Sunday Night Check-In: Shifting Gears

fullsizeoutput_1925

I’ve had a rough week. To be honest, I’ve had a rough time for a few weeks. I’m not sure if it’s SAD, or if I’m just sad. I know that I’ve been trying to reign in my consumption of sugar with a great deal of inconsistency. Every time I eat it, I am awake in the middle of the night for hours kicking myself. The stuff disrupts my sleep no matter what time of day I eat it. I’ve been knowing this for over 3 years now. And still I struggle with it. It may even be the cause of my mood.

Friday was Employee Appreciation Day, and we had a candy bar in our office. A whole row of beautiful candies and chocolate greeted me as I walked in. I had absolutely no willpower. “So much for eating right,” I said before putting my purse on the floor. There were no brakes …. no deceleration … no hesitation. I went for it, and I woke up at 2:30 Saturday morning. “Hello, Sugar,” I say now when I wake up in a fit of insomnia. I’m not sure if I drifted off again or not, but I left early Saturday morning for a hike. Since I didn’t get much sleep, I told myself that I was NOT having any sugar this weekend. So far, I’m golden.

I met a group from the Chief Noonday Chapter of the North Country Trail Association in Marshall MI for a 6.5 mile hike. This was a “road” section, so we basically walked on the road through cornfields, a bitter winter wind and through neighborhoods. It felt a little weird since we were about 50 people with backpacks and stuff, but nobody else seemed to be bothered so I just enjoyed the day. A couple of river crossings gave me a little natural scenery, and I was very excited to meet Strider, the NCT thru-hiker I heard on one of those trail shows last year. (You can listen to his account of the trail here.)He is one of 8 who has hiked the entire 4600 mile NCT. I felt like I was meeting a celebrity although he seemed like a pretty ordinary hiker.

img_2482

Me and Strider

He works part-time for the National Park Service working on this trail, and there were a other park rangers on the hike. I talked to one who told me that they were all worried about the budget cuts coming. He said anybody that has anything to do with the environment is holding their breath. 97% of the funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Project is in jeopardy. It takes my breath away to even think of those beautiful lakes going back to their former polluted condition. All we can do is pray…. and call our senators.

I drove around Marshall to look at the town, and there were some beautiful historic buildings there. I put the GPS on “back roads” and drove home via country roads. I passed through several small towns and took a quick tour of Battle Creek. I found the Fort Custer Recreation Area and made a note of the nice campgrounds. The Kalamazoo River was up, and the sign next to the river assured me that any oil I saw would not harm me. Apparently there was a huge oil spill in this river many years ago, and the EPA spent a long time cleaning it up and holding the oil company accountable. I can only hope they will continue to be able to do jobs like that in the future. All I can do is pray … and call my senator.

img_2486

The flooded Kalamazoo… oil-free.

I woke up really down this morning, but I managed to get out and wash my car, take care of some chores and cook myself a healthy lunch. The sun came out and then ducked behind the clouds while I stewed in my juices about all of the sad things going on in the world. I tried to watch a movie about grizzly bears, read an article about a river that has disappeared because of human consumption in India and laughed at last night’s Saturday Night Live episodes. I needed to work out today, but I could not get motivated enough to move. I decided to walk Ashok around the block and keep walking if I felt like it.

Once I got going, I felt better, and I made my way to Lake Michigan. It was a beautiful late afternoon. The water was almost still, and the sun was hanging low on the horizon in a lightly-clouded sky. Few people were on the beach, but the ones who were out enjoying the spring-like day were friendly and talkative. We walked back at a slow pace, and, by the time I was home, I was really glad that I made the effort.

I’ll continue to try to shift out of my funk, and I’ll continue to pray … and call my senator. I hope you will do the same. Have a great week, y’all. I wonder what drama will go down this week!! You can’t make this sh*t up!

 

 

 

 

Sunday Night Check-In: Trails, Dogs and Travel

I went in to the weekend with one lunch planned on Saturday with my friend Autumn. The rest of the weekend would just have to unfold as it should. I got home Friday night, and I wanted to unplug from the internet and fall into an alternate reality. I’d been wanting to see A Dog’s Purpose, so I drove over the theatre and checked out for a couple of hours.

The thing I hate about dog movies is the dog always dies at the end. (BTW, I looked up the controversy about the treatment of that German Shepherd in this movie, and they were cleared of all charges. Apparently that organization was just trying to propagate fake news… and they failed.) In this movie, though, the dog dies about 6 times and lives at the end. The movie is about the many incarnations of one dog soul into this world. I felt so in love with my dog when it was over. I couldn’t wait to get home to hug her neck. But I definitely should have brought Kleenex to the theatre.

I took Ashok for an early walk on Saturday and then I met Autumn at Caffe Tosi for some soup. She told me all about her trip to the Rose Bowl Parade. I was fascinated by her trip. It was an educational tour, and they learned all about the history of the parade and how the floats are made. They got to help build some floats, and then, of course, watch the parade. I’ve never been on an educational vacation, but she made it sound like so much fun that I looked up the travel company that she used, Road Scholar.

Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 7.13.23 PM.png

My sister and I texted back and forth the rest of the evening about the options that they offered for educational travel. Trips lasting anywhere from 4 days to 2 weeks feature lessons and experiences on topics like art, writing, hiking, geology, history, crafts and just about anything you’d ever want to learn. I am imagining myself learning to sail down the coast of Maine, writing my memoir on the coast of Oregon and viewing the Northern Lights in Alaska. They have trips all over the world, and they are very reasonably priced. I am definitely going to take some of these tours. I may even go on one of the Michigan hiking trips this year!

Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 8.22.26 PM.png

I’ve been reading Becoming Odyssa, a book about a 20-something woman who hiked the Appalachian Trail. My sister gave me the book for my birthday, and I’ve been going to bed at night reading about sleeping on the trail and fantasizing about finally doing that thru-hike on my bucket list. Today I had planned to hang out at the house and grocery shop, but all of this hiking thinking got me in the mood for the woods. I looked up some hiking trails, packed up Ashok and headed northwest to the Yankee Springs Recreation Area.

We hiked the Chief Noonday Trail and continued on to the Long Lake Trail, too. It was rainy when we started but cleared up rather quickly. As soon as the rain cleared, the wind picked up. It never did get really cold, but I had to put on my hat and coat by the end of the hike. It was a quiet hike with very few people crossing our path, and it was lovely. The temperature stayed above freezing, and the swamps and woodlands were full of melting snow puddles. It didn’t feature the magnificent views of the dunes, but I was really in the mood for the woods. Toward the end, I was treated to a sighting of several white-tailed deer high-tailing it with their patch of white flashing through the forest. It was a great way to end the hike.

I’ve been chatting with Mick who heads up the Chief Noonday Chapter of the North Country Trail Association. The North Country Trail (NCT) is a 4600-mile trail that starts in North Dakota and runs all the way to New York. I had heard about this trail when I was listening to trail shows while living in Louisiana, and, ironically, now I live within an hour and a half from the NCT. Trail “chapters” all along the trail take care of sections, and they educate people about hiking it. The Chief Noonday Chapter has 135 members. I plan on joining them for a hike on March 4. I’m enjoying going to the North Country Trail website and dreaming about backpacking large portions of that trail. I even signed up for 100-mile challenge for this year.

Screen Shot 2017-02-12 at 8.08.15 PM.png

After we left the Chief Noonday parking lot, I decided to drive the backroads to Grand Rapids to try a new coffee shop that I’d read about called The Sparrows. I was so thrilled when I saw a sign for the North Country Trail trailhead just a few miles down the road. I turned in, snapped a few pictures and just had to hike a few steps on the trail. “We’ll be back,” I told the trail as I hopped back into the car. And I meant it. I can’t wait for the day when I park there, heave ho my backpack and head to the woods for a several day Michigan adventure. I may not get on the Appalachian Trail for awhile, but there’s an even longer one practically in my backyard! BTW.. The Sparrows was great, and I’ll go back for a longer visit in the future!

So, my mind is spinning with the opportunities for travel with Road Scholar and backpacking on the NCT. On the way to the hike and back I listened to more hiking podcasts about the community on those long hiking trails and how life-changing a thru-hike can be. (Click on those links to hear them!) One thing I’d have to change is needing to work for a living. Tomorrow it’s back to reality. But I’m grateful to have a great job which will help me save money for these trips that I may not get to take and that brought me up here to this state full of great hiking. This was a great weekend – dogs, trails and all.

Y’all have a good week. Dream a little this week. One of them might just come true.

Sunday Night Check-In: A Trip Up the Coast

img_1953

The fabulous little beach towns up and down the coast of Lake Michigan are one of my favorite things about this area. They aren’t the ultra-classy newly developed beach towns of the Gulf Coast down south. Most have been there for ages, and Victorian homes and quaint downtown streets have been visited by vacationers and locals alike for decades if not centuries. Each little town has its own charm and history, and most have their own unique lighthouse that claims its spot on the shore. And, lucky me, I can go to probably 8 or 10 within a 1-2 hour drive in one direction to another.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-7-21-07-pm

This weekend I wanted to go out of town, so I began to noodle which direction to head. Frankenmuth had its Snowfest complete with snow-carving contests. Chicago, of course, is Chicago, but I’m going there next weekend. I could have gone to Grand Rapids and done some hiking and visited one of the coolest coffee shops in Michigan. I also had options of going Southwest or North on the coast. At the last minute, I decided to head to Grand Haven and Muskegon. I ran into a friend at our downstairs coffee shop Friday, and she said Muskegon was beautiful. That’s all I needed.

Approaching the Grand Haven Lighthouse….

I packed a bag and headed up the coast. I stopped first to get a mocha at The Phoenix Rising in Benton Harbor. I’d heard that they made their own mocha, and it was really good. Grand Haven was about an hour away, and I immediately fell in love with its downtown area. Lots of shops, restaurants, breweries and coffeehouses lined the main street which ran right into the inlet off Lake Michigan. Ashok and I walked the boardwalk until I realized that I didn’t have the right boots on to go all the way to the lighthouse. Ice and sand made the walk slippery, and I needed to put on my hiking boots. We got back in the car and drove down to see this stunning little lighthouse in the Grand Haven State Park.

Downtown Grand Haven

You can tell Grand Haven is a happening spot in the summertime. Although the hot dog stands and ice cream shops along the water are all shuttered now, I can just imagine throngs of beachgoers hanging out and soaking up the much-awaited sunshine. I know in Saint Joseph the crowds in summer swell way past the crowds that attend the winter festivals. My sister is coming Memorial Day weekend, and I thought this would be the perfect spot for us to visit. But, I’m sure it will be much more crowded then.

Muskegan and the Stormy Kromer shop…

I drove up to Muskegon, and I made reservations at a hotel about 20 minutes out of town. My friend at Whirlpool had told me about the Stormy Kromer shop, and I really wanted to go in. It’s a Michigan company that makes outdoor wear for the cold winters in the Upper Peninsula. They are known for their hats. I stopped at a coffee shop to ask where this place was, and it happened to be right next door. The saleslady was so nice, and she told me how wonderful and warm the Stormy Kromer hats were. I tried on a few, and I also tried on a poncho. Everything was wool, and it was so well-made. I could tell it would last forever. I handled some wool pants that were the thickest wood fabric I have ever seen. I’d love to have a pair of those!

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-7-14-26-pm

I ended up buying a hat and then had dinner at Handsome Henry’s, a restaurant the saleslady recommended. Then I went to the hotel and retired for the night. This morning Ashok and I hiked at the Muskegon State Park. It was stunningly beautiful. We hiked the South Camp trail which followed the beach first. I saw four swans and numerous ducks who found some unfrozen water to paddle. At one point, an eagle flew overhead and circled twice before flying away. I felt like it was stopping by to say, “Hi. I’m still here with you.” We finished up by hiking the Dune Ridge trail which followed the tops of the dunes throughout the park. The view was phenomenal, and we could see Lake Michigan and the channel on the other side. It began snowing heavily right before we got back to the car, so we ended our hike covered in snow. It was fun.

 

As we were leaving, I noticed a sign for the Winter Sports Complex, and I decided to drop by there. I had read that they have the only public luge in the United States. Everything was closed today because the temperatures were too warm last week, but they were working furiously trying to water everything down to refreeze for a Tuesday opening. They have a huge outdoor ice rink, an ice skating trail, sledding, cross-country skiing and the Luge. The guys there were really friendly and showed me around. They were shoveling snow into the luge. Later, they will hose it with a fire hose and let nature freeze it to make it solid. When my brother and his family come up at the end of February, I think we are going to check that place out. It was really cool.

I loved Muskegon and Grand Haven, and I look forward to returning. At the furthest point, I was less than two hours from home, so it’s definitely doable – even as a day trip. All of these little towns are having winter festivals now. There is no lack of things to do in the winter. In fact, I was thinking yesterday how lucky I was to live in a place where I have year-round hiking. Yes, it’s cold, but I just dress for it. Truth is, I usually end up sweating rather than getting cold. But it’s nothing like a July in Louisiana sweat!

Pere Marquette Beach in Muskegon

Have a great week, y’all. Try to get out and enjoy something near you. There’s a lot of drama going on right now, but we have to stay positive. That eagle reminded me today that we are not alone, and we need to focus on the big picture…. whatever that is for you.

 

It Ended As It Began – 2016

 

 

15822902_10210004148372746_2477053248413252651_n

Happy New Years Eve! 2016 has been an up and down year for me for sure. I’m eager to see it end, and excited to see what 2017 might bring. All week, I’ve been seeing memories from Facebook of last year’s holiday hike on the Wild Azalea Trail. It was my first long backpacking trip with three ladies and one girl dog. It’s made me reflect on that hike and remember what it meant to me to be so adventurous and learn all of those new survival skills. It truly was a life-changing experience.

Last year’s hike on the Wild Azalea Trail….

As I was watching those pics pop up, it made me a little sad that I didn’t have hiking buddies this year. I’m ready to get out hiking, but I just don’t have those folks on speed dial that would say Hell, yeah! if I called and asked if they wanted to go on a hike. By some stroke of sheer luck, my friend Karen posted on Facebook that she was in Southwest Michigan this week. Karen is one of the lucky travelers who travels around the country in her RV working at National Parks and other odd jobs. In her spare time she hikes. I went out to dinner with her last night, and at the last moment, I asked her if she wanted to hike this morning. “Hell, yeah!” she said. (Well, maybe that’s not what she said, but that’s what I heard.)

img_1580

We met at 9 AM at Warren Dunes State Park. It is about a 25-minute drive from my house. I had driven over there once before but wasn’t interested in just climbing those steep dunes all day. I had done some research and found out that not all of the trails were over the dunes. Some were in the woods, so I was eager to get my feet on the trial to see if I liked it.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-4-30-56-pm

We hiked through the woods with our dogs – females Ashok and Tippy – on another all-girl adventure. A slight dusting of snow was evident at the start, but gradually the snow disappeared. The leisurely trail through the wooded park sat just on the edge of the sand dunes. We finally reached a juncture where we had to choose if we wanted to get physical and climb some dunes or stay with a more easy pace. We both decided to go for it, and up we went into some of the largest freshwater sand dunes in the world on a beautiful 40-degree day.

The dunes, of course, led us to that gorgeous gem, Lake Michigan. There was no ice today. We walked the beach next to crystal green water boiling with waves just like the ocean. We found a little “tumbleweed” that was formed from the dune grasses that line the shore. The dunes had eroded a great deal, and a massive “wall” of sand marked the edge of the beach. The sand was stacked in layers that looked like some kind of massive sandstone rock formation.

The tumbleweed and sand wall….

We climbed Mount Randal which is a 260-foot dune and the namesake of the trail. Feeling like we were lost in the desert, we kept climbing and walking on the top of the dunes trying to find the trail. It disappeared into the blowing sand, and there was little evidence of a walkway. To our left was a sharp drop-off that went almost straight down to the woods, and on our right was a less steep but still unnavigable drop into the heart of the dunes. Eventually, we saw this really long, steep “trail” that looked like it led back to the wooded area. We decided to slide down as far as we needed and then lope the rest of the way down the dunes. It was like a long sand slide, and I had a ball trying to get down.

We found a lovely little creek at the bottom and followed it and the trail back to the car. It was such a beautiful day, and the dogs had a great time playing with each other and hiking. It was a perfect way to spend the last day of 2016. I’d spent the first day of 2016 on a trail in North Louisiana alongside a beautiful creek. I never would have dreamed that I’d be climbing a massive sand dune in Michigan by the end of the year.

On the way back, Karen and I talked about the Great Lakes and the massive sand dunes. On that trail, we had two very distinct eco-systems. The dunes very quickly fade into a super-dark soil that could support trees and ferns. The Great Lakes were formed when very heavy glaciers pressed down upon the earth and dug out (or pressed down) the soil. So, these dunes and soil rose up in the process. When the glaciers melted, the depressions filled with water, and we now have some of the largest freshwater lakes in the world. I find the history so fascinating.

I hope that you have a Happy New Years’ Eve tonight, and I wish you the very best year for 2017. I hope that you discover and seek out experiences that fill your heart with joy and make your soul’s desires your most important priority. Life is too short to miss the beauty and love all around us. And it won’t come to you. You have to go seek it out. Happy New Year!

See this drone footage I found on YouTube of the park we hiked today….

 

 

Sunday Night Check-In: Hiking, Swizzling and Twinkling

img_1142

I was sick in bed over Thanksgiving, and since I didn’t want to ruin other people’s holidays by giving them what I had, I stayed home. There was no turkey or dressing or anything festive at my home. I ate leftover pizza all day Thursday. Honestly, I felt like crap, but it was a great excuse to rest without any guilt over house cleaning, chores or spending money. I watched movies, slept, read, slept and then went to bed and slept.

Yesterday, I took the opportunity to get out in St. Joe with a new friend to see the town and shop a bit. Holiday decorations were up, and I made a mental note to take Ashok for a walk in the evening to see the lights. I actually ran into 4 people I knew while I was downtown. I guess I’m going to have to behave myself here. One woman stopped me and asked if I worked at Whirlpool. She said she’d recognize those curls anywhere.

I just LOVE Caffe Tosi!

I bundled up last night to go see the lights, but most of them won’t be lit until this Friday. I’ll have to make time this weekend to get out and about. It was still beautiful, and I enjoyed being warm and cozy in my new LL Bean coat and wool tights. I made a run to LL Bean in Chicago last week to stock up on winter outerwear for both me and Ashok. I hope that we are all set. I know last night I felt warm and toasty and was even sweating by the time I got home. That being said, it was only in the low 40s. The temperature will be dropping much lower than that in no time.

This morning I got up and decided to take a drive in the hopes of finding a trail or two. I stopped first at my favorite breakfast place from 13 years ago and had a frittata with sweet potatoes and avocado. The Blue Plate Cafe serves wonderful organic coffee and homemade baked goods along with a healthy assortment of brunch and lunch dishes. It is located on the Red Arrow Highway (I call it the Red Arrow Drive, and you can get info here.) which leads to a string of little beach towns between here and Indiana. When we were dating, my second husband and I used to go to yoga every Saturday morning in Indiana and then stop by the Blue Plate for breakfast. We had some great times there and often brought our friends from St. Joe to both yoga and breakfast. It was a ritual that I remember fondly.

But this morning breakfast was followed by a search for a trail. I finally landed on a little area called Warren Woods. (Warren Woods and Warren Dunes were named after a guy who made his fortune creating the featherbone corset.) The signs say it is a primeval forest, and it was lovely. The sun wasn’t out, but it was only in the 40s so it wasn’t too cold. Ashok and I hiked for about an hour and a half beside the marsh and a small creek. We saw several other dogs with their owners, but it was mostly very quiet and pleasant. The area reminded me a lot of the Wild Azalea Trail  in Louisiana except for this sign that greeted us at the beginning.

img_1192

After hiking, I did some grocery shopping and then reported to my ice skating lesson. I’m happy to report that I’m improving. At my second lesson, Mindy taught us to “swizzle”, but I have not been able to get it successfully. Tonight, about halfway through the open skate, everything clicked, and I was doing my swizzles! I was thrilled.

I inquired as to what will happen after our next two lessons are completed, and Mindy said I can actually take lessons through June. I’m thinking I just may do it. These things take time to learn, and if I commit to a season of lessons, maybe I’ll be good enough at ice skating to have some fun with it. And I’m making some new friends, too!

img_1188

Since half of my holiday was spent being sick, and the other half was canceled due to work, I’m wishing I had a little more time off. But, tomorrow is Monday, and we are on the home stretch to our “live date” for our new organization. I’ll be glad when we are settled in to our new world. My goal this week is to spend a little time each day in meditation, work out 5 days at least and continue eating healthy with minimal sugar. We’ll see how it goes.

Have a great week, y’all and make some time to enjoy the holiday lights. They’ll be gone before you can blink an eye.

Lessons From the Trail: Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

IMG_6106

My traveling buddies spent the day at the spa yesterday getting refreshed and enjoying some much needed downtime. As we were debriefing each other on our days, they told me that the lady at the spa said the trails were “much better” up here in Sapphire Valley than they were in Brevard where I’ve been hiking since Sunday.

I had a really strong emotional reaction to this statement. I told JoAnn that I didn’t agree that one area could be “better” than the other. I think they all have their own beauty. It’s like saying one baby is “better” than another. In God’s world, He created each precious piece of creation with its own beauty and specialness. I believe it’s up to us to find a way to appreciate it. One of the reasons I named my blog Midlife Moments is because I believe it’s all of the little moments in life that we remember.

Nevertheless it bothered me last night. All of a sudden I started feeling bad that I had led us astray by hiking in that area. I was mad at myself for not choosing the “best” hikes for our vacation. My vacation started to look a little dull and lackluster compared to what it could have been. I thought of my vacations in Kona and Costa Rica. I thought of my fabulous vacation in Maui and my weeklong stay on Catalina Island. Those places were phenomenal. But, when I think of them with their “in your face” natural beauty, I still don’t think they were “better” than my vacation last summer camping in North Carolina – right here in this area. That’s the reason I returned here.

IMG_6109

When I woke up this morning, I felt a little more grounded. I prayed about it and asked for assistance in protecting my vacation experience from judgments about whether it could have been better. For so much of my life I have ruined what I have by comparing it to what I wish I had. For 54 years I hated my hair. I wanted the straight or wavy hair of my friends that would be smooth and silky. I dreamed of putting my hair up in an “updo” with gentle ringlets falling down the side of my face. I found myself being angry every time I was faced with humidity and the resulting frizzy mess I was “blessed” with. I finally cut it all off so I was less miserable. I wanted to look in the mirror and not be anguished over the fact that I didn’t have “better” hair.

IMG_6067

When I finally took the time and effort to learn how to care for my hair and embrace it instead of trying to beat it into submission, I learned to love my hair. My hair hasn’t changed at all. It is the same hair that I’ve always hated. The eye of the beholder changed. And as I’ve given it love, it has thrived. I still have my days, but I know that its beauty is all in my perception. If I choose to accept the fact that my hair has a life of its own – a much more active and unpredictable one than other kinds of hair – then I sort of enjoy the journey.

Hawk told me to pay attention to the messages I receive on this vacation. I’m listening, my feathered messenger. My dog is down in the Brevard area. I don’t care if the trails are 100 times “better” here, or if the waterfalls are a million times bigger and more beautiful in Sapphire Valley. If I can’t bring my dog so we can enjoy these experiences in her short life, I’d rather stay at home. Today, I’m going to Asheville to one of my favorite cities and to spend time with a new friend and amazing curly hair stylist. She’s going to take care of my hair and then we are going out to dinner at one of the fabulous restaurants in Asheville.

If I were rich, I could be on the island of Hawaii. If I had a more flexible job, I could unplug and hike the Appalachian Trail. If I were skinnier, I could wear sexier clothes. If I were hiking in Sapphire Valley instead of Brevard, I could hike better trails.  Whatever …. I choose to love what I’ve chosen to do. Comparison gives me nothing but kills the joy in everything I have. Thank you, Hawk. You have challenged me to see things from a different perspective. I’m taking the birds’ eye view this morning, and I’m liking what I see.

 

 

 

Lessons From the Trail: We Are All Connected

IMG_6106

Today’s adventure brought me and Ashok to the peak of Pilot Mountain in Pisgah National Forest. Rick had suggested this hike for yesterday, but since it’s so strenous, we wanted to wait until today to do it. Neither of the other gals were up for it this morning, and I really wanted to do it, so I picked up Ashok, got directions from Rick and headed down Forest Road 475 to find the Art Loeb Trail, Section 2.

I was a little nervous about the trail because the blog I read said it was very steep, and even Rick said it would wear me out. But I figured I could always stop and come down if it wasn’t going as well as I’d like. I arrived at the trailhead on the gravel forest road about 10 AM. It was cool, and I knew It’d be cooler in the high elevations at the peak, so I packed my SmartWool shirt.

A really cool campsite at the beginning of the trail…

IMG_6089

Once I started climbing, I got warm immediately. The entire hike was a climb. It was a gentle climb at first. I walked through a beautiful forest already high on a ridgeline and had panoramic views almost the entire way. The deciduous trees don’t have their leaves yet, so it was sunny even though I was deep in a forest. It was so quiet. There was no one on the trail, and we had it to ourselves almost the entire way. I thought the trail was much prettier on this hike. The other trails we’ve hiked were heavily traveled and have become wide and dusty. I prefer the look of a narrow trail that makes me feel like I’m just walking through the forest.

IMG_6095

After the gentle inclines for about 3/4 mile, I saw a rock ledge that Rick had mentioned. He said the trail would get much steeper after that, so I stopped for a snack and a rest. The inclines did indeed get steeper. I was proud of myself because I think I’m in shape to do this! I didn’t have to stop because I was overworked at all. I stopped more for Ashok than I did for myself although I did stop a few times just to catch my breath and give it a rest.

Eventually the trail turned rocky, and the rocky path was surrounded by rhododendrons and mountain laurels. I even saw a couple of bushes of blooming wild azaleas. It was just lovely, and we reached the peak of Pilot Mountain in a much shorter time than I anticipated. As we approached I could hear a group talking, and it was the first sounds of humans I heard all day.

The peak of Pilot Mountain was literally about 12 feet wide. On both sides, the mountains of North Carolina rose in the blue smoke. The trail was so narrow that I almost had a 360 degree panoramic view. It was amazing. I could see Looking Glass Rock (that we climbed Monday). I don’t know how far I could see on the other side but it was a very long way. I literally felt like I was on top of the world, and, indeed, I was up there. Pilot Mountain is about 5,000 feet in altitude.

IMG_6099

The backpackers that were at the summit when we arrived were middle schoolers from Atlanta. One of the them mentioned that they were there with some guides from A Walk in the Woods. I turned around as they pointed to the guides, and I told them that I would be hiking with them in the Smokies in three weeks.

IMG_6096

Jamie – who I’ve talked with several times on the phone – said she thought Michael was leading that trip. We laughed about the fact that we met on this very small mountaintop island in the middle of the Appalachians. I jokingly asked the group if they were driving them hard, and they said they were really nice and took things slow. So I’m a little less nervous about my trip in May. They said if I made it up that mountain, I’d be fine. And Jamie said she picked a great route for us. We’ll start in the Smokies and then descend into North Carolina.

The group left, and I spent a little time at the summit having lunch and just enjoying my time on top of the world. When I had my fill, I descended trying to take my time so I could enjoy these woods that I won’t see again for awhile. It’s so easy to get caught up with wanting to get down the trail that sometimes I go too fast. But this time I stopped several places on the way down to take in the views.

IMG_6098

I thought of the hawk that I saw on Monday and of my promise to be aware of what messages I might be getting while I’m here. I thought of running into these folks that I’ll hike with in three weeks and realized that we really are all so connected. I was really drawn to going on this hike and came even thought I had to go by myself. If I’d left earlier or laters, I would have probably just passed this group on the trail without much conversation. But – no – the time, the date and the place was perfect. Somehow I think we were destined to meet on that mountaintop today. We are connected … and things will work out as they should. I don’t have to figure it out.

IMG_6108

I took Ashok for her very first ice cream to celebrate our accomplishment, and she lapped it up. After dropping her off at her new friend’s house, I drove home and decided to stop by Whitewater Falls which was not too far from where we’re staying. I’ll leave you with a picture of that beautiful place. It’s sort of the cherry on top of a beautiful day. Tomorrow…. Asheville.

IMG_6115

Temptation of a Watery Fantasy: Skinny Dip Falls

Yesterday our little band of travelers bit off a big chunk of hiking. We climbed up a mountain to Looking Glass Rock. In the picture below, Looking Glass Rock is in the center. It’s rock sides plunge almost straight down to the ground, and the name describes its mirror-like appearance when the rock is wet or icy. We sat on the very edge for a good hour having lunch. We were alone on the mountain, and, apparently that’s a rare thing as it’s a very popular trail. But, Rick, Ashok’s petsitter advised us to go early to beat the crowds. We did. And we were very grateful to have our solitude up there in that beautiful spot.

Looking Glass Rock from the Blue Ridge Parkway

IMG_6073

On the way up…

 

No matter how happy we were about being up there, our Louisiana flatlander legs were talking back to us this morning about climbing a mountain for more than 5 hours. Our phones tell us we hiked 19,230 steps, 7.3 miles and climbed 76 floors. We decided to take some easier hikes today for recovery. I asked Rick where we should go, and he immediately said Skinny Dip Falls. The trail guide told us that the hike back to these falls is unmarked, but it gave us directions. At mile marker 17 we took the Mountain to Sea Trail for about a half mile downhill.

Looking Glass Rock Slideshow

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We could hear the falls long before we saw them, but the first thing I saw was a long staircase leading down to a bridge crossing the water. I looked up and saw at least two spectacular cascading waterfalls amidst a boulder field. Deep green sparkling pools at the bottom of each fall invited swimmers into their watery depths. I descended the staircase and saw yet another waterfall below the bridge falling into yet another beautiful pool. The place was magical.

IMG_6066

The trail guide warned us that the falls really weren’t clothing optional, but we were alone in the area. I kept running around on the boulders wondering if I dared strip down and plunge into the icy waters just for a bit. A couple with their dog passed through, and then I spotted the perfect spot. Two large boulders created a little changing space that would be somewhat private. I could dive into the pool, and – even if someone came by – they’d never see a thing under the water. This was exactly what I was looking for!

I started taking off my clothes, and Carryn and Jo Ann yelled and asked me if I was going in. “Yes, I am,” I said. That was the coldest water I’ve ever dared to swim in, and I’m afraid my skinny dipping didn’t last very long. But I felt amazing when I got out. Carryn couldn’t resist, and she jumped into my spot after I was respectfully clothed again. She took her turn in the water, and we laughed at what we’d just done in the middle of the forest.

IMG_6072

“I’m so glad I did that,” I said gleefully as we were walking away. “I’m glad you did it, too,” she said. “I never would have done it if you hadn’t.” My second husband got me skinny-dipping, and now I just can’t pass up an opportunity to do it if one comes along. I’ve skinny-dipped on a trail in Big South Fork, on a lake in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan and in Sylamore Creek in Arkansas several times. Now, I’ve done skinny-dipped at Skinny Dip Falls in North Carolina. I just can’t pass up a temptation like that!

Hey… don’t tell anybody…. this is our little secret!!

IMG_6084

Sunday Night Check-In: The Messenger

 

 

IMG_5962

On the way down the mountain this morning, a hawk (or maybe a kite) landed on the fence by the side of our driveway. I stopped the car, and I stared at him. He stared waringly at me. I hurried to get my camera and was stunned that he stayed there long enough for me to get it out and get it ready. Unfortunately, he flew away just as I was shooting a picture. Hmmm… I thought.. I need to look up hawk medicine in my cards when I get back home.

The drive to our little townhouse…

 

I am at FoxHunt Resort in Sapphire Valley NC. It’s beautiful. My brother Terry and his wife Laura gave me a week here, and it’s so much more than I expected. In fact, it’s so nice that I’ve completely canceled any plans to camp while I’m up here. My friends Carryn and JoAnn are about an hour away, and we’ll all be hanging out in a very nice townhome on the side of a mountain until next Saturday.

Heather and Rick

Since they don’t allow pets here, I found a young man to take care of Ashok for the week about 40 minutes away in Brevard. We’ve been texting back and forth for over 4 months in order to get this together. Ashok is staying with Rick and his roommates in a cute little house on Burrell Avenue. After checking in last night, I drove over to Brevard to have dinner at Rick’s restaurant and then leave Ashok at his home.

Rick works at Wine Down on Main. They serve light meals and a variety of wines, but, of course, I don’t drink so I just had dinner. They had a really nice back porch where dogs are welcome, and Rick gave Ashok a bowl of water while I had Bruschetta and a creamy bowl of Potato and Leek soup. It was delicious. Ashok and I walked around town until he got off, and I followed his bicycle home. Heather, his fiancee, is also keeping an eye on Ashok as well as some of his roommates. They leave the door open so I can go get her anytime I want to go hiking. It works out great as Brevard is very close to a lot of the trails in Pisgah National Forest.

A window in downtown Brevard….

IMG_5949

 

At Heather and Rick’s suggestion we hiked the Cat Gap Trail that starts at the local fish hatchery. It led me to another trail called John Rock , and I remembered Heather said that place was really nice. John Rock is a huge rockface with a panoramic view of the area. The hike up was lovely.

A stream followed the trail until we got into the higher elevations.  Wildflowers are profuse right now. The dogwoods, redwoods and fruit trees are in bloom as are many other trees that I don’t recognize by name. I saw several types of wild iris, trilium in three different colors (pink, white and blood red), and wildflowers of every other color under the rainbow. Ferns of all kinds are opening up and creating a lovely green carpet on the forest floor. It was a gorgeous sunny day and lots of people were out hiking.

 

While we were taking in the view on John Rock, several hawks soared by. They were catching the wind as it moved over the rock. They played and played and came back for more. Once again, I thought of the hawk this morning. Hawk was definitely talking to me today.

After sitting up on John Rock for awhile, we descended on another trail which was just lovely at the higher elevations. New growth was bursting out everywhere, and the sun and crystal blue sky was a lovely backdrop for scenic overlooks. It was extremly steep going down, and I was really glad we hadn’t hiked up on that trail. As steep as it was, I met a guy trail running. Amazing!

IMG_5977

I bought some fresh local trout, broccoli, sweet potatoes and new potatoes to cook for dinner tonight.I don’t know if I was just really hungry, or the fresh air enlivened my taste buds, but it was delicious. The trout melted in my mouth, and as I ate it I remember a big trout I saw in a stream today. I thanked the trout for giving up his life for my well-being and felt extremely grateful.

IMG_5980

Hawk is called the Messenger in my Medicine Cards. This is what my Medicine Cards say about Hawk.

…..you are to be aware of signals in your life – so notice and receive them. Hawk may be teaching you to grab an opportunity which is coming your way. On the other hand, Hawk may be bringing you the message that you should circle over your life and examin it from a higher perspective. From this vantage point you may be able to discern the hazards which bar you from freedom of flight. Remember: Hawk has a keen eye and a bold heart, for Hawk flies close to the light of Grandfather Sun.

Okay, Hawk. I’ll pay attention. Thanks for reminding me!

IMG_5961

 

Sports-Specific Training: Backpacking

FullSizeRender-6

I’m officially “in-training” today. I’m taking a guided backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail May 13-15 in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is what I’ve been waiting for since I first decided to take the backpacking class at LSU in the fall. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the hiking around here, but my dream is to wake up in the mountains in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the trail and the forest as my campground.

It’s only three days. I wish it was three months, and I was heading off to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Right now, I’d be packing boxes and mailing supplies to post offices along the way, saving money and maybe even figuring out how to quit my job so I could take off for a long life-changing adventure. But …. sigh … it’s only three days. My life won’t change in three days, but I’ll at least get a taste of what I’m dreaming about just to see if the reality bears any resemblance to the fantasy.

IMG_5753

“That’s ridiculous that they don’t let dogs hike in the Smokies. I think you should stay home.”

The one thing that can really ruin it for me is not being in shape enough to do mountain hiking with a 35-40 pound backpack for 3 days. I might be okay the first day – maybe – but the second and third day could be brutal or, worse, injurous, if I don’t prepare. I initially planned to go on this trip in July until the reality of how hot it is going to be in July smacked me in the face. I couldn’t pull the trigger. I was able to get in on the May trip on shorter notice, but that means I now have about 6 weeks to whip this body in shape.

Luckily, I already work out some, and I started my run/walk workouts again about 3 weeks ago. Yoga is one of the things they recommend to strenthen your legs, but I don’t think my practice is intense enough to meet the threshold I need. Last week I started strength-training in earnest, and I went on a hike on Saturday. I know that’s not enough. I googled “flatlander, backpacking training” and landed on an REI program that I think I’ll use. Katherine (my backpacking teacher) says she thinks I’m already fit enough to do it, so I’m not horribly worried about it. But, this short-term motivation will help get my buns and legs in shape for the trip and even the summer. So, why not go for it?

Below is the schedule recommended:

Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 8.30.00 PM

Every other week I should do a hike in increasing intensity, elevation and pack weight. I only have six weeks, so I won’t have a lot of weekends I can do this. Luckily, I’m headed to North Carolina on vacation mid-April, so I thought I’d take my backpack and hike with it every other day. I don’t want to do too much too fast and injure myself, so I’ll have to be smart about it. I just joined the YMCA a few weeks ago, so I can use the stairstepper for intervals or to vary steady state walks on the treadmill. For safety reasons, I don’t think they’ll let me wear my pack, so I’ll have to find some inclines around here for that type of workout. The levees, overpasses, football stadiums or Clark Creek will be good for elevation gains.

So, tonight I came home and packed my pack with as much gear as I could and added some weights to make it 32 pounds. I walked my regular 3-mile walk and tried to keep up the pace as close to normal as possible. Ugh …. geez… it was like I gained 30 pounds overnight. If you think extra weight doesn’t tax your muscles, you’re delusional. I was hurting after mile 1, but I managed to do the entire walk. My calves were screaming. I took the pack off and almost fell down when I started to walk again. I felt light as a feather, and it took me a few minutes to get my bearings back. It was pretty funny. It was as close to being drunk as I’ve been in a long time. Screen Shot 2016-04-04 at 8.43.23 PM

There are a few resistance exercises they recommend like step-ups, lunges, side planks and a bicep curl/squat combo.  I know they have a step at the Y, so I’ll use that one. I suppose I could also hold two 15 lb. weights and that would approximate the pack weight if I wanted to do that. But that’s a few weeks down the road.

It’s been awhile since I did sports-specific training. My marathon days have been long over. I’m excited about it. I’ll try to document my progress here so I can keep a record of it. Then, when I get on my trip, I’ll know what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully a little advance training will make my trip much more enjoyable. And if I develop nice tight glutes to boot, that’s just gravy!!

I hope I’m not sore tomorrow! I have intervals early…. 🙂