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

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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

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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

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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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A Dry Run

20180104_163339.jpgI bought a drysuit for Ian. Well, for all of us, but more about that another day. Back to Ian. He hates getting soaked on the river. Now mind you, he’s the kid that hates getting splashed and wet in the raft, but an hour earlier he’s swimming at the put-in, then at the end of the day we can’t drag him away from swimming at the take-out. But while he’s on a trip, he hates a cold splash. I’m right there with him. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only chump wearing a drytop in May on the Hiwassee. Ian has been wearing a splash top and pants with hydroskins underneath for a year now, and they have improved his experience quite a bit, but basically they’ve been a spring/fall fix. Winter paddling has remained off-limits for our dude until now.

Kokatat makes a great kids semidrysuit, but the smallest size available is a children’s 20180110_161909.jpgmedium. As far as kids’ sizes go, this is a very generous medium, but Ian FINALLY has grown just tall enough that he just barely manages to fill a suit out enough to safely wear one. As soon as he came sorta kind almost close to the minimum specs, we placed the order and waited eagerly for his suit.

Once Ian’s Kokatat arrived, we suited him up and headed to the creek for a trial run. Our plan was to get our boats in the water and let Ian paddle around to see how it felt to stay dry when water dribbled down his paddle shaft, or if he leaned too far and let in some water around the cockpit rim. It turns out, Ian had entirely different plans for testing his suit.

20180110_162355.jpgI often joke about personality types and use the metaphor that some people (like Ian) don’t like to ease into new things, they just jump straight in. This is exactly what Ian did with his new suit. Rather than wading out and adjusting his body temp to the cool water temp, or floating around high and dry in a boat, Ian took off running across the gravel bar, crossed his arms across his chest, and jumped right out into the water. No need to worry about Ian’s commitment to product testing –he thoroughly put his new suit through its paces.

So far we’ve had a very dry winter for Tennessee, but we’ve had a pretty steady rain 20180110_163547.jpgtoday alternating between downpour and drizzle, so I expect the creeks to actually have more than a few puddles between rocks over this weekend. Maybe Ian will get to take his boat all the way down the creek soon to enjoy his drysuit.

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Winter Is Here

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20180106_144202.jpgHouse Stark’s motto cautions all to remember “Winter is coming.” Winter found Tennessee early this year, and brought a hard freeze that transformed our local creek into an ice covered splendor. After a few days of below freezing temps, we braved the bite and chill of the air to experience nature’s sculptures.

The Upper Cumberland region usually receives its fair share of winter weather, but we 20180106_140541.jpg
infrequently find enough consecutive wintry days to produce a good hard freeze. This year we’ve actually encountered two winter events already, with this hard freeze coming first. It seems that this cold snap hit the entire state, as friends posted beautiful pictures and videos from back home in Wartburg of a completely frozen over Potter’s Falls, all the way down to Tellico Plains with a frozen Baby Falls. Rather than driving people deeper inside to huddle by the fire, this winter event brought more people outside to marvel at the glacial figures.

20180106_141648.jpgWe began our frosted expedition of Spring Creek top side at Go-No-Go where Ian enjoyed throwing rocks across the frozen eddies. The majority of the creek had enough current to prevent a solid freeze from bank to bank, but we definitely found solid H2O in the calm areas.

After walking along the creek back towards the large fall, Waterloo, we decided to walk 20180106_144026.jpgto put-in down below Waterloo to see what sights might be lurking. The chilly walk down the trail and over the metal stars held gratifying results. We found some icicles that hung so low that they had fused with the ice below and formed full columns. Brinn didn’t want us to walk directly below any of the icicles, as stabbing by ice could be a painful way to go in the event that one had detached and fallen, but the outcrop of rocks hanging over the creek bed offered a good defense. Following along the overhang, I was able to walk behind the ice to view it up close. Maybe the non-permanence of the ice added to its beauty, but its magnificence left quite an impression with us.
While I’m not in any hurry to pack up and move to Wyoming to enjoy winter’s opulence more continually, I must admit that I do appreciate the infrequent gusts of arctic air that have moved through Tennessee this January.

 

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You Can Drink the Hemlock

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Christmas came and went quickly this time, and 2017 quietly wound down with time spent at home. January, however, has found us off and going and we’ve already experienced a variety of activities.

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To kick off the New Year, the boys and I participated in a guided hike at Burgess Falls State Park, where we got to see the three falls in all their normal glory, with the addition of some beautiful ice formations. The rangers shared the local history of the park’s formation with us, and also educated us on the park’s flora and

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fauna. Guess what…the hemlock trees we have here in the south-east are not the same as the hemlock that Socrates used to poison himself. In fact, our hemlock is a good source of vitamin C!

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Burgess Falls lies south of Cookeville, just over the White County line. The Fall Water River winds through the park, and crashes over three beautiful waterfalls. On our hike, we learned that the park was originally owned by Thomas Burgess, who was gifted with the land in response to his Revolutionary War efforts. The river at different times powered a grist mill and even a sawmill. Later, construction of a flume line carried water through a powerhouse below the bottom falls. This powered Cookeville with electricity until TVA took over in 1944.

The Kisers spend a lot of time at Burgess Falls. The hike is relatively easy, but extremely

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gratifying. You can’t ask for better scenery. The rangers who take care of this park are always happy to answer questions and work hard to keep everyone safe. They’re constantly making improvements to the park, particularly with improving the footing on the hiking trail. Ian also loves the playground at the main entrance of the park, and splashing in the small streams along the trail and road.

FB_IMG_1516824497923.jpgIf you ever find yourself in the Upper Cumberland and need to kill an hour or two, stop by and check Burgess out. If you’re trying to think of a full day activity for your family, pack a picnic basket and make the drive. I promise that you won’t regret it.

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