Caving and Claustrophobia
Today our staff team (minus Eric who was sick and Jason who was at his other job) spent the afternoon at Devil's Den State Park for a little team building. We left the office at noon and after dropping Aaron's car off in a random parking lot, we hit the highway. After about 10 miles or so, we saw a lady with a flat tire on her Jag-You-Are, so we pulled over and Aaron and I jumped out to change her tire. After doing our good deed for the day, we jumped back into our car and headed out.
Upon arrival at the park, we ate our lunches at a picnic table and had a good discussion about church, community, and how to simplify your life without sacrificing quality of life. Fun stuff. Then we took off for the trail to the caves.
After a brief hike, we arrived at the cave. Our staff has been very scattered all summer (Brett in Colorado - twice, Kent in Tibet, Aaron all over the place fundraising), so one of our purposes was to catch up. Before we took off into the bowels of the earth, we spent a little time discussing our most enjoyable experiences from the summer. Then it was off into the caves - Dave was our leader.
We headed down into "The Icebox", which starts out as a spacious cave that is a consistent 50 degrees and very wet. Soon, the cave became quite tight as we continued sliding and scooting along. Eventually we reached a spot that left us confused about our next move. We could go to the left or to the right, but both routes looked very difficult and extremely narrow. Several of us tried each route a little and were very close to deciding they weren't possible and turning back. Eventually Aaron tried the route that branched off to the right and yelled back that it was very tight, but that he had made it through and could see daylight. So we all took off that way. It took some time and a little courage to pass through the tight spots, but eventually we all emerged. We were very dirty, some of us were a little scraped up, but we were all happy.
There are so many lessons (spiritual and otherwise) that can be learned from an experience like this. We spent some time processing those lessons. You learn teamwork because you definitely need the help of the person in front and back of you because you can't always see where you are placing your hands and feet, so they need to be your guide. it is also an illustration of how community can pull you through tough times. For instance, sometimes life gets really hard and you don't think you can go on, but with the encouragement of those around you (especially those who have already been down the same road), you press on and no matter how difficult, you emerge in the light.
After talking about our experience, we hiked on around the loop, played a bit in the creek, then jumped back in the car for the ride back.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Elspeth has a new word, "Dwight". Dwight's an older gentleman that works at the Neighborhood Market near our house. We see him every week when we do our Monday morning grocery shopping. He fills the Sam's cola machines, empties the trash, cleans up spills, collects grocery carts, and makes shopping fun for little kids. Dwight is wonderful with children. He greets us when we arrive at the store, and he walks us out to our car and helps us with our groceries each and every week. If there are no free cookies on a given day, Dwight brings my kids fruit snacks from a stash in his locker. (Can you believe this happens at a Wal-Mart?) Maitlyn loves for Dwight to push the cart really fast on the way to our car. It has become clear to me that one of the highlights of Dwight's week is to pick up Elspeth from the grocery cart and hold her while I load in our groceries. She used to be afraid of him, but now they're good pals. It sure is nice to go each week to the store knowing that we'll see at least one friendly face, and it's extra nice to know that my children will make someone's day. (For any of you that are at all worried that I let a stranger hold my child. . .I know that Dwight is a believer and he's involved in a local community group--so, it's really okay. )
A Seinfeldian moment
So, as you read below, I got to have a personal day today. To me, a good personal day is all about alone time (one thing that I don't get much of as a mom of young kids). I spent time reading: my Bible, L'Abri (which I'm still trying to finish) and a bit of A Well-Educated Mind. I also clicked around on my PDA quite a bit, trying to get the next week or so organized, if that's even possible. I hung out for a while at Barnes and Noble, and that's where I had my Seinfeldian moment.
After lunch (Applebee's WW menu--okay, but pricey for what you get), I brought in my L'Abri book and sat in a comfy Barnes & Noble chair to read for a while. Then I decided it was about time to head home and join my family. I stopped by the restroom on my way out since I'd had quite a few refills of Diet Coke. I took my book, my cell phone/PDA and my keys into the restroom with me. I set them on the little ladies trash can while I was in the stall. Then I gathered my things and proceeded to the sink to wash my hands. I stacked my book, cell phone and keys on a dry place on the counter, washed my hands, and then it happened. I caught someone looking at me in the mirror. I glanced away and continued to wash. She caught my eye again and asked, "Is that YOUR book?" Ahhhh. . .she was a store employee. Of course it was my book, but I wondered what her next words would have been if I had answered, "No." Does Barnes and Noble have a "You take it to the bathroom, you buy it" policy? Only a Seinfeld episode could possibly answer that question.
Community Group & Personal Days
We had our first community group of the fall tonight. It was great to be back together again. We "multiplied" our group this fall. That means that we asked some people in our group (in this case, Jason & Jaime Miller and Patrick & Lindsey Kelley) to lead a new group. We also encouraged all of the people in our group to choose either our group or theirs. The idea is that because our group is so big, we multiply out a new group and it grows into a healthy group, which makes more room for new people to experience authentic community between the two groups. It can be difficult sometimes for people to choose which group to attend because by choosing one group it feels like you are saying no to the other group. In the end, it always turns out to be a really good thing.
Anyway, our group went really well tonight and I'm excited about a new season of community group. We will miss our friends in the new group, but we will see them on Sunday nights at worship and our two groups will gather for fun events occasionally.
Tomorrow, our family is trying something new. Elise is going to take the morning for some personal time. I'll take care of the kids while she has the freedom to go somewhere to read, pray, reflect, whatever. Then next week, we'll trade and I'll have a morning for personal time while Elise watches the kiddos. We made the decision to try this while we were in Colorado on Sabbatical. When we were there, we each had an entire day each week to ourselves. I'll report back some time later about how it goes.
Gear Review - Marmot Hydrogen Regular
I bought this sleeping bag about a week before Mantrip to replace my 18 year old summer down bag (The North Face Blue Kazoo). My old bag had served me well, but was due for retirement - it was just worn out. I guess that's what several hundred nights will eventually do to a sleeping bag.
Anyway, I had saved some money for a new bag and after quite a bit of comparison shopping, I bought the Marmot Hydrogen (regular size). I wanted something in the 30 degree range for 2-3 season use. I have a 5 degree Western Mounatineering bag that will keep me warm in the winter, so I didn't need something super warm - just warm enough for summers and falls in the Rockies (where it can easily get down to 30 degrees - even in July or August). I also wanted something ultra lightweight - I'm really trying to move myself into the Ultralight category with all of my gear.
The Hydrogen is a 30 degree bag with 900 fill down. Quantum Pertex shell. Very light - 1 lb, 5 oz (without the stuff sack, which adds another 1 oz). Extremely compressible (just a little larger than a standard 1 liter Nalgene). It is also fairly roomy, which is nice for an ultralight bag. It comes with a half zipper and draft tubes around the hood. This bag is a little pricey, but then again so are all high performance down bags. Besides, if it lasts me another 18 years, then it will be worth it.
On the first night out in Colorado, I was very comfortable until around 4 a.m. Then my feet started to get a little cold. We ate dinner early the night before and the temperature got down below freezing that night, so I don't really blame the bag. Every night after that I wore a pair of clean socks and was always plenty warm. I'm a bit of a warm sleeper anyway, so the 30 degree rating should work great for me.
I'm planning on taking this bag to Colorado at the end of September. The temps will probably drop into the low 20's then, so my plan is to add a silk liner, which is supposed to give me another 10 degrees of insulation, bringing the system to 20 degrees. Liners only weigh about 5 oz, so at a total of 1 lb, 10 oz, I should still have an extremely lightweight and warm sleeping system.
We (the family) drove out to Lost Valley in the Buffalo National River area on Saturday. This is the first time we've hiked together since Sabbatical. We saw our friends Jason & Jaime, Dan & Carol and Carrie there. That was funny because we had gone by Dan & Carol's house in the morning to get a rain jacket I accidentally left there. They weren't home, but we noticed Carrie's car in the driveway. Then later when we pulled up to the parking lot at Lost Valley we saw Jason & Jaime's 4-Runner (we knew it was theirs because of the Arizona plates). So 2+2 and we figured that they were all there together. Sure enough a few minutes later, they come walking off of the trail and were surprised to see us.
Anyway, after that we took off down the trail. The total trail length is 2.3 miles, so it was just right for Maitlyn to hike (her limit is around 3 miles right now). I carried Elspeth and Elise carried lunch. It was a nice trail along Clark Creek. This time of year around here most of the creeks are pretty dry, so no real water in the creek to speak of. It was an extremely shady trail - lots of tree cover. There were some cool features like the "Siamese Beeches". These are two beech trees that grew very tall, then about 30 feet up in the air, they somehow joined together to become one beech tree. There was also a big overhang/cave near the end of the trail called Cobb Cave, a small falls called Eden Falls and at the end of the trail Eden Cave. We didn't go into Eden Cave (Maitlyn gets a little freaked out by the dark in caves right now).
After exploring around a bit, we took a break to have our PB&J lunch, then hike out. It was a fairly cool day (for August), but I just can't get used to the humidity - too many days spent in dry Colorado this summer have spoiled me. Overall a nice hike. Probably prettier when there is water flowing in the creek or after leaf off when you can see further.
Michael Phelps & The U.S. Swim Team
Wow. That's all I can say.
This is a picture from a beautiful mountain lake called The Loch (that's Scottish for "The Lake"). I took this picture near the end of June in Rocky Mountain National Park when we were in Colorado on Sabbatical. I hiked up to this lake by myself. The peak in the middle is Taylor Peak. To the right is Andrew's Glacier - it's a little hard to see because it blends in with the clouds above it. After taking a few pictures, I hiked around the right side of this lake and up the side of Timberline Falls to Lake of Glass (you can't see it in this picture, but it is over the ridge on the left side).
We returned from Mantrip this past Saturday night around Midnight. Mantrip was a week long Backpacking trip in Southwestern Colorado. 7 of us traveled to the Weminuche Wilderness to experience the God's wildness and the brotherhood of other guys. The Weminuche is the largest wilderness area in Colorado. The Wilderness designation means that there are no roads, no motorized vehicles, no bicycles. etc. The only way to experience it and explore it is either on foot or on horseback. At almost 500,000 acres, it is large and in charge. Additionally, the average elevation is over 10,000 ft. If you know anything about elevation & mountains then you know that 10,000 ft is high... translation: not much oxygen. We covered around 32 miles in 5 days, including 7 miles on the Continental Divide Trail above treeline.
There were 7 of us - me, Chris Tucker, Eric Roa, Cass Harris, Eric Sullivan, Stuart Sullivan and Rhett Pierce. We started out on Sunday and hiked into the Fisher Creek drainage, camping alongside Fisher Creek. It was a beautiful spot - a big subalpine meadow with a lively bubbling creek. We arrived in camp around 3:00, so that gave us time to set up camp and play in the water for a while before dinner. There's nothing quite like dunking your head into ice cold water after a sweaty day of backpacking.
Monday brought more of the same - hiking further up into the Fisher Creek drainage towards the Continental Divide. We alternated between thick, lush, old forest and wide open flower-strewn meadows. The meadows at this elevation in the mountains (between 10,000 and 11,000 ft) are carpeted with thousands of wildflowers including Cinquefoil, Timid Daisy, Colorado Mountain Bluebell and others. We experienced a good amount of rain and hail throughout the day. Near the end of our hike, we had to climb around 700 ft in about 1/2 mile - quite a climb. After slogging out this climb, we crossed over a ridge to see our destination - Goose Lake. This was a large, beautiful lake flanked by 12,000 and 13,000 ft peaks. We set up camp, cooked dinner, relaxed around the fire and collapsed into our tents.
Tuesday, Rhett Pierce and I got up early (6:00 a.m.) to attempt a summit bid of the one 13,000 ft peak adjacent to Goose Lake. We hiked past the 13,038 ft unnamed peak (we named it "Parkey Peak"), then ascended the back side. The weather looked a bit threatening, but once we reached the summit, the clouds broke and the sun warmed us as we enjoyed spectacular 360 degree views of mountains in every direction. We could even see the Sangre de Cristo range to the east, which is over 80 miles away. We relaxed and snacked on the summit for a while, placed calls to our wives (we both got their voice mails), then descended back to camp in time for lunch with the guys. That afternoon, we went a little wild, making spears of every kind in a vain attempt to spear one of the enormous trout swimming around in Goose Lake. Chris actually knocked a fish out of the water. We cooked it up and each had a bite at lunch along with our tortillas, peanut butter and honey. The rest of the day consisted of more spear fishing, naps, dinner, fire and sleep.
Wednesday morning, we awoke at 4:00 a.m. for an "alpine start." We were planning on spending most of our time above treeline and exposed along the Continental Divide Trail. The Rockies are such big mountains that they make their own weather, and afternoon thunderstorms are very common after noon. That means that you don't want to be above treeline and exposed after noon - that could lead to being struck by lightning. Since we weren't interested in dying any time soon, we got up early so that we would be back down into the trees in time for any afternoon thunderstorms that might occur. We hiked up past Little Goose Lake, then up a steep face to South River Peak. Again, those 360 degree views of mountains in every direction. Eric and I took our packs off and scrambled up to the summit of South River Peak at 13,149 ft. It looked easy on the map, but was actually a very difficult scramble because of the loose rocks. We enjoyed the summit for a few minutes, signed the summit register, then scrambled down to the trail - this was actually very difficult and quite harrowing. After rejoining our compadres, we hiked along the Continental Divide Trail (this is a national scenic trail that spans over 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada along the Continental Divide). for about 7 miles. The views were spectacular and the weather held nicely for us. We decended from the divide along the Sawtooth Trail to Goose Creek. We arrived around 3:00 p.m., and most of us crashed into our tents for a nap. All of us but Eric Sullivan, who fished and caught two nice trout for us to have with our dinner.
Thursday, we hiked along Goose Creek down the Goose Creek drainage. Downhill all day can really take its toll on your knees and ankles. When we made camp that afternoon, we were all pretty beat. That didn't stop us from fishing, attempting to spear some more fish and playing around camp. Chris actually caught a nice sized rainbow trout that was a nice treat along with our dinner.
Friday, we hiked (mostly uphill) back to our trailhead. I arrived at the van around 9:45, with the other guys soon following. Sitting in a cushioned car seat after hiking for 6 days is like heaven. After a long wait in construction over Wolf Creek Pass, we made it back into Pagosa Springs to clean up, grab some cigars and eat steak at the Ole Miners Steakhouse - a Mantrip tradition. We stuffed ourselves on steak and dessert, then went back to our hotel to relax by the Piedra river while puffing on our stogies. A long drive home on Saturday and we were home.
Another week in the mountains. It was extremely rejuvenating for me. I can't describe what the sights and smells do for my soul. There also nothing quite like making your body work hard to climb up those mighty mountains for the views. It is an extremely rewarding experience. Also, spending it with 6 great guys makes it a real treat. I love how relationships are forged out in the wilderness. Our talks around the fire were deep and challenging. Our goofing off in camp was loads of fun. I don't think I've laughed that hard in years. I also am awestruck by how amazing God's creation is and how it continually points to His greatness.
I'll post some pictures after I get them developed (ah... someday to replace my SLR with a digital SLR...)
Maitlyn did great!
Well, we had a first this morning... Maitlyn totally enjoyed swim lessons! She didn't complain one bit, did everything she was asked and even had fun! One of the things she always complained about was the kickboard. Today, as she was kicking across the pool with the kickboard, she said to me "I like the kickboard." She even dog-paddled for a few feet several times!
So Maitlyn and I are going to Swim Ranch tomorrow for swim lessons (day 3). She took lessons last year as well, but she is still rather tentative about any water that is over her head. So that means that during swimming lessons, I put on my biggest smile and try to be as persuasive as an attorney. Usually the first 5-10 minutes are spent with me trying to pry her arms from around my neck - she is supposed to face away from me for most of the exercises in the water. Nonetheless, I think she is making progress and is growing in her comfort with water. That is the goal. She might not officially swim this summer, but I have to think of it as one more step towards that day when she does.
So it's about time I start blogging
So, I've been planning on starting my blog for quite some time now. Why haven't I started it until now, you ask? Well, you know... life is busy, blah, blah, blah. So here I go. Sometimes the best way to start something is just to start.
For the most part, we've finally settled back down into "regular life" back in Arkansas (we were in Colorado for 5 weeks this summer). This week, I'm taking Maitlyn to swim lessons each morning (except for Tuesday... staff meetings...), and getting ready to leave on the Mantrip. Mantrip is a week long backpacking trip to southwestern Colorado. What is it about the mountains that continues to draw me? It's like they're magnetic and I'm a big piece of iron. My soul just finds its rest there. In fact, Elise and I are planning another trip at the end of September to see the aspen trees change. It will be her first backpacking experience. We've dayhiked plenty of times together, she's just never been out overnight with me. I think we're planning on Rocky Mountain National Park since we have friends in Estes Park that we can probably stay with on the way up and on the way back. The great thing is that we have all the gear we need and Elise will only have to borrow a pack.
Enough about the mountains. I could go on for days. Anyway, welcome to the Harkey Blog!