The Wonder of Watkins Glen

The Wonder of Watkins Glen

You ever see promotional materials for a place or a thing and you think “Wow that’s really something! I need to put that on my must see list.”

Promo material and the risks of the must-see list

You carve out time in your calendar, make plans, figure out the best route to take to get there and check the weather for days ahead of event. As the date approaches, you can barely maintain your enthusiasm that you are going to see this amazing thing that you saw on the promotional materials.

The fated day comes and you get up, shower and put on just the right outfit, specifically picked out and laid out the night before for this event. You pack a lunch and snacks, careful to select just the right food for the activity of the day. You had dutifully gassed up the car the night before so you don’t waste the 15 mins the next day so you can get to this amazing place faster. You get in the car all excited! You drive several hours to your destination.

Sometimes, the reality doesn’t match the advertisement

You get there, and you get out of the car and look around. It looks like something akin to a ghost town but not nearly as cool. Nothing looks like the promotional materials. You wander in vain looking for the same things as in the pictures and slowly you come to the realization that you were duped and this particular thing totally sucked ass not just regular ass but big sticky ass. You leave shell-shocked, sad, dejected, frustrated that you wasted time for this and as you drive away, you get a little angry.

But, then, sometimes it does!

Waterfall at Watkins Glen

The walkway passes underneath a number of waterfalls

I remember seeing the promotional material on Facebook for Watkins Glen State Park in upstate New York and I was struck dumb by the images of waterfalls and beautiful old stone bridges. The images conjured up a wonderfully romantic fairy-tale place.  I exclaimed breathless, “Oh-my-God! I have to just go to that place, it looks amazing!”

Getting ready for the trip

I put it on my calendar, I planned for a weekend trip as it was over a three hour drive. In the preceding days, I went through my personal trip readiness process.

The day finally arrived and I was excited!

I made the five (ish)  hour trip up there from central Connecticut just to see how it was. Due to the fact that I had been duped in the past, there were some nagging thoughts of “What if it sucks? It’ll end up being a big waste of time and energy.” In the end, I figured that worse case scenario, I would do what I always do.  I would find someone to talk to and as always they will be amazing and it would make my day and probably result in an awesome people from the road blog.

Arriving at Watkins Glen

I get there, my GPS takes me to a large parking lot, that was fairly packed. They also had people monitoring the parking lot, helping with the parking process.  I saw this as a good sign. It means that it is a popular place.

What I initially saw was a couple of playscapes for children and picnic tables. I get nervous because I do not see nor hear any waterfalls.

I continue to walk and notice that there is a public pool, and a conference center as well as well maintained pavilions but still no waterfalls. I stop to take a bio Break and keep searching. I see this little sign indicating that I was on the right track to the gorge trail.

Long switch-back trail into the gorge

LOng Switchback Trail Down into the Gorge

Long switchback trail down into the gorge

I start walking down on a switch backed trail. Down, down, down… All I kept thinking was “Crap this better be good, because if it sucks and I have to schlep back up that hill, I am going to be pissed.” A few times I thought about turning around and forgetting all about it. I see a red-faced woman gasping for air coming in the opposite direction and I asked is it worth the walk back up the trail. She took a deep breath to speak and emphatically said “Oh Yea!!” I kept going.

Boy was I ever glad I did! I could hear the water and it sounded like a big grand waterfall and then it came into view and WOW just WOW.

The view exceeded the promo material

The view exceeded all expectations

The view exceeded all expectations

It was not what I saw on the Facebook promotional material. Oh no, it was so much more!  I couldn’t believe it how wonderful it was. That was the just the first view of many more beautiful views along the walk to the end of the gorge trail.  If you get the opportunity to go to upstate New York, I highly recommend to go to this place.

The promotional material didn’t even give an inkling what that State Park is all about. As I mentioned, they have everything you could imagine the have for a family to enjoy the day out including campsites.

The gorge walk is the crowned Jewel of the park for sure. Watkins Glen Gorge walk features 19 waterfalls, numerous cascades, carved out tunnels and stone bridges. All to make the two mile walk very magical and pass quickly.

A couple of things to note:

Watkins Glenn - The View Exceeded the promo material

Be aware that the trail and walkway will be very wet in places

  1. Wear sturdy shoes. Much of the trail is wet.  There are a lot of carved out stairs from the waterfalls as well. It can be a bit slippery in spots so take your time and enjoy.
  2. After you walk the gorge trail there is a series of stairs to get up to the top. There is a cute snackshop that sells awesome ice cream and beer among other things. There is a covered pavilion area and picnic tables.
  3. Hot Tip: Bring five dollars cash for each person.

I discovered that they also provide a shuttle to take you back to your car, which is great. Beware, the shuttle is not free and requires a cash payment.  So make sure you have some cash on you just in case you want to take the shuttle back. In my case, I had no idea that there was a shuttle and I would have loved to take the shuttle back, unfortunately, I didn’t have any cash. The snack shop does not have an ATM.

Returned by a different path

Up into the light and a different route back

Up into the light and a different route back

I ended up taking a different hiking trail back to the car that ran parallel to the gorge trail. It was a lovely walk through the woods and there were hardly any people or hills on that trail. It was a very pleasant walk back and in the end I was happy to get the extra time in the woods.

If you are a photography buff, Watkins Glen will be a very excited place to take pictures, but it will also be a very frustrating place to take pictures. Due to the popularity of the site, there are many many people. It would be double tough to get a shot without people contaminating the shot. The trail is fairly narrow in spots making it near impossible to set up a tripod.

In conclusion, the marketing materials, although great, did not do this place justice. I highly recommend taking the trip to Watkins Glen State Park to see it. It won’t disappoint!

Here is the official Watkins Glen State Park website: Watkins Glen State Park

“Ladies, You Need to Mooove!” Rochelle, aka ~Traveling Garden Gnome

Traveling Garden GnomeI had many miles to drive yesterday, so I thought I’d stop along the way to stretch my legs and look for a letterbox (similar-ish to a geocache, but not). Absolutely loving the ‘here’ button on the Atlas Quest search page. I didn’t know exactly where I was, but AQ sure did!

My Garmin, however, is not as wonderful as AQ and had no idea where I was or how to get to the trail head. It was confidently guiding me along and announced that I had arrived at my destination. I was not so confident about that considering I was on a freeway overpass!!!

I had to go old school, using my brains and eyeballs instead of the Garmin. Luckily I noticed the brown trail sign below, so I continued on the freeway to the next exit and followed the frontage road back to the brown sign I saw from above.

Happily I reached my destination and paid the six dollar day use fee. The planter of the letterbox series I was searching for cautioned that the park gates close at five and they ‘mean it’. No problem I thought, I didn’t want to be out that long anyways.

It was a lovely hike with a Golden Eagle soaring above, huge flocks of Red Wing Black Birds swooshing up out of the brambles, and mama cows with their calves grazing on the hill sides next to me. I was enjoying myself a little too much because I missed the first three letterboxes and found myself looking at the very distinctive tree for the final box in the series. Whoops!

Heading back I had to pass through a long narrow tunnel of sorts that was created by a wall of barb wire covered in blackberry thorns to my left and a steep hill thick with brush and trees to my right. At the end of the tunnel stood a mama cow and her young baby calf.

She stomped, lowered her head, and said, “Snort!”

Oh dear.

I waited.
She waited.

I waited.
She waited.

I tried backing down the tunnel to wait. More mama cows with their calves came down from the hill side to see what was going on at the end of the blackberry tunnel.

I waited.
They waited.

One adventurous calf thought he’d come say hi to me in the tunnel. Luckily his mom didn’t mind. I walked a bit forward which caused him to turn back around and go up the hill. At this point I remembered about the gate closing at 5:00. I peeked at my phone and it said 4:50.

Oh dear.

I decided I needed to press the issue and see if I couldn’t get these ladies to mooove with out making them mad. I spoke up and told them my plans to continue forward, talking at them the whole time. Most went up the hill after the first calf; the rest just looked at me like I was nuts.

After I was safely past the last cow I started hiking as fast as I could back to my car. Just as I crest the last hill I see way in the distance a ranger truck parked at the trail head.

Oh dear.

I hurry. The ranger gets out of his truck. I’m still hurrying. He walks around his truck. I have about a quarter of a mile to go. He gets back in his truck and sits with his door open. I hurry more. He got back out of his truck as I got closer.

Oh dear.

I start apologizing just as soon as I’m within earshot. He frowns and puts his hand in his pocket. Fearing he’s going to pull out a ticket book I launch into my story about the mama cows and their calves blocking my way. He laughed and told me it was ok and he was glad I was safe. He then proceeded to tell me how to protect myself from mama cows “by getting big and loud like you would for a mountain lion”. He had his arms out stretched above his head in demonstration with a big grin on his face.

I couldn’t tell if he was making fun of me or not. He was chuckling quite a bit as I drove away.

“My first solo hike…” by Christine

I joined the Trail Dames of Central Va. because I was feeling old and looking for an activity that would be be both fun and good for me. I had remembered enjoying hiking as a child but now I was so much older and very hesitant…

When I first met Michele (Central Virgina head dame), and the other Trail Dames they were all so welcoming, supportive and low key. They answered my questions, taught me about trekking poles and encouraged me to take breaks, snap pictures and just enjoy the day.

I enjoyed my first hike. What a great adventure and I was hooked… I felt that despite my age, lack of stamina and size I could “do this”.

Shortly thereafter I started planning my first solo hike – a hike of 5 miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The day of my 1st solo hike I got up early, packed my day pack and excitedly called my sister to tell her of my planned adventure! I was proud of myself for being more active and I felt empowered thanks to the support and encouragement of my fellow Dames. Parking at the trail head, I jumped out of my car.

Close by was a large bear trash can with posted bear warnings. Yahoo – what an adventure! I immediately grabbed my camera to capture the moment and the bear safety warning….and just like that, everything changed…

While snapping my very 1st picture I forgot to look where I was going and down I went! Ouch! …and that was the end of my first solo hike. My sprained ankle and my damaged pride hobbled the ten steps back to my car.

Three weeks later, my ankle recovered, I finished my first solo hike. Since then I have hiked several mountains and lots of beautiful trails, both alone and with my husband.

Thanks Michelle, Karen and my fellow dames. Your kindness and support empowered me to take up a healthy hobby that provides tons of fun, beauty and exercise!


“What is a blaze?” by Pua Ali’i KH Lum aka Mašté

One year ago today, I huffed and puffed my way up Sky Meadows State Park’s North Ridge Trail with a group of ladies. As I carpooled with an acquaintance to this new place, I felt nervous about my ability to hike much less walk because the athlete I had once been turned into a heavy couch potato. In 2012, I came to the area for a job promotion, and I knew no one. I promised myself once I got settled I would reintroduce myself to the active woman I enjoy. Over the years, I learned the heavier you are, the less people acknowledge your presence. With that in mind, some part of me wanted to remain invisible, but the universe had a purpose for me that I said yes too, so no matter how many times I tried to deny my calling by eating, sleeping, watching TV, and gaining weight I always came back to the reality that I am, was, and will always be visible.

Anyway back to the day at hand, I asked what any newbie hiker, I use the term “hiker” loosely, would want to know, “How hard is this hike?” She nonchalantly stated, “It’s pretty flat.” With that answer the couch potato in me felt much better about the decision I had made to attend my first hike. The beauty of the park helped me stave off my desire to beat feet home. It wouldn’t have mattered my car was tucked safely in my garage, and by golly, walking that far was absolutely out of the question. We made our introductions and began our trek up the unknown elevation gain. While dodging cow patties and wishing I had an oxygen tank, I slowly, but surely made my way up Mount Kilimanjaro. Oops, I mean the North Ridge Trail. A lovely woman kept my mind occupied by telling me her story. Another tried to engage me in conversation by asking me the get to know you questions. Many grunts and groans made it very clear that talking, and walking were out of the question! So the first lady, took me under her wing and walked with me up that BIG, HUGE, MAMMOTH hill. She understood my plight by waiting on me while I rested, and sucked wind like a newborn baby. She told me her age and I was flabbergasted that I had let myself go so much that a woman some years my senior was waiting on me. Somewhere between being out of breath and disappointed in letting my health go, I vowed in that moment that I was far too young to have this fixable problem and that someday I would hike this trail with ease.

Fast forward a month, I had been walking up to 6 miles a day, rowing on my machine, and eating healthy again. Two friends and I from the first hike visited Sky Meadows North Ridge Trail again. I moved up that hill like a teenager. What a sense of accomplishment! I kept that same passion for my health up to today one year later. In honor of my hiking anniversary, I hiked my second Section on the AT between Keys Gap and Harpers Ferry with the Trail Dames of VA. It was a 6.5 mile hike that turned into 10 miles. The day before I hiked 11.5 miles. So it goes that the views drive me to the top, the waterfalls call me into the swimming holes, the off chance I might see a bear terrifies and excites me, and I am planning several Section hikes over my three week vacation in October. This peace filled place I live is about good friends, laughing, eating, and of course, hiking. I love to hike solo, and with others. I am planning my vacations around the John Muir Trail and the AT, however, I am still a shower after a hike, and sleep in my own bed type of woman. If you want to find me hiking, look on the TD of VA meetup group, we’d loved to have you just as you are. I’ve been taught hike your own hike when your solo, and hike with the group when you attend an excursion because after all the group is the place where I am encouraged to push my limits, be myself, and take it easy all in one day.

So I asked, “What is a blaze?” Well, the blaze is me moving at a speed that I had only dreamed of. I am here because I said, “Yes!” Then the multitude of women showed up to guide, support, and lead me to this wonderful life I cherish called hiking. There are so many to thank. Nancy M., Tina C., Lisa H., Lola, Barb, Thelma, Jana, Char, Joyce, and all the ladies that I continue to meet on the trails.

This is my most treasured quote by Marianne Williamson that I want to gift to you:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Liberate yourself and join us! We would love to have you laugh, relax, and love nature as we all do!

“Words of welcome and encouragement” by Michele Zehr

Hi everyone!

This is Michele, the Head Dame of the Central Virginia Chapter of Trail Dames. I wanted to send out a note to the 302 members of our meet-up group, as I know I’ve not met most of you. After leading hikes for women for several years now, I’ve noticed a theme in the conversations we have on almost every hike. When women come to a hike for the very first time, they are often really scared and feel a lot of self-doubt, because they don’t know if they can “keep up” with the group or if the hike is going to be too difficult. So let me offer some empowering words of encouragement around this very real fear that so many women share.

First, it’s ok that you’re afraid. In the beginning, I was too, and then a few years later I found myself hiking 2,200 miles on the Appalachian Trail! I know for me, the fears came up as snapshots in my mind, like seeing myself holding up the group or being the only one that was sweating and breathing hard when hiking up a hill (or seeing myself not being able to even get to the top!). I feared that the other people in the group would get frustrated or impatient with me because I was slow and out of shape (you know those “looks” people can give). I didn’t feel like I needed to voluntarily go into situations where I was being judged like this, because frankly, our culture does a pretty good job of that all on its own.

So here is what makes Trail Dames radically different than any other hiking group you’ll probably ever hike with in your life. You all, the women who courageously show up even though you’re anxious and afraid…YOU all are “the point” of this group. It’s not about hiking fast, getting to the goal, hiking 20 miles, or being competitive. There’s no need to apologize if you’re out of breath, because more than likely we’ll all be out of breath right along with you! In fact, there’s no need to apologize for anything, as you’re perfect just as you are. So if you have ever RSVP’d YES to one of our hikes and then at the last minute felt so afraid that you decided not to come, I want you to know we understand.

I also want you to know that women, in general, never give themselves enough credit for just how amazingly powerful they are. I know this because I started a business specifically focused on women’s empowerment, and I see women surprise themselves all the time. So consider coming out and trying a hike with us, because there is no judging and no rushing. We take breaks when we need to, we help one another, and we laugh a lot. You deserve to be able to enjoy nature just as much as anyone else, and you deserve to feel safe and supported. This is what we can offer. Peace to all of you women of awesomeness!!

Michele Zehr, Head Dame of the Central Virginia Chapter of Trail Dames