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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Have You Seen Spring?

I have been watching, listening, and smelling the signs of spring. Every bit of green that has popped up through the forrest floor of my favorite places is engrained in my brain as bits of springtime happiness and joy. It began before the official vernal equinox, which just so happened to take place on the day the above selfie was taken. That’s right, it snowed a heavy wet snow that day. I pushed myself out the door and into what started as a cold rain, to do a hike I had never done, on rocky terrain that was moss covered and slick, with two dogs in tow, and the pay off was worth it.

Since then I have had the fortune to hike in warmer temps, increasing hours of sunshine, and blooms of native flowers. I thought certainly Buzzard Rocks was the last cold weather challenge. I began planning to push myself in distance for warm weather challenges. Little did I know that we would be hit with a cold blast the first weekend of April.

It began simple enough, my camping companion and I discussed a mutual desire to spend a night in the woods. We picked a day and time to meet, packed on our own without discussion of weather. Our only concern was that it might rain. I was bringing my dogs for their first back country camping experience, and I was nervous for so many reasons. The last thing we needed were two wet dogs in our faces all night. When we met up I asked what he was bringing to keep him warm. He said a fleece. We chatted briefly about the possibility that it might get below 30, how it was forecast to rain for an instance at 11pm, and how our elevation would probably mean it would snow briefly at 11pm. And we left it at that.

We started  on our way in the Shenandoah National Park, registered to back country camp, got a few miles up the drive when I realized that I left my cell pad at home!!! Having to turn back meant delaying us by an hour. He asked what I would use in place of it. As I responded, “I’ll gather leaves” I turned the car around realizing that gathering leaves would make me miserable. So home I went, and it turns out to have been the best decision ever.

We make it to the parking lot and begin our descent. It was a gorgeous day! It must have been in the upper 60s. By the time we sought out and decided upon a campsite I was out of my fleece and down to a tank top. We made sure to set up in a spot that provided some shelter from the wind, because we had heard that it would be a windy night. I wish we had paid more attention to HOW windy it was going to get. The dogs had done great with their packs, but it took them a while to settle down while we made camp. Up went the tent, and up went the hammock! A first for us both. If you haven’t tried the Eno hammocks, you should. They are super easy to put up, and being suspended above the ground after a hike with a heavy pack on is one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. (See hammock behind tent in image below.)

There we were, perched just above the falls at Big Devil Stairs. This spot was perfect. It had the sound of rushing water, trees to break some of the wind, and an amazing view. Just steps away was a large concave rock wall that could be used for shelter if needed. We had a little rest in the hammock, then went out to explore for a bit.

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We sat around for a while eating dinner and chatting. We discussed our sleeping strategy. I would sleep with my dogs in the tent. He would give the hammock a try, and if it got too cold he would join us in the tent. The wind started to pick up around 9pm, and the gentle sound of a waterfall was no longer audible. Not long after, the rain started, so we took shelter. The dogs, who I worried wouldn’t be too keen on sleeping in a tent, were happy to huddle in place and fell asleep immediately. It took me a few minutes, but exhaustion got the better of me and I was out like a light…until 1am. The wind started to get wicked. I checked on the dogs. They seemed fine, although the blanket I brought them was soaked. Did they pee in the tent? 4am rolled around and O.M.G!!! The wind changed directions and picked up. I could hear my friend yelling expletives and something about snow. I asked if he was okay. He said yes, and he was going to stick it out. I think we are both hard heads when it comes to being safe vs. pushing ourselves to the limit. Turner, shivering, snuggled up next to me. I put my winter coat on top of him, and he fell back asleep. Lilly never budged. Lucky dog. I was mostly awake the rest of the night. The wind never let up. I emerged at 7am to get the dogs a pee break. We went for a short walk as my fingers began to freeze. Then we headed back, and curled up in the tent again. Finally, at 8am, it was time to get up for realsies. The wind was still obnoxious and the sun had yet to warm anything up. It had definitely snowed, and I was having a tough time making my hands work. Oh yes, I finally realized that the dogs hadn’t peed. The wetness came from the condensation resulting from the warmth of their bodies against the cold ground. What a relief! Also, poor puppies…

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Note the snow on the ground. It’s not much, but brr…

 

Side note; my camping buddy is the best. He put up the tent with little help from me because I was dealing with my fur monsters. He did all of the cooking. And, he did most of the packing up because I couldn’t feel my hands. Spoiled I was.

We started our hike out as the sun really started to make the outdoors feel livable again. During our hike back I stated that waking up to that kind of cold, or the cold we dealt with on our prior camping trip, is what makes me second guess being able to accomplish a through hike. I’m glad to have had the cold weather experience to be realistic in my future endeavors.

It turned out to be another beautiful, albeit windy, day. We were both so tired from being up for much of the night that we went to our respective places, took hot showers and napped. I eventually heard there had been gusts up to 65mph recorded in the park. I hate thinking about what could have happened, and I’m definitely feeling lucky. So, when is spring getting here? I see snow in the forecast this coming Saturday. I think I’ve had my fill. Or should I go for one more cold weather challenge?

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Those Two Things in Life

This is the first year I have hiked consistently throughout each season. As a result, I’ve noticed changes in the landscape that I hadn’t seen before. Twice this week, on two different trails, I said to myself, “Wow. Someone’s been hard at work clearing out the dead growth along the trails.” Then I realized that this was actually the work of nature. The leaves that once littered the trail below my feet had been replaced with shattered limbs and vines that had perished under the weight of winter. As it comes to an end, winter has cleaned the forest of the growth that couldn’t hold on any longer, making space for the new growth of spring.

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I could easily perish under the weight of winter. The short cold days and lack of sun play a huge part in my mental state. Then signs of spring begin to show, and I begin to come back to life, traveling through some sort of zombie state for a few weeks before finally appearing to be and feel completely human again. This weekend I ventured out to do a hike new to me in the George Washington National Forest. It is my 12th hike in the 52 Hike Challenge. I took the dogs and we scoured the Tuscarora Trail from Elizabeth Furnace to Moneka Peak looking for signs of spring.

I have been a little impatient, hoping to find more trees in bloom and more green popping up from the earth. I photographed what I could find as the dogs and I dodged trail runner after trail runner coming toward us. Then I realized that I had chosen to hike a trail that had an active race happening. That may have been the clearest sign of spring I had seen all day.

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As runners passed by, we exchanged pleasant hellos and quick glances. I began to notice that most of them appeared to be my age or older. I wondered how long they had been training, what their lives were like when they weren’t trying not to break their bodies on rocky terrain, how they chose this race, and what distance they had come to get here. The first runner I came upon was surprised by my presence, fell, and did a very graceful tumble before popping back up and continuing to run. The last runner I came in contact with was crossing a stream, happily humming along with whatever she was listening to as blood streamed from a gouge on her shin. Ah, the wounds of hard work and perseverance. She will look back on that scar and smile, I’m sure of it. Just look at what she had accomplished.

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After passing so many runners, I had to ask myself if I was pushing myself hard enough. Should I be trying to accomplish more on my outings? Then I realized that I was working to my own potential, and the only thing I should be pushing myself toward is not comparing my journey to others. Pushing myself a little harder with each hike is bringing me happiness, and my happiness should not be tied to the goals of others. What’s the saying? There are two things in life that are certain, death and taxes? So, I should be doing what makes me happy before the weight of my winter pulls me to the forest floor. And, I guess tomorrow I have to work on my taxes.

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