New You, New Name…What’s in a Name? (Part 2)

It’s a new year. Sometimes that brings a longing to become a new-you. It can be a long process to radically change who you are. But if you head to the woods, you could quickly gain a radically different name! Perhaps this post will give you some ideas…

In a previous post (which you can read HERE), I explained the significance of “Trail Names.” I told the story of how we got our names as “Story Seeker” and “Andowen.” Now I want to share some of the names we remember from other hikers we met on the Appalachian Trail.

Trail names often have entertaining history behind them. Usually, they give insight into a hiker’s personal journey. Tales are often told when sitting around a campfire in the woods or at a table in town. “How did you get your name?” is a good way to get the stories flowing…

Campfires…heart of conversations and gatherings

Trail names are given (or chosen) for many reasons. Perhaps the hiker is similar to a character from movies: Elle (from Legally Blonde), Long John Silver (complete with swirling cape and sword!), Gandalf or Frodo (from Lord of the Rings). Sometimes the trail name is a related to the hiker’s real name: Comet (Hailey) and Sunrise (Dawn). Physical characteristics are often commemorated: Big Foot, Long Legs, Tiny, Bean Pole. Trail clothing can also affect names: Blue Bandana, Green Knight. Favorite foods might also become a trail name: Honey Sticks and Java. Most common is probably hiking style or mishaps which occur in the early days of the hiker’s adventure: Jack Rabbit, Strider, Stumbles, Wrong Way, Muddy.

Here are a few of our favorite Trail Names and the stories behind them:

BEETLE started hiking with her daughter who was named Spider for how quickly she climbed steep sections of trail. Mom struggled in those same sections, legs and arms and hiking poles flying every which way. Daughter said she looked like a beetle…and the name stuck!

(from iNaturalist.com)

BLAZE headed to the trail without map or guidebooks. He found his way by following the white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail. In addition, he carried no stove and made fires each evening and morning to heat water and cook his food.

IRON HEART has a striking story of transformation. His life was in chaos and he was in terrible shape when he had a massive heart attack. He died and was revived multiple times on the way to the hospital and in the operating room. As he recovered, he made radical changes in his lifestyle. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to take on an epic adventure, and he headed to the Appalachian Trail. He didn’t finish the first year, but went back again this year and hopes to finish the entire trail by next season. He has an Iron Heart—in the physical implants that saved his life and in the determination that has changed his life.

OLD SCHOOL is a dentist who headed to the trail during a time of transition. He hadn’t hiked for years but still had his old gear. It worked fine decades before and he saw no reason to waste money upgrading everything. Younger hikers were bemused at the metal frame visible around his pack and at his old-school stove. Thus a name was given…

(photo from an ebay listing)

PROMETHEUS… We thought this might have been because he liked to light a campfire most evenings. Wrong! Early in his thru-hike the alcohol stove he was using blew up and lit the picnic table at the shelter on fire. He was the hiker who brought fire to the people… HA!

So, if you are longing for a change this year, what “trail name” would fit you on your journey? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments!

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Become a Warrior Woman

My daughter, Andowen, spends much of her time as a Warrior. At first glance, folks might think she is just a quirky teen. If they bother to spend time talking with her, they discover this is more than childish costume play. Here are some of the reasons that each one of us should be like her and choose to become a Warrior (Man or Woman) this year.

We have always had a big box of dress-ups around our house. Some of our kids rarely used them, others spent years wearing costumes. As a mid-teen, Andowen still loves imagination play accompanied by appropriate outfits and accessories. We figured out a few years ago that spending time in costume helps Andowen lower crippling anxiety levels. As she explains, “when I’m in my own world, I choose the rules, I always know how to respond, and no one picks on me.” Even when she and I take long backpacking trips (which also lessens anxiety), she still wants time most days to retreat into her imagination. The woods are a fabulous setting to make her pretend worlds feel more real!

Recently, she and I had a deeper discussion about what she gains by becoming a Warrior Woman. She described how acting as a particular character helps her practice the positive traits they have. In many ways, those imaginary humans, elves, and time-jumpers have become her mentors for how to handle real-life. Andowen described the following characteristics of a true Hero-Warrior:

A Warrior Woman must be STRONG, physically and mentally. It is good to be physically fit. But when you aren’t, it is even more important to become strong in your thinking and decision-making. Don’t let anything stop you from becoming who you want to be! Andowen spends time making weapons out of sticks and string, then becoming an “expert” by using them in imaginary battle and hunting scenarios. She practices being focused, ignoring any outside distractions.

To become a true LEADER, it is not enough for a Warrior Woman to be brave or to step out in front of her companions. She must also know how to encourage others. She finds ways to bring out their best in both actions and attitudes. She leads by example.

Andowen is learning how to be SMART as a Warrior Woman. This includes knowledge—learning the wood-lore and skills needed for survival. But it goes beyond facts. Being truly smart means knowing how to choose your battles. As she says, “you must know when to do what, and what to do when!” Because Andowen sometimes struggles with navigating human culture and relationships, it helps her to practice being an elf. Because this lessens her anxiety, she better remembers expected behavior and responses!

As always, becoming the expert at something takes PERSEVERANCE. Andowen has learned this on long distance hiking adventures—never give up on a bad day. She also practices this trait when making “weapons.” Sometimes she creates the look she envisions. Other times she has to try over and over until she gets it “just right.” At home she uses cardboard, duct tape, wood, and cut-up clothes. (As seen in this year’s Halloween costume when she dressed up as Link from her favorite video game.) While on the AT, Andowen practiced how to safely use a pocket knife to smooth and shape sticks into desired “weapons.”

A real Warrior Woman moves through her world with CONFIDENCE. She knows what she needs to do and knows she has the skills capable of fulfilling her responsibilities. She faces new situations with courage. She builds on her strengths and past successes, knowing she can conquer any challenges that come against her. (Andowen was quite excited to meet a thru-hiker who was carrying a “real” sword! She claims owning a similar one would give her even more confidence…..)

Apparently an effective Warrior Woman is never surprised. She KEEPS CALM and thinks clearly no matter what she encounters. She studies each character she meets to determine if it might become an ally or if it is an enemy to be vanquished. In addition to regularly dressing up as a Warrior character, Andowen sometimes uses her creativity to experience life as other imaginary creatures. She decided it is awkward having a huge weighty horn on one’s head as a unicorn! Haha!

At the start of this New Year, as we set intentions and make resolutions for positive change, perhaps more of us need to consider how we would benefit from becoming Warrior (Men and Women)! Let’s listen to my quirky, costumed teen…and choose to pursue becoming better people.

Here’s to the WARRIORS—may we see them, may we raise them, may we be them!

Meet Our New (tiny) Hiking Pals!

We have new companions who are joining us on this backpacking trip. Andowen and I had fun at the Lego Store, each choosing the pieces to make individual “Tiny-Me”s. Andowen is named after an elf from a Lord-of-the-Rings role-play game. Tiny-A is an elven character who carries a wizard-y looking staff and wears cool sunglasses. We aren’t sure what magical things the staff might be able to do–and Tiny-A isn’t talking right now. Story Seeker (that’s me) loves to meet new people and hear their stories. Tiny-S does the same. She also carries a mug–always wishing for more caffeine. Besides, she claims stories flow more easily over a shared drink!

Our tiny hiking pals took time to study the guide books and get familiar with the planned itinerary. They paid close attention to the elevation maps, confident they can handle the steep climbs and descents, but wondering how we will fare.  They checked out our backpacks, making sure we have all the clothing, food, and gear that we need for our first week back in the woods. This morning, they joined us in saying Goodbyes–goodbye house, goodbye friends, goodbye park, goodbye books. We won’t say goodbye to daddy/hubby yet. He’s driving us to the trail-head to start our adventure.  By this evening, Tiny-A and Tiny-S will celebrate heading into the woods with us. All of us are excited about the opportunity for adventures over the next six weeks. We promise to tell you all about it!

(ps…thanks to British friend, Jill Playfair, who gave us the idea to add hiking pals to our outdoor fun!)

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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…

The M&M Test

There is a story frequently told among AT hikers. It explains how to identify the type of hiker (day hiker, section hiker, long distance/thru hiker) using the simple M&M test: When three M&Ms are scattered along the trail, what does the hiker do? M&M Test_the settingThe day hiker walks right past the candy, never noticing it. M&M test 1_day hikerThe short section hiker stops and picks up the candy. Following “Leave No Trace” principles, this hiker puts the M&Ms in her trash sack to carry out of the woods. M&M test 2_section hikerThe long distance hiker, always starving, throws off her pack, grabs the M&Ms and pops them into her mouth. M&M test 3_thru hikerThen that long distance hikers scrambles to find any other candies that might have been dropped! M&M test 4_thru hiker

(Are you wondering which type of hikers we are? If we drop our own candy or trail mix, we pick it up and eat it. After all, we need every calorie we can get! But no, we don’t eat trash candy left by others. Perhaps that is the difference between long-distance section hikers and thru-hikers?!)

(Thanks to daughter Nettie for taking the photos and daughter Andowen for being the model.)

Surviving Epic Tragedy

We tend to think of an “epic adventure” as something life changing; something we dream of for years; something worthy of being included on the “bucket list.” Sometimes, however, the big epic that changes our lives is a tragedy. No matter how prepared we like to think we are, we will never be ready for certain experiences. It is impossible to control every aspect of life and guarantee safety. In the aftermath of epic tragedies, it is often the small things that help us survive.

(Stick with me here…there are fun discoveries at the end of this post!)

Eight years ago, one of our teen sons died unexpectedly. Yes, that rocks one’s world (and not in a good way, of course!) I’ve learned a few coping skills: focus on the next breath, and the next breath, and the next one. Interact with God (or beliefs that are bigger than yourself). Find friends who will sit beside you in silence and let you grieve. Listen to the stories of others who have survived similar losses…and eventually share your own story with the world. (I have most recently written about this HERE and HERE.) James n Jill_the Rock_silly

It is a challenge each year to figure out what we want to do on the anniversary of James’ graduation to heaven. Looking back, it has been different each year. Since our son was full of mischief, loving to tease and make others laugh, we usually choose to pursue small things that bring us pleasure and that will make us smile. We want to focus on his colorful life, not dwell on the agonies of our grief.

This past Friday was a good example. Hubby took the day off work. We knew we couldn’t bear to sit at home and stare at the walls. So we hopped in the car, with youngest daughter in the back seat, and took off for a long, meandering drive. We enjoyed discovering old houses in older towns, relishing those that have been well-cared for, saddened by abandoned, falling-down shells. We cranked the music and sang along. (Gut wrenching but also made me laugh when a song played at son’s funeral unexpectedly came on.) We talked and we rode in silence. We ate fast-food supper, and then started a search for dessert. Oh my! Just LOOK at the wonderful place we found in a small rivertown.

There was a little sign by the side of the highway for Griffith & Feil’s Soda Fountain. We went on a search for it. And found this gem in the historic downtown area of Kenova, KY.  The atmosphere was delightful. The history was intriguing. The staff was friendly. And the treats were “dee-lish.” old-time drugstore_checking out history

old-time drugstore_soda fountain

old-time drugstore_soda fountain2

Old-time Drugstore_historic

We will certainly visit this little treasure again. Now we have happy memories to layer onto this oh-so-difficult day on the calendar. Sometimes it is indeed the small things that move us from survival to thriving again after an epic tragedy.

Be Prepared…Pull Out Your Hiking Gear!

We had a nasty windstorm last weekend. A friend and I enjoyed a late lunch together at a cozy restaurant in town; too busy talking to notice the weather. After she received a text that their barn was damaged by wind, we quickly said our goodbyes and headed to our homes. I should have seen trouble coming when I needed 4WD to keep from being blown off the road. Even the power lines were oscillating in a violent way I had never seen before.

So what does this little stormy tale have to do with hiking? Everything, of course!

When our power went out, hubby and I jumped in the car and headed to town for light and hot food, assuming things would be fixed by the time we got home. But we returned to a dark, cold house. Rather than stumbling around, trying to figure out where to find candles and a lighter, I headed straight upstairs to the storage closet. Voila! In our backpacking bins, I dug out headlamps to set beside the bed for the night. Hiker Gear_Headlamp

We were concerned that both of our cell phones had low batteries. But then I remembered that there was a fully charged “battery brick” in the hiking bin. Problem solved! battery brick_cell phone charger

In the middle of the night, hubby realized the power was still off. Concerned about all the food in the rapidly warming frig/freezer, he moved everything out to the back porch. Below freezing temps would keep things safe til morning. (The food filled a wheelbarrow. I was quite thankful we have no bears in our neighborhood—it was too much food to hang from the rafters in the bearbags!) wheelbarrow_no bear bag_food

I’m used to eating peanut butter and graham crackers for breakfast. Good thing since the power was still off in the morning so we had no way to fix hot food. I was desperately missing my morning mug of hot caffeine however. Then I dug through the gear bins one more time. Ahhh…my jetboil backpacking stove brings water to a boil in an instant! Savoring a mug of tea calmed my nerves and started my morning off right. backpacking gear_jetboil stove

We realized no power meant no hot water (darn all-electric house). We talked about driving to the YMCA to shower, or driving to family on the other side of town, but didn’t really want to bother. I considered using the hiker solution…but decided no one in town was ready to ignore unwashed hair and body odor. Fortunately, it didn’t come to that…

Eventually the power finally came on—15 hours after the storm knocked down wires all over the city. Some neighbors had noisy generators. But I’m glad we were fully prepared to “rough it” in peace and quiet. After all, we own backpacking gear!

Wandering Women

I am a wanderer—sometimes physically, sometimes in imagination. Somedays I wonder where this nomadic, gypsy gene came from. And then I realize my mom has always enjoyed travel—with her family, with her husband, or alone. I guess it is no surprise that the wandering hasn’t stopped with me. My daughters have been well trained and continue the tradition: exploring the world near and far, physically and in imagination.

My oldest daughter recently sent me this poem. It describes our family well…

Among Women By Marie Ponsot

What women wander? Not many. All. A few. Most would, now & then, & no wonder. Some, and I’m one, Wander sitting still.

My small grandmother Bought from every peddler Less for the ribbons and lace Than for their scent Of sleep where you will, Walk out when you want, choose Your bread and your company.

She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”

She looked fragile but had High blood, runner’s ankles, Could endure, endure. She loved her rooted garden, her Grand children, her once Wild once young man. Women wander…As best they can.

(source: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/245898)

Here are some photos of the wandering women in my family:

My mom backpacking with her grandson, Summer 2000

My mom backpacking with her grandson, Summer 2000

My mom backpacking with me, a decade ago

My mom backpacking with me, a decade ago

My mom continues to dayhike on the Appalachian Trail with my sister (photo by Jo Fischer)

My mom (in her 70s now) continues to dayhike on the Appalachian Trail with my sister (photo by Jo Fischer)

I've been in Europe with each of my daughters.

I’ve been in Europe with each of my daughters.

My oldest daughter has lived and worked in Central Asia and has wandered in Europe.

My oldest daughter has lived and worked in Central Asia and has wandered in Europe.

My middle daughter has wandered Europe and parts of Asia.

My middle daughter has wandered Europe and parts of Asia.

And as you know, my youngest daughter and I have been adventuring on the Appalachian Trail!

And as you know, my youngest daughter and I have been adventuring on the Appalachian Trail!

Happy Hobbies! (Combining Hiking and Scrapbooking)

It is a happy serendipity when two hobbies can be combined. I relax by being outdoors or by making time for creating vibrant art. Gradually, I’m figuring out ways to combine these two hobbies. (Sometimes I work at the dining room table. More often I head to a coffee shop or to my favorite fireside seat at the local library.) AT_place to craft_Northwest Library

Taking hundreds of photos on our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail this past fall felt reasonable at the time. However, every time I looked at those files on my computer, I was overwhelmed with how to best organize and use this many photos. For the first time ever, I used a scrapbooking “recipe” to streamline the process. (This means I used one basic layout, with different papers and colors and occasional variation in the orientation of the design.) Here are the pages I made to summarize our trip:

These first two spreads highlight the beauty found along the Appalachian Trail:

Title: “Walk in Beauty: for the one who has eyes to see…LET her SEE!AT_walk in beauty_scrapbooking_leftAT_walk in beauty_scrapbooking_rightJournaling: We both enjoyed being surrounded by beauty and pointing out new discoveries to each other. Whether it was miles of mountain views, jumbled boulders, a dancing stream or tiny wonders, it all became scope for imagination. When we quit noticing nature’s beauty, it was time to get off the trail!

Title: “all of nature is AFLAME: Be fearless in the pursuit of what Sets Your Soul on Fire!AT_nature aflame_scrapbooking_leftAT_nature aflame_scrapbooking_rightJournaling: We loved the peace and tranquility of hiking in the cool, green woods. But the surprising “pop” of bright oranges, reds and yellows made our hearts sing with joy at the brilliant, flaming colors. Quote: “Give me a spark o’ Nature’s fire, That’s a’ the learning I desire.” (Robert Burns)

Whenever possible, daughter and I chose to stay in shelters. That was less work, we met more people, and it kept us dry in bad weather. However, we also enjoyed the times we camped in solitude at official camping places or in the woods between shelters too far apart for us to reach in one day of hiking.

Title: “SHELTER: [shel’ ter] something below, behind, or within which a person is protected from adverse conditionsAT_shelter_scrapbooking_leftAT_shelter_scrapbooking_rightJournaling: There are more than 250 Backcountry Shelters along the A.T. for use by hikers. Most have only 3 walls, come in a variety of sizes & styles, have a privy, and are near a water source. Accent: “Haven, Hideaway, Protection, Refuge, Sanctuary: No matter what you call it, it’s a WELCOME SIGHT at the end of the day!”

Title: “Happy Campers on the Appalachian Trail: “inTENTS” adventure in the WOODS” AT_tent camping_scrapbooking_leftAT_tent camping_scrapbooking_rightJournaling: We enjoyed the social aspects of staying in shelters. Chatting around a dancing campfire was a bonus…but there was something special about being alone in our little tent, all cozy and comfy, away from everyone!”

The next pair of spreads celebrates the partnership between my daughter and I on our hiking adventure. As I have commented in other posts, I wasn’t sure how well this would work. However, we learned to use our strengths to balance the other’s weaknesses. I was frustrated that when we took selfies, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off “beauty face” so edges were all blurry. But I like how it became illustrations for a dreamin’ page!

Title: “Hiking Partners: my mini meAT_hiking partners_scrapbooking_leftAT_hiking partners_scrapbooking_rightJournaling: We are well matched. We both love to be outdoors. We find beauty—and whimsy—around us. We enjoy meeting other hikers at the shelters. Daughter has more physical strength & agility. I have more mental determination. She sang songs to life me up. I made her smile when she was grumpy. good partners Accent: “Storyseeker (53) and Andowen (13): 1st AT adventure 9-7 to 10-21-16”

Title: “dreaming of the Trail: Nothing stops the Dreamers: fairytale funAT_Dreaming_scrapbooking_leftAT_Dreaming_scrapbooking_rightJournaling: Obstacles or Opportunities 1-meandering trail, 2-beware the “roller coaster,” 3-singing in the rain, 4-fern “fairy crowns,” 5-mountaintop exhilaration Accent: “wandering in the woods: fall 2015”

The final two spreads focus on my experience and my daughter’s experience of this adventure. For me, this trip was a way of expressing that I am moving from a focus on family to making time for me and my dreams. For my daughter, our adventure became her favorite imagination-land come to life! (She is a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and other fantasy books and movies.)

Title: “it’s time for ME! the middle passage: …if you can’t leave ‘em behind…BRING ‘em with YOU!…AT_ME time_scrapbooking_leftAT_ME time_scrapbooking_rightJournaling: Time for DREAMS to Come True I’m tired of waiting. I’m ready to reach for dreams—long backpacking trips, making art, writing stories. With just one child still at home, she can join my epic adventures! Accents: “finally finding my own way,” “go into the world, explore, LIVE,” and “free yourself”

Title: “nature girl—wild child—forest fairy: andowenAT_Nature Girl_Wild Child_scrapbooking_leftAT_Nature Girl_Wild Child_scrapbooking_rightJournaling: Anna has always loved being outdoors. 6 weeks of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail took this to a whole new level! As an equal to everyone out there, she gained confidence & had FUN! Accent: “Explore”

What are YOUR favorite hobbies? And how can you combine those interests with adventures you pursue?

Running Away to Middle Earth!

It is midwinter in the Heartland—gray, dismal, cold, and rainy. It is definitely time to ESCAPE! A warm, sunny beach sounds lovely, but we are longing to return to the woods. In consideration of Daughter’s recent birthday, we have decided to make a brief trip to Middle Earth. 2016_0208_middle earth_SAM_8388_whitebalance_webWhat? You didn’t think that was a real place? I assure you, if you listened in on conversations around our house, you might change your mind. Daughter certainly talks as if it were true.

2016_0208_middle earth_20150917_175002_webDaughter’s trail name while backpacking the Appalachian Trail last fall was “Andowen,” based on an elven name from Middle Earth. When hearing the explanation of her name, fellow hikers told her about a “Hobbit House” for rent at a nearby campground. Andowen was immediately certain that we haaaaaaadddd to go stay overnight. She was very disappointed that I wasn’t interested in checking out the rumors. My arguments that we already had non-refundable reservations in nearby Harpers Ferry didn’t sway her. Neither did the fact that there was full resupply available in Harpers Ferry but only convenience stores near the campground. I’ll spare you the details of the whining, the begging, and the tears which failed to change my mind.

Fast forward to our upcoming trip to visit friends on the East Coast for a few days. A quick phone call to the campground and a look at the bank balance confirmed that an overnight stay at the Hobbit House is feasible. The forecast says it will be cold and cloudy. But we won’t notice. We will be surrounded by woods and will be basking in legend.  2016_0208_TreehouseCamp_HobbitHouse

Don’t worry if we disappear for a while—

Middle Earth is calling and we must go!

(Photos of Hobbit House from website for Treehouse Camp–check it out HERE)