Let’s Begin Again

Last summer I pulled into a campsite along the Pecos River in New Mexico. Driving into the Santa Fe National Forest I was welcomed by green mountains and clouded blue skies, a site I hadn’t seen in some time. The air was cool that night, and the sound of the river gave me some peace. I sat at the picnic table, ate some dinner, and began to write. That night I wrote a letter to myself covering what I had learned so far and it included a few promises. I promised myself that this year I would find a new job in a new location, I would honor my own happiness, and I would move toward adventure. When I was done I did a little yoga on that picnic table. It’s always nice to stretch after a long car ride. Then I laid on my back and watched the stars appear one by one while feeling a little sad that my trip was ending but also a little hopeful for the future.

As the summer came to a close I started getting my portfolio in order and updated my resume. I started telling my bosses and requesting letters of recommendations. For those who do not hold positions in education, this choice can be baffling. In the education world, it helps to have your bosses on your side. If they don’t know you’re leaving then the people looking to hire you won’t give your application a second glance. Not to mention that blindsiding the people you work for can burn bridges. And truly the people you work for should want the best for you. They all understood my motivations and were supportive even if they didn’t want me to go.

Once the year rolled over I began looking into having my certifications recognized in different states. It turned out to be a costly process so I chose 2 states on which to focus my job search. After a couple months of putting in applications and hearing nothing in return, I ran across an application for an overseas recruiter. I filled it out thinking I wouldn’t hear from them either. It turned out that they were very interested in me. Who would have thought? In a short amount of time with multiple Skype interviews and lots of research, I found a job in Beijing teaching Art and I couldn’t be more excited.

I have spent the last twelve years teaching in Warren County. During 9 of those years, I had a principal who began each school year by providing us with inspiration to start with a fresh perspective. Her annual catchphrase, “Let’s begin again” has become an important one for me. Each year it reminded me that I can make changes to improve, and it gave me the little boost I needed to kick off the new year with enthusiasm. This summer she retired and will begin again in a whole new way. I know her new beginning will be wonderful. And, I can’t wait to see what this beginning holds in store for me. I’ve started a new blog to showcase all of the wonderful things Beijing and beyond will teach me. You can find it here at Feed Me, Beijing.

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While I get my visa in order, pack, and do all of the things that need to be done when moving to a new country I continue to hike. I’m embracing the clean air, wilderness, blue skies, and my dogs as much as possible. Oh, if you’re still keeping track so am I. As of July 14, 2017, I have hiked 668.93 miles for the year with 116713 ft of vertical gain. I hope to pass 700  miles before I board the plane. I know my mileage will taper while I’m away, but I will find my way to some trails as often as possible.

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2016 – Year Accomplished

I started 2016 with a goal to accomplish 52 different hikes. I also decided to track my mileage and vertical gain using the Map My Hike app. I contemplated for a few hours on January 3, 2016, whether or not I should try to cover 1000 miles in a year. After some contemplation, I decided against it and chose rather to just see how far I could go. I didn’t want to set an impossible goal, and I didn’t want to give up my life to try to accomplish it. I figured 52 hikes was a good goal, and it was best to just stick to that one.

Well, I did my normal end of the month tally at the end of October, and to my surprise, I was at 750 miles. I just finished my biggest month at a little over 100 miles. That’s when I decided I should go for it. They would be the two biggest months with the least daylight and unpredictable weather, so I didn’t tell but one person. I figured it was like quitting smoking, you don’t tell more than that one trusted person until it’s a sure thing.

I’m happy to report that I hit the 1000 mile mark several days before the end of the year. Obviously, my dogs were not going to let me stop hiking just because we met our goal, so I have actually gone beyond 1000 miles, and I couldn’t be more proud. I wish I could say that Lilly and Turner had covered each mile with me, but they weren’t able to make it along for every trek. I estimate they did at least 800.

I have to make it clear that not all of the miles I covered this year were done on hiking trails. Some were on beaches, some were on streets, some were running and some were in my rural mountain neighborhood. As a matter of fact, I have tallied 262 miles that were not done on a hiking trail. The other 750 were legit hiking miles. In the long run, I chose to make each of the 52 hikes on trails that I had never done. All miles logged toward the 1000 were simply miles that I accomplished by going out of my way. Aka, they were not miles tracked at work or home doing my normal daily routine. Those miles will happen no matter what. This was a challenge to keep myself moving, to meditate, to think, to heal in the healthiest way I knew how.

I also have to make it clear that although I hike, walk or run a lot, I am not able to eat whatever I want whenever I want to stay slender. Like anyone else, I have to watch what I consume. And, sometimes poor decisions get the best of me, and I add 3 to 10 pounds just like everybody else. Weight is a struggle because I love food. My health is a struggle because my body does not like to absorb everything it needs. I work closely with my doctor to make sure I’m doing what I need to maintain my health, and sometimes I slip. I am now the healthiest I’ve been since my pre-smoker early teens, and I don’t want to lose that. I’m also thrilled that I didn’t have to pay a fortune to a pyramid scheme to reap these rewards. I did it all by myself with a little help from the docs that I already see once a year. It made sense to me to utilize their expertise while I was already paying them for my annual physical…

Now, what will next year look like? New goals are on the horizon. At this point, I plan to keep tracking mileage, and rather than putting on the high stress from day one, figure it out as I go along. I’m hoping to work in more yoga since all of this biped movement has made me rather stiff. Time will tell… If you are looking for a place to start, begin with the 52 Hike Challenge. It’s as tough as you want it to be. Health should not add stress to your life, rather it should take the stress out of your life.

Happy New Year everyone!

 

The hike that put me over 1000 miles was the Veach Gap hike in the George Washington National Forest. Here are some of the photos I got along the way.

 

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Hike 52 – The Journey Will Continue

My final hike was actually 2 hikes separated by one holiday. To be honest, if I counted every hike I have done since the beginning of 2016 I would have completed this challenge in late February. Instead, I chose to only count the hikes that inspired me to go outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes that involved consolidating multiple hikes, like on my birthday. And because this was my final hike, I chose to make it a two-for.

Part 1 was a tiny portion of the AT in Daleville, VA. It starts just off Interstate 81, goes up to a ridgeline and past many beautiful views of Carvin Cove Reservoir, continues to Hay Rock and on to Tinker Cliffs or even Georgia if you want to go the distance. I had to get back on the road before it got too late, so I was only able to get in several of the Carvin Cove overlooks before turning around.

Part 2 was supposed to be a 2-day epic adventure in Grayson Highlands beginning on Black Friday, but an unfortunate series of events caused the death of my phone early into the hike. My educated guess based on maps and markers is that we did somewhere between 5 and 6 miles, but my phone was always my distance and elevation keeper. It also gave me a false sense of security, which I fully recognize but hold onto none the less. Between the loss of my good pal/favorite device and Turner’s recent behavior, I chose to make this a one-day hiking event. Let me explain, Turner is my red heeler hiking companion. Ever since our 10 mile hike a week ago, he has been very stiff and sleeping a lot. I may be pushing him too hard. Poor little Buddy. He needs a break. Here are some highlights from Grayson Highlands where we saw lots of people opting outside for Black Friday.

Here are some highlights from Grayson Highlands where we saw lots of wild ponies, lots of dramatic clouds, and lots of people opting outside for Black Friday.

So what does this mean? My 52 hikes are over. Will I stop hiking? No way! I have a goal to hit 1000 miles before the end of 2016. If I count my Grayson Highlands hike as 5 miles that puts my current total for the year at … dang! I even depended on my phone for the calculator function. The next few days will be painful… 861.01 miles!!! I have 5 weeks to polish off the remaining 138.99 miles. I’ve so got this. BTWs, I will continue to hike still after completing 1000 miles. I wonder what new goals I’ll think up for next year…

What did I learn on my 52 hikes you might ask? Well, for one I learned that the more often I put myself outside of my comfort zone the further I have to go to get outside of my comfort zone. For instance, when I first began this journey if I came across a bear or a snake along the trail my pulse would race, I would jump and yelp and react in a frightened fashion. Now I calmly pause, pull myself and the dogs out of harm’s way, grab my camera and take a photo. I’d probably have to see a mountain lion to get worked up now. The idea of being alone once left me unsettled. I now prefer it. I have learned a trust and respect for nature that I may never find with humans urban, rural or otherwise. I can now anticipate each mile as it passes without wonder simply based on how many thoughts have passed through my head, pulling on leashes, the movement of the sun, the intensity of the blood pulsing through my legs, or the feeling of my own weight impeding on my feet. I prefer directions that include rock faces and fallen trees instead of turn right at the second fast food joint and left at the bank. Whether it’s wooded or desert, rocks or sand, everything slows down when I’m following a trail. I have learned that in the midst of classes, internships, working full time, chasing the sun during the cold seasons, driving 7000 miles for adventure, the occasional volunteer work, and a date here and there, I can make it outside almost every day and it will be a fulfilling experience. I’ve also learned that an annual national parks season pass holds way more value to me than a gym membership.

52 may be over, but for me the hike continues…

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I Break For Art

Bright and early this morning I took the dogs for a two mile walk in the neighborhood. I wanted to get them taken care of so I could run off for a day trip to Richmond, VA. As a former art teacher and still practicing artist, I have a strong passion for the arts, and when something good comes through I have to see it.

Several years ago I took a summer educators class through the National Portrait Gallery called Learning to Look. The class was excellent. It taught us different methods of getting our students to look at and understand works of art. It was one of the rare courses that can be useful for all subjects and grade levels. Each educator walked away with a stipend, and a behind the scenes experience you can’t get any other way. I fell in love with a Kehinde Wiley portrait of LL Cool J while I was their. I had never seen his art before, and I was blown away. Since then I have been looking for his pieces. A few months ago his work came to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and because I spent so much time touring the country, I hadn’t had an opportunity to see it. It leaves September 5th, so I had to get there soon or totally miss out. My art teacher friend and I made a day out of it, and even with traffic and 5.5 hours of driving, it was totally worth it. Check out my favorites.

Known for his larger than life portraits, ornately detailed wallpaper like backgrounds, and saturated color schemes, his works can capture your attention from across a busy street. Wiley began as a portrait artist, inviting african american men into his studio to strike a pose from famous classical paintings. He would photograph them, then turn the photos into large scale portraits. He continues to be the portrait painter, but now employs apprentices to create the ultra detailed backgrounds. The backgrounds add to the symbolic meaning of the composition. If you look closely you may find gold sperm, or notice that the tapestry shown is a specific cloth that is important to a certain culture, or a pattern often found in a country’s ceramics. Each piece has meaning in its posture, color, culture, gaze, etc. Each one could be explored for a lifetime.

And who knew he did sculpture too?

Hike 37, It’s the Humidity, Not the Heat

Shewee! Do you see that sheen on my shoulders and forehead? This is some serious sweat’n weather. It probably isn’t even over 90 degrees, but the humidity is out of control. I took this last dog free day to get in one more hike on a path that doesn’t allow dogs. Today I hiked the Fox Hollow Trail in the Shenandoah National Park.

I have repeatedly glanced at this trail on the map wondering what its appeal is, and why dogs aren’t allowed. It’s a short short at just a little over a mile. I picked it up from the Dickey Ridge parking lot at mile marker 5. It turns out that this was once someone’s home. There is an old well and a family cemetery. My guess is dogs are not welcome because they want to minimize the disruption to the property and the land.

As I said, this trail is short, so I continued walking to the Signal Knob Overlook on the Snead Farm Loop to increase the mileage. If you love traversing lands that were once worked by man, discovering all of the little relics left behind, you will love the Fox Hollow Loop. And if you want to make it a challenge, throw in the Snead Farm Loop for a great overlook and an old foundation and farm. You can’t go wrong here, but you might sweat like you’ve never sweat before.  The humid Virginia summers can be even more brutal when you hike at a moderate pace in what feels like a humidor. I’m certainly not in the desert anymore.

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Back Home; Hike 36

Well I’m home. Back from the cross country adventure time. Back from the Jamaica destination wedding. But not quite back to reality. I still a few days before my dogs return, so I might as well make the best of it. There are some hikes around that do not allow dogs. I chose to do the 2.8 mile Wildcat Mountain Trail in Marshall, VA with a 665 ft. elevation gain for my first hike back.

This is a cool little trail that I found on Hiking Upward. If you like to hike in VA, MD, WV, or NC, but haven’t been to Hiking Upward, I suggest you go there immediately to check it out. This site has helped me find all sorts of gems. Run by the Nature Conservancy, this trail is marked with yellow diamonds. It has a great map at the parking lot with handouts you can take with you if for nothing more than to fan the sweat from your dripping skin as you become with the mid summer humidity. But seriously, it’s helpful to carry a map. The trail is well maintained, and offers educational markers on particular trees. I love learning more about the trees that surround me, so this was fun for me.

The parking lot was empty when I arrived. Clouds had been gathering out to the west, rumbles of thunder were threatening, and the humidity, did I mention, it was thick. I walked along remembering the hikes I did out west, and how fearful I had been in regards to the mountain lions and snakes. Now that I’ve returned those things seem to stay on my mind with the addition of more snakes, spiders, and bears. I’m happy to report that, even though I heard some strange sneezing coming from behind me when I first started, I only encountered spiders along this walk. I became a human web wrecker, but these webs were not as annoying as the early morning monstrosities I saw in Missouri. These were dainty, and stopped when I arrived at the Smith Family House and passed a young woman, the sneezer from earlier no doubt, who had knocked her fair share down along the portion of the loop I was about to travel. She should be happy to see that I did the same for her.

Wow, I haven’t seen another loan female hiker in quite some time. I wonder if she gets a lot of flack for hiking alone or if anyone even knows where she is. It was exciting to see her out on the trail. I realized that at the end of the lariat where I had stood and pondered which direction to turn, she had chosen to go left while I had chosen to go right. I made my choice based on what appeared to have the most gradual ascent. Had I chosen to go left we would have never crossed paths, and I would have destroyed all of the spider webs on my own. I would have returned to the parking lot to see her car, only to wonder who it belonged to and how far behind me they were. Only a few more days before I get my pups back. I’ll have to get at least one more dog unfriendly hike in before then.

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