Changing Our equilibrium, One Hike At A Time

Last month BeintheWater and EKI co-hosted a trail clean up hike at the Yahoo and Princess Falls locations in the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The designated trail town of Stearns, Kentucky was a very gracious host to us. We intend to make this an annual event so that we can continue to enjoy the hospitality of this community by doing our part in maintaining the upkeep of the trails.

At 113 feet, Yahoo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in Kentucky. Photo:  Gerry Seavo James

At 113 feet, Yahoo Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in Kentucky. Photo: Gerry Seavo James

Nearly 18 months ago, I wrote a piece for titled "Our Happiness. Our Equilibrium."  Take a moment to check it out, it's worth the read. I  have had a chance to continue making steps towards changing my equilibrium while maintaining a level of happiness along the way.  You see, in that article, I make mention of trying to help my wife Melinda Walker change her equilibrium in regards to the outdoors. Short hikes grow into long hikes. Drizzly hikes become rainy day hikes. Trash collecting hikes become trail maintenance hikes.  You get the point.

Melinda has certainly changed her equilibrium.  During our clean up event  last month we camped in a tent and slept on the ground in sleeping bags.   Her only remark was, "We need to do more of this kind of camping" and she said it with a smile on her face.   Of course, the night before our only entertainment was to look at the sky full of stars from the overlook at Yahoo falls. We were mesmerized by the way that the reflection of stars danced on the  Big South Fork of the Cumberland River below us. Rising with the sun and getting out into the woods early was probably another reason for her agreeable take on the camp out.  Equilibrium shifted.

Little drops of rain have become a ripple in her soul and her comfort level in the outdoors is growing more and more every day.

The author's wife, Melinda Walker taking in the beauty of a massive Hemlock tree off the Yahoo Falls Trail. Photo:  Gerry Seavo James

The author's wife, Melinda Walker taking in the beauty of a massive Hemlock tree off the Yahoo Falls Trail. Photo: Gerry Seavo James

You might notice, that I mentioned earlier, that I had a chance at changing my own equilibrium. I have changed. I have Melinda Walker and EKI Director's Gerry James to thank for it.   You see when I started BeintheWater my intentions were to inspire people and to help make changes in our community.  I fell prey to my own comfort zone issues.  You see, I felt like if I couldn't create a huge event or undertaking, that it wasn't worthy of the effort. I wasn't heeding my own advice. I wanted the mountain in one big step. I had forgotten my own personal motto. "Be Water, Matthew. Be Water."   I needed to focus on the raindrops and not worry about where the river merged with the ocean. 

Melinda Walker has supported me by reassuring me that what I have to say is worth the effort to share that message. She also reassures me that people are listening.  The  Explore Kentucky Initiative has helped me refocus as well. Gerry asked Melinda and I to serve as part of EKI's inaugural board of directors. He asked if I thought I might be able to plan events and I gladly offered my help. We joined EKI on its inaugural event a guided hike at  Blanton Forest that was conducted in collaboration with the Kentucky Natural Land Trust. It was a great event.          We made some great new friends who have the same love for the outdoors that I share with Melinda and Gerry.  I have taken the time to look at each event as an opportunity to be a good steward by fostering a community that loves and protects the outdoor locations we utilize for our recreation opportunities.  I don't need to create an event with 3,000 participants to make an impact.  I just need to be consistent and focus on the great events we are having in each new community across this great state.  Equilibrium shifted. 

The Yahoo and Princess Falls cleanup was once again a successful EKI event made great by a combination of good people and beautiful scenic trails. We found ourselves at the end of the day, lingering, telling one more story, asking one more question. We honestly didn’t want for our day to end. That folks, is a good day, as you can see from the photos taken by Gerry, Greg Davis, Michael Wallace, and others. 

This group started its event together with a couple of moments of anticipation. Starting out on Saturday morning, while doing the official sign-up for volunteers, we began our introductions. I think it’s a funny thing about the introductions as we have all seen each other via social media up to this point and it’s interesting to meet people in real life after meeting them casually first through other means. The interesting thing is that we have all managed to come together via online and real world communities that are geared towards this type of event.

Photo:  Greg Davis

Photo: Greg Davis

Shortly after introductions BeintheWater and EKI began the business of sharing the many gifts and giveaways that were generously donated by many of our event sponsors. Of course, I had to call foul when event participant Alex Gash of Sheltowee Hammocks was the first drawn in the raffle. I’m sure he will put the West 6th Brewing growler and pint glasses to good use some evening after a good hike.  After a moment or two of good natured ribbing, Alex was glad to share in on the event by donating one of his awesome hammocks. They are high quality products at a reasonable price that Alex makes himself! Needless to say, one of our lucky participants, Pamela King received this as her door prize.

Photo: Greg Davis

Photo: Greg Davis

We gave away an assortment of hats, t-shirts and stickers donated by sponsors. Shoot, Fastway Marathon donated a blue-ray disc player as a door prize. Now EKI is going to have to produce its films in blue-ray format so that Mike Park can enjoy the productions. Beckie Egnew of the Big South Fork Scenic Railway donated a free rail pass for each participant of the clean-up.  So, we are all going back and we are going to bring some friends for an afternoon on the rails. 

We started our hike at Yahoo Falls. We decided that our best course of action was to hit the high traffic areas on the primary loops around the falls. The other concern was getting up to the arch and cleaning trash and debris on that trail as well. We decided to divide into 3 groups. This gave us a chance to cover more ground, but it also gave the group’s a more intimate feel.  These small groups within the events give us a chance to get to know the folks with whom we share the trails. It’s the best part of the day.  

Group leaders note: I was worried all day about 3 young ladies in our group. They kind of split off and did their own thing during the hike. This had me worried about being a bad host, but also took me back to a conversation that I had previously on a thread, on Kentucky Waterfalls, Landscapes, and Arches Facebook Page.  The gist of it, “We all have our own pace and our own agenda on the trail, hike your own hike.”   That’s what these gals did, and from what I hear, they had a pretty good day. Glad you made it to the Big South Fork Ladies!

Yahoo Falls as seen through a 50mm lens. Photo:  Gerry Seavo James

Yahoo Falls as seen through a 50mm lens. Photo: Gerry Seavo James

As our day winded down we all hiked as one large group out to Princess Falls. It was nice to have everyone together. Hearing everyone sharing stories and laughs is what makes these events so special. Of course, I have to give a credit to my wife for a lot of this success. She jumps right in with both feet when it comes to making new friends. She honestly believes the idea that “in Kentucky we are all either kin or cousins!”  She greets everyone with a smile and a warm disposition.  It takes a little while for her mischievous side to come to the surface, but when it does it’s because she considers you her friend.  A perfect example of this was at the beach just below Princess Falls.

Imagine, a group of hikers weary from the day’s events, sitting and casually enjoying the scenery of the stunning waterfall and pool before them. Now imagine another part of the group has crossed to creek to a sandy area under the trees just across the creek from the first groups location. Now imagine my wife pestering every one of her new friends in the group casually enjoying the scenery into crossing that creek because the other side was the best place to be in her mind.  They followed her across the waters, despite their reservations about falling and getting wet. Her enthusiasm couldn’t be dampened both literally and figuratively! 

Of course, she was right. On the other side, we all gathered as friends and we played with several hammocks, took numerous photo’s, and enjoyed one another’s company as we laughed and giggled like kids on a playground.  Melinda has the right idea for these events. Let’s make friends first, then we can worry about changing our communities. I definitely think we were successful in doing so. Their equilibrium shifted. 

We ended our day by sharing a meal at the Whistle Stop Cafe. I am officially declaring this as EKI's official watering hole for the Big South Fork Area. I doubt you will find any better hospitality anywhere in the state. We lingered around the tables. We followed each other out the door and to the parking lot. We continued telling stories over the hoods of our vehicles.

As an Explore Kentucky Initiative ambassador I hope we accomplished these goals during this event.

  • Encouraging people to get outdoors to enjoy all that this great state of Kentucky has to offer for recreation. We believe that better living comes from being actively engaged in an outdoors community.
  • Promotion of Leave No Trace conservation ethics. These lands need people who will honor and protect them. We encourage you to continue your stewardship beyond today's event by leading through example in other locations that you utilize for outdoors recreation.
  • Heralding the numerous outdoor opportunities across Kentucky. Our Yahoo and Princess Falls clean-up is a great showcase of what the Big South Fork and the Sheltowee Trace Trail have to offer.  We encourage you to explore Kentucky and to share McCreary County with someone who has not experienced the splendor of this under appreciated community. 

I believe that we are meeting most of our goals with these events. However, upon reflecting on our event, I think that I have one point to address. WE, as a community of hikers and adventurers, need to attract more people to the outdoors.  WE, as a community, need to encourage NEW hikers and adventurers to the outdoors.

So, I'm going to ask my 17 new friends who are pictured here below to do one thing, join us at our next event, bring someone who has not been in the outdoors before, and help change that someone’s equilibrium. 

Photo: Greg Davis

Photo: Greg Davis

We want to call out and thank the local businesses that supported us on our efforts. These local businesses made donations of either time or materials to help the effort;

Todd - Fastway Marathon
Barbara & Kathy - Sweet Creations Gift Shop.
Becki & Chrystal - Whistle Stop Cafe – an official watering hole of EKI.
Mark - Dairy Bar 50's style diner
Please make sure to stop in and visit these folks when you are in town. 

Special thanks to Becki Egnew of the McCreary County Heritage Foundation and the Big South Fork Scenic Railroad in helping me find my way around the local community of businesses. 

We also want to thank these Kentucky owned businesses for their generous donations;
Joe- West Sixth Brewing - Lexington.
Alex- Sheltowee Hammock Company- Lexington.

The Explore Kentucky Initiative is an organization dedicated to inspiring people to engage in an active lifestyle fueled by adventure in Kentucky's great outdoors. Stories from EKI's Field Journal like this are made possible by readers like you. Donate to help us continue to cover the stories of Kentucky's great outdoors.