“The Peace of Wild Things”

Last week, we were living a favorite poem by Wendell Berry. We always enjoy the peace of walking in nature along the Appalachian Trail.

“When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be, head to the woods_seek peace

I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. AT hiker_into the woods

I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. wild ponies_AT_Grayson HIghlands

I come into the presence of still water. AT_Laurel River_Still Water

And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. AT sunset

For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” AT_mountain ranges

Wand’rin’ Star

“Not all who wander are lost” — JRR Tolkein

In case you haven’t noticed, I am a Wanderer. Sometimes I can fake “normal” and stay in one place for months at a time. But then the compulsion hits and off I go.  Even a houseful of kids never stopped me: traveling with a large family just meant more logistics for this queen-of-lists to organize.

Going on adventures has always been a guilty-pleasure. I love the planning and the going. I enjoy the coming home. It seems so reasonable…at least to me! But each return brings questions from family and friends: “When will you stay put?” “Did you get that out of your system this time?” “Why can’t you be stable and put down roots like everyone else?” I laugh about being a “free-spirit.” I joke that others need to look outside-the-box. But deep inside, these comments continued to erode my confidence. Obviously, there was something wrong with me. Surely I would “grow up” someday and be content where I was planted. the mountains are calling

There were times I wondered if I harmed my kids by doing so much schooling on the road. (Others certainly thought so…) Sometimes I imagined how my husband’s life would have been different if he had married someone who was more consistent and bound by routines. (Time after time family questioned how I could leave him home alone while the kids and I traveled…) I tried. Really, I did! But then the next adventure called to me; the next location pulled my heartstrings. I had to go, wandering again and again. AT trails

This summer, in an attempt to continue being outdoors as much as possible, youngest Daughter and I lived in an RV at a campgrounds close to a small town. We fell in love with the people and the places around town. We were welcomed and invited to dive deeper into relationships. We began to put down tentative roots. It felt right, but there was a feeling of grief as well. What would these new friends say when they discovered my broken urge to wander? RV travels

In the past few weeks, I’ve had some aha!-moments. Hubby sent me a link to a song and affirmed that I really was born under a wanderin’ star (and implied that this was okay…) See video clip HERE

Last week, I commented to the pastor of the new church we are attending (in the small town we love) that it felt like we are putting down some roots. And maybe I would finally stop running. He firmly told me that there is nothing wrong with wandering. It is a gift and a privilege that so many never experience. A few days later, Daughter’s psychologist affirmed the same idea, telling Daughter that it is a privilege that she gets to wander with her mother. Every time I remembered these words, I cried. Maybe I wasn’t broken after all. Maybe this urge to wander IS “normal”…at least for me. texas river walking

And then…while I was pondering how to celebrate my wandering spirit, an artist friend posted a painting for sale. I’ve wanted to buy something from this artist for quite a while, but couldn’t decide if I wanted a mountain scene, a view of red mesas from Navajoland, or a southwestern landscape. See Sharon Baker’s art HERE. When I saw the title of this particular painting, I just KNEW this was “my” painting. It is called “Wandering Star” and was painted many years ago in response to the same song my husband sent to me. I will hang this painting with great pride in my home, to remind me who I am… Painting by SKay Art

I’m no longer lost. I am a WANDERER!

When I Grow Old

When I grow old…I wanna be like my mama. She turned 79 years old yesterday, and she is still adventuring. She is, obviously, slowing down. But she won’t let that stop her from still living fully, stretching herself occasionally to the limits of her physical abilities, whatever those may be at a given time.

For many years, my mom has looked for an epic adventure to celebrate another year of living. For her 70th birthday, she and I went downhill skiing in Portillo, Chile. Another year, my middle sister took Mom for a hot air balloon ride. Two years ago, Mom learned how to use the old wind-surf board as a stand-up-paddle board. (Don’t ask how many times I fell in the river trying that, okay?!) paddleboard grannyMany years, Mom celebrated her birthday by taking a long canoe ride on the river she lives beside—sometimes solo, sometimes with a friend. She spent a few hours to paddle upriver to a park, had a snack, then paddled home, approximately 14 miles round trip.

Years ago, Mom enjoyed backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. Our first time hiking together, we were joined by her sister-in-law and a friend. Later, she took a number of trips to introduce grandkids to backpacking. mom and I, first AT tripAs her strength has declined, Mom has been able to carry less and less gear. For the past few years, my youngest sister and Mom have day-hiked together, meeting at Shenandoah National Park. By staying in a lodge or at a campground and driving to different sections of the park, they have gradually completed most of the 104 miles of the Appalachian Trail located in the park. One more trip should finish their self-imposed challenge.

(photo taken by Joanna Fischer)

(photo taken by Joanna Fischer)

This year, Mom and my middle daughter met my youngest daughter and I near the end of our 5 week section-hike on the Appalachian Trail. Mom joined us for the steep climb beside Crabtree Falls in Virginia. At the top of the falls, she walked back down by herself as daughters and I headed back to the AT for another 5 days of backpacking. crabtree falls VA, hiking grannyThe story of Mom’s continued adventures was told around campfires and passed on from hiker to hiker along the Trail. Everyone applauded her spunk. One southern backpacker said, “I wanna be like Granny when I grow up!” So do I, so do I…

Who Should Be “Allowed” to Hike?

I am passionate about backpacking. I feel fully alive when I’m living in the woods. My daughter feels the same. Beyond simple pleasures, however, hiking is a key therapy to manage her anxiety and mental illness challenges. Nature brings her peace. So we return to the woods again and again, no matter who questions the risks or suggests we should pursue “safer” activities for her. We continue to backpack because of her disabilities, not in spite of them. hiking partnersThere are many of us who love outdoor activities and love someone with disabilities. Because we understand both worlds, we must be the ones who speak up. We need to stand beside those who might be discriminated against. Anyone who dreams of taking a walk in the woods should be encouraged. Outdoor adventures should be available for everyone.

I am passionate about backpacking. I have also become an advocate.

Advocate: 1. a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. 2. a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor. Synonyms: champion, proponent, backer.

When a hike is successful, everyone celebrates the courage and perseverance of the blind thru-hiker or the one with artificial legs. But what happens when things go wrong? Do tragedies or close-calls “prove” that the nay-sayers are right? How does the outdoor adventure community find an appropriate balance between personal freedom and personal responsibility for participants?

This year alone, a variety of incidents along the Appalachian Trail have provoked strong opinions and arguments among hikers in online forums. An older man with Alzheimer’s got confused and was lost for a few days. A person with brain cancer wanted a friend to take her on a first-ever backpacking expedition. A young man with Multiple Sclerosis needed intervention when he overheated. Parents are taking very young children on an attempted a thru-hike (walking almost 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine in one long trip). Are these “okay?” Or should the mythical “someone” intervene and prevent such risky behavior? And, if prohibition is such a good idea, then who decides which situations are okay and which are too dangerous?

Whenever there is a close-call or a tragedy, fingers are pointed at the ignorant adventurer, at the family, at the doctors, at search and rescue personnel. Online discussions grow heated. It seems so clear to some readers that the person with mental illness or with physical disability should be protected (even from themselves) by not allowing them in the woods.

Usually, I step away from contentious arguments. However, in a recent online discussion, I realized I can’t just run away from conflict and find peace in the woods for myself and my daughter. I must not just write posts about the adventures I am privileged to take. I must also build bridges for everyone to pursue their own passions. It would be a sad day if the only hikers on the Appalachian Trail were those who were young, perfectly fit folks carrying perfect gear. (Hmmm…that would eliminate both of us and most of the hikers we meet!) With proper precautions and an attitude of taking personal responsibility for one’s decisions, even those with disabilities can continue to enjoy outdoor adventures.

I am passionate about backpacking. I am also an advocate. passionate hiker, I am an advocateWhat about you?

Lessons Learned…

This was our second long-distance adventure on the Appalachian Trail. We quickly remembered many lessons learned last fall: neither of us like hiking on hot sweaty days, bear poles really are human torture devices (read about that HERE), and we always enjoy meeting other hikers and hearing their stories.

This hike was in spring (rather than fall) which meant we had new lessons to learn. When we started, there were few leaves on the trees. This gave us good views…but also meant there were no leaves large enough to use as tp or kleenex. (We bought toilet paper at our first resupply, and used our extra bandanas for nose-blowing.) Spring hiking, few leaves

Tiny spring leaves also meant we had no shady protection from the sun. (Until it started raining every day for the second half of our trip…) Sun burns, ouch!

We had decided to try to carry less water and filter refills along the way. Mastering this skill saves weight to be carried. (It adds up fast since each pint of water weighs a pound.) April had unusually low precipitation  which left us rationing drinks when water sources were dry so we quickly went back to carrying plenty of water. Of course, heavy rains in May took care of that problem.

Those heavy rains also gave us the added challenge of crossing flooded streams. The usual dry rocks to hop across were often underwater, adding to the adventures of each day! Flooded creeks, challenging crossings

More moisture also meant more bugs. The biting clouds of no-see-’ems were particularly bad. They especially loved Andowen, poor girl! Full of bug bites

We saw some of the same critters as in the fall (deer, squirrels, chipmunks, black snakes, and reports of bears). But we also saw hundreds of lovely butterflies and these really cool orange efts (baby salamanders). Orange eft, baby salamander

We learned that views at overlooks were entirely dependent on the weather. Beautiful layers of mountains if it was clear: Beautiful views, clear day

Or walking in an invisible world when the clouds touched the ground: No views, hiking in clouds

Finally, we missed the brilliant colors of fall leaves. But that loss was balanced by the hidden beauty of spring flowers, such as this lady slipper.  Spring flowers, lady slipper

We learned new lessons…now we are ready for future hikes in both spring and fall!

 

(please don’t) Kick the Tires

Envision the stereotypical scene in the movies: gullible buyer steps onto a used-car lot, looking for a bargain. He haggles with the sleazy salesman and kicks the tires of the cars he is considering. What? Why kick the tires? Kick the tires

Theoretically, this was a way to figure out if the salesman’s story was true and the little old lady who only drove to church on Sundays really did take good care of the car. Checking the tires could show if they were properly inflated, had even wear (indicating good alignment and regular tire-rotation), and were replaced before the tread was totally bald.

Why talk about this on a blog about adventures? In the same way that taking proper care of tires hints at a well-cared-for vehicle, taking proper care of one’s feet increases the probability of completing a successful long-distance hike.

At home, I rarely ever think about my feet. On the trail, they are often in my thoughts…

At the first hint of a “hot spot” it is important to stop and cover that area. (A “hot spot” is any bit of skin that feels irritated, tingly, or “on fire.”) Many things can be used to lessen friction: moleskin, bandaids, cloth tape, duct tape. This simple step is the most effective way to prevent blisters. Tape the hotspots

Next, get the right socks for YOUR boots and YOUR feet. Most hikers have a favorite combination they swear by. For many, a thin liner sock and thicker outer sock work well to lessen friction on skin. I usually carry a second set of dry socks to switch into if needed on wet days. My little toes normally curl under the next toes, which caused huge blisters last fall. Using injinji toe sock liners this trip have solved that problem. Socks and liners

Of course, it is important to choose boots that fit comfortably. Getting input from others is fine…but you MUST have the right fit for YOU! With wide feet and a need to wiggle my toes, plus a desire for strong ankle support, I love my Salomons. Hiking boots

As a hiker, I won’t get far if my feet are uncomfortable or injured. Good foot care is critically important to success. When buying a used car, go ahead and kick the tires if you want to. But when backpacking, protect those feet and please don’t kick the tires…or anything else!

Are we THERE yet?!

Those dreaded words intrude on every family vacation: are we theeeerrre yet? But this whine is not limited to cross-country car trips. Nor is it limited to kids. Some days these seemingly innocent words sneak into a hiker’s brain, then play on repeat.

The day starts off brilliantly: blue sky, strong legs, happy thoughts. The trail goes up (and up and up), but there are glorious views and sun-dappled forest glades to enjoy along the way. Every hiking day should be like this one! Happy blaze

Eventually, the clouds descend, the misty drizzle begins, and the murmurs sneak in. (Shhh! are we there yet? Hmmm?) Surprise! Even the trail betrays the hiker: getting steeper, and steeper, and steeper! No fair! We are carrying heavy packs…not bounding along like mountain goats!

Surprised blaze

Ahhh! The trail finally relents and heads back down. Surely things will be better now! We should get to the shelter soon (won’t we?) But…the trail is unrelenting. It goes down, down, down…steeper and steeper. Blergh! Hurting knees, aching ankles, fiery feet. This is not the plan… Blah blaze

ARE WE THEEEERRRE YET? When will we get there? Will this day never end? I’m hungry! I’m thirsty! (please stop soon…)

(PS: I know these faces scratched into the painted blazes on the trail are graffiti…but they made us smile on a very long hiking day!)

It’s Raining! It’s Pouring!

What’s a gal to do when the forecast calls for rain while hiking in the woods? Whine a little, moan a little, and reassess one’s plans, of course!

Others happily camp in the rain. But I am horribly afraid of my sleeping bag getting wet. So whenever possible, we make sure to be at a shelter early in the afternoon to make sure we have a dry space on rainy nights. Everyone piles in

for the evening, at least until they head to their tents to sleep. Rainy evenings, at shelter

And if it’s still raining in the morning, we often choose to take a “zero” day (2 nights in the same place, no hiking). There’s something delightfully cozy about watching the storm through the open side of the shelter.  We sit propped up against our backpacks, legs in our sleeping bags, listening to rain on the sturdy roof, happy to be warm and dry!Rainy day, AT shelter

Somehow, I never mind getting caught in a shower in the middle of the day. After all, my sleeping bag will stay dry, wrapped in multiple layers of protection from the elements. (It’s in a dry bag, inside a large trash bag, inside my pack, inside the rain cover…yes, I’m paranoid!) The trail might turn into a stream, but I’ll be fine… Trail or stream

I choose not to put on rain gear, which just makes me soaked with sweat. As long as I keep walking I don’t get chilled. Sometimes I laugh at myself, as I’m bouncing down the trail, singing in the rain. Yes, hikers ARE a crazy breed, why do you ask?!Singing in the rain, hiker style

Time to head back on the trail. The weatherman is calling for sun. But if he’s

wrong, and we see a storm headed toward us across the valley, I guess we’ll just pick out our favorite silly songs and keep on walking… Storms across the valley

It’s raining! It’s pouring! …

Signs and Symptoms of Pre-Hike Jitters

Everyone knows this condition is common before a newbie hiker’s first multi-day backpacking trip. No one is surprised to hear that the hiker is feeling anxious in the weeks leading up to D(eparture)-Day. Friends and family are happy to contribute to the Pre-hike Jitters: pointing out dangers, asking how the hiker will deal with emergencies, hoping no one gets lost, wishing them “Good Luck” as if no amount of preparation will alleviate the need for luck to survive the walk in the woods.

But experienced hikers know this condition is not confined to the early days of adventuring. Symptoms seem to creep, slowly overtaking even the long-time hiker. It starts so innocently: making lists, then compulsively checking them over and over. 20160422_225448_WEB

Next comes spreading out gear and dreaming of new items that would make the trip “safer” or would be more “comfortable.” (Beware gear envy which is a very expensive, highly contagious disease among hikers! But that’s another topic for another day…) jitters_gear

Checking the weather forecast makes sense. But then the ATweather site becomes a fixation, and the hiker clicks on location after location, needing to be assured there won’t be storms or cold snaps. (And what about hurricanes?? They are not just an imaginary danger…read about that HERE!) Jitters_AT Weather

Soon that ace-hiker is grinding teeth all night long, worrying even while sleep. Owww! jitters_grinding molars_ow

And stress-caused bubbles and blisters may erupt on hands or face. Sigh…jitters_skin conditions

Even the family dog is infected…worrying about the full pack with portends extended separation. jitters_family dog

DON’T WORRY! Pre-hike Jitters are absolutely NORMAL! There is only one sure-fired cure. Get out there and start the adventure. It’s miraculous how stepping into the woods with pack on back turns jitters into excitement. Let the adventures begin! AT ADVENTURE begins

Goodbye, Comforts!

We head back to the Appalachian Trail this weekend to backpack for a month. We love being in the woods and are excited to set off on another adventure. However, this time we aren’t newbies. We know we are saying goodbye to many comforts of daily life at home. Before leaving, we chose to consciously say goodbye, reminding ourselves that we will enjoy these things even more deeply when we return home again.

aughter will miss the stuffed animals she sleeps with every night. She will spend even more time than usual outdoors, but on foot rather than on her kick-scooter. While backpacking everything must be as lightweight as possible since it all gets carried on our backs. This means daughter has limited access to costumes and her “weapon” collection. Her “gandalf” hiking staff, sticks and imagination will have to do…  stuffed animals_comfort_friends

kickscooter_outside fun

costumes_imagination

I said goodbye to my art supplies, carrying only a few nice pens and some sketch paper. I will miss my cozy chair near the window with a big pile of books at hand. Somehow the hard ground and limited time on a kindle just aren’t the same! And extra clothes stuffed in a sack doesn’t really replace my comfy pillow on a soft bed.  creativity_art supplies

comfy chair_stack of books

soft pillow

Both of us will miss taking a shower and choosing from a large selection of colorful, clean clothes every day. We will miss seeing my folks each week, including organ lessons from Grandma. And our form of sweet treats and location of rambling conversations will certainly be different!  daily shower

colorful clean clothes

sweet treats_rambling conversations

In the morning, we will say goodbye to our dog. She is already sad because we filled our packs. She knows we are leaving again. After our drive to the trail, we will say goodbye to hubby/dad.  sad dog

Partings bring sorrow…but adventures are sweet. Goodbye daily life…see you in a month!