Sunday, August 19, 2012

Day 5 - Part 1: White Water Rafting

The fifth day of vacation/family reunion started fairly early (for me).  Uncle Duane had mentioned going white water rafting and zip lining on Thursday, and to do so, we would need to get started early.  I was a little hesitant because this would be taking place at the same time as the train ride through the mountains, for which I had reserved a ticket.  Not wanting the money to go to waste, I wasn't sure I wanted to go at first.  Aunt Debbie stepped in and said she would take my ticket, so that solved that problem.  But that wasn't the only problem that I encountered that morning.

On top of the fact that I was pretty uncomfortable with my sunburn, I woke up feeling nauseous.   It had nothing to do with nerves or anxiety about what we were about to do, because I know what nerves and anxiety feel like (having met those feelings the day before with my PCAT).  This was a completely different feeling that had something to do with my stomach being unsettled.  But I went along and hoped that it would clear up in time to enjoy myself.  Our first stop would be breakfast at Waffle King, which is similar to Waffle House except they served Belgian style waffles.  I had thought that getting some food on my stomach might help my gastrointestinal distress, but alas, I barely ate anything and didn't feel much better.

We got on the road to find an outfitter for the rafting and zip lining.  Uncle Duane had looked one up on-line and programmed the address into his GPS, but somehow the GPS got it wrong and was sending us in the wrong direction!  After figuring out which was the "right" way to go, we found several outfitters in the same general area.  We had passed the one we were looking for and stopped at a different one, whose name escapes me.  It was extremely busy and crowded, but we approached the counter to see what we had to do to sign up.  They were so busy, in fact, that the first opening they had for rafting wasn't until about 2:00 that afternoon.  We declined and decided to find the place we had set out for originally to see if they had a better offer, since they were just across the street about half a mile away.

We drove up to the place and noticed right away that it was much less crowded.  RaftOne is the name of the outfitter, and it was evident that they were a bit less traveled than the one we had previously visited.  The difference between this one and the other, though, was that RaftOne also had zip lines on the premises.  Uncle Duane went inside to find out what they had to offer, and came back ten minutes later with consent forms and a 1:00 appointment.  With it being still fairly early, we would have some time to kill before we actually got to do anything.  Since I was still feeling pretty lousy, that would mean some extra time to get well before embarking on any wild adventures!

We decided to drive around town and walk around a bit before our rafting time, and one of our first stops was to a pharmacy to get something for my troubled stomach.  We also drove to the Ocoee River Visitor Center, which is next to the spot where several Olympic events were held during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.  There was a gift shop, an information desk that outlined the local attractions, and even a recording that played some of the Olympic events from 1996.  That particular area is drained to a minimum during the week, so it is possible to cross the river over the rocks, which we decided to do.  We also found out that in addition to the many natural rocks in the river, some were flown in and placed especially for the Olympic games.  This is evident during the weekends when that point in the river is full, and you can see all the rapids that were created for events like kayaking.  The little river walk on top of the medicine I took really helped calm my stomach down, and was a great way to spend the morning.

Once it got closer to time to our rafting trip, we headed back to RaftOne and waited for a while.  They had several cornhole games outside on the deck, so in the meantime we played a few games using a friendly wager.  We decided that whoever lost between the three of us would buy the others ice cream, which was available at the office of the outfitter.  Guess who lost?  If you guessed me, you would be right!  I decided it would be a good idea to do the ice cream after all the events, so we'll get back to that later.

Our appointment time finally came around, and we were prepped for all that we needed to know while on the river.  Specifically, we learned how to react if and when we fell out, which was to face down river with head and feet above water.  The three of us would be on one raft, and a family of four would be heading out with us on another raft.  We were introduced to our guide, Tyler, and our first impression was that he was way too young to be a river guide!  But he seemed knowledgeable and confident, and was very energetic to make sure we had a great time.  We picked up all our gear, which consisted of a helmet, a life jacket, and a paddle, and boarded a bus that would take us to a drop-off spot up the river.

After going over a few procedures and learning the different paddle strokes we would need to employ, we set off on the river.  Ryan and I sat towards the front, Uncle Duane was further in the back, and Tyler was in the rear.  He would act as a sort of rudder and steer us in the right direction, whereas we only paddled forward or backward according to his instructions.  We stuck close to the other group as well, and went down the river mostly together.  The first hundred yards or so had a few minor rapids that splashed us with a little water, which felt very refreshing!  But after that point, it kicked into high gear and we went over some pretty rough rapids. 

The first major rapid came early in the trip, and we were offered the chance to "ride the bull," which meant hanging onto the front of the raft and being the first to hit all the big waves.  Yeah, I wasn't doing that.  Ryan decided he would since I guess he enjoys having water splashed at high velocities in his face and hanging on dangerously to a thin rope on a fast moving raft.  Hitting those big waves was a real thrill, and it not only was exciting, but the cool water felt great.  We followed our directions to the letter, which guaranteed we had the most fun possible, since Tyler was personally going to make sure that happened.  Unfortunately one of us fell off the raft during that first major rapid.  Any guesses who?  You might guess Ryan because of the reasons I mentioned above, but you would be wrong.  Yep, I fell out!  But I kept in mind the lessons we learned at first, and Uncle Duane came to my rescue to pull me back into the raft.  I thought about this later, and didn't even realize how I could have hit some rocks or something as we went through rapids.  Luckily the water was deep enough and there weren't enough rocks in that particular area to worry about, plus we were effectively out of the rapid areas.  Whew!

After that point, I made it my job to stay in the raft!  Keeping in mind that there is really nothing holding you in except gravity, that wasn't an easy feat, but I was able to stay in the rest of the trip!  We hit several other rapids in which Ryan "rode the bull" again two other times, and these areas were even more intense than the first time.  We got drenched in both cases, but it was a truly exhilarating experience! 

We also had the opportunity to take a break from rowing and have some fun outside of the raft.  One of the perks of being in a small group was that we could get everyone to stop for a few minutes.  The larger rafting companies had to keep an eye out for all the group members and had a fairly strict schedule.  Since there were only two rafts with RaftOne, we were able to dictate our own schedule and explore some other activities.  One of those occurred when we stopped at some large rocks, turned one of the rafts over, and used it as a slide into the river!  The water was extremely deep in that area, and the way it ran would take us down a ways until we swam over to some calmer waters that led back to the rocks.  I wasn't fond of getting dunked under water in the process (I've had tubes in my ears and my ears and water don't mix well) but it was great fun!  The other companies were watching us as they rowed by, and you could tell they were really jealous!  I doubt seriously that they got to stop and have the kind of fun activities we did.

We stopped again later on to dock at some rocks at a particular point in the river.   The rapids formed a bit of a V-shape that sort of sucks you under and out like a tube, and spits you out about 100 feet in calmer water.  The guide of the other raft showed us how it was done, and almost everyone tried it out as well (I didn't, per the ear/water thing).  One other thing we got to do at a calmer point in the river was actually get out of the raft and float along for a few minutes.  It was a sort of lazy river ride like we saw on the Toccoa River when we went tubing a few days prior, except this time the only thing holding us up was a life jacket.  It was a pretty cool little ride!

I had mentioned earlier that our first impression of our guide, Tyler, was that he looked pretty young to be an experienced river guide.  I changed my opinion after our experience, however.  It was amazing to me how much he knew about the river, the mountains, the dams that we passed, and the area in general.  The most impressive part was how he was able to navigate us to just the right points in the river.  He knew how to maneuver the raft to hit spots that spun us in a circle, which was crazy!  Plus after we had been paddling pretty hard, he knew exactly where there were some quiet, still areas where we could rest.  And when the river was at a low spot where several other companies were getting stuck, he effectively steered us around to the faster areas, and with some hard work, we got through without any problems!  I was pretty impressed with him, and after all we went through, I appreciated the fact that Tyler was our guide for the trip.

The last portion of the rafting adventure went over what they called "salt shaker" rapids, meaning that it was almost entirely fast-moving water for several hundred yards.  We had a great deal of paddling to get to this spot, but after we hit it, we barely had to paddle at all, and just let the wild river take us down.  That was the most fun part of the rapids, and tossed us around a great deal.  I had been worried that all the bobbing and splashing were going to make me sick, but surprisingly I had no problems whatsoever.  It was as if all the fun I was having actually made me feel better!  Don't you love when that happens?

After that point, the trip was over and we arrived at the pick-up point.  We were thoroughly soaked but pumped up and energized from all that we had accomplished.  We had to carry the raft to the bus, and it was much harder after having done so much paddling over the last hour or two!  We rode back to RaftOne and recounted our trip with everyone else as we did so.  We arrived back to the outpost and some flat screen TVs inside showed pictures at various points on the river, which we would have the opportunity to purchase later.  Best of all, they got several pictures in a row as I fell out of the raft, so that I could remember in great detail that shining moment in my life over and over again!  We were going to meet up with Tyler again before we showered off and got ready for our zip-lining experience, but he ended up going on a last-minute trip with another group.  He had the other guide (whose name escapes me) find us and wish us well, as well as convey how much fun he had, and to make sure we had a good time.  Of course, our answer was a resounding yes!  And to anyone thinking of doing a white water rafting experience on the Ocoee, I would most highly recommend RaftOne for that trip.

Next, stay tuned for Part 2, where I will recount our experience zip-lining with RaftOne later that day.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Day 4: PCAT Day

Wednesday of my vacation started around 6:00 AM when I woke up before my PCAT.  Since my test started promptly at 8:00, and since they wanted us there at least thirty minutes earlier, and since we live about thirty minutes away from the testing center, I would need to leave around 7:00.  I got some breakfast and prepared myself physically and mentally for what would be a draining experience.

I got to the testing center a few minutes later than I had intended, but still in plenty of time to start the test at 8:00.  The check-in process is a little tedious, but all in the name of keeping things secure and honest.  One of the most interesting observations I had was that as we took numbers and waited to be checked in, there was no number 13.  There was a 12 (which happened to be my number) and a 12B.  The guy at the front desk explained to us that there is no 13 due to the superstition associated with that number.  So many people have complained that their bad test score was due to the number they drew, so this way there is no excuse to do poorly.

I was in the testing center for more than four hours, and staring at a computer screen for that long was making me extremely tired.  The test consisted of two writing sections and five multiple choice sections that tested verbal ability, reading comprehension, biology, chemistry, and math.  Writing has always come fairly naturally to me, so those two sections were no problem.  The biology, verbal, and reading sections went pretty well, though my eyes were pretty tired through most of the reading section, so I may not have fully comprehended what I was reading!  The math and chemistry sections were a different story.  In both sections, I ran out of time and came across some pretty difficult questions.  I had prepared for these kinds of questions, but the time factor was working against me.  My practice book had told me to answer all questions even if I ran out of time, and I found myself doing just that as time ticked away.  At least there's a 25% chance  I'll get them right, and there's no penalty for guessing since you only get credit for correct answers.

One of the most rewarding parts of the PCAT was that you get a preliminary score report as you leave the building.  The official results still take about a month to report (the essays being the main reason for that), but at least you have a good idea of how you did.  That takes away some of the anxiety following a big test, and can be quite rewarding if you do well.  Thankfully, the preliminary results were well in my favor, and the percentiles were as follows:

Verbal Ability  87
Biology  97
Reading Comprehension  95
Quantitative Ability (Math)  82
Chemistry  95

Composite  96

So as you can see, even on my worst test (Math) I still got in the 80s!  Given that my composite score was so high, I was pretty excited to see these results.  Obviously they aren't official, but if they are any indication of how well I did, it's looking good that I can get into Pharmacy School!

After the test, I picked up a celebratory Chick-fil-A lunch (including milkshake) and went to visit my co-workers at Ingles.  We talked for a while and everyone marveled at my growing facial hair (which I kept unshaven during the week of vacation) and sunburn (which was extremely red).  I was able to talk to both of my pharmacists (who incidentally are both named Jennifer) and they were both very excited about my results, and insisted that I could get into any Pharmacy School I wanted.   We'll see about that when the official scores are published soon enough...

After lunch I headed home, and it was during that drive that the sky opened up.   I was soaked in just the twenty or so feet I had to walk from my car to the front door, and in the process "drowned" my car remote so that it didn't work for several days.  With the weather being so iffy, I decided that I would take a nap (I was pretty exhausted) and would see how it was when I woke up.  It was still raining when I awoke from my two-hour nap, so I waited around for a little while longer until it slowed down significantly.  I was in communication with Aunt Cheryl, who turned into Cell Phone Liaison between myself and the rest of the family.  She told me that dinner would be waiting for me when I got back to the dwelling, but later joked that I should stop at Steak n Shake since it had all been eaten.  Luckily she was kidding because I was starving and the food was awesome!

I took a different route to get to the dwelling this time, taking the Interstate a little further south, and taking more major highways that didn't wind through the mountains as much.  This route proved to be a longer distance, but with the ease of handling the roads and a majority of Interstate travel, it ended up being the same amount of time as the shorter route.  When I got back to the dwelling, everyone was done eating, but my plate was waiting for me.  Uncle Duane and Aunt Cheryl teamed up for Wednesday's dinner since none of their children were there, and they put together a great spread that included skirt steak, baked potatoes, steamed vegetables, wine, and s'mores at the fire pit for dessert.  I hadn't roasted marshmallows or had s'mores in years, and thoroughly enjoyed that activity.  Using dark chocolate made for some very tasty s'mores, and the time spent outside by the river was a great way to wind down the day.

We spent some more time outside talking, and I got to recount my day to several groups of people.  I also got to hear about everyone else's day, which included some more tubing (though down a much shorter distance of the river in front of the dwelling).  My very busy day ended so peacefully outside listening to the sounds of the night and the river, and finally concluded with some Braves baseball on TV before bed.  It was a long day, but overall rewarding and good, and I slept pretty well that night! 

And so ended Day 4 of vacation, so stay tuned for Day 5!

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Day 3: Resting and Preparing

After barely getting any sleep and managing to survive the pain of my sunburn, I woke up to find that almost everyone had finished breakfast already.  Thankfully there was some food leftover, which included possibly the best bacon I have ever tasted (thick cut, peppery, and smoked) and some kielbasa, among other things.  I had decided not to do anything in particular that day, besides rest and prepare for my PCAT, which I would be taking back in Knoxville the next day.  So after breakfast, I started looking at my study book a little bit.  It quickly became evident that I was exhausted, so I laid down for about a two or three hour nap, which felt so refreshing.

After waking up, I was able to get some more studying in, including finishing some practice test sections on-line.  I tried not to overwhelm myself, since cramming before a test never really works for me, so I took breaks and tried not to overdo it.  Fate intervened, and the once quiet house became noisy again as the great-grandchildren returned from their outing.  It became TV watching and relaxing time!

Of course, it also became snack time, since it had been a while since breakfast, and were there some yummy snacks!  My cousin Tarren (Aunt Dawn's daughter) and her family (husband Pete and kids Lucas and Grace) arrived at the dwelling during this time, and with them they brought the recipe for a delicious sweet bread and a dipping sauce.  The bread was made with beer, and was absolutely delicious when dipped in a sauce made of sour cream and mayonnaise, among other ingredients.  That along with some chips and homemade salsa (courtesy of Uncle Scott) made for an incredible snack.  This was followed by more lounging and TV watching before dinner time, which soon followed.

That night's dinner was again prepared by Aunt Dawn and her family.  The dinner would be pulled pork which was made in the crock pot using a unique recipe that included root beer.  I'm not a fan of root beer, so I was completely surprised when the pork turned out extremely tasty and tender, and I went back for seconds!  I can't remember the side dishes for this particular meal, but there were buns for those of us who wanted to turn the pork into sandwiches.

I kind of did a "dine-and-dash" sort of thing, since I had to drive back home before my PCAT the next morning.  Since I had to be at the testing center by 7:30 AM, I would need to leave Tuesday night, get to bed early, and wake up extra early.  I made great time coming home, and was able to get home at a reasonable hour to go to bed.  However, I ended up staying awake a little later than I wanted as I looked at some more testing material.  I was pretty tired after that, but had to sleep fast as I had set my alarm to 6:00.  After putting some aloe gel on my sunburn (which felt good and helped maybe a little bit), I settled in at home and fell asleep right away.

And that's how Day 3 ended!  It wasn't the most exciting or fun-filled day, but it was important that I be prepared for such an important test.  Stay tuned for Day 4 which will include my PCAT, among other things.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Day 2: Tubing the Toccoa

My second day of vacation started after a good night's sleep in the screened-in room, which was very comfortable.  The only problem with a room surrounded by windows is that the sun comes in full blast in the morning!  For someone who likes to sleep in on vacation, this can ruin that chance.  But I digress.

We really didn't have anything planned for the day, so it was going to be an easy, no fuss day.  My immediate family was charged with providing dinner that night, so the only item on our agenda was making a leisurely trip to the grocery store.  After eating some breakfast and lounging for a little while, my parents decided to do just that.  I loathe shopping at the grocery store, so I was looking for any excuse to get out of it.  (Yes, I do work at a grocery store, so going shopping in one is something I'd rather skip.  Especially when I'm not in charge of the shopping and have to go along with someone else's agenda.)

Luckily, a great excuse presented itself to me in the form of Aunt Cheryl.  She had expressed interest in tubing the river as I did, so she brought it up to see if we would be interested on Monday.  I was all ears, but others in our group were less enthusiastic.  My brother, Ryan, was also interested, so that meant three of us.  My grandfather was semi-interested, but decided instead to be our driver.  That way we would be dropped off at a spot and not have to walk back afterward after baking in the sun for a couple hours.  Also, since my grandmother had purchased some tubes (as luck would have it, exactly three), we wouldn't have to rent them, and could just put in the river wherever we had the chance without paying anything.  Score!

Aunt Cheryl was staying in her trailer at a campground site about four miles from the river dwelling, and the site has its own dock to get into the river.  We thought that would be the perfect site to set off, since we could just ride the Toccoa River from that point back to the house.  Good plan, right?  More on that a little later.

My grandfather dropped us off and we started at the campground dock.  The water was freezing cold, but with it being July, the hot sun would quickly make that water feel refreshing.  And so we set off.  It was a comfortable ride at first, and almost seemed like we would only have a lazy river ride on our hands.  Luckily that wasn't the case, and we soon found some more rapid-moving water.  We had tied our tubes together so that we wouldn't lose each other, and by virtue of plastic baggies, we got to enjoy some music from Aunt Cheryl's phone.  It's quite an experience to float down a river listening to "Party Rockers" and "Sexy and I Know It."

We went through several rocky areas with faster moving water, which was tons of fun!  We encountered several groups of others tubing, and everyone seemed to be having a good time as well.  The water was very refreshing, it was a comfortably warm day, and there was a great balance of rapids and smooth sailing (so to speak).  But too much of a good thing can be bad too, and after a while, we were getting restless.  Where is the house?  Where are we anyway?

I should probably mention at this point that I was not fully prepared for this adventure; really none of us were.  We didn't put on sunscreen before leaving, and I didn't realize how much we would actually be in the sun.  After what must have been about two hours, I could feel that I was starting to burn.  Putting my hands in the water gave me a strange tingling sensation on my skin, which I knew must have been bad.  I tried to keep my legs and arms wet to decrease the burn, but it was started to set in that it wasn't helping.  Lo and behold, our savior came to our rescue in the form of Grandpa!

We were starting to get tired and burned, and were longing to find the house on the banks of the river.  It never came.  But then we saw a familiar figure standing on a bridge that spanned the river in a narrow spot, only to find out that after 2.5 hours of tubing, we had only gone about half-way to the house.  Only half-way!  Thankfully he had driven to rescue us, so we got out when we had the chance to head back to the dwelling.  (Who knows how badly we would have been burned if he hadn't shown up?!)  As soon as I dried off, I could tell the full extent of my sunburn; it was really bad.  It was hot to the touch and was fairly extensive on my legs and arms.  The car ride back was agony for me, since we were holding onto the ropes that tied down the tubes on top of the car (my hands were on fire).  I was so glad when the house finally came into view and we were done with the adventure.

After getting dried off and changed, I could definitely tell this was going to be a painful sunburn.  Just the casual brush with clothes was painful.  But I was intent on getting healed as soon as possible, and tried not to think about it if I could.  We had a great dinner to think about which included grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, oven-fried potatoes, baked beans, and other condiments.  Plus we had chocolate chip cookies for dessert, yum!  All of this was brought to you by my immediate family, though I had almost no part in it except for some help with the cookies.

After more talking and TV watching, it was again time for bed.  My brother had gone to the grocery store at some point to get some lotion for us burned folk, so I took the opportunity to rub some on my burned limbs with the hope it would help me sleep.  Boy was I wrong!  Climbing into bed was painful enough, but soon after I laid down, my whole body was on fire.  Something about the formulation of that particular lotion made it feel like the heat was trapped into my skin, and it was excruciating.  I have never been in so much pain in my life, and at one point thought it would be better if God just took me in my sleep.  (It's kind of funny to write that now that I've gotten through it, but that's really what I was thinking.)  I got up in the middle of the night to wash the lotion off, which did ease the pain somewhat.  I was also able to get to sleep, which was a relief considering that a lack of sleep was almost as frustrating and exhausting as the burn itself.

And so ended Day 2 of my vacation!  Stay tuned for Day 3.