Esther picked us up around 10 am on Monday. I had completely stressed out about being able to fit our week's worth of stuff in their van with their week's worth of stuff, but dang if it didn't all pile in nicely. The ride there was rainy, driving out of one storm and into another. We headed up a day early so we could get settled in and check everything out before the other families got there.
We were treated to some blue skies once we arrived at the house.
It didn't last.
Our home away from home.
That evening, Esther showed us THE STAIRS down to the waterfall on the adjoining property. Holy Frack!
The kids played and played and ran around and played hide and seek. I just LOVE a house full of kids laughing and having a great time.
I hadn't been sleeping well for weeks. I wanted to try out the bed's comfort level and CRASHED at like 8:30. It was AWESOME! I slept better than I have in a long time. Of course I woke up at some point in the middle of the night, but was able to fall back to sleep without much trouble. Yay!
The kids checking out the big ol' comfy bed.
Soon, other families showed up!
My flower princess :)
We walked over to a campfire that had been prepared for us by Carl, who is potentially the nicest man in the whole world. And Park came too so he could hang out with everyone and get to know us a little better before we showed up the next morning at the ranger station. He had driven to Memphis and back that day and still chose to spend time with us. Seriously, some really awesome people up in the Tennessee!
That night, the older kids set up in the downstairs shop. They had a ridiculously good time! They had their hammocks hung up and different games being played. At midnight you could her them SCREAM for Britney's birthday!
Some of the younger kids set up in the living room eating popcorn and watching a movie. I'm still impressed by how well everyone got along.
The next morning, we all got ready and headed to the ranger station. Park introduced himself again and played a quick 'Get to know you' game. He went over safety and we watched a short film about the history and attractions of South Cumberland State Park.
Then he brought out three of their corn snakes for everyone to touch and talk about. Sweet little critters.
We headed back to the house for some lunch and then ventured over to Grundy Lakes for a walk around the lake and some canoeing.
It was a pretty interesting 1+ mile walk. Park explained the history of the area and the coke ovens and that process.
Katy's super fast hand! She was tasting the Indigo Milky mushroom.
Esther spotted a little garter snake and Park picked it up, which the snake was none too happy about. Park was bitten two or three times...which he said he didn't even feel.
The Coke Ovens
Coal and Coke
Then we were off to canoe. I didn't take my camera because I'm afraid I will take it for a swim.
Katy took this picture. My reflection looks like the GRIM REAPER!
That evening we walked the nearly mile trail to Raven's Point to watch the sunset and mist come in. It is a beautiful spot in the world.
Brit and Chan. I just love this picture :)
It is a considerable drop off the cliff and you know my aversion to heights. I laid down and scooched on my belly as close as I could and put my camera over the edge and snapped this picture :)
The next morning, we met Park and headed to Sycamore Falls. It was a beautiful hike, although a little difficult for me since I was carrying the backpack and Dakota most of the way in.
My poor kids froze! Brit got so cold, she was miserable. And then she twisted her ankle :(
Park seemed to take special care of the younger kids. On hikes, he hung back with the mommas with little ones and helped whenever possible.
Brit wrapped up in one of the hammocks. She was so cold and drained. Then Dakota was blue and shivering, so he changed into dry clothes and went to snuggle up with her. The next thing I knew, Jake came to tell me he was taking the hammock down and didn't know Dakota was in it. He dropped that boy to the ground! Brit was looking after him and he's fine.
Esther along with all of the older kids walked back to the house. I was surprised Brit did the extra miles with a hurt ankle and feeling puny, but she did...and she can always say she did. I hiked back out the entire way with Dakota on my shoulders, which Park later said was 2.8 miles. That was rough, but I'm glad to provide him that service. I want him to get out and enjoy nature and beautiful things, but I realize he isn't physically able to walk THAT far.
That night, we headed back over for a campfire. The Dads were coming in and Carl wanted to welcome them the same way he had us.
I sprayed bug spray all over me, grabbed the marshmallows and headed to the fire. I noticed the bag was sticking to me so I put the flashlight on my arm. How cool! The bug spray made the ink transfer. I showed all the kids and soon we were ALL covered in Kraft advertizements :)
During the campfire, Carl disappeared for a bit while Park told local legends and Esther and Matt told stories of their haunted house. Soon, this emerged from the woods! He wanted to scare the kids but he really only spooked Matt (who KNEW it was coming) and he tried to climb Esther like a tree! Hahaha...that was awesome!
|Photo by Esther Crawford|
The next morning...ROCK CLIMBING!
We headed to Foster Falls and met up with Park who had gone earlier in the morning to set things up for us. Seriously...I'd keep him if I could. He's quite handy.
He quickly went over the equipment and safety and we got geared up.
Park taught everyone a little trick. Next time you're at a waterfall, stare at it for a whole minute and then look at the rocks beside it. Trippy!
This knot was envied by all.
I'm only going to post pictures of our four...just to save some space.
Britney getting ready to go!
Her shoulder kept her from going much higher. She swung around the rocks twice, but my pictures of that are blurry. It was so cool! She did really well!
Dakota getting ready.
The helmet did NOT fit him properly, but we gave it a try anyway.
And he's off!
The helmet kept falling back and the strap was choking him and he just couldn't get it to stay on his noggin'. I really thought Park was going to tell him he had to get down, but he didn't! He told Dakota to take it off and keep going.
Look at that face. He's afraid of heights like I am (BIG) and I'm so proud of BOTH of those kiddos for conquering some fears and giving this a try.
And then me. Park brought a whole bag full of climbing gear, but did I put on the nifty climbing shoes? NO! My tennis shoes had zero grip so I kicked them off, tried climbing in my socks and barely got a couple feet up. I was done. I was SO disappointed in myself. I don't like being afraid of heights in the first place, but I hate that it keeps me from experiencing things. So...I went again. I got up MUCH higher. Yay!
Bobby put his monkey skills to good use.
After the climbing, some of us went to play in the water. I left my pants on to swim, which was not a smart Gina moment. It's difficult to swim in some loose fitting work out pants!
Oh and I was just over half way swimming to the fall when I remembered Park saying he had recently found a large snapping turtle in that water. GREAT time to think of that...
Other than thinking a snappy, this was one of my favorite moments. The picture is deceiving. It's much bigger and swimming with the falls and cliffs surrounding me was quite surreal.
Some down time after a big morning. At one point, all the kids were downstairs and we could hear them singing 'Happy Birthday' to my sweet girl. I told her I was disappointed we weren't there to share it and she was like "No. That was just the kids. It was special" :)
Dakota passed out!
That evening, some of us went back to Raven's Point to watch the sunset...which never really manifested. That smudge of color is all we got. It was still a beautiful night for sitting out on a cliff watching bats.
Park told us that he had a 6:30 am canoe trip planned the next morning and a couple people had signed up so he would definitely be there if we wanted to join. I'm SO glad I got up in time. It was such a beautiful, peaceful morning out on the water.
After 40 minutes or so of paddling around searching for non-existent baby ducks and seeing HUGE fish and a hornet's nest, all the canoes came together in the center of the lake. The people in the middle boat held on to the outer canoes. We paddled in like that...all together. That was kind of cool.
|Photo by Matt Crawford|
|Photo by Matt Crawford|
Afterwards, Park, Esther and the kids wanted to show me and Matt the trail they had helped clear Thursday morning. Park is adding an additional mile to the trail system and as a service project, the kids used sharp objects to clear the path of destruction. It was VERY impressive how much they got accomplished in such a short amount of time. Those kiddos ROCK!
And then...I did something stupid. There was this little ravine we had to cross on the trail. Everyone got to the other side just fine, but when it was my turn, I jumped the darn thing instead of going down it and back up. I landed hard and wrong and my back immediately started hurting. I was able to walk the remainder of the trail just fine, but once in the vehicle and back at the house, I could barely get out of my seat. Leaning forward AT ALL hurt SO bad. Esther let me use her heating pad and I just whined and barely moved on that same big, comfy bed I had slept so well on earlier. We had talked about going home a day early because of Brit's injuries. When we added mine on top of her's, it didn't make sense not to go ahead and pack up. Which I didn't do any of. Bobby and Brit got everything ready and we said our goodbyes. We hit the Dutch Maid Bakery on our way out of town...of course. No amount of pain should keep that from happening :)
We had such an amazing time! It's been a week and my back is finally feeling better. I was afraid it was more serious than just muscle. Whew! And Brit's getting around just fine on her ankle. Her shoulder is another story. That poor baby :(