“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.

Breaking Vertical

I tried not looking at the trail ahead of me. The sweat raining from my face and the pounding of my heart in my neck told me it was treacherous. Still, I’m a glutton for punishment. There in front of my eyes it appeared, a pitch that looked something of Biblical proportions. I was certain that I was about to hit my vertical limit. It was nowhere close to Mount Everest, but to this nearly 300+ pound woman, I might as well been hiking at 29,000 feet. I was too tired to notice the disgusted looks from other hikers peering back down the mountain at the boulder of a person trying to make her way up. I had bigger problems. With every step my mind had some sign posted telling me why I couldn’t do it, why I wouldn’t make it, why I’ll always be fat, etcetera, and etcetera. And then it happened, just after I made the summit and back down the mountain to my vehicle. I drove off from the trip feeling elated only to pull over not even a mile from the trail head to sob in my car alone. I broke vertical. The limit I had placed on myself shattered when little ol’ big me silenced all the negative voices competing inside my head. I was overwhelmed with the realization that all these years I had been living nowhere close to my vertical limit.

Mountain top experiences are fabulous, but alas I don’t have any photos of conquering summits. I’m just an ordinary woman who is slowly finding victory in the small summits in life, like getting on a bike for the first time in nearly 20 years, being able to bend down and tie my own shoes, being able to say “Hi” to someone on a hiking trail and feel okay that somebody actually saw me– all 300 sweaty glorious pounds of me huffing and puffing.

Losing weight is hard, but finding and embracing an inner strength that I scarcely knew that I had was, and is, more treacherous than climbing any mountain or hiking any trail. It sounds silly, but I’m finding myself again. All these years hidden beneath the layers of fat there was a perfectly beautiful me waiting all along to be discovered.

If I could offer any unsolicited encouragement to the woman sitting at home reading this, you are immeasurably strong in your spirit. These daily summits we ascend quietly build our character and resolve, sometimes without our even being aware of it. Don’t stop fighting those internal recordings in your head that tell you that you don’t measure up, that you can’t change, that you won’t make it. Give those voices an eviction notice. You deserve to live, love, and have laughter in your belly. You are a gift to this world that is meant to be shared. There is a perfectly beautiful you waiting to be celebrated by the world. So get off the couch, take a risk on yourself, and take a hike with your fellow trail sisters. Who knows, you might just find yourself breaking your vertical limit.

Yours for the Hiking,


“Trail Mix” aka Stephanie


There is nothing we hiker’s love more than a viewpoint, right? That beautiful cliff overlooking the valley, the trail in the hollow that looks up to an astounding waterfall… and this got me to thinking. These viewpoints bring me into such joy. But what I love most about being silent in the woods, what is really resonating with me, is that for that period of time I am completely and totally without a viewpoint! Without a personal viewpoint! There is no arguing my position, there is no trying to be right, there are none of the “yeah but” interactions that are so common in the “real world” when I am holding tightly to me and my point of view. And there is no stress.

What does this have to do with hiking? Well, one day it occurred to me as I was communing with the trees on the AT here in Ashby Gap, that the reason I love the woods and trees so much is because there is nothing for me to project onto! The trees have no personal story – they are completely free of an opinion, of a view point, of comparisons. I can be with the trees and never think a single thought, like;

This tree doesn’t like me.

I wonder if I just offended this tree?

Look at that tree, it thinks it is better than me.

That tree is so very straight, and my posture is just terrible.

That tree is no good. I don’t like that tree.

You know the thoughts! They are pretty universal. The magic of trees is that they cannot hold my projections. All they can reflect back is… Love. Eternal, uncomplicated, love. And in being with them, they show me a deeper version of my true nature – who I am without all my stories about me, you and the world. And all I can find is a spacious sense of love. Me. The Trees. Simple. No mind.

In the company of the trees, the pain of my addictive seeking of love and appreciation, my exhaustive scanning for signs of disapproval, and my endless story of me stops dead in their tracks. That is where I experience a peace beyond anything I have ever found. In the woods I am not trying to do something right, impress the trees, compete with the trees, get something from the trees, be something for the trees. I am purely and totally awake and alive as life itself, and in a way, I recognize that my essence is the same as these trees – free of all that noise.

This may sound a bit airy fairy, but I am finding that it is just no small thing at all! All those strategies I have in life to get to the gold ring called happiness? They drop away in the company of the trees, and I can experience happiness right here, right now, instead of relentlessly seeking it. I can take in the good that is always all around me which is only obscured by my endless viewpoints, and right fighting, and opinions and fears and approval seeking and on and on and on.

I can take this lesson of the trees with me back into the world of people and personalities. I can notice when I am missing a moment of pure happiness, of pure beauty, because I am in my head in a narrative of what I will post on Facebook about it to get your approval – and then I can return mentally to the moment and become present, like the trees. I can return to myself and reality.

I can become aware of when I am not engaging with another human being because I have imagined, purely hallucinated, that the look they just gave me means they don’t like me, or the thing I just said offended them, or they should not be the way they are and I am better than they are, and I can return to sanity and join them at heart with no judgments, like the trees. And I can now catch myself arguing my point of view with my husband, my friends, the stranger on the street, and suddenly be able to stop in that moment and reconnect to the wonderful and amazing person before me and be a listener, a receiver, like the trees.

No stress. No defense. No war. Pure connection

And isn’t this connection really my deepest longing? Hiking, with the Dames or alone in the trees, for me is all about connecting. The trees are teaching me about all the thoughts that get between me and my connection to the people, places and things that appear in my life journey. The things that nurture me and the gifts I have to offer in return.

The trees show me, by giving me a place where all my inner-critic and judgey voices have nothing to stick to, what it is to be truly regal, and truly wise and open and solid and standing tall.

And you want to know something so incredibly cool about trees? Take a problem or a dilemma to a tree. Ask it to share its wisdom with you. And get very still. And wait…

You. Will. Be. Amazed!

The trees will give you everything you ever needed to know if you open to them. That is the one thing the trees can reflect back to us – and that is our own inner wisdom. They can be a remarkable doorway into that internal and eternal voice that knows exactly what to do in any moment. Including doing nothing at all until we know the next right thing, until the decision make us. How do I know this brings me answers from a higher internal and universal place and is not just the voice of my regular ole often un-reliable mind? Because the answers that come are sometimes so startling, so much something I did not think of previously, that I am stunned! ”I never thought of that!” is a common refrain when I get sill and listen for the Wisdom that comes from this still, sacred place and it is the trees that show me where to tap into it.

So If I were to have a guru, it would have to be a tree; they do not charge for a workshop, have an hourly rate, they will receive our joy or our shame or our weeping and wailing with nothing but open limbs, they have no book to sell us, no agenda to run on us, and no Velcro for our projections to stick to. Will I fire my therapist now? No, probably not. But who knows?

I really just wanted to go for a walk. I really just wanted to lose some weight. I really just wanted to find out what it was to be in a collective of women. So I signed up for a hike with the Dames in 2011. And yet, as I write this I am so aware of the truth – that I got so much more than I bargained for!

In deepest gratitude and awe for all my sisters, in the woods and beyond. I thank you a thousand times and then again, for being my trees.


“The Dames is My Sisterhood!” by Lisa Holliday

I love the phrase hike your own hike. But in this group, we are primarily a sisterhood and we hike as a group. The front group watches out for the back group and vice versa. We leave no one behind. I like to say, if a vigorous workout and clocking miles is your primary goal, you may be in the wrong group!

What I treasure most about our Chapter is that we create a space where women who don’t think they can do this, can find out that they can – in a loving and supportive way. I was 220 pounds, depressed, and scared to death on my first hike with the Dames in 2011. Yet I knew right away that the primary purpose of this group was to invite me into the woods, and into my own greatness, and to support me to do that. I was hooked. Something in the woods rhymed with who I am at such a deep level, something I had lost connection with. I felt some grief about that. I really did. Even a little shame. But mostly? I felt that White Blaze Fever take me back to the trail to sing my song! To start to know the words. And that shame woke up into a deep passion for life, inside and outside of the woods. And today I DO go for vigorous hikes and clock miles and I love that! I even do it with gals I met here.

But except as otherwise noted on our Dynamic hikes, I carry on our primary purpose – to let each woman know that the woods are for her, too. And if I ever feel, “Oh God, I want to go faster, this is a waste of time, I am not getting a good workout”, I remind myself of how great the gift I received from this group in 2011 truly was. And I remember that I am the luckiest girl in the world to be able to give it back. And that the newest newcomer knows more about humility than I do in that moment. And that I am the luckiest girl in the world to receive THAT gift in return.

Loving and supporting other women is what teaches me to love and support me. Its a full-on win. And hearing how moved everyone was last week, during a tough ice hike with lots of newcomers, how we pulled together, it was clear to me that what we all longed for, more than a strong slim body, or the ability to bag a peak, was the connection to each other, the experience of trust and encouragement among women, and the opening of the heart that this brings.

It being Valentine’s Day this week, I am reminded that in all these things, The Trail Dames has allowed me to open my heart to other women, so that I can find my own true love, at home, inside myself. There is No Greater Love than that – for in that discovery, we are able to reflect it back to the world. And the World becomes our Valentine!

In deep gratitude to Anna, the Trail Dames Team, Hike Leaders and all you Groovy Dames,

Keep Your Backpack Side Up!

Lisa Holliday, Head Dame of the Virginia Dames

Next Episode: “What The Trees Have Taught Me!”

“Guidelines to help you start a healthier eating plan for 2015” by Becca Wroten

Eat Liberally

You can enjoy as much of these foods as you like. Remember we are not counting calories or fasting or anything like that!

Meat and Poultry: beef, lamb, chicken, duck, pork, wild game, venison, etc. When you can, use free-range chicken and grass-fed beef but don’t get wrapped up in it if it’s not feasible. Don’t be afraid to eat all parts of the meat. Don’t limit yourself to boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Fish: All fish is good but especially fatty fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies. Wild is preferable.

Eggs: These are perfect and portable (when boiled, that is)! Eat the whole egg… if we weren’t meant to eat yolks, chickens would have egg separators. If it’s affordable for you, buy free-range but again, don’t get wrapped up in this detail.

Starchy Tubers: Yams, sweet potatoes, plantains, yucca… for now, white potatoes are not as good a choice as the others.

Non-starchy Vegetables: cooked or raw, doesn’t matter. This is really everything: artichokes, asparagus, beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chiles, cucumbers, eggplant, onion, any greens and lettuces, leeks, mushrooms, okra, squashes, tomatoes, etc. (green beans, sugar snap peas, and all beans/lentils/peas do not fall into this category)

Traditional Fats: Use leftover fats from cooking (beef tallow, chicken fat, bacon grease), Coconut oil, and olive oil. Also butter, but on this one splurge for the organic/grass-fed stuff.
Olives, Avocados, Coconut (unsweetened), Coconut Milk

Sea Salt and spices

Eat in Moderation

You can eat these foods, but not big portions and not multiple times a day. Pretty much once a day, reasonable portion is good here.

Processed Meats: Sausage, uncured bacon, jerky, salami, turkey or ham… here’s the thing, though, CHECK THE INGREDIENT LIST. You want them to just be meat, no added fillers and sugars and junk.

Whole Fruit: Let me say first, there is NOTHING wrong with fruit. Nothing. We say moderation simply because fruit does elevate the blood sugar and we want to try to keep the blood sugar even and consistent. Dried fruit is not optimal but fine in a pinch. Stick to a variety of fruits in their natural state.

Nuts and Seeds: sunflower seeds, almonds, brazil nuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, cashews, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds. Peanuts are legumes and should be eaten very sparingly. Try to keep to one handful a day.

Coffee: All tea and coffee are permitted. Try to limit the caffeinated (coffee and black tea) to 1-2 cups and before noon. Any later interrupts sleep no matter how well you think you handle caffeine. If you struggle with depression, mood swings, insomnia, anxiety, or hypoglycemia you will greatly benefit from eliminating coffee and caffeine in general.

Dark Chocolate: 70% cacao or higher and in small amounts. Read labels and try to purchase the one with the least ingredients. If you are sensitive to caffeine, keep this earlier in the day.

Vinegar: apple cider, balsamic, red wine, etc. apple cider vinegar has some especially beneficial properties. Try making your own salad dressing.

Full Fat Dairy: Really, once a day or less here. It must be full fat. If we were intended to eat reduced fat, cows would come with cream separators! This is a place to eat grass-fed and organic, as well. Grass-fed/organic dairy provides healthy omega 3’s not found in other dairy. If dairy is easy for you to eliminate, we recommend doing so.

Eat Sparingly or avoid completely

For best results, avoid these foods altogether. If you do eat them, no more than once or twice a week.

Grains: This means oats, rice, bulgur, wheat, quinoa, pasta, bread. If you want to have some grains, go with quinoa or rice. Avoiding wheat, bread and pasta is highly recommended.

Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners: We are trying to get blood sugar under control and both of these wreak havoc on the body. If you need to sweeten something, try pure maple syrup, honey, palm sugar, or fruit/fruit juice. But limit it!

Beans and Legumes: peas, beans, peanuts

Alcohol: Relax. It’s just for now, for this month. Limit the alcohol to 1-2 times per week or for best results altogether.

This list is not a complete list but should give you a great guide to work from. Build meals around the foods in green with a spattering of foods in orange.

For more information check out Haka Fitness Nutrition 101 on Facebook

Becca Wroten’s personal journey in life has been greatly linked to sports and fitness from a young age. As an adult, she realizes the greatest things in life come from hard work, perseverance, and courage. It is this belief in the tenacious spirit and a love for movement that drives her program design and the design of Haka Fitness.