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

Backpacking Food Pyramid







Re-Posted from Lori of the Delaware Dames!

The above is a scan of a rather elementary school-ish drawing I made to illustrate my version of a food pyramid for backpackers. Obviously, I’m not an artist. Neither am I a nutritionist. This is just a simple, very low-tech presentation to help you visualize the logic I use for planning backpacking menus. This works for me. Please feel free to build on it as your body demands and your talent allows.

I have always struggled with my weight, and happily, like most people I usually come off a trail trip weighing a bit less than when I started. But this is not a diet plan, nor is it the time to try to limit your calories. Calorie needs are based on variables such as your weight, level and endurance of exertion. But when it comes to backpacking, it’s nearly impossible for you to carry enough food for your body to meet demand. Basically, what you put into your body is going to fuel your walk. So think in terms of hiking fuel.

You want to avoid highs and lows in your energy level while on-trail. The highs are usually short-lived, and the lows take all the joy out of the walk. Your goal is to provide a steady stream of long-burning fuel. And it’s good to include occasional quick burning stuff to get you up a big climb or through the last mile of a very long day. Plan on eating often. In fact, nearly non-stop snacking works for many hikers. For me, I’ve found that building my entire menu on long-burning complex carbs is key. You know the roll call, I’m sure: whole grains, oatmeal, rice, beans, etc. These help to give you balanced energy over a long period of time. Simple carbs are the things that taste soooo good and land right on our hips and thighs. You know ’em… the cookies, candy, cakes, pies, and other treats. These do not provide a long, even burn of energy. But, they also play a role in your backpacking adventures. Now and then, a Snickers bar at the bottom of a mountain will help you get to the top. I firmly believe it. In fact, I live for it, because I rarely allow myself to eat Snickers off-trail when I’m living in the paved world. (However, I’ve been known to enjoy an occasional Kit-Kat, and should I find some Godiva chocolate laying around, I wouldn’t necessarily let it go to waste.)

Most of the food I bring on backpacking trips comes straight from the grocery store. Stroll up and down the center aisles and you’ll find lots of processed, quick cooking food that, in my opinion, isn’t all that good for you on an everyday basis. I prefer to eat whole foods and cook from scratch at home. That’s not practical for backpacking. Instead, I look at every convenient, add-water and eat type item in the grocery store as a possible block in the foundation of my hiking food pyramid. Packets of noodles and sauce? Got it! Rice and sauce? Couscous? Dried tortellini? Yep, they go right in the pack. I’ve even cannibalized the guts of boxes of mac and cheese and Hamburger Helper in order to build tasty, long burning fuel/food for my trips.

Once you’ve decided on a tasty long-burning carb, add in some protein to really up the energy burning value of your calories. You no longer have to depend on beef jerky as your only source of protein on a long hike. Step into the tuna fish aisle my friend, step in and behold the bounty! Tuna is available in no-drain pouches, of course. You can even find pre-mixed tuna salad, so no need to mix in little packets of mayo as you sit on a pile of brown leaves next to the trail. Just open the packet, squeeze into a pita bread and eat! In the same aisle you will also find crab, salmon, and shrimp. Look a little further down the shelf and you will find a variety of flavored chicken breasts in pouches. Even single serve slices of Spam are on the shelves these days. A short walk to the deli section, and you’ll find pepperoni, salami, and other dried meats that will keep for days in your pack. Bacon? Would you like some bacon? Sure! Pre-cooked, shelf-stable bacon and ham can also be found at your grocery store. And don’t forget cheese! Hard cheeses or wax covered individual cheeses such as BabyBel carry well in a pack, especially in cooler weather.

Now you have two levels of your pyramid sorted out. Choose something from the carbs level and something from the protein and fat level and mix it together for a tasty meal. Couscous with shredded chicken and a douse of olive oil and Parmesan cheese is a great way to end the day. One of my favorite meals is a combination of Barilla shelf-stable tortellini mixed with a packet of Knorr rosa sauce, diced pepperoni and even more olive oil and cheese stirred in. Oh, and don’t forget peanut butter! Not with the tortellini, of course! But, peanut butter is another grand source of protein and fat. I even enjoy it stirred into my morning oatmeal.

Now we’ve come to the electrolytes and fluids levels. You’ve heard about electrolytes. There are aisles and aisles of electrolyte replacement drinks all across the land. But what ARE electrolytes? Well, let’s just go with the 7 you may be tested for in a basic metabolic profile. These are sodium, potassium, chloride, carbon dioxide, BUN (blood urea nitrogen), glucose, creatinine. OK, that’s more than you needed to know, I suppose. But these little chemical substances keep your bodily functions running the way they should. If you’ve ever had an out-of-whack result on a blood test, you’ve had discussions with your healthcare professionals regarding diabetes, kidney failure, and a host of other life-threatening conditions. And that’s what we’re talking about. Life-enabling/life-threatening chemical balances. As you hike, your body is going to burn fuel and chemicals. You will sweat. Your electrolyte balance is going to get a little wonky. This will effect you along a spectrum that goes from feeling tired and dizzy to being dead. We’d really like to avoid the dead part, so let’s try not to get beyond the tired and dizzy level. To do that, you should plan to replace electrolytes.

And what a lot of choices we have today! You can go well beyond Gatorade. In fact, I’m not a big fan of the flavor of Gatorade, and I prefer something called Nuun, which comes in tablet form. In addition to my Platypus full of water, I always carry a separate bottle filled with water and one or two tablets of Nuun dropped in. I sip from that during the day and enjoy another bottle with my dinner each night. Another of my favorite sources of electrolytes comes from Jelly Belly. Yep! Jelly beans can be electrolyte replacement! Jelly Belly makes something called “Sport beans”. They are sweet, chewy, and deliver a pack of energy and electrolytes to your system. I call them my 1000-feet treat. One packet of those beans gets me to the top of a 1000′ climb. Both Nuun tablets and Jelly Belly sport beans are available at REI and other athletic-oriented stores. Of course, you can find packets of easy-to-mix electrolyte drink powders at your grocery store, too.

I also include soups in the fluids and electrolytes category. I enjoy some instant soups on the trail. Sometimes I make my own dehydrated creations at home. Sometimes, I just carry along envelopes of instant soups from the grocery store. These help get some fluids and sodium into you. And they are a very comforting treat on a cool day in the woods.

Finally, my pyramid is topped with a level I call “Stuff you crave”. It’s basically everything else you bring along. Call it comfort food,if you’d like. For me, these are mostly my snacks and treats. I try to look for things that have a nice calorie punch for their weight. I love little packets of Justin’s nut butters, individual cheeses, hot chocolate for an evening treat. And yes, I even like Cliff and Luna bars. I also like taking along some sort of veggies. There aren’t a lot of calories per weight in vegetables, so I usually wait for an off-trail meal to get my fresh veg dose. But I do like the flavor and texture of veggies added to my meals. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s carries a nice selection of freeze-dried veggies that can be added to your soups and long-burning carb/protein concoctions. In cooler weather, I will sometimes carry a single small cucumber. I like the crunch. Also, baby spinach will hold up well for a couple of days in a plastic bag. I toss a bit into my rehydrating meals for a bit of taste and eye appeal.


Re posted from Lori of the Delaware Dames

The following is a handout from the TRAILSIDE FOOD WITH GROCERY STORE GOODIES.


Many years ago, your backpacking menu was probably limited to prepackaged backpacking foods, perhaps military “meals ready to eat”, and even canned goods.
But these days, with consumers demanding quick, easy to prepare meals at home, there are many backpacking menu options right on your local grocery store shelves.

Below are some easy recipes for the trail to get your grocery store backpacking menu kickstarted.

Southwest Soft Tacos
1 packet Uncle Ben’s Whole Grain Ready Rice Santa Fe
7-ounce chicken pouch
4 whole wheat tortillas
Tabasco to taste

Empty rice and chicken into pot. Stir, cover, heat over low flame. Add water if necessary. Add Tabasco. Fill tortillas. Serves 2.

Catskills Chicken Riggies
8 ounces rigatoni
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp dehydrated onion
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1 7-ounce pouch chicken
½ cup Parmesan cheese
½ cup water

Saute tomatoes and spices in olive oil and water until thick. Add chicken and half the Parmesan. Serve over cooked and drained pasta and top with remaining cheese. Serves 2.

Rib-sticking Noodle Soup
1 Lipton’s Chicken Soup Mix
6 cups water
1 7-ounce pouch chicken
8 ounces macaroni
1 stalk celery or equivalent amount of other trail-sturdy veg such as carrot or onion.

Bring wataer to a boil. Whisk in soup mix with a fork. Add chicken, macaroni, and chopped celery. Return pot to a boil, then simmer for 1ominutes or until pasta is al dente. Serves 2

Creekside Lentils
1 cup lentils
1packet instant tomato soup
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon dried onion
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Trail-sturdy cheese such as Baby Bel, Parmesan, or Laughing Cow

Add all ingredients except cheese to 4 cups of water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes (until lentils are soft). Top with cheese to taste. Serves 2.

Rockytop Tortellini
8 ounces Barilla dry tortellini
½ envelope McCormick’s marinara sauce mix
½ envelope McCormick’s pesto sauce mix
2 ounces sliced pepperoni
Olive oil

Cook pasta according to package directions and drain, leaving 1 cup water in the pot with the pasta. Stir in both sauce pouches and add 3 tablespoons olive oil. Stir and add pepperoni. Serves 2

Shenandoah Surprise
½ of a 21-ounce box brownie mix (transfer to a Ziploc bag)
¼-cup powdered milk
2 cups boiling water Graham crackers
1 apple

Combine brownie mix with powdered milk in a pot. Slowly add boiling water and stir until the mix reaches the consistency of pudding. Serve fondue-style, dipping graham crackers, sliced applies, or a spoon! Serves 4.

Easy Chicken Salad in a Pita
1 7-ounce pouch chicken
½ cup raisins
¼ cup walnuts
2 mayo packets
2 whole wheat pitas

Mix together chicken, raisins, walnuts, and mayonnaise in a zip-top bag. Spoon salad inside pita. Serves 2.

Final Musings on the Inca Trail

6-28-08 Final Musings

Well, it is almost midnight and I am waiting to board my flight home. As much as I am ready to go home, I am sad to see this adventure come to an end.

I am going to miss Peru! The people I have met have been uncommonly kind and I feel like my world has been cracked wide open. Like Africa, there is a lot of poverty, but also a lot of happiness. I was most excited about the colors of the culture here, and I have not been disappointed! The music, dancing, stories and history have brought such a richness to my trip and I know that I have just scratched the surfaced of what this country has to offer.

Most of all, I am sad to say good-bye to my old friends Deb and Julia and my new friend Sharon. These three women have helped me more in the last three weeks then I could have ever imagined. Julia walked with me on the Incan Trail, lending her support and strength whenever I felt myself flagging. Deb took care of me when I was sick, watched me cry with frustration and then insisted that I keep on keeping on. And Sharon…every time I found myself at the back of the pack, she drifted back to keep me company. If we hit a big step on a hike, she always seemed to be there to help me up it. I don’t know how she always knew when I needed a little pick-me-up, but she did. I am lucky, lucky to get to travel with these women and I am looking forward to doing it again.

I will send you one more email when I get home to share some of my pictures with you, but until then, thank you so much for all your friendship during the last three weeks. You have helped me more than you know!
Until my next adventure…….
Lots of love,
Anna aka Mud Butt

It’s A Small World

June 27, 2008

6.27.08 It’s A Small World

We got up at 6 am this morning and quickly got dressed. Weather-wise, this island is amazing! The days are warm with a light, cool breeze, but the nights are freezing! Our guide told us that it might snow last night, but luckily it just got cold. We each had a ton of blankets on our bed and joked that it was like sleeping under the dental blanket they use when they take x-rays.

Our host family was up bright and early and had nothing but smiles for us. I wish I could stay longer and really get to know the people in this community. Everyone seems very kind, gentle and soft-spoken, and it would be very easy for me to dive into a glowing description of their lives and personalities. The truth is, though, all I know of them is what I have seen in the last 24 hours. They are a tight-knit community with old-fashioned, traditional values. They seem to laugh easily and smile a lot. And they treated us very, very well. Staying on this island with our host family was definitely one of the highlights of my trip!

After a breakfast of crepe-like pancakes and hot muna tea, we gathered our things, exchanged kisses all around and headed back down to the port. This mornings activity is sea kayaking, and I know you are tired of hearing it, but I am still too sick to kayak. So, it is another lazy morning on the boat, relaxing to the swells of Lake Titicaca. Ahhh, life is hard. 

After a nice long nap, we arrived at our lunch destination… a floating island! There are a whole bunch of these islands that are made of reeds. We are in the middle of a National Preserve which looks like fields of grain as far as the eye can see. Except, the “grain” is reeds and all of this is in Lake Titicaca. So imagine taking a whole bunch of reeds….a serious whole bunch.. and building an island on them! Each island houses about 5 families, and the kids row across the water to a school building each day. Everything is made of reeds… their homes, boats, beds, chairs, etc. It is very neat looking, but does look a bit like Disney World.  So, humming “It’s A Small World” under our breaths, we jumped off of the boat onto the island. It feels like we are walking on a big, straw mattress, and all I can think about is what happens if you fall off?! 

We had lunch in a reed hut, sitting on big rolls of reeds and it was great. Soup, fish, quinoa and hot tea…I was really impressed! After lunch, they took us on a reed-boat ride between the islands before putting us back on our big boat one final time.

An hour later and we are back at the hotel for one last night. I am loving this trip, but I am ready to come home, so packing everything up feels really good. One final drink with Deb and our last group dinner is all that stands between me and the trip home. Have I mentioned that life is great? 
Anna aka Mud Butt