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126-When Comfort Is Destroyed by The Beautiful...

“Poison Ivy left” reverberated from my lungs and out my mouth, immediately followed by a deep moisture-filled breath as the ache in my legs reminded me that we were probably not on the right trail.  Looking for a route to Cloud Splitter when only seeing it in winter proved to be quite challenging.  The ivy in the Red River Gorge during the summer months can be annoying to say the least, especially when on a thin user trail where you have to do the runway walk as I’ve come to call it, one foot in front of the other on a narrow, invisible tightrope to squeeze through the 12-inch gap between the poisonous plants.

“Are you sure this is the right trail?” quickly became the doubtful question from our group of eighth grade guys whom, residing in the heart of Flint do not typically stand in a single file line hunched under a thick outcropping of Rhododendron, staring at the face of a slab of sandstone they must overcome using only a few small roots for protection.  Stationed at the back of the line, sweating in the Kentucky humidity, I could only respond with, “Probably not, but Topher is scouting it out.  I’m not too excited to go back down what we just came up.”

“I’m not going back down that,” was confirmed by Isaiah, who mid training was unsure if he was going to continue on.  I’m sure that he was having second thoughts about that decision right about now, sweating it out with me—completely out of his element.  Only time could tell at this point-of-no-return as we scrambled up the rock, then regrouped at the top only to find more rock that ushered us into a pine forest with a wider trail system.  (As much as I personally hate technology, I do have my thankful moments when it comes through clutch at a time when you need reassurance—this was one of those times.  We hit the wrong stinking ridge line).

In full confidence that we knew exactly where we were (which now we did), we selected the northbound trail that would take us around an entire valley to the base of the Cloud Splitter trail that we were originally aiming for.  The complaints from the group were quickly replaced with, “I saw a guy on the other side of that mountain!  He’s in a blue shirt… that’s crazy.”  Looking the direction in which I was directed, I captured a glimpse that I have grown to love about the Red, an ocean of large swells full of lush, green trees with light, sandy cliffs emerging near the crest of each one.  Shouts of concern (or maybe it was just plain excitement that there were others as lost as we were), echoed across the valley awaiting the responding party, one of whom apparently wore a blue shirt.  The realization that they ‘weren’t in Kansas anymore’ came more into focus as the crew hiked the few-mile detour, talking and taking pictures of a bunch of trees with amazement.  More rock scrambles took on a familiarity for them as we approached the split in the cliff line ahead that gives this summit its name.  “What the heck?” Mani spoke for the group as they watched Topher demonstrate the shimmy and climb that led us to a wider crack 20-feet deep with a flat, sandy floor on which we felt more comfortable.  This place had Tomb Raider all over it as we snaked up a ramped log, then crawled through a hole, and lastly over some smaller, cammed logs made into makeshift steps leading to a break in the darkness.  Around the corner to the right daylight and that moist, Kentucky heat, flooded into the hole in the side of the mountain on which we now stood… not as boys from Flint, but as a team of adventurers staring out at the reward of our labors.  A reward that was buried deep in our hearts, the satisfaction of knowing that we one made it, and two would likely live to tell the tale.

As it turns out, Cloud Splitter was the highlight for most of our guys on this trip.  We’re so proud of Isaiah, Elijah, Ja’Quan, and Mani for taking on the challenge, not just of a strenuous hike, but for accepting the invitation to begin with back in March.  They met with us every week for 10 weeks, made the long treks down to Madison Heights to learn how to rock climb and more importantly engaged with a bunch of guys who were different ages with different up-bringing’s and backgrounds.  Venturing out from comfort requires courage and these guys clearly have what it takes.  “I just want to go home and take a shower; then can we drive back to Kentucky?”  Ja’Quan said on our way to his house.

“I wish we could,” was all I could muster as my heart broke as we drove through the northwest end of the city which was left in disarray after the major car manufactures moved out.  Despite all odds that may be against them, what’s next for these adventurers will be determined by their next set of choices, which is true for every one of us isn’t it?  When’s the last time you were uncomfortable?  How long has it been since you have had a story to tell?  I believe life is an adventure and it’s God’s plan for us to live inside the story He has designed for us.  Take it from a group of eighth grade young men and get out there!


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