In case you didn’t know about the adventure we were undertaking, you may want to check out this short post: http://rapaleo.momswithra.org/wp/?p=361
Because we had little idea how long it would take or if it was even possible to get into the cabin area, we left very early. We were up at 4:00 AM, on the road by 5:15 with a stocked car (donations for those who stayed and are rebuilding), and at the National Guard checkpoint by around 8:00 AM.
For us, we took a wagon, adjustable walking sticks, extra food and water, backpacks, hats, rope, etc…
The National Guard was checking folks for ID and validation they had property in the area. Luckily, my aunt and uncle had supplied us with that documentation. We were able to pass the first N.G. road block and carefully make our way down a road that had sections/entire lanes missing. At a certain point, there was another road block. We were told not to pass that one, but to park and walk in. We parked the car, got out the wagon, loaded it, and set off down the now severely damaged road, where there were points where the asphalt was intact, but there was no soil under the asphalt. There were telephone poles down and wires everywhere. There were cars barely visible in mud. Although the river was much lower, it was still high and running outside its normal course. Although I had seen pictures of the town, I couldn’t figure out what was what. It now made sense. All of the landmarks were gone; cabins and businesses were gone down the river like they never existed to begin with. I took several videos to send to my aunt and uncle, so they could get their bearings before their trip up. We walked through town. The Town Hall had crashed into the General Store and had 20-30 feet of debris piled up against it. Past the General Store, the town ceased to exist. Everything was gone, including the road. Where 2 small creeks joined, there was now a raging river running down what used to be the road. This was a week after the rains stopped. I wonder if the course of the river will be forever changed.
When I hear about folks refusing to be evacuated, I used to think of them as insane. For this area, it sort of makes sense. The folks who live here year round are used to being snowed in for long lengths of time. They’re generally well stocked and are true “mountaineers.” Those folks that stayed built 2 bridges that were very helpful for us, as we had 2 rivers to cross. The first was made of 2 fallen trees with boards (likely scrap wood from what used to be homes) secured between them. The second was… well…. terrifying. It was an extension ladder, pretty fully extended from the bank of the river to a downed tree in the middle of the river. There was then another extension ladder from the downed tree to the bank on the other side. Both ladders had wood on top of them, wood that appeared to be cracking. At this point, we packed our backpacks, left our wagon behind (something we figured would happen), said a prayer, and over the extension ladders we went! I’m not sure if it was comforting or alarming that there were life jackets on either side of the river. At this point, I realized I was not a mountaineer, but so proud of the folks for their craftiness and honored we were allowed to cross there.
From that point, we had hoped to wind our way along the road, knowing it would be down to rock and debris, but thinking it would be slowly passable. WRONG! The old little dirt road we were trying to get back on was now one of the two creeks, rivers, whatever you want to call them. Anywhere near the valley floor was not going to be possible to walk. Luckily, some hardy folks happened by and told us about a trail. So, up the big mountain we went!
I was so glad to have my walking sticks with me. At times, the terrain was steep, and my feet don’t have the bend in them that they should. My walking sticks seem to help keep my posture good (not sure how that works, but I usually end of with low back pain walking long ways without them, but not at all with them). They also help me with stability. We kept walking up, a lot higher than I wished we had, and was afraid we’d be too high up to get down to the cabin. The cabin is right on the river, but we had a hard time finding it through the forest trees. I was becoming discouraged at this point, when I saw a home I recognized, and knew we were close. I can’t believe my husband found a way to get down the mountain side that I was able to do. I can’t begin to describe it, other than to say I couldn’t photograph it as it was so high. But down we went, careful as the ground had been wet. Boulders and small mudslides had come down, leaving behind a very unsteady loose path. We were now at the bottom near the river, maybe 200-300 feet up from the cabin, but of course, on the wrong side of the river. At this point, I realized my limitations. I was not going to be able to cross the river, nor was my son (who, by the way, was such a trooper!). My husband tied a rope to a tree, tied it around himself, and slowly (and to me terrifyingly) made it across the river.
The cabin was in very good shape considering its proximity to the river. There were trees down, the footbridge is gone like it never existed, and there’s some deck damage. The erosion is crazy, and there’s little of anything to walk on at the opposite side of the river. The mountain side is probably 3-5 feet from the river.
After my husband finished making all of the repairs he could and helped out the neighbor with a bit of food and water (she, a true mountaineer, stayed behind and is watching over everything), he came back across the river. In the pic below, note my crocs, my shoe of choice for years, worn only that day in case I had to get real wet!
So, we went back up the mountain. This was hard. Twice, I had to ask my husband to give my butt a shove so I could get up. Still, we got up, came back down the trail, went back over the scary ladder bridge, got our wagon, went over another bridge, then made our way back through town to the car. I’m trying to remember how long the walk took, but I believe the round trip (including cabin fix time) was close to 7 hours, maybe more. By now, there were several folks in town, and the fire station was open. We loaded our wagon and a man’s ATV with supplies we brought in (food, dog food, nails, screws, cleaning supplies, toiletries, water, gloves, masks, etc…). We took them to the fire station. We tried to make contact with some friends of my aunt and uncle’s before leaving, but they were probably out building a bridge somewhere! We then left and were home by about 8:00 PM. What a day!
So, how am I doing? I thought I had to be crazy to take something like this on. Maybe insane. Yet I did it, and I did it without too much difficulty, granting I didn’t try to get across the river. I did take 2 ibuprofen, 1 after we ascended the mountain from the cabin, and the other in the car on the way home. My neck was stiff while driving home, either from the backpack or using the walking sticks so much. By this morning, I feel remarkably great, I daresay better than my husband. In all fairness, he had some extra duty (crossing the river, fixing the cabin, carrying heavier things, helping our son) than I did. Still, my body feels really good, and in fact, I have definite increased range of motion in my knees (can somebody explain that?) So, the trip didn’t “do me in” as it would have pre-Paleo, and I surprisingly rocked that adventure, given my 17 years with RA. And I’m celebrating it!