Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Old-School (and Cheap-Skate) Oil Finish Wax Waterproofing

A couple of weeks ago Darla found a cotton jacket at Target on sale for $19. She got it for me. I really like it. It only needed a little "customization." I sewed a couple of extra buttons on the sleeves so I had the option to make the cuffs a little tighter around my wrists and I replaced the big white drawstrings around the waist and hood with black leather string and bronze string stops.
Then I wore it the next day. It rained and I got completely soaked! Like, the water was immediately sucked into the jacket to my skin! Not cool.
Now, I'm a big fan of Filson stuff (even though I can't afford it!), and had a small can of Filson Oil Finish Wax that came with the backpack that I got as a gift, so I applied the whole can to my new jacket hoping to make it look and perform more like a Filson Tin Cloth jacket. It sucked it up as it had the rain, and the jacket wasn't even half finished. Uh-oh. After calling every place in town that sells Filson stuff, I found one more can. The jacket sucked it up too. I needed one more. Filson didn't even have any. I found a can on eBay and waited almost two weeks to get it. Finally the jacket was adequately covered. I put it in a trash bag then into the dryer and it came out great! I mean, I absolutely love it. It's a little darker and less yellow-orange colored (a good thing), and it feels more meaty. Costs: Target jacket - $19. Two cans Filson Oil Finish Wax (in addition to the one I already had) - $24 (that's right--the wax cost more than the jacket!).
Sorry, the only shot I have is this of the family a couple of days before Christmas.
I still got a deal: a (now) virtually waterproof jacket that looks great and will last much longer than it would've untreated for $43. Not bad! But the whole time I was treating that jacket, I'm thinking, "There's got to be a cheaper way to do this." An internet search for "Filson Oil Finish Wax recipe" gave some good leads. I combined some of them and ended up making my own version.

The Sparks' Oil Finish Wax:

1 pound block of paraffin wax (got mine at Food City, $4) I think I'll use 2 pounds next time.
3 cups linseed oil (Lowes, $3)
2 tablespoons turpentine (Lowes $0.50)
8 oz. Howard Feed-N-Wax beeswax & orange oil wood polish (half the bottle, bought at Tractor Supply, $7)
A new paint can, a stir stick, and a cheap 2-inch paint brush (Lowes, about $5).

All together this makes almost 2 quarts of oil wax for a grand total of $15 (not counting can, stick, and brush). That means I get MUCH more waterproofing treatment for half the cost (if you include the cost of the can of Filson stuff I already had). According to my calculations, the Filson treatment costs $3.45 per oz. The Sparks homemade treatment costs $.45 per ounce ($.39 if I use an additional brick of wax as I plan to do next time). That means the Filson Oil-Wax costs almost 9 times more expensive per ounce!

So I needed to perform a test. I have an old upland hunting jacket that I wear rabbit and quail hunting. It is light brown and orange (the light brown parts are cotton), and doesn't perform well in briars or rain. I also have a tan heavy canvas bag with a shoulder strap that used to be my work/computer bag that I bought online for about $20 from China several years ago. I now use it to carry hunting stuff (shells, extra clothing, water, dog collars, etc). Perfect for a test.

Here's how it went:
I made a double boiler (a big pot about 1/3 filled with water and the new paint can--remember this stuff is flammable. Handle with care!) and I slowly melted the ingredients in the can and stirred the liquid. While the wax solution was still hot, I brushed it on pretty heavily. Then, as with the Filson wax, I put them in a trash bag and into the dryer for an hour.

The result? The bag has a much more coarse and loose weave, which sucked up the wax and really didn't change the appearance that much. It is a bit stiffer and will stand up by itself now. I haven't tested it in the rain. It also smells a bit stronger than the jacket. I'm a little concerned that if I go somewhere and pack clothes they may smell like it. I'll try to update when I use the bag later. I'm very happy with the jacket. I can't wait to try in out in the briars and the rain. It looks great. It smells a bit strong of linseed oil and maybe a hint of turpentine. But it's not too offensive, and the smell is fading with each day.

I went rabbit hunting last week in the rain, which gave me a great opportunity to test my jacket. Here's my review:
1. It looks great. The oil-wax makes it look more expensive and rugged in my opinion. The jacket wrinkles in the elbow where it bends. I'm thinking it's going to gain patina and look better with use. The material is a little darker, but not that much. I like it.
The jacket...before.
2. It really feels more hardy and tough. I foresee this treatment making this old jacket last a long time.
3. It is much more briar-resistant and hitchhiker (cocklebur, beggartick, sticktight, burdock, and other stick-to-your-clothing seeds) resistant than the jacket was previously. Notice, I didn't say "briar- and hitchhiker-PROOF." But it is much more so than before.
4. It is not as breathable as before. But it doesn't let the wind cut through either. I'm actually good with this. I'm more prone to get cold (especially during rabbit season) than get hot. And it's still breathable--it seems it is as much as my Gore-Tex stuff.
The bag and jacket...after.

5. It is almost water proof. I hunted for several hours in various degrees of drizzle and rain. I did not get wet underneath. At first the rain and water from trees & brush beaded up and rolled off. As the day went on I noticed it looked like it soaked in the fabric a little. I thought that was bad, but it wasn't. I think the cotton fibers are so filled with oil-wax they can't hold any liquid. It seems to work much like wool, with even some wicking ability. After the hunt, my pants and socks were wet, but only the collar of my shirt was wet. That means I will probably have to get a different hat to wear hunting in the rain. The old baseball-style hunting cap just doesn't have enough coverage. I think I understand the Filson tin-cloth hat thing now a little better! Hmmm...maybe I can make one of those too!
Would I do anything differently? As I previously mentioned, I think next time I will double the amount of wax I used. I think that may make the fabric a little stiffer (e.g. last longer) and even more water-resistant.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Quick Trip to Stinging Fork Falls

When the kids are home, we want to spend as much time with them as we can. Hiking is a family favorite, and a little trail near Spring City called Stinging Fork is one of our favorites. We first go by Banjo's BBQ, a great great great little place! Everything we've had there is fantastic. The owner is a believer and does a great job.
Stinging Fork is a little creek that grows when there's been some rain. This is important because there is a cool waterfall at the bottom of the hike. Here are a couple of pictures.

 Here's the overlook. Of course the picture doesn't do it justice. There is a cliff face to the left across the ravine. Unfortunately, Dara couldn't join us today. She's slaving away at Chick-fil-A.

Click the above picture so you can see it larger. I'm telling you, I didn't modify this picture at all. The water is really this clear and blue. There are icicles along the trail when the weather's been cold. We love coming in the winter. There are hardly ever anyone else on the trail.

We are so blessed to live in East Tennessee where God's creative work is on such display. I am grateful for these folks with whom I can share it. A good day.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Christmas Tree Time!

Dara got this t-shirt for me for Christmas! Perfect.
Yep. It's that time again! When the Sparks family turns Griswold!

It's getting harder to get all the kids together, but the great Annual Sparks Christmas Tree Adventure is always a big deal! Drew came up from Georgia and Duncan from Jefferson City and we jumped in the dirty Wagoneer to go find a tree. After eating at a Mennonite market on the way, we pointed the Wag toward Whitetop Virginia, just a few miles away from the northeastern "tip" of Tennessee. There was no snow this year as has happened before, but it was still awesome!

I think the Wagoneer was MADE for this kind of family memory. Who cares if it sucks down a couple of tanks of gas on this glorious day? It's worth it!

Our old friend Charlie has had some health problems, but we found him at the local store. He's in his 80s now, and still takes care of us!

Over the years, there some patterns have emerged that reoccur almost every year. One is the fact that campaigning ensues as the hunt for the perfect tree commences. Everybody wants to find the Sparks Family Christmas Tree. I think our kids took pictures with three or four different trees only to have the tree vetoed for another one. We usually walk several acres trying to find one, and we usually end up pretty near the barn where we started! Sparky and Mo also get in on the hunt (actually, they're just looking for yummy deer and rabbit poop. It's disgusting.)!

Then there's the horseplay that always seems to happen. Thankfully this year no one got hurt or mad!

Once the tree is found, I get on hands and knees and cut it down. 
Then there's the get it on the Wag and take lots of pictures part. 

This year Drew wanted to buy a tree for his dorm room. Interesting for a guy who often complains about how poor he is! But hey, it's Christmas! 

Both trees loaded on the Wag gets lots of attention! And when five adults and two dogs get out, conversations galore! People really dig the tree-toting Wagoneer, especially when we tell them about our tradition.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Chasin' Rabbits

I am about making disciples. There is NOTHING more exciting and rewarding than watching people grow spiritually. That's what I live for. However, there are times when I need to not think about anything serious. And God is good with that. He wants us to enjoy simple things, good things he has created. Beautiful things. Even things of the physical world.
One of the things in this world that are entirely pleasant for me is rabbit hunting with Mo. I totally relax. I totally soak in the beauty of creation and consider with wonder his grace and power. Mo and I don't kill many rabbits, but we both love it like crazy. Mo is a tough little dude. He never stops. As soon as he sees me with hunting pants on, he starts shaking and whining in anticipation. When we arrive to where we will be hunting, he can hardly stand it. I have to fight him to get his collar on. He will go full speed with his nose to the ground as long as I will stay out there with him. I love this dog! Here are just a few pictures from some hunting in the last couple of weeks:
Pictures don't do this scene justice. Mo is working this hedge like crazy, nose going full speed. In the midst of this is the amazing beauty all around. The Tennessee River is to my left (not pictured).

I have so much fun chasing Mo as he chases rabbits. It's a good time. We both enjoy a good cold drink after hunting hard.

Friday, November 13, 2015

On the List of Things I Like

Some of the things people like are curious to me. They are as different as we are—indeed they are a part of our individuality. "Things I like" is a subject we all enjoy discussing! I was at a restaurant a couple of weeks ago and a young couple at the table next to mine were talking rather loudly so that I could hear their conversation (I don't usually eavesdrop!). They must have been on a first date, because all they talked about was stuff they liked. Funny.

I like cutting firewood.

I can't really figure out why! It's hard, it makes you stink like chainsaw smoke and sawdust, it's kind of dangerous, it takes a lot of time, and I'm sore for two or three days afterward! Maybe it's some weird, Freudian, childhood psychology thing. I've been cutting wood since I was a kid. My family always had a fireplace and heated our home with wood. My dad worked my tail off cutting, splitting, and stacking wood. It wasn't always fun then, but I loved being with him and the men with which we worked. Manly stuff: loud chainsaws, big trees falling, cool tools (axes, wedges, mauls, and trucks), and lots of opportunities to prove one's strength made it strangely enjoyable. He would teach me how to recognize different types of trees and how to work on saws and how to "read" the logs and use proper techniques in order to split them with less difficulty. There were also many opportunities for my dad to compliment my strength and hard work (which he did more often than I deserved), which is important for a boy's confidence.

I must confess: there were times that I despised cutting wood. Like the time when I was 14 when my dad had me cut and carry lots of big oak logs up the steep ridge on which we log at a the heat of the myself. I remember crying at one point from frustration and exhaustion when the log I was wrestling up the hill got away from me and rolled 50 yards straight down.

I definitely love the end result. There's nothing more comforting and romantic than a fire on a cold day. I love the smell, the crackle and hiss of the burning wood, the flickering glow of the flames, and the direct heat. Nothing chases cold away like that. On some dark winter nights I find myself fighting to stay awake in order to enjoy the fire a little longer.
A beautiful day for cutting wood. This is a trailer load of oak logs.
The Wagoneer is a workhorse! The Jeep 4wd and 360 V8 were 
made for this!

But maybe it's the peace I find while focusing on the task of cutting wood that's the best thing of all. My job requires a lot of meeting, sitting, emailing, reading & studying, making decisions, and planning. I do very little physical work--and I miss it. Don't misunderstand. I LOVE my job. But it's emotionally and intellectually taxing. Sometimes it's just downright draining. I'm an extravert and love people, but I find that the older I get the more I appreciate time alone. Only, often when I'm alone I get sucked into doing emails and phone calls and studying.

But I like getting outside in the woods. Cutting wood occupies my mind and my body. I find I'm not thinking about people's problems and the world's troubles and leadership strategy or sermon series. I'm thinking about my Stihl chainsaw, that tree, the perfect cut, split, and stack. How can I get as much wood on the trailer as possible without losing any on the journey or blowing a tire. There's a real sense of accomplishment when I finally get that wood stacked under my deck. I'm ready for winter. I've been a provider. Now to enjoy.

I'm always on the hunt for wood. Not just any wood—I'm a bit of a firewood snob. I prefer oak, hickory, and beech. Walnut, ash, cherry, and hard maple are ok, too. But I will not waste time and effort on soft maple, sweet gum, poplar, sycamore, locust (burns great and long, but stinks), birch, bradford pear (holds too much water), elm, hackberry, boxelder, pine (and other evergreens). Finding a big oak tree that has fallen and getting permission to take the wood is like hitting a little jackpot for me!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Meaning of a Man...Standing for the Samaritan Woman

We talk about manhood a lot at Providence Church. We feel the need to do this because it seems manhood is under attack—or at the very least there is an attempt underway to redefine what it means to be a man. I'm convinced we find the ultimate expression of manhood in the man, Jesus Christ. In his life and teaching, he shows us a man is one who exhibits integrity, discipline, humility, and courage. At Providence we have a successful once-every-month meeting called MANday Night to discuss these four "cornerstones." It takes us two years (24 monthly meetings with a lot of great food) to unpack all four. MANday Night has been exported to churches in different states and countries indicating that the need to remind guys about what it means to be a man is great in other places as well.
For more about MANday Night, contact who can tell you when the next meeting is at Providence (usually the second Monday night of each month) along with menus, the topic, and notes for past meetings.
The subject of MANday Night and men came up during a radio show for which I was asked to be a guest. Andrew Wood, Director of Hope Resource Center, interviewed me in part about the church's role in the Abortion battle and how Christian men in particular should be engaged. You can hear the show here.
I was surprised at the number of texts and emails I received after the show aired—some from men, some from women. It seems there is a hunger for a biblical definition of godly male leadership to those facing the fallout of abortion. Courage regarding abortion and other social ills is not shown by yelling and believing the right things in the face of a politically correct culture. Courage is best shown by reaching into the culture, going behind enemy lines, as it were, and showing kindness to those who have believed the lies and are facing the consequences. Because that's what real men do. We don't just talk. We act. We rescue. We risk. We care. We LEAD.
Listen to the show and consider how God wants you and your church to be redemptive like the early church was in addressing cultural sin and its consequences. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Taboo Subjects

We've all heard the saying, "there are two things one should never discuss: religion and politics."
There's a lot of truth to that adage. Discussing them is a great way to kill a friendly conversation and make enemies. I have to ("get" to?) talk about religion all the's my job! But even I stay as far from discussing politics as I can (except for with my closest friends and family). One reason is because I'm in the business of influence. Even though I do have strong feelings about some issues that have political ramifications, and even though I'm a news junkie and read quite a bit about political issues, it could—no, it would—hurt my influence on many people if I wade often into subjects of politics. I've learned this lesson the hard way. Few matters cause people to be more defensive than ideology—particularly when one's own ideology is being challenged. For example, homosexuality has become political. There was a time (not long ago) when one could have a discussion about it with someone without being labeled and written off as an extremist. Abortion...same thing. Immigration...ditto. Racism... unions... healthcare... guns... marijuana... the Middle East... tax issues... voting laws... Do I need to continue this list? I'm not talking about discussing whether someone should be a Democrat or Republican (a toxic issue to be sure). I'm saying that you can't even discuss issues without offense because they have become so politicized—particularly with millennials. I've never seen such an easily offended generation. Comedians like Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld say so. They won't even perform on college campuses any more. I've witnessed this extreme sensitivity first hand. Recently a college-aged person marched up to me after a sermon, visibly shaking, accusing me of xenophobia and bigotry against hispanics because I mentioned a story in the news of a frequently deported illegal immigrant with a criminal record who had killed a young woman in San Francisco! I didn't even mention his race or country of origin! Yeesh!

It seems being offended is the new moral high ground. People can feel superior over others if they are outraged at someone's insensitivity. It is the new piety. I can share the plight of a victim if I express indignation over their victimization. Then I can vicariously become a victim, too! And THAT is virtual sainthood to the typical millennial.

But the presidential race has just begun. And there's no incumbent running. That means candidates in both parties are spending ridiculous amounts of money to be noticed. This means debates, TV ads, and non-stop media coverage of the horse race will be served to us ad nauseam. Because of it's ubiquity, people are going to want to talk about it. WHAT IS A CHRISTIAN TO DO? You will no doubt have incognito ideologues on both sides of the political aisle asking you coded questions designed to peg you. Once you're pegged, you are labled and influence is virtually impossible. Even more, you will be tempted to rant on Facebook and other social media or on a blog like this one.

Usually we are left with two options: 1. Jump full in and get politically involved and passionate about a political solution, candidate, party; or 2. Disengage entirely.

I've always believed there must be another option.

There is.

I just read a great blog post entitled, "4 Principles for Political Engagement as a Christian." I don't think I could have written one myself that I agree with more. Take some time and read it. It's important that Believers have a well-thought-out strategy for their own involvement in politics. In the post, Jared C. Wilson combines biblical testimony, Christian History (who else, but Augustine?), and common sense to guide the Christian through the tumultuous waters in which we find ourselves these days.

I would only add one additional principle that Wilson touches on but doesn't say outright: Sincerely live out your faith for all to see. One thing that Christians have generally failed to do over the last several decades is to genuinely practice Christlikeness—no, I mean to really live like Jesus and practice his principles! Turn the other cheek, take the load the extra mile, love your enemies, have compassion on the beaten man, forgive 70x7, get up before dawn and go to a solitary place to pray, give your wealth to help the unfortunate, stay up late into the night helping the hurting, open not your mouth to defend yourself, seek and save the lost, don't worry about what you will wear, show meekness, humility, poverty of spirit, boldness to speak truth to hypocrites, and be willing to die for people who hate you. In this way we, "let [our] light[s] shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). When we live like Christ, exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit-filled life, we become a sweet fragrance that can draw even the most jaded, easily offended, vicariously victimized millennial to Christ. Paul said, "against such [a lifestyle], there is no law" (Galatians 5:23), including any "laws" of political correctness. The big problem is, many Christians don't look like Christ. Generally speaking, they themselves can act entitled, be easily offended, and seem holier-than-thou. They don't tip well, don't treat people kindly, and look the other way when someone is in need. They are products of our cultural Christianity, and share it's primary doctrine: God exists to make me happy. This is, of course, a bastardization of our faith. It is a false gospel. Even worse, it is subversive to the true Gospel.

In a strange way, the fact that we are living in a post-Christian America has helped me to see these shortcomings in myself. God, change me. Let me be more concerned about looking like Christ, than looking for a political solution that can make Christians a political majority.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

One more devotional in Psalm 119

We usually study the Bible at Providence Church. Right now we're studying about the Bible. While doing so on Sundays, on the weekdays we're devotionally studying the longest chapter of the Bible, Psalm 119. It, too, is about the Bible

Today’s stanza, perhaps more than any other in this longest of the Psalms, shows the great stress the psalmist is feeling. Reading the first half of the first six verses makes this clear. 

145With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord!
146I call to you; save me,
147I rise before dawn and cry for help;
148My eyes are awake before the watches of the night,
149Hear my voice according to your steadfast love;
150They draw near who persecute me with evil purpose;

The psalmist sounds desperate! He is being hounded by people who want to hurt him. He is pleading with God to hear his cries and save him. He can’t sleep at night. His is a vivid description of situations that many of us have faced. 

Have you ever had people at your workplace try to ruin you? Have you ever been falsely accused? Have you had a boss who made you the scapegoat? Have you been the subject of a frivolous lawsuit, or a malicious rumor, or a cruel joke? Then you, no doubt, can relate to the psalmist. I can definitely relate. 

His response? 

145…I will keep your statutes.
146…that I may observe your testimonies.
147…I hope in your words.
148…that I may meditate on your promise.

He’s determined to hold firmly to God’s word, no matter what. And he is convinced that this trial is only going to give him an opportunity to know God through his word even more.

149…O Lord, according to your justice give me life.

Because he knows God’s word, he knows God’s character. God is just. He will have the final say.

But there is one more thing he knows. And it is something that we all learn when we face trials while clinging to God’s word. He is close. Listen to how the psalmist ends this otherwise intense stanza:

151But you are near, O Lord,
    and all your commandments are true.
152Long have I known from your testimonies
    that you have founded them forever.

Wow! That is a great truth. No matter how hard life gets—no matter how unfairly or cruelly we might be treated—God is near. We sense his nearness most when we hear his voice. We hear his voice when we read his word.

For Christians, hardships and injustice do not make us victims. They bring us closer to to our God who loves us. They make us better.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Another Psalm 119 Devotional

Psalm 119:105-112 (Nun)
This stanza of Psalm 119 begins with verse 105:

105Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path.

It’s probably the most familiar verse in this, the longest of the Psalms. Songs have been written that quote that verse as the primary line. One in particular came out in the 1980s that was written by Michael W. Smith and performed by Amy Grant. It was sung by a generation of Christians in worship:

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.
Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.

Verse 1: 
When I feel afraid, 
And think I've lost my way 
Still, you're there right beside me 
Nothing will I fearAs long as you are near; 
Please be near me to the end.


Verse 2:
I will not forget 
Your love for me and yet, 
My heart forever is wandering. 
Jesus be my guide, 
And hold me to your side, 
And I will love you to the end.

It’s amazing that a line of a Psalm written 3000 years ago can still resonate so profoundly in our hearts today. It’s because it is SO true. When I read and know God’s word, I am not stumbling in the darkness. I know there is meaning to this path I’m on. I see where I’m going. No matter what the circumstances, God gives me his light and confidence that it’s all in his plan. It’s going to be ok.

This truth was practically made known to me (as it probably was to you) when I was a new believer. When I started developing the discipline of having a quiet time and began memorizing Scripture, the darkness and fog that caused me so much fear and stress lifted regarding my life’s purpose and future. Almost suddenly, there was clarity and light! I remember thinking, “Why didn’t I see this a long time ago?” Because God’s word makes things clear.

I think the psalmist realized the same thing. You can see it in the verses following that most famous verse:

106I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
    to keep your righteous rules.
107I am severely afflicted;
    give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
108Accept my freewill offerings of praise, O Lord,
    and teach me your rules.
109I hold my life in my hand continually,
    but I do not forget your law.
110The wicked have laid a snare for me,
    but I do not stray from your precepts.

No matter what life throws at us, the psalmist knows that God’s word puts everything in context, gives everything meaning, and is more valuable than anything. 

111Your testimonies are my heritage forever,
    for they are the joy of my heart.
112I incline my heart to perform your statutes
    forever, to the end.

God, give us the same determination to make your word our joy and light.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Quick Trip to Flower Gap

Dara had an idea. "Let's leave after church and go backpacking overnight for Labor Day." She called Drew who is always wanting an excuse to leave Georgia to get a dose of God's country (the mountains). So we packed our backpacks in the Wagoneer and left after church with the dogs for the Shining Rock Wilderness in North Carolina.
By the time we got there, the sun was near the horizon. Our goal was to make it to Flower Gap and set up camp before dark. If one is daring enough, one can attempt to navigate the extremely rough 4x4 trail (once a silver mine rail spur) to bypass Black Balsam Knob and Tennant Mountain.
Yep. You guessed it. We took the Wagoneer on the trail. The good news is it performed perfectly climbing rocks and forging creeks (worn street tires and all!). This is quite a feat. Even trail rigs struggle with parts of this two- or three-mile trail. Spotters are required frequently, and damage is likely. The trail is so narrow, there are only two or three spots where you can possibly turn around—in fact, the laurel, blueberry bushes, and other brush scrape both sides of the vehicle more often than not. Thankfully, the only damage that occurred was that I broke a weld that holds my tailpipe and muffler, and now it rattles (I need a new muffler anyway). That's it! If you knew what kind of obstacles we faced, you would not believe it would make it at all, let alone finish it unscathed! I'll probably not do that again!
There were some others who braved the 4x4 trail, true rednecks (I say with all affection) who were much more prepared, with their lifted old beater 4x4 Blazers, Jeeps, etc. who made it to Ivestor Gap where they set up Tarp City. There were a couple of vehicles that were a bit newer, and the sight of the fenders and rocker panels of those vehicles struck fear in my heart! They were scratched, dented, and beaten to death! It's a minor miracle I got out of there with only a bit of tailpipe damage. Thanks, Drew, for a great job spotting and plotting my route (and thank God for his grace)!

I must admit, it was fun.

We finally parked the Wag and started hiking. I should say we started "hoofing it" because we had to walk really fast in order to beat the sun which was quickly setting.
We got to Flower Gap on time...but there were three or four groups of college students that beat us there. Not cool. The secret of Flower Gap is no longer...well...secret. Like Max Patch and several other great places that I have gone to all my life and could count on being alone all day, the word is out. I will reserve comment on the college students we saw there, except to say that some were stocked up on pot, some had their music playing, and several left trash laying around. You can probably get the rest. Stinks. Literally. But I'm sounding like an old man.

The campsite in a hemlock grove. Sparky
is wiped out! Mo is still ready to go.
The fact that we were now not going to be camping at Flower Gap meant we needed to really hoof it to find another place in which we could set up camp. We ended up going to Shining Rock Gap, another mile or so past Flower Gap. Along the way we saw several other college students with their ENOs or tents set up. After much searching, with darkness closing in, Drew found a suitable place under some huge hemlock trees. There was a little slope so it really wasn't an optimum place to set up tents, but it was the best we could find, and it worked ok.

Sparky, Mo, & Drew while supper is being prepared.
It was actually cold that night! After eating a dinner of tuna pitas, Jambalaya, and sausage, we went to bed. Dara, Mo, and I in one tent; Sparky and Drew in the other. I slept like a rock.
A spider's web with morning dew-drops
over our tents.

The next morning we ate oatmeal, packed up and headed back toward the Wagoneer through Flower Gap. Awesome. We ate blueberries and hung out there with the college students (some of whom had organized themselves into a 6-person massage line to rub each other down. Just weird. I'll probably not go back there on a Labor Day weekend). I've been coming to this area for around 25 years and haven't ever seen this many people. Not even close. I've been here before and not seen a single person for days. The secret is out. I'm a little saddened about it—particularly about people who are not considerate of nature, laws, and other people. But I'm monologuing again. There were some great people we met on the trail, including some nice college students.

Blueberries were still abundant at Flower Gap. The elevation is approximately 5800 feet there. Nearby Black Balsam Knob is 6214 feet and there are even more blueberries there in places.

After hanging out at Flower Gap and getting our fill of blueberries, we headed back. Drew had to get back to Berry (College). It was a beautiful day. Awesome scenes all around as we walked.

This is Dara at Ivestor Gap. 

Drew reminded us that there was an apple tree on the side of the trail when we were hiking in, but in our haste to beat the fleeting daylight, we missed it somehow. We found it on the way out and the apples were great. I think I could survive on just the food the Appalachians provide for those who look! 

 At Ivestor Gap, we realized that the rednecks (I say with all respect) were firing up their 4x4s to head out together. I was hoping to be in front of them so that we could get out in time not to stress Drew, AND because I was a little afraid that something could happen to my Wag (and that's when you really need rednecks, who are usually quite willing to lend a helping hand). So we had to hoof it again and stayed with the Jeepers (not an easy task) until we got back to the trusty Wag. No worries, it started and we followed the rednecks out. I must say, the Wagoneer is an impressive vehicle. What else can you take downtown to a symphony concert, and take to the mountains four-wheeling and be right at home at both?! The rednecks were impressed, too! It seems everybody loves the Wagoneer.

Sidebar: You must understand, rednecks don't consider that label a pejorative! Especially when the one using it is a redneck (me, as my kids frequently remind me. But I'm the good kind! There are two kinds, you know! Maybe that'll be another post.)!

Scenes along the hike. Click on them to see them larger.

Wagoneers are beautiful anyway, but never so much as they are after an adventure! After loading up the Wag, we followed our new friends out (they really were! They honked and waved at us when we parted ways down the road!). 
After a beautiful ride down the mountain to the hamlet of Bethel, we ate at Jukebox Junction, our favorite sit-down burgers-and-shakes place! We've been coming to this restaurant since 1999.  

What a great, quick adventure with two fantastic people (who happen to be my kids). I'm so thankful. God was everywhere one might care to look—in the beauty of creation all around us, in the conversations on the trail, and even in the small good things (pets, food, ride, people we met) along the way—reminding me of his grace and goodness. It was exactly what I needed!