FWFG Yoga

Yoga. Yoga with Adriene. In a quest to Find What Feels Good. And in the process, be True to yourself.

What better way to kick off the new year. I attempted to commit to this series last year but wound up choosing my pillow over getting up a bit early each morning. This year, though, the theme of “TRUE” really called to me. I love her yoga series, her daily insights, the new ways of stretching and exploring what is happening in that very moment. Opening my mind and committing to myself for this home practice. It’s a journey. Some days felt better than others.

She had theme words for each day. Day 1 was motive. Motive has root meaning of to move. “We should think of motive as the thing that moves you to act.” What a great thing to ponder as we got started. What if the motivation comes from within? Day 2 was about Trust. I loved her language of “Let’s get real, your time is valuable.” Yes, it is. I’m trusting that the yoga she’s leading me through is the yoga I need, that it’s going to benefit me if I’m open to receiving it, and that it’s going to be worth my time. I trust myself to show up, and to be honest in how I’m feeling both on the mat and off. Days of Stretch and Salve and Floor were amazing, and perfectly timed. My body needed stretched, and nurtured. Deep breathing to work out the snags and tightness. I’m noticing that I’m not tired in the afternoons at work, despite getting up earlier than normal. I’m noticing that I’m breathing more deeply, not only on the mat but throughout my day. Inhaling through the nose. Exhaling through the mouth. Audibly hearing my breath. And then there were days of circulating energy, lighting a fire, and catching some waves. Waves of breath and movement, that is. Kindle day made me ponder how my mindset of getting strong might help my core and muscles, but what is it doing to my spine, my neck and my soul? This day made me consider the “practice of spiraling inward and meeting my appropriate edge.” I love those concepts.

How thick is the veil? Am I able to drop my expectations and just breathe?

I love how she says in Day 10, Detox, “No one expects you to master or jive with every practice. This journey is about spending time with yourself.” How many times do I put the expectation on myself that this workout, this practice, this session is going to be awesome and the best, and then feel like I let myself down if I wasn’t mentally or physically all in? It’s okay to drop those expectations. Not everything has to be a challenge. Some things are just part of the journey.

Open your eyes to the beauty around you, open your mind to the wonders of life, open your heart to those who love you, and always be true to yourself. – Maya Angelou

This practice was soothing and restorative and therapeutic. It built awareness. It made me smile. It made me look inward. I caught a lot of waves. Breath and energy waves, that is. The final day was a beautiful flowing practice, with no audible guidance, simply finding what feels good, flowing in your breath, moving to the soothing music she chose to share. It might be the most amazing, genuine practice I’ve ever experienced.

Some mornings the hardest part was simply getting on the mat, and as the month progressed, some mornings it even felt like a chore. But after each practice, it felt totally worth it. I showed up. Not for the 3 million other subscribers of Yoga with Adriene. But for myself. For my spine. For my spirit. And to kick the new year off right.

And now to continue with TRUE. Every Tuesday for the rest of the year. Thank you, Adriene, for creating such an incredible gift.

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Setting Intentions for 2018

 

A year ago I explored the idea of why I don’t like setting goals and decided that instead of creating New Year’s Resolutions, I’d try something that seemed less restrictive and wouldn’t engage my borderline neurotic tendencies. Side stepping the pressure and persistent focus on “achieving” that goals often cause for me, I decided instead to define concept areas that I wanted to embrace and cultivate throughout the year. This worked well for me, and so I thought I’d try it again. And behold… My Intentions for 2018. In addition to the ones I named last year (Freedom and Travel, Vitality and Health, Joy and Growth), I created the following:

  1. Intention: Engage / Be Present More. I’m consciously putting down my phone. I’m a pretty good multi-tasker, but scrolling through my newsfeed or messages on my phone while someone is talking to me sends a message that they aren’t as important to me. When I’m with my guy, or my friend, or my mom, or my niece or nephew… when I’m around anyone that’s important to me, and even if they’re not so important to me, I want to be present more. I don’t want to be that person at dinner who is looking at their phone vs the person across from me. I can do better. And my loved ones deserve my attention and interest.

 

  1. Intention: Give / Do Good Things Together. Instead of just doing year end donations or good deeds during the holiday season, make efforts to do good things throughout the year. And do them together. Small yet significant gestures. Collective impact makes a bigger difference and provides deeper connections through shared experiences.

  

  1. Intention: Live / Add More Joy. Create a list of date night ideas. Add in some day trip excursions. Plan to meet up with friends more. Find pleasure in the daily, small things. Laugh. A lot. Breathe… Don’t take life too seriously.

  

  1. Intention: Unwind / Do the Things that Recharge my Soul. I’m not prepping for a big hike this year, but I need to remember that I recharge best when I’m out on a trail or enjoying nature. Trail time, birding, watching the sunsets, exploring. Those are the things I must purposefully make sure I have time carved out for, as they are the very things that nurture and soothe my spirit.

 

  1. Intention: Embrace and Be / Settle In. I have found that I’m most happy where calm lives. Taking a 180 degree turn from years of past living and continual planning mode, I’m embracing and accepting that there doesn’t need to always be “the next thing” on the horizon. I don’t always have to be striving to be more, to grow more, to push myself. It’s okay to be happy with the simple things, to sit and enjoy the cup of coffee, to say no to the workout planned for the day (confession: this is a struggle for me), and to not always have a trip on the horizon (gasp) even though there are always a plethora of half baked options. Settling into myself, I’m finding happy contentment in the presence and calm.

 

2017 turned out to be a fantastic year, but I have a feeling that 2018 is going to be even better, and I can’t wait to see what adventures, joy, and amazing experiences are floating this way.

What intentions are you focusing on?

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Discoveries in Chetopa

 

Kansas is full of treasures, if you only take the time to look around. Whenever I have the opportunity to travel around the state I consult my map to see what goodies might be nearby for me to venture to.

 

In Southeast Kansas, a little town named Chetopa exists. It has its origins in Native American history, but somewhere along its way became industrious and a town made up of good ol’ Midwesterners.

 

The Alvie Hensen Mill was built in 1896 and was the primary reason I detoured and added an extra hour of driving to my already long day. I’d heard it was an alluring dilapidated structure with rusty colors I’d find captivating. And it was. I found myself meandering around in overgrown grasses, finding captivating angles and views of colors reflecting days gone by.

 

What was a complete surprise find was the fantastically restored Sinclair gas station that sits on the corner down the street from the old mill. It beckons one to stop and think about times when the nearby Route 66 was in its hayday and hints at an era long put to rest.

Chetopa was worth every extra minute and I highly recommend slowing down, taking a longer gaze, and stopping to see some of the hidden gems our Kansas small towns have to offer.

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Kansas Backroads – Hwy 99

 

Kansas. We’re so much more than a fly-over state, or a place that you whiz through on one of the major interstates. But to really appreciate the beauty you have to get out on the backroads and take the winding paths less traveled.

 

Our destination on this particular outing was Winfield, Kansas, where the 46th Walnut Valley Festival was in full swing with national and international flat-picking performers entertaining crowds that more than outnumber the population of the town. We left from Emporia and our GPS said that the turnpike would be our fastest way. But being true Kansans, we knew a better way. A more scenic route. A direction that would confuse our automated navigator with our frequent u-turns and whipping around to investigate the random points of interest that caught our eye.

 

There was the stone building off of Hwy 99 that beckoned us to drive into the field and walk around. The farmers who own the place happened to be nearby and came over to visit. They unfortunately didn’t know much about the history of the dilapidated dwelling but they were thrilled someone had thought enough to stop and explore a bit of history.

 

There was the winding gravel road that triggered the imagination and needed to be meandered down. A bit further along the road was the homestead with the welcoming fence and barbed wire ornamentation that just begged for a quick stop to appreciate the simplistic decor.

 

True to Kansas and the ever changing weather, an afternoon thunderstorm made for broody skies which highlighted the old buildings with cobalt colored hues and gave way to a spectacular country sunset. Ending our day at Soden’s Grove Park south of Emporia felt like nature softly embraced the day with muted pastel colors over the Cottonwood River.

Beauty exists everywhere, but you have to be willing to depart from the fastest highways and spend some time exploring the treasures that are waiting to be discovered.

Travel on, friends!

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The 30 Day Walking Challenge

Ten thousand steps, every day, for a whole month. No big deal, right?

Never once did it cross my mind that this challenge was going to be difficult for me to complete. I was wrong.

As one of my “40 in 40” goals, I originally was planning to do this challenge in the spring, thinking it’d be a great way to transition seasons and come out of winter’s hibernation. But then my work threw out a steps challenge as part of our wellness plan that we have every six months. The work challenge was to complete 10,000 steps a day, five days a week, for a total goal of 200,000 steps. I figured if I was already participating in this challenge for work I might as well cross off the whole month, per original plan, and just move the timeline from spring to autumn. No biggie, as we’ve had unseasonably cooler August temperatures, which means I only felt like I was melting into the surface of the earth while logging my steps every few days.

Walking is not my primary means of exercise. I circuit train, do yoga, add in core work, incorporate T25 and P90X3 workouts, box and occasionally jog. This walking challenge was in addition to all my other workouts. Which resulted in me feeling really physically tired for the month. While the extra walking was good for me during stressful days at work when I’d go outside to stroll through the beautifully landscaped cemetery my office sits adjacent to, the obsessive nature of trying to reach 10,000 steps a day created more mental stress than I could have ever imagined. Some days I woke extra early so I could get a jump on the steps, but because I’m not a morning person, more times than not I was out walking in my neighborhood well past bedtime just so I could finish out the day.

While the walking challenge bordered on giving me an obsessive-compulsive diagnosis, I did at least find myself enjoying some natural beauty while out on those walks. The flowers were still in bloom, the goldfinches were flitting around in flocks, the yellow-crowned night herons had juveniles near the pond, the yellow-bellied sapsuckers and red-bellied woodpeckers played chicken with the blue jays, the great blue heron stood stoically on the edge of the water, the Canada Goose with his deformed leg seemed friendly (I affectionately nicknamed him Peg-Leg), a couple of deer crossed my path, the stars shown brightly, and the moon lit my way. There’s always something to see when one is out in nature.

Even so, despite all the natural wonders that are available for discovery, I was so happy when this challenge came to an end. Sure, I’ll still walk, and I’ll probably try to take more walk breaks throughout the day. But the pedometer is staying home.

What about you? Have you ever done a walking challenge like this before? How’d it go for you?

Total Steps in 31 Days: 347,009
Translates to: 173.5 Miles

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40 in 40 Aspirations

Earlier this year I learned that a friend of mine had put together a list of forty things she wanted to do before she reached her fortieth birthday. I fell in love with the concept immediately. The problem was I only had about three months before I turned forty myself, which wasn’t nearly enough time to put together a list, let alone accomplish it. So I decided that I would do a “40 in 40” instead… 40 things I want to accomplish in my 40th year of life.

 

I brainstormed with my friends and coworkers, and think I even inspired a few to create their own lists… I’ve listened with enthusiasm as they’ve shared their “35 by 35” and “50 by 50” lists. A word of caution – this can be contagious.

More than anything, it creates a focus on things that are important to you. Or things you may forever be putting off, but if they’re on a list like this, may actually stand a chance of being done. And it’s your list… which means the list can also change.

 

My friend who inspired me went above and beyond, which is what really sparked my desire to do this. With each feat she accomplished, she acknowledged a lesson and through it all, started to find some common themes. Some of the challenges were new, others she hadn’t tried in a long time, some were on the original list, and others were added along the way. Her list brought her lessons and laughs, joy and adventure, health and love.

I’m hoping mine will do the same. I’m a quarter of the way through my 40th year, and am thoroughly enjoying having this list of goals to guide me.

Already Completed

1. Complete a Multi-Day Hike. This was monumental for me, required much planning as it was my first ever outing with through-hiking and backpacking and camping. Four days and 45 miles were completed on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail.

2. Eliminate 40 Things. This included large categories of “clothes” or “DVDs” being one thing, even though there were multiple items in each of those broader areas. I eliminated far beyond the 40 things and it felt good to do a deeper purge.

3. In conjunction with the Eliminate 40 Things was to Purge Items in Storage Bins. Again, I was able to reduce and eliminate, sort and organize, and the cathartic feelings that come from these activities are incredible.

4. Indulge in a Splurge. Deep at my core is a money-saving beast. It’s not that I don’t spend money, but I’m very conscious of it. I have been driving a 16 year old vehicle, which I have had for almost all of its existence. It became apparent that continuing to repair it wasn’t feasible or wise, and after a long and serious mourning process, I made the leap and bought a brand new vehicle complete with the new car smell. I’m slowly warming up to my new little ride, even though I still miss my old trusty friend at times. Here’s to hoping this one lasts me a good 10 years or longer.

5. Create Inspiring Notes or Cards. I love taking photos and it seems people generally like my captures of nature. What better way to share them and than by creating cards with the photos and mailing them out on whims? More than 50 cards are created, ready to be hand-selected for brightening someone’s day.

6. Walk 10,000 Steps a Day for A Month. I wasn’t planning on doing this until the spring, but then my work threw down the challenge of 10,000 steps, 5 days a week, for a month, and I thought “Perfect! Do it now!” This was both addicting and challenging, and forced me to be intentional every day to accomplish those steps. It also meant that some nights I was out walking well after dark in my neighborhood to pick up the last thousand or two clicks.

In Progress throughout the Year:

7. Remember Birthdays. If you’re in my inner circle, you’re getting a real, tangible birthday card this year. I received lots of cards for my 40th birthday, and I loved seeing them all on my buffet table. Receiving mail that isn’t a bill is always uplifting and this year I’m making an effort to physically mail a card to those I love and friends I cherish.

8. Give Proofs of Love. (aka, I love you just as you are, I’m thinking of you, you’re awesome because…). Intentionally giving cards and pick-me-ups to brighten someone’s day. There’s too much negativity and crap in the world. I’m attempting to sprinkle a little happiness in my own way.

9. Learn to Play an Instrument. The best birthday gift I received was a ukulele. I’m feeling proud of the four chords I know already, the child-like strumming I can perform, and the peaceful, enjoyable feelings I have with picking it up and noodling around with it. Here’s to hoping I sound a little more finessed in a few more months….or years.

10. Read or Listen to 12 Books. I’m trying to increase my reading. This is slow going for me, but I’ve finished a couple already and have two more in process with a massive list waiting for me.

11. Do a photo field trip once a quarter. This is to challenge my skills, force myself to use my camera more, provide a theme if required, and to have fun in each season. The first field trip is complete and took me out on a morning stroll along Lawrence’s alleyways.

I created my original list but have already modified it a couple of times. The goals were slotted by each month so it seemed more manageable but I’m already skipping around. The thing is, this is MY list. It’s mine to rearrange, add to, delete, cross off, change, and enjoy.

I’ll post another update on more things completed as the year progresses…. but what are you waiting for? What kinds of things would go on your list? I’d love to know… leave me a comment! And don’t say I didn’t warn you about the contagious nature of a project like this!

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Strolling Along Mass Street’s Alleyways

 

Being a native Kansan I’m pretty familiar with things that are uniquely Kansas, the must-see locations, and the misconstrued idea that we’re flat as a pancake (flint hills, anyone?). I’m also a Wildcat living in Jayhawk territory. Lawrence isn’t a place I went to college; I didn’t spend 4 years of my life here exploring the ins and outs of campus and beyond. But I intentionally picked this town to relocate to and to call home. I have loved this town from the moment I became a resident.

 

 

However, I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface of my relationship with this exceptionally eclectic place. Usually when I move to new area I like to look up ideas for self-guided tours that include local interests and history. Exploring on foot, self-guided, camera in hand, usually helps me feel a stronger connection to my current home. Recently I realized that I’ve been remiss in doing this exploration since I moved back to Kansas, and decided it was time to change that.

 

Surprisingly, my search for self-guided tours in Lawrence, particularly walking tours, came up short. There is a great deal of history and significance with Lawrence, and so many things to see, yet I was surprised at my struggle to find any compilation or narrative to guide me in my quest for deeper discovery. And so I created my own set of self-guided tours with the intentions of enjoying short outings with my camera while discovering the little things that make this place unmistakably Lawrence.

 

Massachusetts Street, aka Mass Street, is the crown jewel of Lawrence, offering a diverse selection of stores, shops, restaurants, music venues, and people watching. In the middle of certain blocks are pass-throughs, providing access to the east and west alleyways and parking lots. I’ve been in the alleys on a number of occasions, as the quaint local stores often have front and back entryways, but I have never ventured, intentionally, up and down the alleyways with the purpose of photographing things I saw. That is… not until recently.

 

 

The alleys hold some incredible treasures. They also are home to some horrific stenches which gave me flashbacks to my trip to Vietnam, and the disgusting filth in the city streets of Hanoi. But the beauty outweighs the smells, with whimsical or thought-provoking murals, alluring doorways, graffiti, and climbing ivy which offsets the textures of brick, stone, and concrete walls.

 

 

The downtown alleyways are an urban wonderland that feed the senses and pique the curiosity. Next time you’re in town, maybe stop and stroll the backsides of Mass Street. You’ll be glad you did.

 

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What’s Your Spark?

 

All other creatures on the planet, from the lowest amoeba to the great blue whale, express all their component elements in a perfect dance with the world around them. Only human beings have unfulfilled lives. Only humans suffer from career discontent. But then again, we are the only inhabitants of the earth that get to decide what we will do with our lives. Since we have the option to choose to be the authors of our destinies, why not do it well?” (The Pathfinder)

Periodically I struggle with feeling like I’m living a mediocre life. It’s not that I don’t like my life, because I do, and I don’t necessarily feel like I’m settling, but rather some days I feel like I’ve become complacent with the routine of life.

I was driving into work the other morning and it struck me how most everyone racing along on their commute probably has their day dictated by a clock and the hours required to sit at a desk. It all felt so…ordinary. So unremarkable. And it made me shudder.

 

Resignation is a word that can be used to describe the majority of the working class.

It’s not that I dislike my job, because I don’t. I’m really good at it, and some days it’s fulfilling. But I also don’t find it inspiring or soul-sparking. I view it as a means to an end. The end being flexibility for travel and vacations and spending time with the people I love. You see, I have a lot of vacation that accrues every year. A little over 4 weeks. It’s rare to find a place that provides that kind of benefit. But it’s also rare to have been with an agency as long as I have.

Sidenote: Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you should continue doing it.
Secondary Sidenote: I hate the word “should”.

Lately I’ve been trying to evaluate if staying at a job that isn’t sparking my soul is worth it if it provides the ability to do the things that do spark my soul – like traveling.

 

I read an article written by a life coach asking some very poignant questions. The theory is that the responses would help connect you to those things that truly light you up.

  1. What would you do if you had six months to live? This question sent me into spiral thinking. Everyone has the same 24 hours a day. But what do I do with my time? Do I keep a balance? Do I work on projects that ultimately don’t make a difference? Do I make a difference in someone else’s life? We are not guaranteed tomorrow. In fact, we are not guaranteed the next hour, so maybe we all don’t really have those same 24 hours a day. How do you live your life? What would you do if you knew your time was limited? Because ultimately, it is.
  2. What would your 90-year-old self tell you to do? What advice would you receive from the wiser-you? My grandpa, at age 88 and in the final months of his life, looked me in the eye and said “Your golden years are now.” I will never forget that moment. He strongly believed in responsibility and working hard, but he also saw the value in choosing to live life now. At my age. At any age. Enjoy the travels and new experiences and don’t put them off.
  3. What do people thank you for? The life coach poses the idea that the answer to this question might be the key to your area of greatest strength and talents. He says if you are feeling disconnected from your purpose, pay attention to the ways people express gratitude towards you.
  4. What is it time for in your life? Time is a process. It’s continually moving, yet we can’t go backward and change the past, and we can’t warp forward to skip the now. We must go through the summer (my least favorite season) before we reach the fall (my favorite season). What are you learning right now? What is being pressed on your heart?

 

I have a confession. I love notebooks. I seem to have a collection. I rarely journal and don’t want to waste the beautifully bound pages, so I end up starting a notebook and then moving on to another because I don’t want to mix topics in the same set of sheets. It’s a sickness, I know. I also know some of you relate. I’ve had one particular notebook since December 1997. I know when I got it because it’s signed and dated inside from the person who gave it to me. I’m almost out of pages in it and have been using it up to plan my workouts. Reaching the end of available pages might actually be cause for celebration. Or mourning. But today I flipped to the early pages, curious what else I’d used this notebook for, and found the lines filled in with ideas of attempts at identifying my passions and purpose.

Dreams that lure me away are giving back, volunteering or organizing a relief aid, living in another country, helping those in need or unfortunate. Adventure. Problem solving. Helping others. Being part of something larger.

Those are the words in my own handwriting. I wish I knew what year I wrote them, but it really doesn’t matter. It was true then, and it’s true now.

 

So I find myself in the process of evaluating my day-to-day. Is what I’m currently doing lining up with the things that spark my inspiration, purpose, and joy? Is it worth staying somewhere if it provides the means to the end? Or do I need to take a leap, and start looking for a way to have soul-sparking days that happen every day, and not just on days when I’ve utilized vacation hours?

If you do not feel yourself growing in your work and your life broadening and deepening, if your task is not a perpetual tonic to you, you have not found your place.” – Orison Swett Marden, founder of Success Magazine

 

What I do know is this: We are meant to thrive. We are not meant to be in a monotonous rut, going through the motions, feeling uninspired, and leaving our gifts and talents underutilized. The uniqueness of you is meant to be shared with the world – whether that makes a difference to one person, or to a whole country. Figuring out those gifts and talents, and how to best use them, finding your spark, and making that part of your every day… that becomes the challenge.

What are the things that light you up? What causes you to spark? Embrace these things… and do more of them.

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Final Musings of the GA AT

 

Sometimes it’s hard for me to reflect upon a trip and come up with words to adequately and accurately describe the experience to others. Experiences are living memories. People say, “Tell me all about it.” But in reality you’re trying to describe days, weeks, or even months in just a few minutes, and you realize that the experiences you have cherished, the ones that imprinted on your heart, are yours, and yours alone. They are the ones that made your life yours, and they are only relevant to you. (thought stolen from Ellie Cleary, Elephant Journal)

In an attempt to wrap up the AT posts, I’ve been reflecting on things that went well, things I’m glad I did, and things I would have liked to have done differently.

 

Trail Concerns: Were they Validated or Unwarranted? My top concerns prior to leaving for the trail included poisonous snakes, ticks (which are just the sickest creatures on the planet), spiders (Satan’s pets), mosquitoes, peeing in the woods after dark, leg stamina, and mental health. Oh… and always having enough water.

Secondary concerns included blisters, torrential rain, wet packs and tents, knees surviving, not killing my companions, and the heat/humidity.

In reflection, I’d say that my concerns were all valid. While I somehow escaped entanglement with Satan’s Arachnid Army, I did encounter poisonous snakes and watched a rather nasty spider try to attach itself to Scout’s backpack while navigating a downed tree. Surprisingly I did not encounter ticks (although Permethrin probably helped out here) and oddly escaped any blood-sucking mosquitoes (thank you rain). I only felt slightly panicked peeing in the dark, and somehow came through the trail with enough water and my physical and mental health in tact. Mostly. I did leave the trail with a couple of blisters and a swollen knee and hiked in torrential rain, but thankfully the Osprey cover kept my pack completely dry.

 

When I said yes to this trip I was under the impression that those I was joining had done something like this before. That was a false assumption which launched me into an insane amount of planning and a massive learning curve. The more I know the better I feel. That may not translate to practicality in the real world, but it’s how I tackle unknowns. The best way to conquer concerns, for me anyway, is to plan and learn as much as possible.

Conclusion? I’m glad I thought through so many different scenarios, so that I could be as prepared as I was. Although I still maintain that nothing could adequately prepare you for the AT.

 

Food. Did I make the right choices? Was it tasty? Was I starving or satisfied? I have specific food parameters I try to follow. I’ve been a vegetarian for several years, but I also usually eat gluten-free and dairy-free, and try to avoid most soy. I don’t put things in my body with ingredients I can’t pronounce. This makes backpacking a slight challenge. I really deliberated over what foods to take, how much, considered the weight of items, and paired it down. I was really happy with the Good-to-Go dehydrated food options, particularly the pasta. It really hit the spot. Amrita bars? If I never see another one of those it’ll be too soon. Kind bars are still my go-to and hit the sweet spot for me. Gluten-free pretzels were delicious in my trail mix but became slightly stale after a few days. I ate them anyway. By night three, we were at Neel Gap and had the opportunity to go into town for normal food. It’s amazing how after just three days on the trail all food parameters went completely out the window. Did I want some wine? Nope. I can drink that anytime back home. But I never buy soda at home. Or eat things like candy bars. I bet I haven’t had a real candy bar in over 7 years. Guess what my order included…

Conclusion? It’s okay to eat things you normally wouldn’t when you’re doing something you normally don’t. Each bite of that pizza, each nibble of that snickers bar, and each swig of that coke took me a little bit closer to nirvana. And Hiker Hunger? That’s a real thing. It’s indicated by eating anything in sight, or when you go out to breakfast and then immediately drive to a second place for lunch. Not that we did that.

Lessons and Observations.

Slow down and enjoy the scenery a little more. This is also known as the hiker’s rule of “take the time to actually see what you see.” I had problems keeping my mind in the present on this trip. For the first time ever while hiking, I felt it difficult to relax and enjoy what I was doing. This made it challenging to stop and actually see what was in front of me, other than to see it as a challenge. In hindsight, I wish I would have stopped at the rare overlooks more and taken longer rests to enjoy the views that I’d worked hard to get to. I loved watching the blue butterflies in several locations, the snails clinging to giant leaves or sides of trees, the variety of colors in the mushrooms, the trickling water or babbling streams we’d discover as water sources, the way the light filters through the leaves and how the fog wraps you in a mystical hug, the countless variances in the types of trail and the rolling mountains that would eventually come into view. I saw a lot. But I know I could have seen more.

I’m a slow-to-warm-up person. Perhaps this is why I didn’t love the trail. I wasn’t on it long enough to find my comfort level, and I was too focused on the end point for each day, forgetting to stop more and enjoy the journey that got me there.

 

Don’t just see the trail, listen to it. You’ll be amazed at what you hear. The sounds on the trail are soothing. Total silence. Until you hear the slight rustling of the leaves. Then birds singing and chirping, owls hooting in the distance, the sound of rain falling and the wind blowing in the trees, allowing droplets to escape down. There’s a unique sound that’s made when the rain rolls through high above, bathing the leaves which provided protection for us walking below. The sounds your boots make as they’re thudding along on the trail, or the sound of your trekking poles digging into the rock to help you scramble upward. The internal groans your body makes on a steep descent down. The sounds on a trail are some of my favorite things.

 

Hike Your Own Hike with an open mind. We started out as a group of four. We were soon separated into pairs, which we assumed would happen based on our varying degrees of preparation for the trail. We hiked our own hike. They hiked theirs. One is not better than the other. Had we all stayed together, the experiences, the people we met, and the memories would be completely altered. Best laid plans are meant to be changed and altered.

Side Thoughts from the Trail.

  • Two is better than one. This applies to carrying an extra water bottle which was put to good use when Scout’s only bottle cracked on day one and I could give her my spare. It’s also true for hiking with a friend. Just make sure it’s a good friend.
  • Lighten the load. My world started revolving around ounces. Yes, it seems ridiculous, but those ounces add up. I’m still trying to figure out how to lighten the load of what I consider “essentials” but two areas I could have cut weight on were items that seem counterintuitive. Yet… water and food make up a huge portion of the load. By day two I felt comfortable in calculating my reasonable drinking rates with knowing where the water sources were, thus reducing the amount I was traipsing through the woods with. I also could have taken slightly less food, because on days one and two my body was in complete shock and I really wasn’t that hungry. I had to force myself to eat, and even then, didn’t consume all of my food for those particular days. Any hike lasting longer than 4 days could also utilize the use of a food-resupply station, which would have reduced weight as well. As for those essentials? I’m still contemplating what of those could be left behind.
  • If you want to earn a possible trail name of “Bear Bait” then bring along some packets of tuna or salmon. Our hotel room the first night smelled particularly aromatic when we discovered that Scout’s salmon packets had leaked during the flight and coated many things in the enticing salmon fragrance, leading us to wonder if this was really the secret to ensuring a bear encounter.
  • The more distance you have from a point in time, the easier it is to romanticize the experience. Blood Mountain doesn’t seem so challenging now that we’re several weeks removed from crawling over the miles. It’s a good thing I wrote down this quote from Scout: “I would do anything for you, but if you tell me I have to do Blood Mountain with you again, you are no longer my friend.”

 

As someone stated in the Appalachian Trail Women’s Facebook group, “The trail dished us a heavy side of suck alongside the smiles and coveted views.” It did, indeed. But we embraced the suck. And if you pause long enough to really absorb your surroundings, you’ll also discover abundant life everywhere on the trail, in both the grandeur and the small. You’ll also meet some really interesting people along the way, all of whom are woven into your unique experiences.

 

The characters from the trail that are intertwined into my memories include Captain Blue (aka Gladiator), the German kids Achilles and Foot Powder, Alan and Lemonade Stan, overly helpful Jonathon, the North Carolina Three, Adam the assistant principal from Texas, the two guys from the last day whose names I never got, the trail angel at Woody Gap offering us beer, Scott on Blood Mountain, Jason and Splitter at Neel Gap, Tina and Rob and the Far-Side character at the Hiawassee Lodge, and Ron, our shuttle driver and rescuer.

 

Christopher McCandless, an American Explorer and whom the book “Into the Wild” is based on, stated, “The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” Adventure is what drives us, challenges us, changes us, and makes us appreciative.

Happy Trails

Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Day Four on the GA AT

 

June 24. The Day We Left the Trail.
Trail: Neel Gap to Poor Mountain and backtrack to Hogpen Gap
Distance: 11.5 miles

“Sometimes you have to earn the scenery, in a way. You have to work for it and go through some rough patches to get to the serene parts. It doesn’t all come right to you.” – Unknown

 

It’s day four of this adventure and we are rivaling a snail’s pace this morning. While it was nice to sleep inside a building at Neel Gap, I am convinced the hostel has black mold growing in the sleeping area. That was the most hideous air quality I think I’ve ever breathed for any lengthy period of time. I enjoyed it so much that my body tucked away some mold spores in my lungs and sinuses for souvenirs. At least that’s how I feel.

 

By mid-morning we were packed up and on our way for an 11.5 mile day. We started out in a steady rain again but I find that I don’t really mind it. I’ve always liked the rain, and usually it keeps the critters and ticks and snakes at bay. Usually. We’d been told that the trail out of Neel Gap was a gentle one. That is not how I’d describe it. About 200 yards into the day’s journey Scout and I looked at each other and had a very quick discussion about whether we should just call it good and get off the trail from Neel Gap. We brainstormed other options for our remaining days and when I felt myself slightly excited about the idea of shopping versus trudging up another hill, I should have known there was something seriously wrong with me. I hate shopping. Unless it’s an REI store.

 

We decided to press on, feeling that we’d regret ending this early, but our hearts just didn’t feel into it. Scout seemed to be having a really hard time this morning. Her pace was sluggish and slow and she carried a weight with her that I could feel for the first half of the day. We have hiked many miles together and for the first time ever I had to ask her to pick up the pace or let me lead. I think she was in absolute shock at my request. The morning felt oppressive… in energy, in topic of conversation, in pace, in nature. It could be that this was the theme for the day… oppressive and claustrophobic. The trail was dismally restrictive with no views through the trees, layered with thick fog and jungly paths. I wonder how much poison ivy I brushed up against and was thankful I always hiked in long pants or leggings, no matter what the temperature. Today was the first time I’ve ever felt slightly bothered by an enclosed trail – not because of the fog, which I dearly love, but by the narrowness and flanking overgrowth.

 

Today’s trail wasn’t easy by any means. There were lots of uphills in store for us and my knees were incredibly stiff after yesterday’s grueling 16 miles. From Neel Gap we climbed Levelland Mountain which felt like one continuously rising trail with a very deceitful name (shouldn’t the name “levelland” indicate a level trail?), and Wolf Laurel Top, where we met up with two guys. I don’t remember much about them except that they were friendly and didn’t seem to mind our unrestrained swearing. Our paths would cross a few times over the course of the day.

 

Today’s special snake sighting was the venomous but survivable Copperhead. Reaching the top of Cowrock Mountain after yet another challenging incline, we decided to stop to take a break, eat some snacks and enjoy the rare view of the rolling mountainside. An inviting stony perch on the giant rock ledge looked perfect for sitting and contemplating the day. Right when Scout was about to drop her pack I remembered posts from the AT facebook groups showing people sitting on rocks and looking down into the crevices and noticing copperheads joining them. Following my gut instinct, we relocated ourselves just a few yards over. As Scout was digging in her pack for food and I was reaching for my coveted and rare Coke, I looked up at the base of the perching rock and couldn’t believe my eyes. “Ho-ly Shit. You have got to be kidding me!” Two copperheads were snaking out from the cracks.

 

Adam, an assistant principal from Texas whom we’d met earlier on the trail soon arrived and was happy to pose for photos with the copperheads. The two guys from Wolf Laurel Top also came through as we were watching the snakes and declared us to be the snake charmers. While observing the creatures I couldn’t help but wonder why snakes are so scary and startling yet so beautiful and alluring to watch. With my coke and snickers bar consumed and fascination finally dwindling, we started to proceed on the trail. One of my favorite photos I took is a picture of the coke and snickers sitting on the rock trail with the rocky copperhead den in the background. I’ve captioned it as “things that never go into my body next to things that should never be near my body.” Gladiator caught up with us after a few minutes, again surprised to find us already. I told him about the copperheads and he delightedly dropped his pack, grabbed his camera, and went trotting back up the slope to get some pictures for himself.

 

The trail immediately after Cowrock Mountain drops 600 feet in elevation over less than a mile winding up at Tesnatee Gap. For non hikers, that translates to a steep downhill. No matter what we did, today felt slow; we ached and felt the exhaustion. From Tesnatee Gap it’s another sharp uphill to Wildcat Mountain before the trail finally levels off some with minor ups and downs. Regrouped with Gladiator we hiked down into Hogpen Gap, where we’d stop to rest again and filter water at the stream located a ridiculous distance from the road. It was here that I realized how swollen my knew was becoming. Pressing on, only minutes from Hogpen Gap it started to pour. And it poured torrential proportions. The trail turned into a river and it became nearly impossible to walk on any part that wasn’t drowning in water or sloshing in mud. It didn’t take long before my shoes became soaked. Not only was I worried about my knees, I was now worrying about how disastrous my feet were going to be from wet socks and blisters, as I could feel the skin pruning and rubbing raw. I was certain my feet were going to look like pickled ginger by the end of the day. Gladiator picked up his pace and we separated. We’d see him one last time on this trail.

 

A giant downed tree blocked our path and it seemed to leach all of our energy as we maneuvered our way through the limbs with our packs. Have you ever tried to squat and duck and crawl with a 30lb pack on your back? It’s not easy. On a rare gentle downhill we walked up on Gladiator who was taking another break. He let us know that we were 2.2 miles away from Low Gap Shelter, our intended destination for the evening. He packed up and headed out with some encouraging words and cheerfully said “See you there!” Scout and I set our packs down to reassess our situation. It had taken us two and a half hours to cover the 2.4 miles from Hogpen Gap to our current location, and we had another 2.2 miles to go. We looked at each other and in almost simultaneous desperation, called it. We both wanted off the trail. Both my knees were swollen, one twice the size it should be. Scout was having a gall bladder attack and feeling chest pains in addition to a knee starting to complain. Scout asked me what our options were as I whipped out my map and did some quick calculations. We had a few options to consider. We could continue to the shelter tonight and get off the trail tomorrow, with either a 4.6 mile backtrack to Hogpen Gap, or finishing at Unicoi Gap, another 14 miles away and our intended destination the following evening. Or we could say a quick prayer, hope for a cell signal, and see if our original shuttle driver and trail angel Ron could retrieve us yet that evening if we backtracked to where we’d just been at Hogpen Gap.

Once the idea had been planted that we were getting off of the trail, the choice was obvious. We wanted off, and we wanted off that evening. We created some trail magic of our own with an astonishing rate at how the end of the trail came about in such a short period of time. Cell signal doesn’t really exist in the forest, and coverage had been spotty this entire trip. But hiking a mere 50 yards back up the trail I had enough signal to call Ron. He answered, which is a miracle on its own, as he’s most often on mountain roads with no coverage. I told him where we were and asked him what our options were. He said he couldn’t get us the next day no matter where we made it to. I asked him about retrieving us yet that night, and he said he had an hour window before picking up his next shuttle client. One Hour. I told him we’d make it. Yelling back down the mountain to Scout, I told her to get her pack on and that we’d have to kick it in gear. She looked at me in disbelief. Her chest pain was flaring, my knee wasn’t bending correctly, but we took off like cheetahs. At the top of the hill I did another quick calculation and conceded that we probably couldn’t make it in an hour. It had taken us 2.5 hours to get to where we were from Hogpen. Granted, it had been pouring most of that time and the rain had now finally stopped, but I still didn’t think we could safely make it. I called Ron back, feeling the disappointment and desperation setting in.

  • “I don’t think we can safely make it within the hour.”
  • Ron: “How long do you think it would realistically take you?”
  • Always the realist, I replied: “Since it’s not raining, I think we can make it in an hour and fifteen minutes, but I’m going to say an hour and a half to be safe. We have swollen knees, heavy packs, wet feet, and a gall bladder attack happening. We’re exhausted. If you can’t make it, we understand, and we’ll try to find a shuttle driver for tomorrow.”
  • Ron: “I’m on my way to Hogpen and will be there waiting for you. I’ll call my next client and tell him I’m running late. Get there safely and I’ll see you gals soon.”

Ron’s ray of hope was the awakening we needed. We set a pace like never before, singing songs, hollering encouragement at each other, racing along like two limping hunchbacks of the Appalachian Trail.

 

Nature also blessed us as we mad dashed through the woods. We hadn’t seen the sun in days, but on our rapid race out of the forest the sun appeared, filtering through the canopy of leaves, shining down brilliant beams and lighting our way. And after hearing birds for days but never seeing any, a scarlet tanager appeared on the trail in front of us, flying into a tree nearby as we approached. We knew in our souls that we had made the right decision.

Beyond miraculous, even with stopping a few times to take photos, we backtracked that 2.4 miles in 55 minutes, feeling elated at the sight of Ron’s Toyota. I don’t know how we did it other than sheer motivation at getting off the trail. Our purpose on it had been served and we knew we were done for this part of the journey. Ron happily greeted us with hugs and lollipops and took us on a scenic drive back to our car, pausing several times to point out the mountains in the distance we had just conquered. He truly was the best trail angel we could ever have hoped for. Once we had cell signal again I also messaged Gladiator to let him know that we’d gotten off the trail and wouldn’t be seeing him at the shelter. I suspected he might worry if we just didn’t show up, and was glad we’d exchanged info the night before. We’d see him again, two nights later, when he reached Dick’s Creek Gap and we’d retrieve him for a memorable evening over dinner and drinks.

 

There’s a funny thing that happens when you’ve done a hike like this and finally are at the end. A weird combination of feelings emerge… the hatred, the determination, the challenge, the love, the nostalgia, the joy at leaving…. it’s overwhelming at times, and hard to process. And unless you’ve experienced it, the Appalachian Trail in any section, I’m not sure it’s something that can even be adequately explained. At least not by me. I’ll leave that for someone who is more gifted in writing than I.

What I do know is this. We hiked 45 miles almost exactly (45.2 for those who are slightly OCD like I am), over 4 days through a tropical storm over some of the most grueling terrain I’ve ever encountered. And I’ve hiked a lot of trails from the countless places in California, Oregon and Washington, to the Rocky Mountains, to volcanoes in El Salvador. Georgia is not for the weak. It is only for those strong in spirit and body, ready for a challenge and an adventure. In the end, we decided to listen to our bodies and called this journey done a couple of days early. It was time to get off of the trail. We navigated both timber rattlers and copperhead snakes and countless other things that weren’t friendly. We feel accomplished with what we’ve done, have laughed in delirium, cursed the boulder filled trail, and met some amazing people. What a journey. And I can’t imagine having done this with anyone other than my Scout.

Happy Trails!

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