Friday, June 23, 2017

For the past four years I've been part of a fundraising effort for JDRF or Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The idea to use hiking as a potential source of revenue for the fundraising was the brainchild of yours truly and my lifelong friend, Misty Kern. At the time, Misty was a store manager in Colonial Heights and asked me if I would be willing to do a group hike to a destination asking for a donation to join the group. We settled on a five dollar donation and picked the Sand Cave as the first trip for the JDRF hiking crew. Having success in our initial hike we continued the tradition each year with last year's trip having 57 people hike to the Sand Cave.
Some of our group at the Great Channels of Virginia. A truly unforgettable day.

This year I switched gears and locations, choosing to lead the JDRF hike to the Great Channels of Virginia and making our event link open to the public. My usual group of friends shared the link religiously and before you knew it, the potential for the largest group hike I've ever been a part of begin to take shape. Now before we go any further, I can hear the whispers from the "lifers" and "purists" who would scoff at the idea of that many people on the trail together and let me say this, get over yourself and put the interest of something bigger than you and you'll be rewarded. One of my biggest fears would be causing damage or litter to a relatively pristine location. In my event link, I cautioned everyone to be good stewards of the trail as well as what to expect once we were on the mountain. Perhaps even greater than that fear was where in the world would I park that many cars on Brumley Mountain.
Parking on Brumley Mountain.
Someone is excited to hike.
Our group heading up the mountain.

The JDRF hike is one of the few times each year that I can lure my wife away from CSI marathons and the couch so when I told her we could see as many as 80 people on the hike, she lowered a brow, and laughed, "yeah right!" Meanwhile, I hyped, shared, and answered questions that kept my messenger buzzing leading up to the day of the hike. I've always been incredibly hopeful and when I'm passionate about something, I pour my heart into it. I KNEW this hike would be special.
Old Man Winter spotting near the Great Channels of  Virginia.
Resting at the Fire Tower.
And more of the group hanging out in the Channels.
Justin and his son Darrel.

The weather even wanted the hike to be a success with perfect skies and temperatures the morning of the hike. Amber and I loaded up the truck and headed to Abingdon to meet everyone. I arrived at the Food City parking lot to find it empty with the exception of some early morning shoppers. I was thirty minutes early, more people would come...I KNEW it. I went in bought some snacks and while I was paying I noticed two other hikers walking in to do the same thing. I thought, we will at least have four people. Back in the parking lot, a nonstop stream of cars were pulling in. Some familiar faces were on the scene but a majority of people there for the hike with Jason Horton were strangers. Looking back on it, I was overwhelmed to say the least. I grabbed my envelope and a pen. I introduced myself, shook hands, and collected money. I found most people were more than willing to donate more than five dollars for a good cause. People continued to pour into the parking lot. Whole families, brothers and sisters, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, the group size was skyrocketing.  I knew I had several people waiting on us at the trail head on Brumley including my District Manager, Les McSwain. If anyone could organize a group of rowdy hikers, it would be him.
#2, Strickler, Hershel, and Shane.
Barry Cole (lime green shirt) was a surprise guest the morning of the hike from Chattanooga.
Misty and Amber have became good friends, it helps them cope with dealing with me.

I encouraged everyone to do some meet and greets of their own and even carpool if they felt comfortable. By the time we left Abingdon for the trail, our line was 20+ cars. I rode somewhere in the middle of the pack with Henry, Rebecca, Strickler, and Amber. As cars would approach our group they would pull over out of respect thinking we were a funeral procession. It was in the drive I received a text from an unfamiliar number in my new phone, it just said, "hey beautiful, I'm on Brumley Mountain, where do you want to meet?" It took a second to figure it out but it was Barry Cole all the way from Chattanooga, TN! His wife had finally ungrounded him from the infamous Sand Cave shoot and had brought a photographer friend with him to join us. I can't tell you how excited I was knowing he would be a part of our day.  The ride up the mountain was slow and I think I bit every fingernail worried about the parking but by some miracle we were able to squeeze all the cars along the road safely out of the way. I collected more funds, shook more hands, and hastily gave last minute instructions but I noticed half of the group was on the move so we were off on the fourth annual JDRF hike.
This guy could play. He was loving the audience in the Channels.
The Usual Suspects.
My new friend, Eli. He had an absolute blast exploring the Channels.

I started the hike about midpack but was soon on a march to the front in search of Barry Cole. I was excited to catch up and wanted to visit with him since he had drove over four hours to be with us, what I didn't realize at the time was that he was behind me. I started mixing and talking to different groups of people some that I knew and some of them I didn't. The Duncan brothers from Gate City had came as well as Larry Tolley and his nephew Greg Bellamy, I was really impressed with Larry being there since it was Sunday and he is the pastor of his church, but as he said, you see God everywhere in nature. Old Man Winter had dusted off his boots to support us and even Ray Hayes was in the fray. Amber had quite the impressive group as well with several friends from work and dance all there to see the Channels. I ended up hiking a good portion of the hike in with Strickler, Ray, #2 (Brent), and Steve Hill, but I tried to say at least something to everyone. I had assigned John Lane aka Jesus as a co-host of the event and he worked the crowd the entire way, and having Shane along was added support of making sure our group stayed intact. Near the summit, the trail forks to lead up to the fire tower so I waited as more and more people eased up the ridge. I was trying to count heads but it was hard with a group of our size.
Steve and Steve enjoying the interior of the Channels.
The Channels.
The special guest comedians.

Once we arrived at the fire tower about half of the group went into the Channels while others spread out to have snacks along the top beside the fire tower. I never really settled anywhere trying to stay active and make sure everyone was having fun. Inside the Channels, I met a young boy named Eli that had came from Clintwood with his mom and sister to hike with us. When I asked him why he decided to join us he said it was easy since he suffers from Type 1 diabetes! It was a great feeling to know we could be helping find a cure with our efforts for someone as nice and energetic as Eli! Two women approached me inside the Channels asking me if I was Jason Horton and after talking a few minutes made a sizeable donation for a family member thay couldn't be with us for the hike. They had drove all the way from Cosby, TN. I was in heaven, everyone was having a great time and getting along beautifully. Even hikers not with us didn't seem to mind the huge group and they even entertained us with some college kids from Emory and Henry there playing guitar.
#2 was thrilled to have a Sunday off and he even seemed to enjoy the hike.
Jakson has grown up right before my eyes. I was glad he came with us.

I emerged from the Channels to check on our hikers. Literally everywhere I looked there were people! I visited briefly with Les and his daughters before returning to the Channels and finally finding Barry. I also ran into Becky Gillilam and one of her friends while I was down there and we both were mutual friends of Barry. I knew that both Becky and Barry would have fantastic photos from inside the Channels and Rob seemed to know what he was doing with a camera as well. I know I'm sounding redundant here, but I never dreamed there would be so many people show up.
Jesus watching over his flock of hikers.
My wife is occasionally proud of me. I think this was one of those days.
What are they looking at?

When I exited the Channels I joined Amber, Misty, and her son, Jakson to have some lunch. I kept an eye on people coming out below the fire tower to try to get a total count. I ended up with 84 different people but I feel like I missed a few too. Some folks had time constraints and began the hike down once they were satisfied with sight seeing. Ray climbed the tower while everyone looked on and snacked. We tried to gather as many people as we could for a group photo and afterwards began the climb down the mountain. I felt like was near the rear of the pack so I worked my way through the group once again before hiking a good distance with Katie and Evan and then Hershel. Hershel and I have hiked together several times and I've always enjoyed talking to him, and despite being retirement age, he is one heck of a hiker! Speaking of age, we even had a two year old hiker join us! Many will remember Justin "Tennessee" Hopkins from the now infamous camping trip blog that featured bears and him falling so hard he either swallowed his tooth whole or launched it deep into the woods in Erwin, TN. Anyway, he and his son, Darrel hiked the seven miles to support a good cause and see the Channels.
On the distant rock on the ridge to the right,  I celebrated my 600th mile late last year. This year I have almost 600 June.  
The top of the hidden Channels on a beautiful Sunday morning. 

When we all started arriving back at the parking lot, the crowd didn't really disperse instead everyone kind of relaxed and talked, a true sign of a great hike. I honestly hated to see the day end. Everyone that went up the mountain eventually made their way back down. It was my most successful hike to date, 84 up and 84 down with zero injuries.
Henry always kids me about having a heart attack by hiking with me..
Cash had enough of the hiking.
Waiting on the rest of the gang back at the trail head.

On Monday, I returned to work from vacation with my envelope of money. I gathered amother manager to witness the counting and after coming up just shy of a thousand dollars, I donated the missing few bucks for a final total of $1000 ALL for Juvenile Diabetes Research! On lunch that day, I left the store and picked up a picture I had developed earlier that morning, it was the group shot of our day and it still hangs proudly in my office, AND as an added bonus for reading all of this, I will officially announce I will be hosting THREE hikes next year to help raise funds for a cure for type 1 diabetes! Until next time, happy trails!
Let's get out of here!

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