I also have to say "Thanks!" to Frank, another special friend of mine, and the force that brought all of us together this weekend. Although I was not active in the caving community for long, I did get to go on several caving trips with Frank, and often with Randy as well, and I am grateful for all of those experiences, in part because it connected me with so many other really wonderful people.
Randy and I drove from Baton Rouge, LA on Wednesday arriving at his parents' house in Historic Rugby, TN on Wednesday evening where we stayed for the night. Thursday morning we traveled to Cleveland, TN where we met Tom and his son Dylan; Frank, his wife Valerie, daughter Taylor, and son Joe; and Jim. After lunch at Applebees, it was quite amusing to see Randy, Tom, Jim, and Frank all gathered together in the parking lot, Smart-Phones in hand, comparing maps and deciding just what route would be best to take to the Hiwassee River for our afternoon of kayaking.
My hope for the day was that the cold water would help the swelling in my legs and so I was inclined to ride on the seat of my inflated "funiak", with my feet dangling over the sides whenever possible. Unfortunately, as I was trying to navigate through one rather tricky set of chutes, my boat went up on a rock, tipped backwards, and off I went into the water!
Luckily...I did not lose my head and, therefore, I did not lose the paddle, I did not lose my turtle ball cap, and I did not lose my sun glasses! Dylan and Jim came to support me (well, actually, Jim was having fun taking pictures of me "in distress"), while Randy rounded up my boat, and after reaching a shallow shoal of the river, I was able to get back in and continue on, this time a little more attentive to being completely seated IN the boat when approaching other tricky sections of the river! I got to soak my legs...and the rest of my body in the cold water and, since that was what I was hoping for, I felt my little "incident" was "Exactly what the doctor ordered!" : )
After kayaking, Jim, Frank and Joe, and Randy and I made our way to the Luminary Fire Tower, on Worthington Knob, thinking we might camp there for the night. Unfortunately, we found the gate locked so we decided to at least walk up the trail to watch the Sun go down. Randy was quick to head right on up the tower, I followed behind him but started feeling a little scared as I approached the top, so I let Jim and Frank go on by me. Joe decided to stay below. As Frank explained, the area had been cleared of many of the trees in the 20 years since we had ventured there before, recalling one particular time when his truck got stuck after a night in the rain. Although Frank did not concur, I remember a lot of Boone's Farm wine being involved on that particular occasion! : )
Having been prevented from taking our vehicles and camping gear to the top of the hill, and because there was stormy weather threatening, we drove back down the hill to another campsite and set-up for the night. Randy got the fire going and we managed to cook up some (healthy, organic) hot dogs and had Nutella smores for desert. We found enough wood to keep the fire going through the night, even into the morning when...sure enough, it finally ended up raining on us! Oh, well, so much for packing dry tents!
From Worthington Knob we headed back to Monterey and the property of Paul and Sheila who were our generous hosts for the rest of the weekend. We set-up camp again and then, with some "down time" on our hands, found nothing better to do than to tie a rope up in a tall tree and let the younger folks get some practice climbing, changing over, and rappelling. Tom helped to secure the rope and Jim gave the instructions to Dylan and Joe.
As the rope training came to an end, more people began to gather - Jeff and Kathy, our hostess Sheila, and Joe L. among them. Everyone had a great time catching-up both in the field and around the camp fire. After that, we were all up for a good, though somewhat chilly, night's sleep as the next day would bring many more of the TTU Cavers together to do what cavers do best... : )
**Thanks to Frank and Randy for help with these photos.