28 June 2010

backpacking 101 (kind of a long post, you might want to get a snack or something)

At the beginning of our vacation, we traveled to Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. We camped our first night in a regular campground and then headed out the next morning for a four-day/three night trek... (or so we thought.) The first night camping was pretty uneventful, except that Walker barely slept, and I don't think Brad or I slept that well either. We had our breakfast, filled our water bags & bottles, stuffed our packs, and picked up our permits. The weather was nearly perfect - warm, but not too hot.

Here we are on our way up...We knew the first day was going to be the hardest day. We were gaining 1600 feet elevation in three miles. We had hiked a three mile loop at Providence canyon, so we knew the boys could handle the distance. The uphill was a bit tougher than we expected. We decided to keep our pace slow and we stopped often. We encouraged the boys to drink a lot of water, and gave Muskoka plenty of water breaks too. Brad and I kept ourselves hydrated along the trail as well...
Our 3.4 mile trek took us about 5 hours. We had lunch and a few snacks along the way. When we got to camp, the first priority was to get our food bags hung on the bear rope (thankfully the park had a great set-up provided, so we didn't have to rig our own.) The next step was to get the tent up... Wilson helped Daddy get it up pretty quickly. I did my best to keep Walker from having a melt-down. The lack of sleep from the night before (combined with a strenuous hike) was catching up to him.

Our campsite was on the side of the mountain, we crossed the ridge trail to get to it. Our tent was up about ten feet or so from where the fire pit was, and the bear rope was about 15-20 feet from the fire pit. (I am sitting at the fire pit when I snapped this picture... you can see the tent is uphill from me).
Wilson relaxing for a bit after helping Daddy get the tent up. I think Brad was getting the GPS ready and gathering the water bottles so we could go get water at this point...
...and this is where the trouble cropped up. The GPS points that we had downloaded were not correct. We didn't know where the water source was... We drank almost all of our water getting to our campsite. The park office was out of the more-detailed maps when we picked up our permit. You can see in the above pictures that the area was covered in thick growth and lots of trees.

Brad went out a bit but didn't find anything.

All of us went back up the trail a little and tried to see if we could spot a small trail leading to water.

Nothing.

Brad decided to go off on his own a little further to see if he could find water. We prayed with him before he left. We prayed for him after he left. He had the GPS, his cell phone, and all of the water bottles/bags. I had my cell phone too. The boys and I sang some songs. And we sat and waited. It was late afternoon. We watched for Brad to come back. He was gone for a long time, it seemed. I was certain that he would have water when he came back. I tried to figure out if we could get back off the mountain that night if we had to. I think we still had a liter or two of water. I prayed some more. Wilson was a little worried, and Muskoka whined when Brad left us.

An hour... or longer?... passed and we heard "I'm Back!" We couldn't see Brad yet, but we hurried to tie our boots back up so we could help him with all the water. (I just knew he had water.) When he got in sight, we asked if he had found some water... I could tell by looking at him that it had not been a fun adventure for him...he pretty much looked awful. He had found water, a tiny, dirty trickle. He had to stack rocks around the trickle to make it deep enough for our filter to work. He got enough water for us to make dinner and stick around for the night.

Sometime while we were getting dinner ready, Walker got bit/stung by something. He totally freaked out...screaming that it was "burning." We never saw the insect, and there was only a tiny mark on his forehead. We gave him some benadryl - justincase.

Dinner hit the spot! We had some noodles with tuna, and followed it with some hot cocoa.

We climbed into the tent early... maybe 7pm. The boys wanted to tell "ghost stories." There was nothing ghostly about the stories, but they were adorable. There were at least 40 flies between the tent and our rain fly (which means we could see them and hear them, but they weren't actually inside the tent). All the buzzing was actually kind of soothing - knowing they couldn't get to us. The boys dozed off early. After they were asleep, Brad and I talked a little about what we were going to do the next day. He said there was no way he would go back to that same spot for water. (He had fallen three times!) Our next campsite was 4 miles away (on the ridge trail so it would be pretty level ground). We weren't sure if water would be any easier to find there than here. So we decided we would head off the mountain the next morning, and maybe go back to that same campground that we spent our first uneventful night.

Brad and I didn't sleep that great, we are pretty sure there was a deer scampering around outside our tent. Muskoka growled a few times. Wilson asked, "what's going on?" while he was sleeping!

And then it started raining. Our tent was on the side of the mountain and our feet were downhill. It was a noticeable slope, Brad and I had to yank the boys up their sleeping pads a few times during the night (they were sleeping so hard that they don't remember this). So I was just waiting to get wet... I figured all the rain running down the hillside would eventually penetrate our little tent... But thankfully it didn't. We all stayed dry...

...almost. The hot cocoa right before bed, along with a benadryl, was a bit much for Walker. He woke up soaked... through his sleeping bag and even onto his sleeping pad.

Meanwhile, it was still raining. And was that thunder we heard? No, surely it was an airplane, right?

We had a breakfast of Clif Bars, so we could conserve water. We had about half the water that we had the day before when we hiked up the mountain. We wanted to save as much as possible for our hike down the mountain. You can see the boys were chipper as they ate breakfast...
Brad scurried around outside the tent getting things ready to pack up... Wilson cheesed for the camera...

We got everything packed up pretty quickly. And as the tent came down, we were certain that was thunder we heard.

We knew that the trail was steep the day before when it was dry. We knew we wanted off the top of the mountain as soon as possible while it was lightening!

We prayed for steady feet and for God's angels to protect us. We set out.

(At this point, I did kind of feel like we were going to be a Reader's Digest article)

Shortly after we crossed the ridge trail and began our decent, a crack of lightening lit up the steepest part of the trail...which was also the most-exposed part of the trail. At this moment, Brad and I exchanged a look that was probably the most serious of our marriage. When he turned back to continue leading us, my eyes began to fill with tears. The only prayer I could manage was "Lord get us down."

I assure you, God led us down that mountain.

We stopped once for a short snack and a few swigs of water. Our boys were amazing. They just kept moving. They were strong, they were brave, and they just kept putting one foot in front of the other. Brad and I were so very proud of them. We were so thankful that God protected us and gave us sure steps. We made it back to the van in less than 2 hours. We were soaked, we were tired, and even a little cold, but we were also grateful.

After the soaking rain and one peed-on sleeping bag, we decided to cancel the rest of our backpacking trip. We made a hotel reservation in Ohio, and called to see if Grandpa & Grandma G wouldn't mind some company for few days. In the end, I am certain that was the right decision.

I did learn a few things on the trail though...God is always eager to teach us...

1. Rain can be a great motivator.
You know, we often compare difficulties in this life to rain. And even say, "when it rains it pours." As we were walking down that mountain, I couldn't help but marvel at how well we were covering ground and working together. I believe that asking God to protect us helped keep us moving. And that rain caused us to ask for the help we needed. Often the "rain" keeps our perspective in the right place, and reminds us that we can't do this life alone.

2. The trail is always changing.
This might be a little harder to explain. We were walking down the very same trail - less than 24 hours after we had walked up it. But so much had changed, rocks were overturned, twigs were down, water was pooling all around. {OK, I have tried to type up what this means twice now and it makes sense in my head, but I just can't get it all out with words. Just know that is was a meaningful lesson for me.}

3. No matter how much you read about something, until you experience it, you just don't know that much.
Obviously, now that we have hiked a 3 mile trail with a 1600 foot elevation gain, we know how hard it is. We know we probably won't do that again for a few years (at least!). We know that we need to have a more verifiable source of information regarding water sources at back-country campsites. As we prepare to do some totally unrelated (to camping) things, I realize that I can read all I want to, but until I start stepping out in faith, I won't really know much about it.

25 June 2010

michigan trip

this year's summer vacation was divided into two parts - backpacking & michigan. The backpacking post will be separate - but here's a little preview...there's a happy ending -- we all survived.

I guess its not really called "vacation" when you are visiting family. But I don't know what else to call it. For some reason, this summer's trip was exhausting. The boys and I have finally recovered, but Brad had to jump right back in to work, so he is still pretty worn out. I am hoping he can have a low-key weekend to gear up for his return to the crazy work schedule. Somehow or another, we'll have to figure out how to incorporate time to recharge while visiting everyone.

I did a super horrible job of taking pictures this vacation - I didn't even get the camera out of the van until a couple days before we left! We threw a shower for my soon-to-be sister-in-law, and I didn't even take a single picture. No pics with mom, or most of the greats, none of Blake's open house... good thing the boys are getting older so they can remember events on their own =)

Did I mention that we put 800 miles on the van AFTER we got to Michigan? We did.

I was pleased with this picture of Jack and I. Brad snapped it about 2 minutes before the final farewell at Dad's house... Jack didn't really want me to hold him, but somehow Brad always clicks the camera at just the right moment... it almost looks like Jack likes his Aunt Amanda!I did get a good picture of Dad with his siblings and Nate... and aren't Sandy's hanging baskets fantastic???
And a semi-decent one of great-grandma Rose with three of her great grandsons... Walker was obviously not in the mood...
I snapped a few pictures around the room while Blake was opening his cards from his open house... I think this one of Colson is frame-worthy...
Walker was so worn out that day... he snuggled up to Megan (Ben's girlfriend) and asked her to rub his back... it wasn't long and he was out.... so cute. and so rare for him to fall asleep like that...
oh, I nearly forgot about this little wrestle-fest we captured. Silly boys. And Walker with his "thumbs-up" so we know he's alright...
I did manage to get one of the "boys with their grandparents" shot. (My goal each trip is to get one of these with each of the grands & greats -- 1 out of 7 isn't too bad, right?)
We had a great time. We always do. We are so blessed by our families, their love, encouragement, laughter... and just plain hanging around. If only the Army would build a post in Flushing, or near there even... maybe buy up some old GM land???

Seriously, we know whole-heartedly that God has called us to this Army life. We have peace about that, which makes the good-byes a little more tolerable. It is definitely hard to watch the boys say good-bye, and harder to talk to them about how all of it feels for them. We are thankful that they get to spend time with their far-away family, and that they enjoy it so much. It is truly a blessing. Regardless of how tiring it can be, we wouldn't trade it for anything. Its always worth it.

"God's blessing makes life rich; nothing we do can improve on God." Proverbs 10:22

22 June 2010

another birthday already??

{I will update about our trip, but I had to do a birthday post first...}

It was good to be home in time to celebrate Walker's birthday today. We unpacked and put away a lot of stuff last night, so we didn't have to do too much of that stuff today. I even found the birthday banner & hung it up last night after Walker went to bed. (yeah me!)Four years old. Already! Walker is such an adventurer... each day he awakes with such energy!
He loves to laugh, and you can't help but laugh with him. His smile is contagious... You can see he loved his little cake!
His face is expressive, and his eyes are always telling a story... He is so fun to watch when he opens gifts!
He was thrilled to get to go see Toy Story 3 on his big day. Thanks to Disney we got two free tickets and thanks to Kellogg's we got $5 free from the concession stand! Very exciting!
He is getting so big, often looking more like a boy and less like that baby I once held.
Oh how we adore him. He is such a special gift to us. Just look at that face! Can you tell he was excited about his very zhu-zhu pet?

Thank you, Lord, for this sweet, sweet boy.

06 June 2010

Free Ride

Yesterday Fort Benning hosted a "Welcome Home Vietnam Veteran's Day." I got all teary-eyed when I read the article in our on-post newspaper. (Click here if you want to get teary eyed). Brad had to work over-night on Friday so we didn't make it out early enough Saturday morning for the ceremony at the Parade Field. I imagine it was an emotional event for many.

We read in the paper that there were going to be free "Huey" rides from 12-5, so we thought we'd see if we could get in on that. We got in line about 12:15 or so. There were 300 other people in line with us! The boys were so excited!Unfortunately, after an hour and a half in line, we found out that kids had to be 5 years old to fly. Walker was pretty disappointed. Wilson even suggested we just leave since his brother couldn't do it. Brad and I thought maybe it was too good of an opportunity to miss for Wilson... especially after we saw the sign that these rides were normally $50 per person... So we waited...
and waited...

they took a break to refuel the birds (now we had been in line for close to 3 hours). It was kind of nice when they weren't flying though, because then we got to actually have a conversation with the people by us in line. We met a very kind couple. He was a retired Vietnam vet and they were waiting out in the heat so they could fly with their grandson. We wish we had written down their names, Walker was entertaining them and totally eating up their attention!

Finally after nearly 4 hours in line, it was almost time! Free earplugs!!
Getting ready to get on board!
Getting ready to come in for a landing (see those dark clouds in the background? we were a bit afraid that they were going to move in before Brad & Wilson got to fly, thankfully they held off!)
And - all smiles! I tried to have Walker run up to Brad & Wil for this picture, but his hat started blowing off from the rotors and it was freaking him out...

It was a long, hot wait. But I think there are a couple guys that would say it was totally worth it.

Walker got a little crushed again when they were telling us about their 10 minute flight... we tried to remind him that he did get to ride in a helicopter before, but I guess its just not the same. Later though, he did tell me that I was "the only person in your fam-i-ly that hasn't flown in a el-icopter."

Also, I may have forgotten to mention... they had to end the rides and send a bunch of people away because of the weather -- and Brad and Wilson made it on the 2nd to last flight!

04 June 2010

being neighborly

About a month and a half ago (give or take a week), I saw an "its a boy!" sign in our neighbor's yard. I felt awful, because I had never met this neighbor and I didn't even know she was pregnant! I whipped up a little carseat blanket and a batch of cookies that week. I took them over to her house and introduced myself and gave her a card with my phone number. A few days later her son delivered a thank you card to me.

And within two weeks the movers were here packing up their house.

The next week the neighbor from the house on the other side of the now-empty-house, came by with an armload of shorts and asked what size Wilson wears. The neighbor between us, the one that moved, had been her very close friend. And she knew I had boys, so she thought she'd come introduce herself.

In the next couple days, I saw this new acquaintance at Old Navy, then Wal-Mart, and of course, in her yard. As we chatted, I learned that she grew up in Michigan, and even lived in Swartz Creek for awhile. Her husband is currently deployed and she has three kiddos. Its not hard to see that God intended for us to know one another.

I was able to help her with a party favor for her son's upcoming birthday party. I thought maybe I had over-committed to a sewing job that might've been too big. When I mentioned that I could applique an initial onto a beach towel if she didn't find someone to embroider it, I was thinking a couple towels, one letter each. She had a different vision. And suddenly, I felt a bit overwhelmed. I literally had to ask God to help me sew these towels. I think God knew my heart and my motive and helped me accomplish this big task in a short amount of time. I think they turned out well, and she loved them!
Even in pirate-fabric-monogrammed-beach-towels, He tells me that whatever He asks me to do, He will carry me through to completion. How amazing is a God that shows His faithfulness in every detail of our lives. I love that He chooses to remind me of this in something that seems little, so that when something that seems big comes along, I'll remember. (And I must say "seems little" and "seems big" because I am viewing events through human eyes and who am I to judge how the bits and pieces size up in God's plan?)

The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:24