This last weekend we gathered together to discuss and discover what it means to be Men, men of integrity and honor, of responsibility and respect. Men of God. We were there to encourage each other to walk tall and never settle to be anything less than what God meant us to be. We aim not to be passive, lazy, or weak. We need to be, for the sake of our girlfriends, fiances, wives, and children, strong in accountability and rooted in the Word. 11 of us, all in different stages and living in different places gathered to understand the challenge that lies before us.
Those who gathered:
Randy: Husband to be, Youth Mentor Johnson City
Joe: Single, carpenter Elizabethton
Cory: Husband to be, manager of a new business Johnson City
David: Dating, Tennis Pro Mississippi
BT: Married, Seminary Student Alabama
Chuck: Dating, Youth Minister Kentucky
Brad: Husband to be, New graduate planning for seminary Johnson City
Tyler: Single, Grad student in education South Carolina
Joel: Single, recent graduate looking for job South Carolina
Sam: Single, Seminary student, abstinence instructor Johnson City
Myself: Married & expecting a child, outdoorsman and all around good guy Elizabethton
Though we were a diverse group, it didn't take long to find common ground. Everything about the weekend seemed to be geared toward men, starting with the cabin by the lake. Actually, it was more like a lodge with an amazing view of Watauga Lake. This place was seriously one of the nicest houses I've ever been in. Picture massive logs, and incredible mountain decor like a real grizzly skin rug in front of the huge stone fire place. Add this to the unbelievable mountain side setting and you've got a great foundation to host a men's retreat. Many thanks to Brad's parents for allowing us to stay for the weekend.
The first night was defined by pizza, and some friendly competition around the pool and pingpong tables. The real action (the hard to believe action) started the next morning. Like I said, the setting was perfect, but I didn't mention that we were just a short steep hike from the Appalachian Trail. This hike was the first event on the agenda when we awoke Saturday, little did we know that our hiking plans would be delayed. After everyone had their fill of Chuck's breakfast burrito, we headed outside. Only a couple minutes passed before our attention was turned to David and his exclamation of, "Hey, is this thing real." I quickly strolled over and realized that the object he was refering to was indeed very real, and even better, it was a rattlesnake. David remained unsure of the authenticity, and rightly so, because the snake was incredibly lethargic, we would find out why a little later.
Once everyone was aware of the situation it wasn't long before Cory had a shovel in hand, ready to behead to serpent. It was the first wild rattlesnake he and many of the other guys had seen. Normally, I don't support killing anything unless it's for food or safety. Well, this fell into safety because the snake was only 30 feet from the front door, which was a little too close to home for the homeowners. I did, however, demand; "If we kill it, then we're eating it." After all, this was the men's weekend, and what better action to prove our manhood than to eat what we kill. We are hunter's at heart, right?
The snake was no match for the sharp end of Cory's shovel, and after we confirmed that the head was fully and completely detached, Brad and I took to skinning the beast. It was at this point that David finally subcumbed to the fact the snake was real, until then he was sure he was simply the butt of a good joke. With knife in hand, I split the rattler from throat to tail and exposed all that was within. Oh, the treasures we found. After, we looked around a bit we discovered why the serpent was so lethargic; it was full, and recently so. With as much precision as I could muster I sliced open the stomach to reveal a freshly eaten rat, fur, tail and all. We then spilled the rest of the inards, and proceeded with the skinning. At this point, not everyone was all for eating the snake. That would change by the time we took the meat from the grill. It's amazing what a little butter, salt, and pepper will do. After pictures were taken and the blood and guts were cleaned up, we rinsed the snake meat and then proceeded with the day.
Most of us headed up the mountain, following a ridge that would take us to the top. It was steep, but after 45 minutes we found ourselves right in the middle of the Appalachian Trail where we met a couple who were at the beginning of a 125 mile backpack trip. They were section hikers, which means they hump a little bit of the 2,000 mile trail at a time. Every good AT hiker has a trail name, and so I asked, "Have you gotten your trail names yet?" "I'm Maniac", said the man. The woman called herself, "Hiking Buddy." Not the most original names, but they seemed happy with them.
We wished the hikers good weather and then headed north to the nearest shelter, which was conveniently built just in front of an incredible view of the lake below. We snapped a few pictures of our mountain top experience and then began our decent. Randy, Cory, and I made it interesting and charged down the slope as fast as we could. The rules were to get down without falling or having to put down our hands. It ended in a threeway tie at the bottom, none of us lost control.
We all made it down safely, minus BT who lost the use of his left chaco on the way up. It split in two, hanging together only by the webbing. He trucked on without complaint. Back at the house we all found the breeze on the front porch to be perfectly refreshing. After a restful break, we all returned to action. Some of us made use of the fishing poles, others took the jetski out, and four of us, including myself, sat down to Monopoly. It's a long game, so we played for only an hour or so before we found ourselves down on the water. 8 guys in a boat gets a little full, so we took turns on the end of the tow rope. Chuck wore it out on the slalom skies. Joe took his turn on the kneeboard. Cory pulled a flip on the wakeboard. I tried to do the same, but ended up breaking the water surface with my face.
Nearly exhausted we docked the boat, and returned to the lodge. Sam and Randy hit the grill hard, shortly after we sat before a feast of meat. Hamburgers, Bratwurst, and the ever so tasty rattlesnack on a stick. 11 guys around a table, no napkins, no conversation, and 22 firmly placed elbows. If your wondering about the snake, it was realy good, not alot of meat, and a little hard to separate the meat form the bones, but really good. After dinner, we sat down to discuss the topic of the weekend; "What it means to be Men." Yes, we actually did settle down and discuss, and it was encouraging to say the least. I walked away encouraged, appreciative, and feeling blessed to be surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.
The grandfather clock rang 11:00 o'clock just has Randy closed in prayer. It was then that we returned to the monopoly board. The game was long and arduous, but I'm proud to say that I came out on top. I achieved a Monopoly around 2:30 am, and then found the closest pillow. The morning promised pancakes, and an afternoon to catch up on a little sleep at home.
Second Row from left: Cory, Brad, John, Tyler, Randy, Joe
Back: David, BT, Sam
Not Pictured: Joel