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A few weeks ago I wrote an article about 24 days of extreme outdoor hiking, repelling, rock climbing, and canoeing I did with a group called Outward Bound North Carolina some 34 years ago. I lost 30 pounds during that time and looked like a survivor of a Nazi death camp at the end. I was young and dumb then.
Now, I’m just old and dumb.
But I came up with a great idea to take my 15-year-old, Jenny, out into the woods for four days of serious extreme outdoor sports to include rock climbing, cave exploring, and zip lining over Red River Gorge at heights of more than 300 feet.
Now Jenny is anything but a Tom-boy. She is a girly-girl from way back, and of my four girls, she is the girliest of girls that I have helped bring to life on this world.
So, what happens when girly-girl meets crazy country?
We left last Friday morning and met up at with the other campers at Versailles, Ky., at a decrepit old farm. It was there that we met our survival guide, “Ranger Randy,” who I saw out in the middle of a field upon arrival.
Ranger Randy was kneeling down low with his ear on the ground. He appeared to be a grizzled old guide, and without moving his head, looked at me. We locked eyes in silence. He was about six feet tall, had skin like old leather, with long grey hair tied in a pony tail, wearing mirrored sun glasses and a tattered cowboy hat. He wore a ragged pair of jeans and a dirty orange tank top. He had tattoos all over his arms and I was impressed that the spelling was correct on about as many of them as he had teeth in his head. It appeared he was not a slave to fashion.
Jenny cautiously asked me, “What’s the old deranged hobo doing?”
I said, “That’s not a deranged hobo, that’s our guide. I think Indians used to put their ear to the ground to tell if someone was coming.”
Jenny looked down at Ranger Randy and said, “Can you really tell anything by putting your ear to the ground like that?”
Ranger Randy held his hand up for silence and said a few seconds later, “A four- wheel ATV came this way 30 minutes ago.”
“Really? Anything else?”
“The front right tire was well worn and needed air. The engine needs a tune-up and occasionally backfires. It was painted blue. The guy driving it was wearing a University of Kentucky t-shirt and a blue bandana while spitting chewing tobacco. That’s about it.”
“Holy moley! You can tell all that by listening to the ground?”
“Nope. I slipped and fell and the ATV ran over my ear. Help me get up and brush this chewing tobacco off.”
Ranger Randy got up in front of the four families going on the trip and said, “Hello, campers. My name is Ranger Randy. I’ll be your survival guide for the next few days out in the wilds of Red River Gorge. I hope you bunch of candy fannies are all in good shape, because you’re going to need to be. Any questions?”
Camper Dave asked shyly, “Why do we have to be in good shape?”
“Because somebody has to push the van so I can clutch start it.”
Camper Chuck, a middle-aged potbellied bald man asked dubiously, “I have a question. Are you in good shape?”
Ranger Randy laughed derisively at Camper Chuck and said, “Heck, yeah I’m in good shape. I’ve been walking everywhere since they repossessed my truck and revoked my license last year. Now get in that van over there that I borrowed from my cousin. He’s in jail right now so I’m sure he won’t mind when he finds out I got it.”
There wasn’t enough room in the van, or seat belts for that matter. But once we pushed it off the gravel hill and Ranger Randy clutch started it, Jenny and I held on to the luggage rack on the roof. He gave each of us a flashlight, as Ranger Randy’s cousin must have thought headlights were a needless accessory. We headed deep into the wilds of Red River Gorge country. We spent a good two hours on a mostly potholed, curvy, mud road that always went up until we came to Ranger Randy’s “campground,” which looked suspiciously like an illegal dump site. The van came to a stop, backfired twice and Ranger Randy said, “Alright campers, it’s time to get out.”
Jenny looked up at me and said, “Where’s the cabins, Daddy?”
Ranger Randy heard that and hooted. I learned later by experience that Ranger Randy hooted a lot.
“Cabins? We don’t need no stinking cabins! Tents and cabins are for candy fannies. We’re going to just stretch this old tarp out on top of those rusty 55-gallon chemical drums for shelter. Watch that liquid dripping out from them. I don’t know what it is, but it’ll take the soles right off you shoes. Don’t nobody give me any lip either, or I’ll put your sleeping bag under the hole.”
Nobody gave Ranger Randy any “lip,” but I still ended up under the hole where vulture poop occasionally came in like snowballs from the bad place.Ranger Randy gathered all the campers around after we got settled and said, “All right, you bunch of candies, I’ve got a few camp rules here.
“The bathroom is that outhouse I’ve constructed over there between the poison ivy and the nest of copperhead snake holes. Don’t go pass it in the dark because you’ll drop off the cliff and land in the creek where the water moccasins like to procreate. By the way, I learned that new word just for you city folk. I didn’t have any money for toilet paper, so just be careful what leaves you pick up when you do your business. Also, I just want to warn you it can be dangerous in the woods, what with the bears and all. You don’t have a gun, so I want you to take this can of pepper spray with you for protection at all times. Also, tie this little bell onto your backpack. The noise will alert the bears that you’re coming down the trails. Now remember, there are black bears and brown bears in these woods. The brown bears are the biggest and meanest. You need to check for their ‘sign’ as we go down the trails as well so we don’t have any surprises.”
“Sign? What’s sign?”
“Bear poop. That way you can tell the difference between the two types of bear.”
“They poop different?”
“Well, black bear poop has seed and grain mixed in. On the other hand, brown bear poop tends to smell like pepper, and occasionally you’ll see some small bells in it. Now get some sleep. It’ll be a long day tomorrow.”
We were all lured to sleep by the melodious sound of wolves in the background and Ranger Randy’s freight train snores. The adventure was about to begin.
Writer’s note: This is the first part of a two-part story on an extreme adventure camp that my 15-year-old daughter, Jenny, and I took together. See the rest of the story in next week’s Springfield Sun.