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By Dale Neal • Special to The Smoky Mountain News

Evangelist Billy Graham — a spiritual guide to generations of American evangelicals, a globe-trotting preacher who converted millions to Christianity, and a confidante to presidents — died today at the age of 99.

Graham personally preached the Christian gospel to more people on the planet than any other evangelist in the 2,000 years of Christianity.

Hola.

I’ve been saying that an awful lot while currently down here in Cancun, Mexico. Ten days of feet-in-the-sand with a cold-drink-in-my-hand. Isn’t that the words to a county song or something? If not, should be, eh?

Christopher Columbus had a lot of misconceptions about where he wound up in 1492 and what he saw. Mermaids were listed in one of his journal accounts. But to Chris’ credit, mermaids had been around in literature basically since the beginning of literature.

Once the roads became sketchy, I became familiar with the territory.

Ten years ago this week I left my native Upstate New York for my first journalism gig out of college in the tiny mountain town of Driggs, Idaho.

For a moment, I thought the dog was going to charge me.

Running along the quiet back country of Southwest Georgia, dirt roads that make up most of the escape routes into the abyss ‘round these parts, I could see the small creature out of the corner of my eye. Once I realized he had stopped at the end of the driveway, my primal instincts disappeared, my eyes aimed further down the bright dirt path my feet playfully and joyously jogged atop.

It’s the internal struggle.

Do you participate in life and soak it in like a sponge being dropped into a bucket of water, or do you simply walk to the side and stay out of the way of the trials and tribulations hurled at those who aim to find and achieve some semblance of success?

He suggested two. I bought three.

Standing in the small main office of the Woodsmoke Campground in Unicoi, Tennessee, I grabbed the three bundles of firewood and tossed them into my rusty, musty pickup truck and tracked down campsite #4.

Number one daughter had a big camping weekend planned with friends and their families at Lake Chatuge over Labor Day. So we came up with an impromptu plan for Maddie and us. We made reservations at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel and the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga. We had taken Izzy to the aquarium when she was a tot and she enjoyed it, Maddie had never been so we figured this was a good opportunity.

After reading Doug Woodward’s book You Took the Kids WHERE? and as I write these words, it is still officially summer. Despite its somewhat deceptive title, this book is not about “how I spent my summer vacation,” or even your usual travel memoir. With a foreword by legendary alternative medical doctor and cultural icon Patch Adams, this book explores new territory in terms of family relationships and outdoor adventure.

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