Thursday, May 30, 2013

Our fateful tubing trip

Our last day of vacation….

We had heard tubing was lots of fun.  It sounded like fun.  Years ago, we had thoroughly enjoyed the “lazy river” at a resort hotel we once stayed at.  Floating down a real river would be much the same, wouldn’t it?

So we rented our tubes- one for each of us- even our three year old.  We put on our life jackets, grabbed a few tethers to tie the tubes together for extra safety and lowered ourselves, tubes and all into the cold Toccoa River for a 6 mile float upstream (The Toccoa River flows north and eventually meets up with the Ocoee River in Tennessee, where the whitewater events of the 1996 Summer Olympics were held). 

Tim and I tethered an empty tube between our two tubes.  That was for our little one to be transferred into once she was comfortable and confident enough to leave my tube where she reclined on my lap to start off.  Our two older girls tethered together and the two boys tethered together.  

We had our buddy system in place.  

We had our instructions- “Lay back when you hit the rapids or you’ll tip over and fall in.  And then just enjoy the ride- it’ll last about an hour and a half.”  

We had our route laid out for us- “Once you pass the island, look for the bridge, and the take-out point will be right there on the left bank of the river.”

The only thing we didn’t have was our camera- because we were advised to leave all valuables behind.

So there we were- the seven of us floating along in the slightly frigid 68 degree water.  The woods around us were beautiful and serene.  The river was mostly calm with just a few little rapids every once in a while to add a little thrill to our float trip.   

On one rough patch of water, the still unoccupied middle tube did get caught on a rock that jutted up in the center of the river.  The tube flipped over and the flip-flops Tim and I had stowed there spilled out and floated away out of reach.  That was okay- we just laughed as we tried unsuccessfully to retrieve them.  I should have known at that point (and maybe I did) that my little one would NOT be leaving my lap for the roominess of her own tube.

Aside from the lost flip-flops and the discomfort of the water temperature, the only problem was that the kids seemed to be constantly drifting to one side or the other- getting their hair caught up in the long reaching branches of the tress that lined the riverbank.  They screamed about spiders and spider webs a few times but we were still having fun.  After a while, though, the girls got sick of being scratched and tangled by tree branches so we tethered their two tubes to our three tubes and the 5 of us floated together.   

Five tubes, all tied together, made maneuvering a lot more difficult.  We had to be constantly on guard because there were quite a few rocks jutting up here and there in the middle of the river and the current did tend to pull us towards one shore or the other.  

Trying to paddle with my arms worked okay but it was uncomfortable and tiring especially because I still had 30 pounds of nervous toddler on my lap.  My daughter never did relax.  She continued to huddle against me, digging her head into my chest in fear the whole way.  She had not forgotten watching “her” tube flip over and she was anxious to get back on dry land.  

We talked about tethering the boys to us as well- making our floating cotillion into a seven-some.  At one point, we even tried it but that was really too awkward.  And the boys seemed to be doing okay on their own so we let them loose again and reminded them to look for the island and then the bridge.  

So for the six mile ride, Tim and I paddled, keeping away from dangerous rocks and annoying trees and other unexpected obstacles along the way.   We were soaked straight through and the sun was elusive- sometimes shining to warm us up, sometimes hiding behind clouds leaving us to shiver.  By about mile 4, our arms were sore from paddling and my stomach muscles were aching under the weight of my daughter.   

We weren’t really having so much fun anymore.  

Finally, after close to two hours on the water, Tim spied the island.  And then the bridge was in sight.   To our immediate left was the take-out point.  The current was swift there, very swift, and the space between where the take-out point became visible and where we had to land our 5 tethered tubes on the slippery shore was short and abrupt.  It was a difficult task but we did it and I hauled the “baby” out onto shore and stepped up myself.  Tim and the other girls did the same.  

Then, we looked back to where our boys were- still in the water some 200 yards or so behind us, and on the opposite side of the river.  Tim and I screamed to them- “Get over, get over!” but the water was too rough to be heard over and, even after 6 miles of floating, the boys had not yet mastered steering their tubes very well.  They were rapidly approaching the place in the river where the take-out point was but they nowhere near the left bank where they needed to be.   We could tell there was no way the boys were going to get out of that river on their own.  

Tim jumped into the nippy water slipping on the moss covered rocks that littered the river bottom and dove for the boys trying to reach them.  After a considerable struggle against the strong current, he gripped the edge of our oldest son’s tube and pulled him toward safety.  He and I both sighed in relief- the boys were safe……or so we thought….

But, somehow our younger son continued to float away.  The boys had untethered their tubes at the very last minute in an effort to control them better and now neither boy was safe.  Tim pushed our older son’s tube towards where I stood at the water’s edge and took off after our younger boy.  I tried running in the water to retrieve my older son, as he was once again floating very quickly away from where he needed to be, but every time I put my barefoot down it seemed I was ramming it into another sharp rock.  With no other option and feeling more and more alarmed with each passing second, I swam as quickly as I could and grabbed the tube, at last.

In the meantime, Tim was in hot pursuit of the other renegade tube where my youngest son sat, now crying uncontrollably in distress.  The current continue to sweep him further upstream and, for what felt like an eternity, Tim could just not quite get to him.  I looked to the man from the tube rental company who waited on shore to drive us back to our van and implored him to “help us, please” but he stood looking bored and unaware and he offered no help.

At loooong last, exhausted, wet, and beyond-scared, Tim caught our little boy and pulled him, tube and all, to the side of the river quite a ways upstream from where the rest of us waited with baited breath.  I later learned my little one was crying as uncontrollably as her brother as she watched him float farther and farther away.  Her older sister held her close and reassured her.  But the whole experience freaked us all out so much, that Tim could not sleep that night (though by then, our sons had been safe and sound for hours and hours).  As if the emotional scars were not enough, Tim and I both left the river with deep painful bruises on the bottoms of our feet.   

As I told the children once we were back in the van and on our way to our cabin to warm up though, “We should be grateful--all's well that ends well.”  

Then, I looked down and noticed that my bracelet was missing.  My solid gold, beautifully etched, hand-made bracelet.  The bracelet that I had had my whole life- the one that my grandmother had brought with her when she left her home country of British Guyana at the age of 19 to marry my grandfather.  The one that matched my grandmother’s own bracelet and my aunts’ bracelets, my mother’s bracelet, my sisters’ bracelets, my cousins’ bracelets, my daughters’ bracelets.  It was my family heirloom- linking me to generations of woman in my family.   

When they said to leave our valuables behind, it didn’t occur to me to take it off- because I never take took it off.  Now it was gone.  Somewhere on the murky bottom of the cold Toccoa River.   

If I had to lose something on that fateful tube trip, I am eternally grateful that it was my bracelet and not my son--- but in the future, I think we'll stick with "lazy rivers" at resort hotels.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Vacation- the good, the bad, and the anxiety

The good—

So much good it is hard to include it all!  In addition to the train ride, we loved—

  • ·        Visiting the Amicalola Waterfall- the tallest cascading falls east of the Mississippi River.  We had to descend over 600 steps to get the full experience, but it was worth it-- gorgeous!

  • ·         Driving the “tail of the dragon”- a road famous (amongst motorcyclists, at least) for its 318 turns in 11 miles.  Even in a minivan, Tim said it was fun to drive.

  • ·         Hiking the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and seeing the amazing old growth forest.  This was one of the 101 Things You Gotta See Before You’re 12 from one of our favorite books, so we added it to our vacation itinerary just so we could say we did it.  It turned out to be a really cool opportunity to see some very majestic trees.  It was also a nearly perfect mountain hike for a family- not too strenuous, not too long and we were blessed with absolutely beautiful weather to enjoy the sights all along the way.

hiking through the old growth forest
  • ·         Strawberry picking- We could go strawberry picking at home in Florida but we never have and this was a sort of spur of the moment decision on a day we had other plans but weren’t sure the weather was going to cooperate.   Looking at the cloudy gray sky, we scrapped the original plan and set off for the biggest apple orchard in Georgia.   Since, it was waaaay too early in the year for apples, the orchard was offering strawberry picking along with a tour of the farm.  The day turned out to be ideal- the clouds blew over and the sun came out and we thoroughly enjoyed tasting and picking strawberries in the bright green fields.  Then we got the chance to visit the tasting room where Tim and I sampled some hard cider and the kids sampled some regular cider.  We spent lots of money on treats and souvenirs and took a million pictures and a few days later, I made some delicious strawberry quick bread out of what was left of our bounty.
Mercier Orchards

The bad—

Not too much to report, our vacation was mostly good.

  • ·         We did find three scorpions in our cabin.  Only one of them was still alive at the time but it was still a little unnerving to know they were creeping about….

  • ·         We did not see a bear- or much other wildlife for that matter.  This may have been probably was a very good thing really, but we were disappointed because the idea of coming face-to-face with a real live bear in his natural habitat sounded very cool.

  • ·         On our last night, my oldest got a bit sick.  She turned green, threw up once, and then, soon after, started feeling better.  She was not quite back to normal when we left for home the next morning but as the day (and the drive) progressed she improved until she was feeling fine when we arrived home.

And now, the anxiety—

Since everything on our week away was really pretty wonderful it seems there was no reason to have any anxiety at all and really, there wasn’t.   Yet…. for some reason, I was hit with overwhelming irrational anxiety on more than one occasion even as we explored and enjoyed and experienced all the Blue Ridge Mountains had to offer.  It was fun and I was joyful and grateful that we were on vacation but there was an unmistakable, unavoidable nagging feeling that something horrible could be lurking in our near future.

  • It started with a casual conversation………..One day, as we walked in the woods with the children, Tim and I talked about a family he knew of who had recently lost their vacation cabin in the mountains of North Carolina to a fire.  Their cabin, according to Tim, was much like the one we were staying in- tucked far back in the mountains, only accessible through a sometimes steep, always winding, one lane gravel road. 

That cabin, once it started burning, had no hope.  Emergency vehicles would not even   attempt to get to it to extinguish the flames because it was not safe, or even possible, to get fire trucks out on those roads.  It burned to the ground, thankfully with no one in it.  Suddenly, our remote rental cabin seemed not quite so cozy. 

Our cabin- all made of wood!
The winding, one-lane, gravel road to our cabin
The steep driveway up to the cabin
  • Then that afternoon, we checked the weather channel to see what the rest of our week would be like and we heard of the horrible tornados that ripped through Oklahoma, leveling whole neighborhoods and killing innocent people.   We saw footage from the storms’ aftermath and our hearts broke as we saw the devastation and destruction. 

  • It was not too long after that that a wicked storm hit.  In the pitch black of the middle of the night, thunder boomed loudly overhead and streaks of lightning lit up the sky all around our little log house.  I lay in bed for a while with visions of lightning strikes and out-of-control forest fires raging through the woods around us filling my over active mind.  I pictured our van slowly rolling down the super steep driveway, gradually gaining momentum until it careened down the side of the mountain crashing violently into the creek at the bottom of the valley. 

After that I had to get up. 

I checked the car first, but it was sitting securely at the top of the driveway, not budging an inch even in the torrential rain and crazy thunder and lightning.   I still couldn’t calm my fears or get those horrific images out of my head though.  I turned the T.V. on and watched HGTV until the storm finally subsided and my heart stopped racing.  It was after 2 a.m. when I finally drifted off to sleep, only to be plagued by strange dreams the rest of the night.

  • Another day just as we set off for a day of fun, I had a minor panic attack prompted by the thought, “What if I forgot to turn off the stove after heating the water for my hot chocolate?!?!?!?!?!”  There was no reason to believe that I had forgotten to turn off the stove but, for the life of me, I could not remember doing it.  Tim was sure we would have noticed the burner being left on and we were far enough away from the cabin at that point that it would have been terribly inconvenient to go back to double check, so we didn’t.  But the rest of that day, as we kept busy with touristy things, I had the nagging worry in the back of my mind—what if?!?!?!?!  (Incidentally, when we did return to the cabin that evening, all was fine, the stove was off, the house still stood solid and safe).

I’m not sure where the anxiety came from- was it really just a product of my over-active imagination?  Was it the devil attacking and trying to sabotage our week of family fun?  Whatever the cause, I did my best not to let it ruin everything.  After all, there was no reason to be worried, all was going so well…. 

at least, until our tubing adventure on the last day of our trip….(more on that tomorrow…) 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Our day on the train

When I asked each of my children what their top 3 activities from our vacation were, they all agreed that the train ride was tops.  The Blue Ridge Scenic Railroad starts right in the center of historic downtown Blue Ridge and rambles along chugging slowly through the gorgeous mountain countryside to the neighboring cities of McCaysville, GA and Copperhill, TN. 

            The train itself is a  mish-mash of old train cars collected from all over, each with a story all its own.  The car we traveled in, for example, car 332, was the last of the “Jim Crow” cars from the days of the segregated south.  Another was from the 1920’s and was decorated with a "theatre" theme.  And a slightly run-down musty-smelling car was from the 1960’s though it seemed much older.  Each car was so interesting that we ended up walking along the entire length of the train going in and out between cars to check them all out as the track scuttled by beneath us.

            The train ride lasted about an hour and traversed only about 26 miles but we all enjoyed the experience.  I personally hate the term “bucket list” because the idea of a list of things to do before I “kick the bucket” seems crass and dispiriting to me, but if I were ever to make a list of experiences I wanted to have in life- riding a train would definitely be on the list.

            During our ride, we got our first real taste of southern hospitality too.  The train attendants were all so friendly and eager to chat.  We spent much of our ride learning more about the area from the local residents.  We heard about bear tracks in the backyard and about the fun of working on the train and about the land along the way and the families who had first settled there.  We smiled at the accents of our “tour guides”- true southern drawls.  And, of course, we enjoyed the spectacular scenery that flew by just beyond our comfy train seats.

            The final destination unfortunately had little to offer- just a few old shops and a very disappointing lunch at the so-called Irish Pub.  But we did get the chance to stand in two different states at one time and to taste cupcakes that had won the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars” back in September 2012.  (Cupcake Wars is a favorite show of ours on the rare occasion that we get access to cable television.) 

It was our first full day of vacation and we had a whole week of fun to anticipate.  And we had the train ride back to Blue Ridge to look forward to also.  So, on our “layover” we made our own fun.   All in all-- it was a great day and a very cool experience.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tubes, trains, and automoblies

I love a good road trip.  It may sound crazy but piling into the car with my husband and our five kids really is fun for me.   There is just something incredibly cozy and comforting about having all the people I love most all squashed together in a little space on our way to someplace new and exciting. 

Last week, all seven of us climbed into the minivan and set off for the breath-taking Blue Ridge Mountains of north Georgia.  It was a nine hour drive that left us surrounded by the stunning glory of God’s beautiful creation.   We stayed in a remote mountain cabin that we had booked online but turned out to be absolutely perfect for us.  There was not another soul in sight and we had four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a hot tub all to ourselves for the week.  In addition to the awesome hot tub, there was an indoor fireplace and an outside fire pit and the woods and creek all around to give us the perfect mountain vacation.  What we didn't have was any access to the internet- but somehow, we didn't miss that at all!

We stayed six nights and had lots of adventures but honestly, I am still recovering from all the excitement and the thought of recording all our memories here sort of exhausts me.  I want to share our vacation experiences and I want to remember all the fun we had so I will get to it all in time, but for now…… are a few pictures…. and a promise--- I will explain more on the “tubes” and the “train” as soon as I find the energy and motivation to document it all….  

Our cabin

Another view of our cabin

A beautiful mountain stream

At the Joyce Kilmer old growth forest

Amicalola Falls
We took about 270 more pictures than this but I won't bore you with ALL of them.


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