It had been several years since I made the drive to Pike Lake, enough that I was not sure I could find my way without using some type of navigational device. But as it turned out there were signs to point the way, and I only had to make two turns after leaving Hillsboro before I found myself in that place that holds so many memories from years long ago.
For several years through the year I turned 17, a Hillsboro couple with four children took their family to Pike Lake each summer to spend a week in the lodge that to this day overlooks the small lake tucked between some hills. Each of the family’s children were allowed to bring a friend or two along, and one of my brothers and I were privileged to make the trip several years.
The memories I have of the place could fill an entire book. Except for the times like on a hike when I got stung by bees multiple times, or the time we helped an acquaintance get his hand stuck in a pop machine, they are some of my most treasured memories from my growing-up years.
Actually, even those times when things did not turn out so well are remembered with a special smile and chuckle.
So it was surreal last Friday when I pulled into Pike Lake and could clearly visualize where certain things took place, and in my mind’s eye vividly see my friend’s faces as they looked decades ago.
But on this occasion I was there for a different reason. I was there for a newspaper story about bunch of people who dedicate an entire weekend and more each year to make sure 14 special needs hunters have a weekend they can remember like the youthful weeks I remember at Pike Lake.
The event is called Thunder in the Hills and this year’s outing was the fifth annual (they had to skip the event two years ago due to COVID). This year, it was entirely free to the 14 special hunters, including eight who need a wheelchair get around. It involves a full weekend camping at Pike Lake, two days of turkey hunting with a guide, videographer and family members; fishing; all licenses paid for; all meals provided; transportation to and from the hunting areas; and giveaways that this year including four guns, a three-day whitetail deer hunting trip, and other wildlife-related prizes.
This year the hunters were even provided with “buddy heaters” in their blinds and it was a good thing, because their first hunting day on Saturday was pretty miserable weatherwise.
The guys who put the event on are outdoorsmen. They do it voluntarily, some working pretty much year round, so they can pass their love of the outdoors on to some who are less fortunate. They do it because they want to help.
There is an application process to select the 14 that get to hunt. One of the event organizers told me this week that it has to be the hardest job in the world to whittle the applicants down to 14.
The same volunteer said that these days he gets just as much of a thrill helping the special hunters, and maybe more, than he does hunting himself.
It should be noted that the event would not happen without the help of as many donors as there are volunteers, with the majority of them residing right here in Highland County.
Sometimes, with mass shootings, political upheaval, and what Vladimir Putin and Russia are doing in Ukraine, it seems like this old world may have run its course.
But then things like last month’s Ernie Blankenship Memorial Radio-Telethon for the benefit of the Highland County Society for Children and Adults comes along and raises $117,000 plus in a couple hours to benefit the less fortunate in our community.
Or an old newspaper reporter takes a country drive to a place of special memories from long ago and finds that a bunch of of outdoorsmen are still making special things happen there.
And all of sudden the bad news takes a back seat, and the old reporter is reminded that at least in this neck of the woods, there is plenty of good still left in the world.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached a [email protected] or 937-402-2522.