Monday, December 21, 2015

We Lived To Tell About It...

And here is the story It was the best of weekends, it was the worst of weekends. Keep reading, we'll get to that part.

The Good Part
Last week my older brother and I decided to go to Tennessee for a few days. We like to take my 4x4 utility vehicle down to the old ancestral property and bounce around the mountain. I also like to sing with the folks at the Raccoon Valley campground on Thursday night.  We left late Thursday morning and checked into our motel around four. We settled in and grabbed a sandwich on the way to the jam session. When we got there, the building was full of people having a carry-in dinner before the jam. The ham, turkey, and macaroni and cheese was a little much since we had just eaten but we did manage some coffee and a cookie or two just to be neighborly. There are a lot or old timers at this jam who are good musicians and excellent singers as well. Out of 20 pickers, I was one of the youngest at 65 and several of the guys were in their mid eighties or more. Everyone takes their turn singing two songs, everyone is ready when their turn comes around, everyone is welcome. Norris and I had a very good time and headed back to the motel a little after nine.

The Bad Part

If you want the background on the property in Tennessee, here is some history.  Friday we had a leisurely breakfast at the Super 8 before heading up the road to the mountain. We were staying in Caryville and the drive to Elk Valley was about 20 miles north. We got there around nine and parked alongside the road. When I started the UTV it cranked a little before it fired up but all seemed OK so we started our adventure. We start on about 2 miles of paved road then we cross Little Elk Creek and start up what used to be a road, it is very steep, deeply rutted, rocky, there is water flowing through it and steep drop offs to boot. This leg is 2 or 3 miles. At the top of this stretch is Big Wheel Gap. That is where we turn right up a trail that is still very rutted and wet but not as steep. In places the water was 10 inches deep over a mud base but the UTV went right through it. We finally got to our place and fooled around for a while before the UTV stalled on top of the mountain. Try as we might, we could not get the engine to crank. We cleaned the battery terminals to no avail and decided ( correctly) that the bounce up the mountain might have stirred up residue in my old battery and shorted out some cells. It was about this time that we realized it was 22 degrees, snowing, breezy and we had not seen a living soul all day. We had no food, no water, and nothing to start a fire. We had two viable choices, walk out or die trying. It was pretty much a coin toss but walking won. So we walked. I'm 65 with a bad ankle and Norris is 70 with a bad hip. Left foot, right foot. repeat. Again, again....The hike back to Big Wheel Gap was not that bad. It is along the top of a ridge and we had some ups some downs but pretty good footing and ways to get around the deep puddles of standing water. At the gap, we turned left and started steeply down the mountain. Before long, I had slipped and jammed my left big toe against the end of my boot and deeply bruised the base of my toenail. Every time I took another step it tried to jam again. That was on my " good foot ". The trail seemed steeper and rockier going down and we had to be careful of our footing on the wet trail. There were some creek crossings where we had to wade but good boots are a blessing. It was extremely slow going and when we got back to the pavement, it was still a couple of miles of up and down hill, keep jamming my toe walking. I was thoroughly exhausted, my legs were quivering, and I could barely raise my legs. My blood sugar was probably low as well. Left, right repeat...
Finally about 1/4 mile from the van a pickup came along and I flagged them down for what was left of the way down the mountain. Norris said he would just walk it out because he couldn't lift his feet to get up in the truck. When we finally got to the van we chatted with our benefactors for a bit. Jerry and son Chris said they would take us up the mountain Saturday morning if we got a new battery. It also turned out that we were about as distantly related as folks can be in East Tennessee. My Dad had a "cousin"  by an unmarried liaison my great great great grandfather had before the civil war. Doc and Dad were good friends and remained that way through their entire lives. Doc's son-in-law was Jerry's uncle. There you are, family ! We arranged to meet Saturday and headed back to Caryville. It had been a four hour walk down the mountain and nearly every step of it hurt.We were needing hydration and nourishment in a hurry so we stopped a Shoney's lunch buffet. It wasn't great but it was ready and there was a woman who would bring us coffee. It was a struggle to get up and shuffle back to the van but we managed. Then we drove into Jacksboro to get a battery. Walmart did not have anything close. Advance Auto had one that was smaller but should work. $139 but they would top off the charge overnight for us We were in no position to be choosy. We finally got back to the motel about 5 and collapsed. Everything hurt but if I kept my hiking stick handy I could get to the bathroom.

The Better
Saturday morning was colder but Jerry has an old beat up Suburban that he has modified with heavy springs, a lift kit and a big block engine with 350 or so horsepower. He also has permission to pass through some property with a private road that is better but a lot longer than the way we go up. For good luck, we took the Suburban and Chris's 4 wheel drive pick up. I cannot imagine walking back up that mountain with an automotive battery in tow but that would have been our other option had we not met these guys. Chris is in the logging business and knows the terrain of the area well. He also knows who is up to what, who you can trust and who you can't. He knew exactly where our property was and drove right to it. That is when his Suburban stalled and didn't want to start. A little shove downhill was all it took Then we piled in and went up to the knob where we left the UTV. Luckily it was still there and it only took a couple of minutes to put in the new battery and get rolling. Our new friends headed back to the shop on the long road and we headed back our way since following them would have put us on a state highway for a couple of miles. It was a difficult drive down the mountain and there was more water running in the road than the day before. By the time we got back to their shop they were there waiting for us and we talked and got better acquainted as I loaded and secured the UTV. We could not thank these two guys enough, nor could we force any money on them. If I had not flagged them down Friday , I have no idea if we would even have been able to get back up the mountain with that new battery or not. Now we are a little worse for wear but everything should feel better by Christmas. We also have two new friends who should be a big help in sorting out property lines and such. Saturday had gone so smoothly that two hours after heading up the mountain, we were driving the van up toward I-75. We took a long lunch at Sonny's BBQ and made it home about dark Saturday. Sunday involved a lot of sitting still and taking pain killers but Monday is better. Thanks for reading and Merry Christmas.