Paddling Out of the Fog

So let me take a break from reporting on Alaska to recount my experience from this last weekend. But first you need some background information…

RR

I’ve never been a good kayaker. Those who know me, who have watched me boat, can attest to this fact. I wasn’t necessarily a bad paddler, and could get down class II fairly competently (aka, not dying). Heck, I could even make it down class III if someone (cough, Brinn) would let me follow their lines. If I flipped, and didn’t manage to completely panic and bail, my roll would usually bring me up. I definitely wasn’t headed towards class IV or anything particularly hairy, but I could typically make it down the Ocoee with minimal swimming so long as I took the cheat lines (which included hiking around Table Saw).

Then I decided to have a baby.

I assumed that I would pick paddling back up the same way I’d picked riding back up.

Hiwassee

Riding was a little rough immediately after birth as I’d lost more core strength than I’d realized, but with time my strength came back and once again I could hop on Reggie and go. Paddling was a bit trickier. Because I nursed Ian for a full year, and worked a forty hour week, time to fit in a full river trip was just too hard to come by. So a year went by without any time on the water. The next year, I was able to fit in one trip, then the following year Ian was ready to start going along with us, so I spent a lot of time in a funyak. By the time Ian turned four, I finally felt less guilty about leaving him behind to hit the river without him, and I thought I was ready to start stepping it back up, but a new experience confronted me at many outings.

the grunch

Anxiety can absolutely cripple you. I’d never experienced it before, but my postpartum existence invited it to creep it slowly. I went from happily running my beloved Jett to Lilly on Clear Creek, to finding myself sitting on Spring Creek and unable to leave an eddy. Just a few weeks before this paralyzing trip, Brinn and I ran Spring Creek from Waterloo down to Tom’s house by ourselves and had a great run, despite one swim. But when we came back a few weeks later with Ben, I couldn’t make myself go through Meat Grinder. The same rapid I’d had no issues with just weeks prior seemed enormous and impossible. I realized that I couldn’t do it. I may have had the ability in me, but my brain and body were not cooperating well enough to get me through it on this day. It’s hard to describe the feeling, except to say that it was overwhelming, like an elephant sitting on my chest. I ended up walking around 3 or 4 rapids that day. The hike was twice as hard as the rapids would’ve been, but I just couldn’t do it. And I had more experiences like this to hit me . I couldn’t make myself get back on the Ocoee. We took the raft down, even the ducky, but I just couldn’t will myself to carry my kayak down the rails to get back on this river.

I needed help. Lots of it. And all kinds. The first step was to seek medical advice. I’ve never had anxiety issues before in my entire life. Rather than looking for a chemical option, I began a nutrition program to look for a holistic option. I’ll have plenty more to say about this program in a future post. The condensed version: getting a handle of my dietary needs and eating the right foods for my body, while taking food based supplements to satisfy deficiencies has helped bring my baby-growing hormone-wrecked body back together and drastically improved my outlook. So now I should be ready to get back on the water, except I still had that feeling of helplessness. I couldn’t make my boat do what I wanted it to do even through class IIs. Brinn, God bless him, tried so hard to help advise me on technique, but he just couldn’t dumb it down simply enough for me to get it. So I reached out to Joe Gudger of Ace Kayaking and he recommended a series of lessons. He finalized my schedule and last week sent me a reminder that I should meet Brandon at the Ocoee takeout on Saturday at 10:00. The Ocoee. With my kayak. Excitement warred with dread as I tried to convince myself that I was looking forward to my first lesson, but dread started pulling ahead. Despite my reluctance, I got in the truck Saturday morning with all my gear so Brinn could drop me off to meet Brandon Beaty.

Brandon is a superhero hiding in a Jackson Nirvana wearing a disguise of Kokatat and Sweet Protection while accessorizing with Werner. I hope Brandon didn’t find the day as exhausting as I did, but I fear he must have. Laughing and issuing the same advice to an inattentive audience has to be trying and tiresome. Saturday began with seemingly simple work on the lake where we quickly established that I didn’t know anything at all about kayaks or paddles, or how to combine the two for forward movement. Brandon patiently answered my dumb questions and showed me the same strokes again and again and again as I attempted to imitate his technique. Then we began going upriver while working on attainments. This kept me too short of breath to ask as many dumb questions, but don’t worry, I still thought of them. After this portion of the day, we floated back down to the take out ramp, took a break, and loaded up Brandon’s truck to head up river for some work in real current.

Brandon carried my boat down the bank to put in below Slice and Dice and immediately put me to work on ferrying across some very minimal current near the bank on river right. He tweaked and adjusted while always encouraging. He’d remind me to rotate while I would insist that I was rotating –picture me sitting stiff and rigid from hip to head with not one degree of rotation in there anywhere. I’d start across the current and lose my angle and he’d patiently remind me to use my stern draw. Too bad I wouldn’t listen to him until seconds before I hit my new eddy. But despite my best efforts to stemmy Brandon’s efforts to fix me, his commands were actually starting to sink in! So he led me across the pushier current coming from the bottom hole of S&D to the big eddy on river left. From here, the goal was to go to the top of the eddy and practice ferrying across the slightly pushier water. And here is where fear found me again. The current looked so strong. I knew I’d lose the angle of my ferry and get pushed down river and have to make a sloppy S turn to hit the new eddy, if I didn’t blow right past it. Brandon talked me through our goal and method of execution and reassured me that I was over thinking it, and the current wasn’t nearly as bad as I was building it up to be. And I sat and over thought and worked myself up. Brandon never yelled at me (as I deserved), nor pushed me to jump out before I was ready. He patiently waited for me to speak or indicate my readiness. And I finally identified the source of my fear: the bow draw. This one, seemingly simple paddle stroke still confused me in flat water. Now I’m supposed to put it all together, leave the eddy with forward strokes to initiate my ferry, use a stern draw on the left to maintain my ferry, then throw in a bow draw to turn my boat before charging my new eddy. Easy, right? Sure, except for that bow draw. So I finally shared this with Brandon, and rather than telling me to suck it up or dismissing my fear, he simply announced “then don’t do the bow draw.” And he graciously left the eddy to show me how to complete the exercise without the bow draw.

Finally, after much internal dialogue, I left the eddy. And it was nothing! The rushing current I’d worried about felt more manageable than I expected, and I found myself following Brandon’s instructions (to an extent) and was able to join him in the next eddy. It wasn’t pretty. There was lots of yuckiness. But it was starting to come together! Now he changed it up a bit to go back across the current, leaving from a different eddy than the last time we ferried this direction, and ferried through a different section of the current. I followed a bit more quickly this time and didn’t require as much coddling to jump out there. More yuckiness ensued, but some good stuff started surfacing too. Then the rafts showed up. And they kept coming. Starting to feel more confident about myself and my newfound abilities, I decided I could be brave enough to jump out between rafts. I reviewed Brandon’s commands in my head: “leave the eddy and hit the current in the second trough, right below the big trough, then let my bow drop to charge the eddy. Don’t pause between my forward stroke and my stern draw. Rotate at the waist AND LOOK WHERE I’M GOING.” I spotted my opening in the rafts and I shot out towards the current…and proceeded to let every single one of Brandon’s instructions leak out of my ears. I left the eddy with too high of an angle, didn’t let the current drop my bow at all, never looked at where I wanted to go, and found myself landing right in the first trough…on top of another kayaker who had been merrily surfing before I came to town. I immediately apologized to him and he reached out to touch my arm and tell me not to worry about it, that it was completely okay. At this point I frantically tried to reverse my ferry (bear with me, my brain is leaking, remember?) to get off of him, so I yank away from his hold and then I hear splashing and maybe even a chuckle out of Brandon. Kayaker manages to roll so at least I haven’t caused someone to swim, but he was snorting and spluttering a bit. While this was probably the worst of my gaffe’s, it certainly wasn’t the only one. Some of them were bad enough that Brandon would just shake his head and say “we’re not going to discuss that one.” Other times he’d start with “well, do you know what you did wrong?”

By Sunday morning Brandon had correctly assessed that my brain couldn’t hold any new information, so rather than trying to teach me more strokes and concepts, we headed up river to practice the programming he’d attempted to install on Saturday. Some parts were really yucky, and some parts were great. I had a few moments where the light bulb would go off, and several instances where I realized how lost I was. By jumping around to different places on the river, Brandon subtly began working us down river so that we finally went through a few rapids and did a short section of the Ocoee. Anxiety backed off and was replaced with apprehension, which I found easier to push through. As we prepared to hit the waves below Flipper on river right, my heart raced and my muscles constricted with fear. For lack of a better expression, I kept a nervous grin on my face and let Brandon lead me out of the eddy…and I blew my instructions again and hit the swifter current and blasted past my fearless leader. But he calmly issued a few commands, and somehow I managed to follow them, and my control returned. At this point, my boat climbed over the waves smoothly, and I found success. My nerves still caused my whole body to shake, but I’d done it. I know it’s a tiny achievement to most, but it’s a mountain of an achievement for me. Now I actually feel excited to return to the Ocoee in two weeks for my next lesson with a new instructor. Thank you Brandon, for helping me ease back onto the Ocoee and move out of the blinding fog.

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Summertime Snow Angels

750_3194After our break at Willow Creek, we continued the longest day of our lives and headed north-east to Talkeetna. As we got closer to the turn for the Talkeetna Spur, Denali’s peak came into view and held our attention for most of the drive. Everyone talks about how the Rockies make the Appalachians look so small, but the Alaska Range absolutely dwarfed the Rockies, with Denali featuring prominently in the middle. All 20,310 feet stood out as clear as could be on this gorgeous evening. Not a single cloud or strip of haze marred the absolutely perfect sight.

Along the Spur, we encountered our first moose sighting. We excitedly turned around for a second view, thinking we were really seeing something. By the end of our trip, we decided that Alaskans see more moose than Tennesseans see white-tailed deer. Along with our moose sighting, we found a road side viewing area that provided an absolutely perfect angle of Denali. We stopped for a while, shot a few pictures, then headed on to K2 Aviation.

750_2941I don’t think we could have selected a more impressive company to take us out for an aerial tour. K2 Aviation maintained a beautiful facility full of flowers with seats and a small playground, while providing guests with drinks. They suited us up with galoshes type boots to pull on over our shoes to keep our feet dry during our adventure, then they matched us up with Daniel, our pilot for the evening. Daniel led us out to our 1965 model plane which would provide transport for the evening, and helped us settle in to our seats and headsets, then we were off!

Our tour flew within 6 miles from Denali’s summit, then took us down into the750_3107  Ruth Amphitheater and Great Gorge. We viewed the Tokositna and Ruth Glaciers, the ridges of Mount Huntington, hanging glaciers on Mount Hunter, and the famous Moose’s Tooth. Our guide pointed out many different features:

  • South Face of Denali
  • Don Sheldon Amphitheater
  • The Sheldon Mountain House
  • The Great Gorge
  • Moose’s Tooth, Broken Tooth
  • Mount Dickey
  • Ruth Icefall
  • Mount Hunter
  • Mount Huntington
  • Susitna Valley

We probably have pictures of each of these, but honestly, I couldn’t tell you which was which.

750_3149I cannot even begin to formulate a way to describe our views. To say they were breathtaking or fabulous is the worst under statement. I love science. In fact, Geology was probably my most favorite college course I enrolled in. Seeing the geological formations and understanding the geological forces that created all of this was an absolute geek-out experience for me, but ultimately, taking all that in really changes your perception. You don’t have to agree with me, but I just don’t see how anyone could experience such a landscape and question a greater power. It seems all too evident that none of this was a mistake. Obviously a great divinity intentionally put into motion all the tectonic forces which formed this wondrous terrain. Truly, we took part in a religious experience. Sometimes you have to leave church to find God.

In the middle of our flight, Daniel brought our plane in for a landing on the 1,000 year750_3249 old Ruth Glacier. Ian and I were pretty excited about landing on a surface that required skis, and it didn’t disappoint. We had our smoothest landing of all 5 of the aircraft we traveled in for this trip. Once our plane was parked, Daniel helped us all tumble out into the snow to play.

I know you hear that “everything’s bigger in Texas.” The King Ranch, birthplace of TX ranching is bigger than Rhode Island. I’m sorry, Texas, but I believe Alaska has you firmly beat. Denali National Park contains over 6 million acres. That’s bigger than Vermont, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island or Delaware! Granite peaks surrounded us on every side as we faced Denali’s south face. The slopes rising up in front of us looked just feet away, but Daniel warned us not to stray far, because those hills could actually be thousands of feet from us. We asked if we could walk to the stunning blue glacial pools we could see just below us, and he had to explain that those were actually several miles away, and he couldn’t guarantee the snow pack or depth of ice outside of the area we were parked.

received_1644411878941203.jpegOur flight included quite a few children, so we had an exciting stop on the glacier, including a giant snowball fight. Ian did get in trouble for hitting the plane. Daniel called him out and set him straight that the plane is the one target off-limits. Brinn could hardly stand himself as he took in all the possible ski trails and started calculating the negotiations that would be required to convince a pilot to leave him out there with skiing equipment for a few hours. Brinn and Ian both hit the ground to make snow angels and to slide down the hills. They were both far more active than me. Even my dad spent most of the stop taking as many pictures as possible. I just walked in circles in a daze while trying to drink it all in. If I close my eyes, I can see Denali looming over and beckoning climbers to come tempt its received_10156968813965656.jpegroutes. I can still hear the rushing of water all around us, and even flowing beneath the ice that we stood over. I remember the hot sensation in my fingers of holding giant handfuls of fresh snow. It tasted so clean.  An above all, the absence of smells will stay with me forever. No exhaust, or chemical scent anywhere around us. No plants or animals came close enough to this elevation to leave behind any odor. No one brought food for the short journey. Everything simply smelled fresh. I think it may be the first time in my life to truly experience “clean.”

750_3237aThe privately owned lodge with its own helicopter pad caught our interest, so Daniel spoke to that during our stop. The Sheldon Chalet has 5 luxury rooms available for guests to reserve, but with the price per night in the thousands, it’s not likely that I’ll have the opportunity to indulge in this particular tourist attraction.

20180703_192243.jpgUnfortunately our time on the glacier came to a close, and Daniel loaded us all back into his plane to resume our aerial tour before delivering us back at K2 Aviation. It was somewhere near 9:30 PM at this point, and we still felt like it may be 4:00 in the afternoon. This sunlight was unreal. Reluctantly we left our beloved glacier behind to head on to our next adventure of enjoying Denali from the water. Stay tuned as the longest day of our lives in land of the midnight sun still continued for another five hours…

 

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Land of the Midnight Sun

20180703_131018.jpg20180703_171855Upon arriving in Alaska, we spent a very, very brief night in Anchorage. We were warned to expect 24 hours of daylight in Alaska, but my research indicated that this was only true in the more northern reaches of the state. Landing as far south as Anchorage, I read that we should expect closer to 22 hours of daylight. With a 10:30 PM arrival, we were thrilled to still have full light to navigate our exit from the airport as we settled into an unfamiliar car while driving Anchorage’s roads to locate our hotel for the night. The daylight really made the process so much easier as we were all exhausted. At home it was 1:30 AM! Our plan was to check-in and be in bed by midnight. I figured that we could sleep until 8:00 AM and get a full 8 hours before starting our Alaska adventure. At this point the sun looked about like it does around 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening at home.

After I finally wound down enough to drift off to sleep, it seemed like it was only 10 20180703_084910.jpgminutes later that Brinn was shaking me awake and garbling about sleeping late. The sun was directly overhead and shining brightly, and thus began the longest day of my life. I dressed and repacked in record time while Brinn got Ian ready and my dad showered. We were out the door within 30 minutes and headed to Wal-Mart to make a planned stop for supplies. Our initial plan had been to wake up by 8:00, find somewhere to eat, hit Walmart by 10:00, then begin our long trek up to Denali. Feeling that we were already behind, we rushed straight to Walmart to purchase a cooler along with drinks, snacks, and ice to sustain us during our journey. When we arrived at the Walmart Supercenter closest to our hotel, however, we found the first door looked with a sign to enter on the other side of the store. We all thought this was odd, but maybe they get a slower start in Alaska than they do in TN? The three of us started to walk down to door #2 while my dad headed to go move the car closer to door #2…in a very empty parking lot. At this point he calls out to us, “I don’t think it’s 8:00.” I check my phone, and realize that the signal has gone crazy and the time zone seems to be stuck somewhere near Japan. We enter door #2 and ask the greeter what time it is. He patiently points to the clock right in front of us and shares that it is almost 6:00 AM. SIX O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING!! This is the day after we left just flew THOUSANDS OF MILES across two countries! At this point we all stare at Brinn who sheepishly volunteers to go find mosquito nets and fishing supplies. So now at this point we’re running extremely ahead of schedule.

20180703_100239After a groggy jaunt around Wal-Mart, we mosey over to the nearby Denny’s for some much-needed breakfast where we discuss our itinerary. Originally, I had planned for this first day to consist only of gathering supplies and making the long drive to Healy where we had a cabin reserved for three nights. After the third night, the plan was to make our way back south, stopping in Talkeetna for an aerial tour of Denali, and then coming down to Wasilla for a couple of days. Upon checking the weather, however, we discovered that our flight day was forecast to be overcast and drizzly. Since we had such an early unexpected start to our day, we called the flight company, who happily changed our flight from Friday to that Tuesday. The only catch: we’d have to wait until 7:00 PM to be able to all go fly together. Talkeetna was roughly two and half hours from Anchorage, so we now had a little over 10 bonus hours for our day. We quickly decided to hit our Wasilla stops on the way up to Talkeetna and enjoyed a very touristy day killing time.

 

Our first post breakfast stop found us at Peter’s Creek. We stumbled on this small park20180703_114531.jpg right off the Glenn Highway in the Eagle River area. Brinn noticed a pretty creek running under the highway and saw a good area to pull over, and from there we identified a parking lot. We followed the trail for a little while, and then opted to hike up the creek banks to do a little scouting. The rapids were smallish class IIs, but it still looked like it would be a fun run. Unfortunately we didn’t get an opportunity to talk to any local boaters about anyone running this creek, but we’ll add it to our list for when we go back.

 

20180703_175903.jpgThis is where we first encountered Cotton Wood trees.  This odd tree grew a white fiber that strongly resembles cotton, but shed worse than a crepe myrtle! At time it felt like we were walking through a very warm snowstorm. Our clothing quickly furred up, and we looked like a lint filter had exploded on us, but we all relished the opportunity to stretch our legs.

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20180703_100952.jpgAfter leaving Peter’s Creek, we pushed on to Wasilla and decided to tour the Iditarod Sled Dog museum. It turns out that the museum itself is quite small, really no bigger than the gift shop. But rather than spend time viewing the exhibits, Ian wanted to see the dogs. While we were there, we had the opportunity to ride in a wagon behind a few of the dogs. Some of these dogs had actually raced just this year! I couldn’t believe how excited the dogs were to pull us. They were yipping and jumping the entire time we loaded the wagon. Once their handler called for them to go, they were off like a shot. It felt a bit like careening wildly through the woods in a gocart.

After our ride, the staff shared with us that they had recently had a litter of pups, and we20180703_101621.jpg were invited to snuggle with some husky babies. Ian, obviously, was quite taken with the puppies and reluctant to turn them loose. I ended up buying him a small plush replica to encourage him to turn loose of the real deal. Surprisingly he found the knock off satisfactory, and I didn’t have to refinance my house to be able to afford a pedigreed puppy whose mama had run in the Iditarod race. Ian struggled to come up with a name, so I (a true 90s kid) suggested Balto. I had tried to encourage Ian to watch Balto a few years ago when it was on Netflix, but he had absolutely no interest at the time, so obviously he didn’t remember the movie I was talking about. Later that week, I loaded Balto on his Kindle , and it became his favorite movie during our trip. After his second or third viewing, he decided that his new plush puppy looked exactly like Balto’s nemesis, so he named his dog Steele. Steele has risen to prominence in Ian’s life, and now ranks higher than Greenie the bear. Steele participated in almost every excursion through Alaska, and now sleeps beside Ian every night.

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20180703_141530.jpgOnce Ian acquired Steele, we were on to our next Wasilla stop: the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry. What we expected to be another small operation turned out to be a largely outdoor venue that covered several acres. We began our tour indoors and viewed quite a few traditional museum exhibits with information about the earliest forms of transportation in Alaska in its early days of settlement, then we worked our way outside to the big toys. This place was every little boy’s dream. Literally full of planes, trains, and automobiles, we also encountered farming machinery, rescue equipment, and helicopters. This destination was well worth the stop.

 

At this point our early start after a long, late day really started to catch up with us. We20180703_152223.jpg stopped for a late lunch, then began to head north again. Needing some rest, my dad pulled into Willow Creek State Recreational Area to enjoy some pretty scenery while he caught a quick nap. Ian settled into watching a movie with his new puppy, so I followed Brinn as he lugged his fishing gear down a trail to the river. Here we marveled at the giant king salmon 20180703_152235.jpgjumping right out of the water to flip around in the air. Anglers were not allowed to fish for the kings while we were there, but Brinn still had a good time trying (and failing) to interest other fish into biting on his line. I had the chance to rest my tired feet, still a little puffy from the flight, and soak in the majesty of our view. Several people had warned us that Anchorage is just a city like any other, and you really had to get out it before you could really see Alaska. Willow Creek gave us our first opportunity to really begin seeing Alaska in all its glory.

Follow along next time as we arrive at Talkeetna and get up close and personal with Denali while learning more about that midnight sun during the longest day of our lives…

 

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The Great White North

20180703_201030.jpg20180706_141333.jpgLast year my dad said “let’s go to Alaska.” For several months, the talk was all hypothetical and speculative, but then by Christmas he handed me a credit card and instructed me to start making reservations. At this point it started to get real. And scary. Most of my travel experience has been relatively close, and geared around gate times for horse shows or dam release schedules for boating. I’ve never had to schedule a flight in my life, and now I was responsible with planning all the details for the trip of a lifetime.

I honestly had no idea how to go about planning this trip as many of the trip blogs I cameResized95750954070956816.jpg across on the trusty ol’ web focused on different areas of the state than we wanted to see, or they made recommendations for cruise ships. As I kept stumbling along from city to city online, the Kenai Chamber of provided a page to leave my email address for more information. Thinking I would receive an automated response listing several local businesses, I ignorantly entered my email and waited for inspiration. Instead of receiving a directory, dozens of local businesses started reaching out to me via phone and email to share information with me about the area and their specific businesses. One in particular really stood out, a fishing guide who was originally from Georgia. I mentally filed away his business name and figured I’d reach out to him later in the week, but that evening he called to speak with me over the phone. In that conversation, he provided me with quite an education about fishing on the Kenai peninsula, lodging, eating options, and scheduling. Our entire trip came together in that one evening as Rubin Payne helped me develop my itinerary for 12 days of traveling and helped us select the best options for my family’s situation.

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After developing the itinerary, the pieces started coming together smoothly, and based on Rubin’s advice, I was able to make some strategic selections in booking the remaining items we wanted to hit along our route. While I would do a few things differently now that I have the luxury of hindsight, overall our trip ran to plan and most of our excursions yielded amazing views and fond memories. I’ve tried to condense our trip into one entry, but I just can’t find a way to do that and adequately describe all of the amazingness we experienced in the 49th state, so you get to look forward to multiple upcoming entries detailing our travels.

Stay tuned for part 1: Wasilla

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Nerf War for the Big Six Year Old

750_2433.JPG750_2431.JPGIan couldn’t quite make up his mind for his birthday party’s entertainment this year. At one point he wanted to have another laser tag party, but then a week later he asked to have his party at the Children’s Museum , and then he asked to have his party at the Fun Factory (an indoor bounce house). We’ve already done the laser tag thing, the Children’s Museum is all the way in Chattanooga, and the Fun Factory was a little expensive and restrictive on time and foods. Then a brochure for a local gym750_2367.JPG caught my eye: “Nerf War Birthday Party!” The idea was great, but the cost was still a little high. The facility provided bullets and clean up, but guests would be required to bring their own guns and eyewear. Then Marilyn suggested we look at renting one of the local gymnasiums through Parks and Recreation. The cost there was extremely reasonable, and they were completely open to letting us set up for a nerf party. But then Brinn put in a call to our church just to see if we might be able to use their facilities, and that landed our winner.

With the money we were able to save on the facility, we were able to purchase guns, bullets, and safety glasses for each child invited. Brinn visited Lowe’s to acquire cardboard boxes to set up forts and barriers for kids to hide behind. Ian’s Nana took him to the park on Saturday morning so that Brinn and I were able to meet Joy at the chu750_2336.JPGrch and set up quietly without Ian’s knowledge. Several of Ian’s sweet friends from Kindergarten were able to come, some kayaking buddies, a neighborhood friend, and his best bud from pre-school even showed up for the nerf battle! Everyone was able to keep the secret, and Ian got to show up for his first surprise birthday party!

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Little Ranger Camp

received_1528105160571876.jpegIan spent the first half of his spring break attending Little Ranger Camp, a day camp at Burgess Falls State Park.  Park rangers planned a highly educational experience that walked the students through many biology and anthropological skills this week. Based on the education Ian received while having a blast, I’d say we received a bargain on our tuition for this camp.

On day one, the little rangers began camp with a guided hike over the received_1528105363905189.jpegpark’s trails. Ian has walked the main trail here dozens of times, but this was the first time he got to walk all the way down to the top of the big falls. From there, the hikers had the opportunity to take the Ridge Top Trail to see the Falling Water River from over the bluffs.

received_1528176027231456.jpegAfter a quick snack to recharge some tired hikers’ batteries, the park staff pulled out their reptiles for the educational portion of the day. I’m not at all sad that I missed the opportunity to hold a snake. Ian, on the other hand, has decided that snakes are pretty cool, and he particularly enjoyed the turtle. He came home from his first day of camp spouting all kinds of facts about scaly vertebrates.

I was able to attend day 2 with Ian, when the little rangers started their day with a 20180313_092416.jpgdiscussion about mammals. The park staff focused this lesson on using animal skulls to help children identify the differences between herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores. The campers quickly determined that bears are omnivorous. When the park rangers asked the junior rangers what bears usually ate, Ian was the one kid to pipe up and answer: “people!”

20180313_102154.jpgAfter spending the morning handling skulls, the group moved it outside to learn a survival skill. The park staff taught the campers how to use materials available in the woods to build a shelter to help protect you if you are stranded overnight. This kids erected their stick and leaf shelter remarkably fast. I believe you could actually wait out a rainstorm in this shelter and remain mostly dry!

The children were also required to take part in a service project during camp. The staff 20180313_110025.jpgdetermined that the campers were going to help prevent erosion by covering up unauthorized paths were hikers have begun taking illegal “shortcuts” through the woods. Each little ranger was responsible for emptying a bag of leaves over a portion of the unauthorized trail, and then covering those leaves with sticks. By the time they finished, it was hard to tell that there had ever been a trail there!

20180313_093850.jpgBoth days of camp provided Ian with an excellent outlet to burn off some energy, but he also learned quite a bit about biology this week. I appreciated the staff’s education and ability to share that information in a fun way that kept the little rangers engaged. Ian has already decided that he plans to return to summer camp at Burgess Falls!

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Pizza Out

Brinn2

Most folks who know us think that Brinn’s true passion lies in paddling, but this just isn’t true. While we paddle quite a bit, and Brinn paddles extremely well, skiing will always be his first mistress. In fact, when I first met Brinn he was back in Tennessee temporarily. His goal was to work the Ocoee for the summer while wrapping up his personal affairs in order to move permanently to Colorado, but then he started dating me. Woops. Now he has resigned himself to remaining in the south, with infrequent visits to the mountains.

The unseasonably warm weather last winter made it difficult for the local resorts in Western North Carolina to develop as deep of a snow base as Brinn prefers, and the longer drive to West Virginia didn’t quite line up with Brinn’s surgery dates or my PT schedule, so we haven’t been able to get Ian on a pair of skis until this year. Over the holiday weekend, Brinn finally had the opportunity to share his greatest passion with his little boy, and Ian finally had the opportunity to practice his moves.

Four years ago we spent February glued to our television watching as much Sochi

Ian3

coverage as possible. Between watching Joss Christensen clinch the gold in slopestyle skiing, and Shaun White’s infamous snowboard crash in the halfpipe, Ian pulled his little trampoline over to the recliner, and started jumping off the chair onto the trampoline and throwing in spins. Now that stinker is a big five year old, and he insisted that he didn’t need anyone to teach him how to ski, and he was going to work on his 360s at the mountain.

Magic Carpet

So it turns out that Ian wasn’t able to go straight to 360s as he’d hoped. Instead, Brinn started him slowly and they practiced making a pizza wedge to slow down and stop. That may also be about the extent of Ian’s abilities for his first ski trip, but Brinn seemed pleased with Ian’s progress. After a few trips down the bunny slope, Ian mastered the magic carpet, and Brinn deemed him ready for the lifts. I’m 98% certain that Ian will remember the lift more than any other part of the trip, and had the most fun riding it up the mountain. Brinn had to hold and guide Ian down all of his runs, but I can’t imagine a more qualified instructor to help him begin learning edging and turning.

I suspect now that Ian has had a taste of winter sports, we will find ourselves driving

Ashlee and Ian

more frequently to the mountains. He seems to already have big plans for his next trip, and Brinn’s already thinking over Ian’s equipment needs and deciding which size skis he plans to put Ian in for the next trip. It looks like I won’t be burying my ski pants in the back of the closet anytime soon.

 

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