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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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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Cross Country: The Final Chapter

Here it is, my final day on the road. Knowing that I would be home tonight, I once again skipped the shared campground shower. Just in case you were wondering, I have brushed my teeth every day, and did again today because that’s one thing I can’t go without. I made some coffee on my borrowed camp stove, just like most mornings. Unfortunately today I was too eager to get going and didn’t take the time to find my grabbing-hot-things-rag. I tried using a paper towel to remove the scolding cup from the stove and could feel the interior of my hand taking on the burn mark of the bent metal handle. It was all I could do to gently place the coffee cup down without shouting expletives at the top of my lungs waking the entire campground. I didn’t have any burn ointment, but I did have some arnica gel, so I applied some and breathed on it. Not a bad substitution. I knew the pain was going to go on for some time, so I threw a band aid on it, and got moving.

I took a look at the trail map for the Carter Cave Park while sipping my still hot coffee and cursing my stupidity. This place offers hiking, climbing, repelling, and cave tours. After some contemplation about whether or not I should bring my climbing shoes, I settled on a short hike past some caves. I figured if the climbing looked amazing, I would get my shoes after the hike, and go back for a climb. It was early and the sun had yet to come up over the ridge, so most of my hike was in the shadows. I had mentally prepared myself for more spider combat, but was pleasantly surprised to only find a few. Most of the caves I passed were blocked with logs and rocks and included signage steering hikers away because of the sick bats. I had no intention of spelunking this morning so that was fine with me.

Back at the car I made the choice to start driving rather than go back for a climb. The hike was only a mile and a half, so I decided I would find something else along the way, and piece the two together to be hike 34 of my 52 Hike Challenge. I drove to the main road where I again had a signal, and was able to see how far the final leg of my journey would be. Only 5 and a half hours today. Nice. I would definitely have time for adventure.

I stopped in West Huntington, WV for more coffee. Don’t judge. Those Starbucks instant coffees only go so far. First, let me say that Huntington is adorable. I had never been through here before and had no idea what it would be like. It definitely has industrial roots, and seems to be going through a rejuvenation. Yelp took me to an old rail depot that has been turned into a shopping center. I followed the signs for coffee, and found myself in a place called Butter It Up. This place is all about grass fed natural dairy products, and will make you any version of their butter mixed coffee drinks. With a physical coming up I chose not to adventure into the buttered coffee craze. I’ll take mine black, thanks. I also got one of their homemade power bars. It had pumpkin seeds and dates and a lot of the other things you might find in trail mix. Looking like all the ingredients had been chewed up, spit out and formed into a bar shape, I like to call this baby bird food. It was healthy and delicious. No joke.

Now I had a choice to make. Would I continue on 64 West, and connect to 81 North (I hate 81) or would I snake up the backside of West Virginia and cut across through Davis and Wardensville, a trip I’ve done before. With only a 6 minute difference this was a tough choice. Starring at the names on the map, I decided to take 64. I had never been across the bottom of WV and it was already proving to be fun. What a beautiful drive! Charleston is beautiful. Online photos can’t even come close to showing what this place really looks and feels like to drive through. That’s another must return destination.

There were a few tolls along this drive, but nothing like what I paid in Pennsylvania or Ohio. As I approached the need to fill my tank, I started seeing signs for Tamarack. What could that be? I decided to investigate. Envisioning the roadside lean-to craft stands of the Navajo people, I was not prepared for this huge modern structure filled with works of West Virginia fine artists and craftspersons. I wasn’t yet hungry, so no food was purchased, though since having been I have heard many good things about the food. I did however purchase a mug made by Lambros Pottery based in Short Creek, WV, and I took lots of photos.

I was getting some looks. Something tells me I either wasn’t smelling pretty or just wasn’t dressed appropriately. Whatever it was, I could tell I needed to get back to my journey and leave the poor noses of West Virginia alone to shop. So back in the car I went to continue my drive. My next stop was the New River Gorge Grandview. Having so idea what I was about to see, I got out of the car, walked to the overlook and was instantly impressed. Wow! After snapping some photos I decided that this would be my second hike. I walked the rim, then climbed down a bit to see what there was to see. If there were no trees, this would resemble a gray rock Grand Canyon. What a beautiful place. With a little over a mile here and a mile and half in Kentucky this morning, I have now completed Hike 34 (or is it 35?) of the 52 hike challenge.

I had decided this morning that I was going to to try to go see Natural Bridge outside of Lexington, so that would be my next stop. I drove and drove while listening to a Radiolab about Utzi, another ancient human, and life. If you go to this link you can download a 3d scan of the Taung child skull and print your own version! Yes, I am still obsessed with 3d printing, and this episode of Radiolab is outstanding.

I eventually arrived in Lexington feeling a little peckish. I stopped at a 7/11 for a snack pack of nuts. The young man behind the counter complimented my dress. Did I forget to mention that I had yet another costume change. In the parking lot of the New River Gorge I put on my pink hiking dress. I figured if I didn’t smell good, at least I could try to look good. It must have been working. I told him it was my hiking dress from TJ Maxx. He asked if I had hiked the Appalachian Trail. I said I lived close and hiked sections of if all the time, but hadn’t done the whole thing. I asked if he had he. He said yes, and he had also done the nearby suicide trail and had been the only person to ever hear the voices going in and coming out AND live to tell about it. OMG, this was the guy I had to worry about my entire trip, and I am just now meeting him on my last day in my home state? I gave a polite chuckle, congratulated him on his successful hike and scooted out of there as quickly as possible. Yikes!

Hoping that somehow the Natural Bridge would be affiliated with a state or national park, I drove the 30 minutes over there. Unfortunately it is privately owned, and it is $20 to enter.  I stepped into their historic building turned souvenir shop to research their discounts. They offer all kinds of discounts, like AAA and student prices, but I just couldn’t fathom supporting a project that was disguising history for profit? I got back in my car, and texted a friend to ask what her favorite Lexington restaurant was. My appetite was ready for a meal. She offered a couple suggestions, but warned that she wasn’t really sure, and gave a big thumbs up to something in Staunton about 40 minutes away. Because two of the places she suggested looked like places I was way underdressed for, I chose The Palms in Lexington. The hostess sat me immediately. I ordered the sea bass, and was pretty excited about my choice. When it arrived, it looked great. I dug in. The fish and avocado were great, but the rice underneath was still cold. I am not one to send back food, mostly because I don’t want to know what will be done to it while it’s out of my line of site. So I ate what I could while texting my friend about my dining experience.

She told me that they were grilling and had made way too much food. Her home was on my route home, and she was doing her best to convince me to stop by for my last hurrah. I warned her that they may have to throw me in the river because I hadn’t bathed in a while. She assured me they would. So Woodstock became my last stop. Even though I wasn’t hungry, I couldn’t help but indulge in the chicken, corn on the cob, string beans and fruit salad. Dang! That was good. The perfect end to my trip.

Full and happy, I got into Ethel the Element one more time to finish the 45 minutes home. It was dark when I pulled into my driveway. Everything looked to be in order. No trees were resting on my roof. The lawn looked to be freshly trimmed, and the porch swept thanks to my friendly house and yard caretakers. 24 days, 17 states, 4 hotels, 10 campsites, and several friend visits later, I was home. I turned the water heater back to normal from vacation mode, peeled the bandaid off the only injury I suffered while gone (the burn from this morning), and took a shower. Tomorrow I will attempt to unpack while simultaneously packing for my next adventure, my brother’s Jamaican destination wedding.

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Naturific Reflectioning

It’s been almost two weeks since I’ve had a good hike. The last one was 7 miles of fun in the sun. Then I got sick, which really slowed me down. Today I got back into the swing of things with 6 miles on the AT. I’m trying to connect two sections I’ve done recently, and I got pretty close. It felt great to back out there huffing and puffing up a mountain.

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As usual, I spent most of my time watching my step. A little after a mile of walking the outer perimeter of the National Zoological Park Breading Center (eerily like Jurassic Park) I turned a switchback and came upon the above down tree. I had an instant connection and had to stop. Something about the smooth ripple of its trunk struck me. I placed my hand on it as I noticed the thin lines that made up a pattern. I admired the skewed rings of its life and wondered what had caused it to grow so far off from center. I imagined what it may have seen in its lifetime. I felt my breath pumping through my chest. I felt connected to the earth and to myself.

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In that moment of reflection I realized how lucky I am. I am free to grow in which ever direction I please. My happiness is tied only to me and the trees.

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