Prepared But Not READY!
Written by Guest Blogger & Ch8se Champion: Alicia "AyJay" Jones
After our most fabulous Ch8serversary celebration and camp out last month, I knew this Ch8se Ch8mpion had to follow up with planning and leading a spectacular ch8se with multiple waterfalls. As Ch8se Ch8mpions we are tasked to scout, plan, organize and lead several ch8ses per year. October 9th was my chosen date and I had planned a re-ch8se of a route that our good friend, Chef Rod led us on sometime last year. This route included witnessing several roadside waterfalls enroute to the trailhead where we'd park and hike to view 3 more. I was especially geeked about leading this ch8se because my good sister friend, Tam from Houston flew in town to hike with us. I was also ecstatic because I asked all of the ladies to bring ground cover and pack sandwiches or wrap lunches so that we could eat lunch at the base of the waterfall, a ch8se first.
After leaving our first meet up spot, our plan was to stop at the Smokey Mountain Visitors center at 10am to meet 3 more cars of participants to add to our caravan. Everyone arrived in a timely fashion and I shared with the 24 ladies in attendance some info. on the first waterfall that we would encounter.
Cullasaja is a Cherokee word meaning honey locust place. The correct pronunciation is cool-uh-SAY-juh and it refers to the sweet gum that's within the seed pods of the honey locust tree. Cullasaja falls sits in the valley gorge of the Nantahala National Forest and is part of the Mountain Waters Scenic Byway (Hwy 64) in Macon County, North Carolina. The dense morning fog had lifted as our caravan was on its way and the weather was absolutely perfect as we ascended the mountains. We slowed down the caravan to a crawl as we took in a good glimpse of Cullusaja falls roaring in the valley. There was no roadside shoulder to pull over to witness her beauty up close so we continued on to Driftwood Falls better known as Bust Ya Butt Falls. The rock formation on the other side of this waterfall is smooth and there was a rope attached to where brave and adventurous souls use that rock as a natural slide and swimming hole. The rest of the large boulders lining this river area were very slippery, hence the name. Our large caravan was able to pull over, park along the shoulder and experience the beauty of this waterfall. After many pictures and several ladies getting up close and personal on the rocks in that river to fully embr8ce the ch8se, we gathered to continue on. I am happy to write that no one allowed this waterfall the chance to live up to its name.
It had rained three days during the week before our ch8se so we knew it would make for great waterfall flow. We did not realize just how much until we descended the steps leading down to Dry Falls. It was absolutely magnificent to behold. We had visited before so I waited to see the reactions of some of the ladies who hadn't witnessed the grandeur of Dry Falls. The rainbow on the river was sparkling and the massive roar of the falling water was breathtaking. Dry Falls in all of its Spectacularness (yea, that's a word) brought one of our ch8sers to tears. She was celebrating her birthday the following day and had decided at the last minute to come ch8se with us. We certainly would have spent more time marveling and taking in the majestic Dry Falls but we knew how difficult it was for us to find parking and wanted to allow for others to get their chance to witness that beauty. So again, we gathered our crew and our caravan continued.
As we approached Bridal Veil Falls, I spotted another small waterfall on the mountainside and pointed it out to Camille, Rhonda and a few others. I wanted it to be counted in the waterfall tally for the day as there is a competitive thing going on between us Ch8se Ch8mpions with our planning. Bridal Veil Falls had a more forceful flow as it did our last visit.
There is also a cool road underneath where people could walk under the falls. Although it was not nearly as picturesque as Dry Falls. the memories we created while at Bridal Veil are priceless. On a prior ch8se, I had recently created a dance that I dubbed the Waterfall Wiggle. Although this wiggle dance is only to be performed in the presence of a waterfall, it is sure to be the latest dance craze (in my mind). I gathered a few ladies and after my quick tutorial, several of them were ready to give it a shot as we stood under the rushing waters of Bridal Veil falls. Hopefully, the video is attached to this blog so you can share in knowing that you saw the waterfall wiggle first before going viral.
After more roadside and waterfall shenanigans, our caravan was heading to Glenn Falls trailhead. We ventured down the trail to experience three waterfall areas along this descending route. We stopped at each area to reflect, embr8ce the ch8se, take selfies, group pics and just enjoy the sights and sounds of the waterfalls. When we reached the base of the falls, everyone found them a place to sit and have lunch. Some ladies took off their shoes and dipped their feet in the cool waters, others shared what they brought for lunch and we all had great conversations while sitting in the woods. After we all finished, the area was just as clean as we found it since all of our participants practiced the Leave No Trace concept.
We started our ascent back to the parking lot and it was truly an uphill hike. Our large group separated at some point as the slower hikers were in the back of the pack with 2 Ch8se Ch8mpions who donned walkie talkies on their backpacks. At the head of the pack, I'd started feeling like I had heartburn and felt a little warmer than usual. As we kept hiking upward, the feeling in my chest tightened and my hands started tingling. I stopped the pack and told them I was feeling some kinda way and felt like I needed to belch. I sat down as everyone expressed concern and tried to offer assistance. I was able to pull myself together a bit after a few sips of water and continued on at the encouragement of my crew. I wasn't sure of how far away from the trailhead we actually were at that time but I know I wanted to get as close to it as possible in case I started feeling worse. However, I don't think we hiked much further before I had to stop and make clear that I really did
not feel well at all. The tightening in my chest was more defined and I was sweating. The palms of both hands were tingling like crazy and I could feel my heart racing. I sat down on the trail and as everyone gathered around to assist, I felt overwhelmed and closed in. The scramble of everyone around me was just too much and I knew I needed to calm myself. Several of the ladies jumped into action as the Registered Nurse Lynn took my wrist to check my pulse. Then someone placed a smartwatch on me.
A first time ch8ser, Dr. Nicole was the next voice that I heard. I had met her at a function weeks ago and told her about our monthly hikes. She decided to join us on this day. Amidst the noise of concerned voices, I focused on hers as she knelt beside me gathering info. and keeping me engaged. I told Deb to have everyone continue on and to go seek help because I was feeling worse. I started to feel as if I were going to pass out so I layed down on one elbow then to the ground. Nicole repositioned herself in front of me and continued to speak to me. At this point, I heard in the faint distance the waterfall and Nicole's voice calling my name. "AyJay stay with me, AyJay stay with me". The sound of rushing water, Nicole's plea and my willpower to not fall into the abyss of unconsciousness helped me to not pass out. I began to control my breathing and tapped into the energy from the earth as I layed on the ground thinking about how to calm myself down. Nature is a healing place for me and I knew I could focus to allow it to work within me. There was a hiker who stopped to assist. Brent said he was a radiologist and a runner. After hearing my symptoms, he explained that he had once experienced that same symptoms during a race and it was determined that he was dehydrated.
As I gathered myself to sit up and sip some water, I opened my eyes to see only a few people around. Nurse Lynn standing at my feet where she had been on duty for not only a patient but also for her sister friend. I saw Brent and Nicole then I heard the quick patter of feet approaching and heavy breathing. It was the Ch8se Ch8mp herself, Deb, who had run towards the parking lot to get a better signal on the Garmin device to call for help. Although we had invested in this device over a year ago, we had not had to use it. She ran back to deliver the message that help was on the way. I felt more relieved and actually had started feeling a bit better after eating the rest of the orange and a few more sips of water.
I have no idea what any of the time frame was but I do know that it seemed like two EMT's arrived by my side in no time. Matthew and Molly came and spun into action hooking me up to stuff to monitor vitals. As I was starting to feel better, my body was still visibly and randomly shaking. EMT Matt had a great sense of humor and made me smile and laugh a bit as I continued to concentrate on my breathing to calm down. After hearing my vitals were better, I was relieved in knowing the worst part of whatever was happening within was subsiding. Again I heard the quick patter of feet approaching but this time it was an entire rescue crew with a rescue basket also known as a litter. This litter had a big wheel on the bottom center of it. After they strapped me in we were off on an uphill hike to the parking lot.
When I opened my eyes, I saw about 6 or 7 people holding onto the litter and guiding it up the trail. At some point, one of the Macon County rescue persons told everyone to stop and switch out. Even though the litter had a wheel, they still had to lift the basket at different locations to
maneuver over tree roots, boulders and around switchbacks along the trail. I told the rescue crew that their teamwork was the best I've seen in a long time and thanked them for doing their job with care and concern. When I opened my eyes, I saw the tree tops, the sun shining through the woods and the blue sky. It was indeed a totally different viewpoint but one we always remind our hikers to seek during a ch8se. Stop and look up, we tell them because most of the time while hiking, we are looking down. Of course we must ensure proper foot placement between tree roots and large rocks and avoid injury. So stopping to look up to catch a bird flying through the trees, a leaf falling, a distinct tree hole, the sun rays or whatever joyful sight there is to behold at that moment is part of what we call, Embr8cing The Ch8se.
The rescuers finally wheeled the litter to the top of the trail and into the parking lot. I looked around and the ladies were all relieved to see that I was ok. As I was being transferred from the litter to the stretcher, Camille caught on her dash board clock the time of 4:44pm.
If you're not aware of the significance of what the number 444 means to Ch8sing Waterfalls please read the About section on our website and more specifically the blog called Pieces of 4:44, part 1. But for now, just know that that number appears on just about every ch8se and we are assured that another ch8se has been watched over by an Angel. EMT Molly attended to me in the ambulance and we had a great conversation about the will to survive and how much power that holds within the mindset of an injured person. I shared with her that I had been watching a series called Extreme Rescues and clearly the people who survived such tragic accidents tapped into their will power to survive.
I am so grateful that our ch8sing waterfalls crew are a group of resilient women who are trustworthy, empathetic and carry various skillsets. Over the course of the four years of ch8sing waterfalls existence, Deb and I had spoken about obtaining injury response training for our tried and true hikers so that we could prepare ourselves for the inevitable. I've expressed that the training should be a live simulation type training because we would never know how people responded to trauma until actually faced with it. Who the heck knew it would be I, Awesome Ay Jay the extraordinary Ch8se Ch8mpion and hike leader of the day that would need a rescue team to extract me from the depths of the woods? Wow!
I am certainly grateful for the quick actions of Nurse Lynn, Dr. Nicole, Brent, Deb, other ladies whom I know gave the EMT's more info. when they arrived and helped to direct the rescue crew vehicles into the crowded trailhead. I am thankful for all of the ladies in the sister circle of prayer conducted on my behalf when everyone returned safely to the trailhead. I am blessed to know for sure that the human body is a resilient temple and given the nutrients it needs to repair and rejuvenate itself, it will.
Dehydration was all that the hospital could diagnose as all of the tests they ran showed great numbers. This is indeed a great lesson that I have learned and will continue to impress upon our hikers to start hydrating the day before our hikes. Resilient people quickly look for the lessons in challenging situations and use them to fuel the next success. Our ch8se team met and evaluated what occurred and how we could ensure our response to the next situation would be just as smooth as things occurred on Glenn Falls Trail. I will also implement the "cheers" technique during our hikes so that everyone takes out their water, we toast to something and take sips of water along the way.
"What makes people RESILIENT is the ability to find humor and irony in situations that would otherwise overpower you." - Amy Tan