“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.

“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

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

“What are you waiting for?” by Anna Huthmaker

I was several hundred miles into my grand attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, and the foot path in front of me had turned into a stream. It was raining.

A lot.

It was an El Nino year, and later we would learn that it would rain 28 out of 31 days. But for now, all I knew was that my socks were dry. And I was just doing my best to get through the rest of the day that way.

I made my way up the trail, hopping from side to side, avoiding puddles and sticking to the high ground. A lot of money had gone into my water-proof boots and as long as I didn’t step into anything deeper than a couple of inches, I was good.

Halfway up an incline, I stopped to catch my breath and let a fellow thru-hiker pass by. He turned to me grinning and said, “You know… once your boots get wet, you are free”.

He strode up the trail, and I stood there in surprise. We were miles from the nearest road or shelter, and the rain was predicted to go on for days. What was I doing? Was I really going to hop my way up the trail for the next ten miles?

I stepped gingerly into the large puddle in front of me, letting the cold water seep in through my lace holes. I walked forward, picking up my pace, and realized… he was right. My feet were wet, but I was free. Free to walk with purpose and enjoy the views around me. And to splash through the puddles like a kid, smiling and dancing.

It has been 12 years since that A.T. hike, and I have thought often about that hiker and what he said. How many times do we twist ourselves around, going far out of our way to avoid a perceived discomfort? And how much are we missing around us when we do just that? I don’t want to be so engaged with the effort of life that I miss the great stuff that is around me.

I am sure that hiker never realized how much purpose, joy and freedom have come into my life as a result of his statement. But anytime I find myself tied up in knots, attempting to dodge something uncomfortable, I smile and think of him and that rainy day. And I say to myself, “What are you waiting for…. just get your boots wet!”