Friday, December 02, 2016

Outside 365 | November 2016

November was the first month since March that we did not spend a portion of every single day outside (though we did come close!). 

First we had poor air quality days thanks to the smoke from the wildfires, and the time change is making it harder to get outside in the evenings. 

When the days were longer, Daniel took the boys to the park before bed. Now that the sun sets at 5:30pm, that is not happening as much. But we are still getting out as much as possible (I think we were only inside for 4 days this month). 

Besides our usual playground time, Jack had weekly soccer games that had us outside every Saturday morning. Thankfully we only froze during the very last game!

This month we surprised Isaac with his first bike. He is super pumped. It is a Strider bike without pedals and he loves pushing it all over the park. He currently says about 10 words and BIKE is one of his favorites!

For my birthday, Daniel and I went off roading on local trails while our kids had fun at the park with their Nana and Aunt Emily.

For Jack's birthday party, we had the kids go explore for hidden treasure. They followed clues that led them around our property and across the street to the park, and finally back home to hit a pinata.

We also toured replicas of the Nina and Pinta boats and had a chance to go cardboard sledding with friends.

And on Black Friday, we chose to Opt Outside, taking our boys to hike the Cumberland Trail to Rainbow Lake and then on to Edward's Point. Jack and Daniel got to climb a fairly large crack in a bluff and Jack set a personal hiking record of 4 miles round trip. It was a great way to end our month!

The weather has cooled a bit, but hopefully we will finish the year strong as we continue to put an emphasis on making sure we all get plenty of time outdoors.

A Look Back at Project Outside 365: 
January 2016 ⎮ February 2016 ⎮ March 2016 ⎮ April 2016 ⎮ May 2016 ⎮ June 2016July 2016August 2016September 2016October 2016

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Friendgiving: Give Thanks in All Things

The last month has been an overwhelming one for our community and state. Even though I haven't been directly impacted (other than the smoke from the Chattanooga wildfires), my heart has been heavy as hard things have continued to happen. 

First were the local wildfires, then the week of Thanksgiving a terrible school bus accident left families without children, followed by this week's wildfire that brought destruction to Gatlinburg leaving people without homes, jobs and in some cases family, and finally tornadoes coming on the heels of the fires. 

I have spent a lot of time in prayer recently. I have prayed on behalf of those who have endured hardships that I cannot even begin to fathom. I have questioned why all of this is happening, and continues to happen. And as I have prayed, I am drawn to things I am thankful for. Tragedies have occurred, and there is nothing that can take away from that, but there have been moments of goodness through it all, too. Neighbors helping neighbors. 

People have opened up their homes to strangers, their properties and barns for animals. Food and items have been donated to help take the sting from the most terrible of events. Blood has been given as people have showed up in droves to support those who were injured. Prayer vigils have happened where neighbors and strangers alike have shared a shoulder to cry on and supported in the only way they know how. The response of our community allows me to continue to have faith in humanity. Even at the darkest of times.

This past Sunday our small group gathered for a Friendsgiving. I got out my china and we shared a meal that was seasoned with laughter. We didn't talk about the heartache that I know we are all feeling, but for me it was an evening that was needed amidst the heaviness of life. 

I think I could write pages of all the things I am thankful for, but for now I am most thankful for our families, the friends that we get the privilege of experiencing life with, and this community that we live in – these people who step up and love each other, especially when life is hard. 

"Give thanks in everything." 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tennessee Wildfires

East Tennessee has been experiencing an incredibly bad drought this year. And with the lack of rain has come the unexpected challenge of wildfires. A few weeks ago our mountain had back-to-back fires that consumed over 1,000 acres and required an evacuation of one neighborhood.

Thankfully the fire was contained without damaging property or anyone getting hurt. For a two-week period fires burned on the mountains around us. Signal, Mowbray, Lookout and other surrounding mountains had fires blazing. At one point downtown Chattanooga had grass fires next to the interstate due to careless drivers throwing cigarette butts out the window.

(Chattanooga, image via WRCB)

You don't realize how big a deal this is until your city that is normally covered in a blanket of fog in the fall is suddenly covered in a blanket of smoke. Everyone was suffering from allergy-type symptoms from the smoke, and for two weeks it felt like you really couldn't get a deep breath of air.

Newfound Gap, circa 2001

But we were lucky. The big winds held off. Firefighters from other states joined the fight to contain the fires, and last night we finally got a good rain.

1st Anniversary Backpacking Trip: Anthony Trail to Spence Field, 2003

Before the rain arrived last night, the wind was something fierce. As we waited for the much awaited rain to roll in, Facebook lit up with videos and photos of the Smoky Mountain being on fire. As the rain started here, we realized that Gatlinburg was about to be engulfed in flames, with mandatory evacuations of the city late that evening.

Voyles Family Reunion, circa summer 2004

In the middle of the night I was up with Jack and happened to check Facebook again and realized that the winds we had experienced earlier that evening had wreaked havoc on the Smoky Mountains and this iconic town that so many of us know and love. I read reports of people being trapped and then thankfully rescued, as residents and tourists alike tried to escape the flames. Amazingly there were no fatalities and only a few hospitalized for burns, but the main strip of the city seems to be gone.

Backpacking Trip: Gabes Mountain Trail, 2007

I think I read that 450 buildings in the area were damaged or destroyed, with initial reports saying no known casualties and four people being treated for burns. The most recent report I saw said three had died – which is even more devastating than the loss of property.

Daniel's 30th Birthday Weekend: Clingman's Dome, 2010

Daniel and I have so many memories from this mountain town. Daniel has been visiting with his family since he was little and my very first visit here was with his family in 2001. We have a special place in our hearts for these mountains and we have no idea what is left of the town itself.

Daniel's 30th Birthday Weekend: Riding Four Whelers near Pidgeon Forge, 2010

We have celebrated anniversaries in Gatlinburg – our first anniversary and our 13th last December. Our first was spent backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, taking the Anthony Creek Trail out of Cades Cove up to Spence Field. At the end of that trip, we spent the night in Gatlinburg, thankful to soak our sore bodies in a hot tub and enjoy some of our favorite restaurants. As newlyweds, we also spent a significant amount of time hiking and backpacking in the Smoky Mountains.

Log Cabin Pancake House, 2010

On one particular day trip (2003-ish), we were hiking in the Laurel Snow Falls Area and we decided to make a spur of the moment overnight trip to Gatlinburg. We stopped at Goodwill for a change of clothes and Walmart for toothbrushes and deodorant. It's one of my favorite memories. 

Gatlinburg at Christmas Time, 2015

We have vacationed here with family – both in the summer of 2003 (I think) and Christmas of 2005. On that particular Christmas we had 19 family members in one cabin and our water stopped working on Christmas Eve. So we had to move to another cabin on Christmas morning. Even with the chaos of changing locations, it is one of my favorite Christmas memories.

13th Anniversary Weekend: Newfound Gap, 2016

In 2007, we were living in Charlotte, NC and met friends in Gatlinburg at the Log Cabin Pancake House before heading to the Gabes Mountain Trail for a quick overnight trip on the trail with friends.

13th Anniversary Weekend: Newfound Gap, 2016

In 2010, we celebrated Daniel's 30th birthday by renting a cabin in Gatlinburg for the weekend. We rented four wheelers, hiked to Clingman's Dome, and enjoyed many of our favorite activities.

13th Anniversary Weekend: Log Cabin Pancake House, 2016

Our most recent trip was last December when we took our boys with us for the first time. It was actually our 13th anniversary weekend, but I'm so glad that Jack and Isaac were able to visit once. We did many of the things we loved best. We froze at Newfound Gap, hiked to Laurel Falls, and had the best breakfast's in town. I don't know if, or when, we will be able to do that again.

(Gatlinburg, image via WRCB)

There are those who are from Gatlinburg who have lost so much. Friends with timeshares and cabins that are now gone. I am praying for those who are still in the area fighting the fires. Praying for more rain. And praying for those who have lost so much and will only have memories as they rebuild.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Rainbow Lake to Edwards Point

Shopping is one of those things that I do only out of necessity. Between Amazon delivering to our doorstep and Walmart Grocery Pick Up, I have been able to drastically reduce how often I visit an actual store.

The idea of Black Friday shopping makes me break into a cold sweat. I know not everyone is like me, but I'm thankful that my family is content to stay home, sleep in, and spend the afternoon together.

You know that our family loves to be outdoors, so if the weather cooperates (and sometimes even if it doesn't), you can find us outside. Holidays are no different.

So this past Black Friday, we opted to Opt Outside.

We made the plan to hike in the Rainbow Wilderness Area and if time permitted, we would take the Cumberland Trail all of the way to Edwards Point. This hike is right at 4 miles round trip, which we knew might be a stretch for Jack. So we hit the trail with an open mind.

Our last visit to Rainbow Lake was in January of 2015. I was 7 months pregnant with Isaac and Jack was three. This visit was a bit different.

Jack started out literally running down the trail. I'm glad he knows how to whistle because we made a game out of whistling back and forth when he got out of sight.

While Jack ran back and forth, Isaac insisted on starting out walking as well. This meant for a slower hike, but he wanted to do it himself, so we let him.

Doing it on his own makes him stronger and reduces the amount of time I have to carry him. Win. Win.

We let him walk until we reached the bluffs and the start of the steepest section of the trail down to the lake. Jack found a crack in the bluffs and excitedly shouted that there was a hole and he could see sunlight above him.

Daniel went to check out the crack and the two of them managed to climb all of the way to the top. Jack was super excited to complete the rock climb. Isaac, meanwhile, tried his best to also climb in the crack.

Then he found a stick and was content to bang around in the dirt with it while we waited for Daniel and Jack to find a trail back down from the bluff.

We spent a decent amount of time at this bluff, so I wasn't sure if we would actually make it to Edwards Point, but we agreed to go down to the lake and the swinging bridge and assess how we all felt.

The lake was really low due to the recent drought. The spillway that normally flows freely with water was completely visible.

Jack enjoyed jumping around on the rocks in the gorge and exploring everything he could.

We found a large rock cairn that someone had built that was taller than Jack!

We crossed the swinging bridge before stopping for a snack. After our snack we explored the spillway and then asked Jack if he wanted to keep going on the trail or head home.

He said we should keep going (even after we explained that we would have to come back the whole way when we were done). He still said to keep going.

We crossed the bridge again and made our way up the next ridge. We made it to Lockhard Arch and pressed on to the top of the ridge, stopping for a water break once we could see Alexian Village and the Tennessee River below.

After our water break Jack wanted to keep going. We had a serious discussion about listening and obeying us because sections of the trail occasionally had steep drop offs to one side.

We also kept an eye on our watches (we didn't want to be stuck on the trail after dark) and stopped for a one last snack break since Jack was getting tired.

We figured we were close to Edwards Point, but were not exactly sure how far. Someone heading the opposite direction told us they thought it was about 10 minutes ahead of us.

Jack was acting pretty tired at this point and we discussed turning around. But right during our discussion another family with kids passed us and suddenly Jack had energy again. He was determined to make it all the way since the other kids were doing it. So we did.

Ten minutes later, we were rewarded with an amazing view of the Tennessee River Gorge with the city of Chattanooga in the distance. Jack collapsed and we fed him more snacks. He really was a trooper though!

Isaac slept for a portion of the hike up to Edwards Point. Thankfully he wasn't too tired and our Deuter Kid Comfort Carrier II made the hike fairly easy.   

After snapping some pictures we got back on the trail. We encouraged Jack that this would be his longest hike to date and that he was beating his own record.

Making a record was good motivation for our little trooper. The other family was behind us on the way back and that was also motivation to keep Jack going.

We are so proud of him for finishing the whole hike. We made it back to the car about 30 minutes before sunset and headed straight to Dominos to grab a pizza.

At home Jack declared that it was the best pizza he had ever had. A good hike makes any food taste amazing!

Trail Stats
Trail: Cumberland Trail from Rainbow Lake parking lot to Edwards Point
Miles Completed: 4 / Isaac hiked about 0.5 miles (a record for him)
Time on the trail: 4 hours
Completed Rock Climbed (Jack and Daniel): 1


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