Monthly Archives: June 2011

When life gives you class vi rapids…

In conversation I tend to be as direct as tact will allow.  So you’d think blogging would be even easier, right?  Not for me.  I want to write about the deep and shallow things of life, but I over the last year I have stopped short several times of actually posting, for fear I’d say too much, reveal too much or offend someone I care for.  But the real reason is that I feel like I’ve been paddling through serious white water for the last year, and blogging, journaling, or even simply taking a quiet solitary walk haven’t been on the table as serious options.

On July 6th, 2010, I was sitting in an office at the Sommet Group, in Franklin, TN.  The developers had become aware that layoffs were coming, and most – if not all – of us would be let go.  One of my fellow developers had left for an interview and texted me as he left the building: “At least a dozen FBI are headed into the building!”  I knew in my gut that they were bound for Sommet, though I couldn’t tell you why.  It turns out the our CEO had been embezzling money.  Sommet handled payroll for other small businesses, and we were apparently taking their money and instead of funding payroll taxes, IRAs, medical insurance, FSAs, etc., our CEO was using it to subsidize a failing business unit along with a lavish lifestyle.  So we weren’t just in trouble for our own company’s delinquency, but for dozens of others.  Employees from across those small businesses (including Sommet) were discovering that their retirement, medical insurance and other benefits weren’t actually being funded, though the money was being withheld from their checks.

So.  FBI *and* IRS agents raided our office that Tuesday.  They were very nice, but it was a serious situation.  I literally left my post-raid interview with the FBI and headed straight to a job interview at a consulting company in Nashville – talk about context switching!  Thank God my good friend Garry Kean was in town – I was able to talk to him at Starbucks for a few minutes prior to my job interview.

The ensuing job search was rough.  Sommet didn’t pay us the last two paychecks, and despite recruiters promising “Sure, there are plenty of senior level jobs in Nashville”, none materialized.  I secured some side work that would help keep us afloat, but it wasn’t much.  At the end of July, at the recommendation of my good friend and former Sommet co-worker, Alex, I interviewed with a company in Chattanooga, TN.  They offered me right in the range I needed – and they were the only offer I’d had since Sommet collapsed, so we were Chattanooga-bound.


It’s been interesting.  Chattanooga is a good city overall – lots of interesting things to do, great restaurants and it’s small.  We love living on Signal Mountain, and I work with some very good people.  I would never have considered the job here if Alex hadn’t recommended I interview – and getting the chance to continue working with him has truly been one of the most rewarding things about the new job. 

But I’m also not going to lie – it’s been a tough year.  Our first six months was overshadowed by an awful rental house.  My second full month on the job saw my team working loads of overtime, so I was practically gone the whole month.  If we haven’t been travelling, we’ve been sick, vice versa, and sometimes both.  Making friends has been a challenge as well.  We’re still looking for a church (thought we’d found a good one, but alas no).  Steph has met more people than I have.  I’m extremely thankful for friends like Jon – though he lives in Nashville, we’ve stayed in regular contact and have managed some visits as well, and Alan.  You don’t replace the network of family and friends that was built across 15 years very easily, if at all.


I’m thankful for a good job – and one that continually challenges me to step up in my skills.  There’s still the interesting dynamic, though, of working alongside people who wanted to move to Chattanooga and plan to retire here, whereas I would’ve never considered it outside the events of last summer.  In the words of Gomez, “I’m just as lost as you are” – especially when it comes to what lies ahead.  It’s been tough having to lay aside so many things I love – writing and recording, camping, and others.  I don’t see an end to the white water just yet, but I still have the paddle in a firm grip….

Flood reflections a year later

JimAboutToJumpIn May 2010, the Cumberland River flooded the worst is has in 500-1000 years.  The damage done to the greater Nashville area alone was simply beyond words.  As events would have it, I wasn’t in Nashville when the flood began.  Was I somewhere safe and dry?  Far from it.  I was canoeing a section of the Cumberland (BSF) north of Nashville with a good friend.  When the outfitter dropped us off the day before, he simply said “Yeah, I hear you might get some rain tomorrow.”

We noticed the water level was higher than usual as we paddled to our half way point (I’d canoed this section of the river at least twice before), but we didn’t really give it another thought & settled down for the night, slept in and fixed breakfast.  About the time I was literally swallowing my last bite of eggs, the sky unloaded.  We scrambled to collect our gear – but the problem with canoe-camping is it’s so hard to resist the urge to pack heavy gear, since you’re not carrying it on your back.  We finally hiked the gear down to the bank and started packing the canoe.  I noticed heavy currents of silt flowing from upstream.  The water level had risen a few inches over night, but it wasn’t terribly alarming at the moment.  The rain failed to let up, and we had come prepared, so we just accepted that the last 9 miles was going to be a soaker.  We had no idea.

This section of the river normally had long gentle slopes – with some shoals here and there, with the occasional Class II or III rapid.  This time, though, the water flow was beyond anything I’d seen.  Here we were in a fully loaded canoe – easily 250-300 lbs of gear, plus two adults, and we were fighting through rolling waves peaking at 3-5 feet.  Each time the nose of the boat plunged down from a peak, we braced ourselves for the inevitable swamping.  We got lucky though – constantly bailing between paddling and steering.  However, the water level was rising faster.  The temperature was dropping, and a cold biting wind had kicked up.  Our rain gear was actually soaked through (save for plastic ponchos we eventually pulled out), and it was mainly our life jackets helping hold body heat in.

Less than a mile before the takeout point is a rapid called Devil’s Jump.  On a normal day it’s really something that only experienced boaters should attempt.  I’ve run it twice, and it’s a blast, but it’s tricky.  But on May 1st, 2010, it could only be described as Biblical.  We pulled off well upstream and scouted out the area.  An entire section of the river, littered with boulders the size of cars and small houses – normally all visible – was submerged.  The passage through the left side of the river (where I’ve run the rapid before) was thundering so loud we nearly had to shout to hear each other from a few feet away.  There was no way a fully loaded canoe was going to survive it.  With al the submerged rocks, it was a certainty that if one of us were thrown from the boat, it would be a slim chance of getting back above water.

The only way through was around – via a portage/backpacking trail that’s barley wide enough to allow passage for one person at a time.  The rain was full deluge, and had been for a while by then, so as we unpacked the boat to carry the gear down the 1/4 mile trail, the trail was already under water and slicker than vaseline.  Four trips and at least an hour later, we had all the gear at the other end of the trail and collapsed onto the soaked rocky bank for a minute.  The water level had risen what appeared to be 1-2 feet since we’d stopped to scout the rapid.  I just couldn’t believe it.  At this moment I was very concerned for our safety – and was considering tying to boat off somewhere and getting up on the mountain and pitching camp.  We were cold, wet, exhausted and I wasn’t sure how wise it was to get back in a river that was obviously flooding.  The take out point was maybe half a mile away, so we decided to go for it – it’s a good thing we did.

We had no idea how extensive the flooding was.  We were so behind schedule that my wife had called the outfitter and they came down looking for us (and missed us).  We were later told that if we had pitched camp to get away from the flood, we would have been stranded there for 3-4 days unless we’d decided to hike out instead (and hiking would have still involved crossing the river).  When we finally reached cell service on the drive back, we began to learn of conditions back home.  People abandoning cars on I-24, some not making it out in time.  The huge school building being carried from Bell Rd down to I-24.  Franklin flooding thanks to the Harpeth.  Entire subdivisions being destroyed in Bellevue.  The Cumberland flooding downtown Nashville.

JimJumpIt still seems so surreal.  It drives home, for me, the importance of keeping your head in dangerous situations.  Sometimes a calculated risk is better than retreat – but when it comes to the power of moving water, any calculated risk is riskier than you’d think.  Little did I know, my experience over those 48 hours as the BSF rose from 1100 cubit feet per second to over 20k were a foreshadowing of the year ahead!  That’s a story for the next post….