They call themselves Team Rainmaker, ’cause it always rains when they go hiking.
And, boy, did it ever rain on them this year.
Pull up a chair, and listen to this tale.
Thirty-five years ago, three Central High guys – Coach Alvah Bible, Lynn Hill and Jon Miller – began hiking together. When Gordon Sisk got there 30 years ago, he joined the group, as did their friend Tim Connors, who passed away last fall.
Around Christmas 1990, they began hiking the Appalachian Trail. Last weekend, the trail reminded them yet again who’s boss.
They are slack packers. Park one car at the finish line, leave the other car at the beginning of that jaunt, and go. Pack light, eat large.
Off they went Friday, June 16. Sisk brought Mr. Connors’ picture in his backpack.
“Timmy hiked with us,” Sisk said.
Day three, Sunday, June 18, Mount Cube, White Mountains, New Hampshire. Rocky terrain, worse than a pig trail, some of the hardest hiking Sisk says he’s ever done. Coach Bible tumbled, most seriously hitting his left thigh on a rock.
Bible grew up in Corbin, Ky. He had to use an outhouse until he was 16. He played football at UT when it was a game for grownups. He’s tough.
But the trail giveth, and the trail taketh away. And it had been an 11-hour day.
They made it to the shelter. But Bible’s left leg began to swell. He couldn’t put weight on it. By Monday morning, he couldn’t move. They had food for one day.
Sisk managed to get a cell signal. He called 911. Got an operator in another state, but she got New Hampshire and the rescue squad on the line.
Within two hours, the cavalry arrived.
The rescue team – EMTs, volunteers, firefighters, others – had found an old logging road. Up they came with a steel cage basket to get Bible to an ambulance.
About 16 rescuers all told, including two teenagers from Montreal, got him there. The trip included some ATVS and a dicey dip across a stream for some of them.
Two guys with chain saws had to cut a path for them to drive in and out. Sisk nearly nailed his head on a rock. Off they went to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Bible finally got some pain meds and was admitted.
Overnight, his right wrist began to swell. Doctor’s best guess was gout. So, he stayed Tuesday night as well. Somewhere along the way, Sisk called Bible’s wife, Cheryl, who wasn’t exactly thrilled. He made Bible call home the rest of the trip.
They kept joking, carrying on, being irreverent in the hospital room. Finally, somebody asked, “Are you all family?”
“They might as well be,” Bible said.
He got a walker and specially-made wrist contraption and escaped with nothing broken. They enjoyed a seafood dinner Wednesday night. Sisk ate two lobsters.
Thursday morning, Coach Bible said he was feeling OK, so Team Rainmaker drove up Mount Washington in the car. For a while, literally and figuratively, the sun came out.
They found a campground and had a real trail-type dinner. Some liked Sisk’s Spam more than others.
By Saturday morning, they decided they’d better cut the four-week trip short and head home. Somewhere in New York, Bible began hurting again.
The first hospital they found was a closed-for-the-day outpatient facility. But, they got to Wilson Medical Center in Johnson City, New York. Bible was given something for the pain.
He’d suffered no compartmental damage, had broken nothing, but the doctors told them to get home. Stop, they said, every two hours, and walk around. Coach Bible agreed and promised to take some prescribed Percocet.
They made it to Woodstock, Virginia, on Sunday night. Miller said, two or three times, “I’m no Jerry Garcia, but what a long, strange trip this has been.”
Sisk and Miller showed up at the Bible home first around 4:30 p.m. yesterday (Monday, June 26). Hill and Coach Bible got there a few minutes later.
They’d joked they were gonna leave Coach Bible on the porch and bolt. But Cheryl didn’t kill anybody, gave ’em hugs instead, said she’d never be able to repay them. She’d already been in touch with the family doctor to see what to do.
Hill thought the trip was a failure. Sisk said nope, it was “a successful failure.”
Bible didn’t break anything, nobody died, one of Sisk’s students at Karns High, Caty Davis, was named Miss Tennessee while they were gone. Sisk found Coach Bible a buffalo burger at a street fair in Concord. N.H.
They want to finish the AT, have about 200-some miles left, but this has never been about hiking, really. Sisk kept everybody updated back home via Facebook. They heard from former students and some of Coach Bible’s players, several from 40 years ago. Prayers poured in from all over the nation.
“That’s rewarding to look on Facebook and see that people care,” Sisk said, “especially from former students. All those tests, all that stuff they learned in our classes, none of that matters. I even heard from some kids who’d flunked my class. They’d learned that somebody cared about them.”
And four longtime educators learned lessons that a ton of textbooks can’t teach.
Try putting all that on a standardized test.
Visit Jake Mabe at http://jakemabe.blogspot.com