Winter Break

January 7, 2018

 

On a rainy Friday, just before Christmas, in a singular, freak moment that night - I slipped on wet concrete, my feet giving way from under me, with all 200 of my pounds landing on my left wrist and arm as I vainly tried to break my fall.....

 

And I knew as soon as I landed with a sickening thud, I'd hurt myself.

 

I stumbled back to my feet, bought an ice cup at a convenience store, poured the ice into a bag, placed it against my swelling wrist and arm, and carried on. I even worked the next day without missing a beat, with a brace on my arm and wrist. But the damage was done.....

 

 

Yikes. And I have no insurance.

 

But I do have the very good fortune of having a niece whose fiance is also a doctor; so when Kamal arrived Sunday evening at my sister's house in Mobile, he did a quick examination of my arm and wrist. He palpated the bones in my arm and wrist, did a series of tests relating to movement, and drew a fairly quick conclusion:

 

At best, it was a severe sprain of my wrist; but more than likely, I have what's known as a "green stick fracture" of my radial bone just above the wrist - where the bone bends enough to crack but not break completely. This type of fracture often happens in younger children; but given how I landed, Kamal's explanation made sense. He also said that my arm likely didn't need surgery.

 

So I've been nursing it since, resting it, elevating it, icing it, keeping it in a brace. I've slowly regained movement and flexibility (though it's still mighty sore) and the rather ghastly looking bruising has faded. Still, full recovery is likely to be measured in weeks rather than days.

 

Spending Christmas with my family negated the pain a good bit however. I was able to make an extended stay, as we celebrated the rare time we had to spend together. It was a joy watching everyone exchange gifts and seeing their expressions of gratitude to each other. For me, I got a much needed, brand new CF card and flash drives as gifts, a ton of candy, and even new boxers and socks. I really needed new socks. My sister is totally awesome by the way for remembering that. But I digress......

 

I eventually dragged myself out of the house long enough just to capture anything I could; so on Tuesday evening I drove out to the north end of Dauphin Island to have a little fun with my newly-acquired 10-stop neutral density filter - a filter that helps slow down my shutter speed for interesting effects, particularly with moving water. So the choppy waters of the Gulf of Mexico were suddenly smoothed over into a foggy, glassy haze as they crashed over the jetties on the island:

I also found an opportunistic blue heron, who perhaps thought I was a fisherman so he could sweep in if I made a catch. So he didn't seem to mind my proximity:

When I got back home later in the week, there was a bit of a "fish out of water" feeling for me. (Though there were no blue heron nearby that would mistake me for an actual fish, thankfully) I had finally decided to concentrate on my photography full time, with the "day job" taking a back seat and eventually being phased out January 6. Instead of working seemingly endless ten hour days at the day job, I had the majority of my week wide open, to plan and navigate as I pleased.

 

So my days have been filled with resting my arm and my battered body, a "winter break" I hadn't anticipated, but needed all the same - organizing, studying, reading, meditating, praying, just trying to find that center again after being knocked off for quite a while.

 

Yet still, this restless Type A guy cannot sit still for long, even when injured. And what else could I do but have myself a little adventure?

 

But this particular adventure however wasn't exactly what I had in mind........

 

I drove up to Cataloochee Ranch on New Year's Eve to visit a friend, with a light snow falling and rime ice coating the trees and grassy areas:

 

 

 

 

Things seemed fine as I headed out towards Asheville, with Johnson City my destination in hopes of maybe catching a frozen waterfall or two in the area on New Year's Day, maybe a visit to Roan Mountain if the roads cooperated.

 

But as I neared Asheville around 3:30 PM, I noticed the snow had changed to a mist or freezing drizzle; and that drizzle began freezing to my windshield. The temperature gauge on my car read 26 degrees. I cranked up the heat in my defroster to try and counter the accumulating ice, but it only worked in a limited way. My windshield wipers had frozen too, so my visibility was.......tricky at times.

 

Once I reached Interstate 240, the temperature had dropped to 24, and it was there that I witnessed the oncoming carnage.

 

The drizzle that was freezing to my windshield was now coating the roads as well, flash freezing on contact. I saw numerous cars that had slid off to the shoulder from driving too fast on the icy roads, and I witnessed an accident on an overpass just before the I-26 split from US 19/23.

 

I had to think fast, so I prayed, then very carefully crossed the wide bridge over the Asheville River Arts District - it was then I felt God leading me to not take I-26 north as everyone else seemed intent on doing.

 

I instead exited on what turned out to be a rather empty Merrimon Avenue, and followed it north into Weaverville. As long as I drove slowly and kept a safe distance from the vehicles in front of me, I knew I'd be fine.

 

I thought of entering I-26 north of Weaverville at that point, but a conversation with a motorist at a gas station just before the on ramp of 26 nixed that idea:

 

Me: "It's starting to get a bit iffy out there."

 

Motorist: "Yeah, I just got off 26 and slid at the bridge. It's a wonder I didn't hit anyone."

 

Me: "I think you've just made my mind up for me. I'm sticking to the back roads."

 

I exited my car briefly just to test the pavement, and indeed there was a very light glaze of ice; not a sheet of ice, but just enough to make things dicey if I drove too fast. No way I was going to push my luck driving at the higher speeds of the interstate with freezing drizzle, especially with what I knew were unaware drivers on that road. By that point, the temperature had dropped to 22.....

 

I briefly considered going back home, even getting a motel room in Mars Hill, but I felt God leading me to carry on, as insane as it sounds.

 

I knew that the main route to Johnson City aside from I-26 was the Old Mars Hill Highway, also known as Old US 23 (US 23 was rerouted to I-26 when the road was completed several years ago). I also knew that after exit 9 on I-26 that the grade of the interstate would steepen dramatically as it approached Sam's Gap into Tennessee. It would also be much higher elevated than Old 23 for most of that route, and much more susceptible to the elements.

 

Finally, I knew there would be very few, if any, vehicles on that old route. On the odd chance I slid, the worst I would do would end up on the shoulder, maybe knock over a mailbox. I also could drive at my own pace and not worry so much about tailgaters. So I stayed on Old 23, keeping my speeds around 25 MPH as I made the gradual climb up to Sam's Gap, the only place where that old route runs concurrent with I-26.

 

Once I reached Sam's Gap, it was 14 degrees. Old 23 runs alongside I-26 for a few hundred yards before tailing off to descend down the mountain. I looked to my right to see a few cars that had either pulled off to the side or slid off the road. I felt I had made the right decision.....

 

But now, I was going downhill on a winding road with a few hearty curves and switchbacks; and had become totally white as I crossed over Sam's Gap. I slowed to a virtual crawl by then.....

 

It should be noted here that I typically don't get nervous behind the wheel, especially with nearly two million miles of driving in 27 years; but boy, was I quaking as I slowly navigated down the mountain into Flag Pond! I'd have taken an image of the road to give an idea of what I was up against, but with one broken arm and my other on the steering wheel, I wasn't about to go all daredevil. I just wanted to get back to level ground.

 

Which I did, and safely. Thankfully the freezing drizzle had changed to snow as I approached Flag Pond, and later, Erwin. The accumulating snow had a very powdery consistency to it with the frigid temperatures, making it much easier to navigate. By the time I reached the lower elevations of Erwin, the temperature moderated, Interstate 26 was clear; and I could finally finish my trek at normal speeds to Johnson City. I woofed down a Mellow Mushroom pizza and had a cold beer or two in celebration of my arrival, despite the elements.

 

Glory be to God. Seriously. Again, I refer to Psalm 37:23-24, verses I wholeheartedly live by:

 

"The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the Lord is the One who holds his hand."

 

I later had found that the whole of Asheville was more or less gridlocked that evening with frozen roads and stranded motorists, so I felt extremely fortunate to somehow escape.....

 

I conked out before the New Year was rung in (I heard Mariah Carey had bombed again, but I digress), as we old folks need our sleep.

 

In the morning, I decided to trek out to Laurel Run Park west of Kingsport, in hopes of catching some frozen waterfalls. And the place delivered:

 

 

 

But I wasn't done.

 

I went out a couple days later to take advantage of the frigid weather and its effect on the cascades and streams in the area, so I drove over to the dangerous Cullasaja River, a place I nearly died several years ago in another freak accident. With only three usable limbs, I needed to be super careful not only in the locations I chose, but my footing as well. Everything was super icy.

 

I chose a location just above Cullasaja Falls, as I knew I would have extreme difficulty scrambling the steep path to the base of that particular falls, so I chose a slightly easier path. I had to tread carefully, but I found a few nice places to capture that icy, dangerous river:

 

 

 

 

It's only the first week of January. There's plenty of time left in this wintry season, God willing.

 

And though I caught an unfortunate "break" with my injury, there's still plenty of time to find more winter glory as I slowly recover and heal. I need to slow down a little anyway.....

 

Yet somehow I've managed to keep the ball rolling anyway, only by God's grace and goodness. I haven't captured anything earth shattering at this point, but I'm thankful to have caught what I have so far.

 

I'm really looking forward to what the remainder of this "winter break" brings - a break away (permanently) from the "day job," a break away from the preconceived notions of what a "normal" life looks like to the conventional folk out there.

 

It's real life - adventurous, daring, mysterious.

 

And I cannot wait to tackle it head on.......

 

 

 

 

 

 

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