek and climbed a ridge once again.  After a short climb we found ourselves at another bluff line.  In the rocks at the foot of the bluff were several Native American mortar stones and grooves where they had sharpened or shaped other tools on the rocks. This was the location of the infamous “Baby Pig” story that has been told around the campfire on a few occasions.   Next we walked around the bluff to another odd site.

On the saddle of a ridge was a large (10 ft or more) circle of large rocks.  It was way too large to be a fire ring and too symmetrical to be accidental.  In the center the ground had a large depression.  No other markers or identifying items were around.  It was just an odd site.

Climbing down the other side of the ridge we headed roughly in the direction of upstream. After a few minutes we came across a flowing spring.  This was really a surprise as dry as it has been, but the spring was flowing.  We filled and filtered water and headed back to camp, walking up the dry streambed of Thompson Creek.

Upon reaching camp, it was sadly time for Wayne and I to tear down and head back.  As we sat around the fire ring, I looked up and took one of my favorite pictures of the trip.

Although it was a short trip, I had a great time with friends, met someone new, and saw just a few of the things the Sipsey Wilderness has to offer.

Posted in Backpacking, Hammock Camping, Hiking, Report | 1 Comment

Gaia GPS App vs Garmin GPS

I’ll start with a disclaimer: I believe you should first have and know how to use a map and compass when backcountry hiking. The advantage of a map and compass is that it never needs batteries, works anywhere, and is simple to use after you learn some basics. With that being said, I do carry a map, compass, AND a GPS. I try my best to navigate by map and compass and just use the GPS for data collection which I’ll explain later.

An often asked question is which GPS or GPS Application I use on my smartphone or which do I recommend. For the record, where I normally hike is a National Forest with absolutely no/very little cell coverage, heavy canopy especially during the spring/summer, and is riddled with deep canyons which makes Cellular coverage extremely difficult but GPS signal possible. Your hiking environment may be totally different, but this is my frame of reference for my experience.

My “go-to” GPS device is a Garmin e-Trex Venture HC. This device can be purchased for under $100 and has the ability to view the map and track on the device. I have downloaded the topo maps from gpsfiledepot.com for the entire state of Alabama as well as the Southeast United States. There is also a download available called “My Trails” and all three are absolutely free and very useful. I use the Garmin supplied interface “Basecamp” and “MapSource” which can also be downloaded for free. While “MapSource” is an older interface, I am familiar with this program and prefer it. It can be found for free with some Internet searching.

The Garmin GPS has never failed me in the terrain that I typically cover. I make sure to turn on the device at trailhead and wait until it has connected to the satellites and has a good signal to begin tracking my adventure. I have used this GPS on all of the trails in the Sipsey Wilderness in the Bankhead National Forest as well as many off trail adventures. I have never had a dropped signal for more than a few minutes or difficulty obtaining a signal. As I stated earlier, I use the GPS to track my adventure to compare planned miles versus actual miles. After the adventure, I look at the elevation gain/loss, speed, actual track on the map, and waypoints of items that I have marked during the hike.

I have been using the Garmin GPS for several years without any issue. However, I decided to try a smartphone GPS app in addition to my actual GPS to research the accuracy for a backup device. Through trial and error I realized the free apps did not have the features I desired. After using a couple of different apps, I have settled on the Gaia GPS application.

The Gaia GPS app is not free – it cost $19.99 for my Android device. It has a couple of features that I desire for a GPS app. The user can download maps to be used “offline.” When I put my phone in airplane mode the GPS feature still works and I can record my hike to view later while saving battery power. It gives me data after the hike and one neat feature is the ability to share the information with others (even those without the application) via a link.   Here’s an example from a recent hike: https://www.gaiagps.com/public/Ga22vX2IaiT39VVOLX5OTemc

Gaia also has a very extensive help section that will walk you through many topics. Of course, this has to be done when your phone is connected either by Wi-Fi or cellular reception.

How does the Gaia app compare to an actual GPS device? In order to find out, I used both on the same hike. I powered up and set the record track on at the same time and stopped recording and powered off when I completed the hike. Here is the comparison:

Gaia app data:

Total distance: 5.3 miles

Points recorded: 1028

Moving time: 3.0 hours

Overall Pace: 45.20 minute/mile

Total time: 4 hours 1 minute

Stopped time: 1 hour 1 minute

Moving speed 1.8 mph

Average speed 1.3 mph

Ascent: 740 feet

Descent 751 feet

 

Garmin etrex Venture HC Data:

Total distance: 5.2 miles

Points recorded: 399

 

I also used the feature on the Gaia app to export to a gpx file and loaded both into the Garmin MapSource to compare.

The GPS track from the Gaia App:

gaia-track

The GPS track from the Garmin GPS:

garmin-track

The elevation profile from the Gaia App:

gaia-profile

The elevation profile from the Garmin GPS:

garmin-profile

After reviewing the data above, I was totally blown away.  This was an out and back hike.  The elevation profile should be close to a mirror image from the middle out.  The Gaia reflects this and the Garmin does not.  The Gaia provided more data and the ability to share with other users.  The Garmin only took 399 points (set to normal) while the Gaia provided 1028 points and I don’t see a way to change that particular setting.

With all of this being said, the Garmin does have the advantage of replacing the two “AA” batteries when needed, while I would have to charge my phone for the Gaia App which isn’t quite as easy, but not impossible. The Gaia does provide more data easily and seems to be more accurate.

I expected the data to be almost identical with possibly the advantage going to the “REAL ” GPS. So, what do you think?  Are you as surprised as I am about the difference?

Posted in Backpacking, Hiking, Report, Testing | 6 Comments