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

Carvers Gap and Who Lost Shemeah?

Carvers Gap and Who Lost Shemeah?

It was about time for a good adventure and the weekend didn’t fail us. Leslie, Still Waters, April and myself rolled on down the highway at high noon on Friday, heading toward the big town of Erwin, Tennessee. The plan was to spend the night and get up early to meet at the trailhead Saturday. I have to say the drive was absolutely a blast. We all talked nearly non-stop and laughed equally as much. At some point the words “fried fish” came out of someone’s mouth and a quest to find a littleElsies...Eternal lunch.... café with fried anything began. It ended at Elsie’s Steak and Seafood,home of “All You Can Eat Fried Catfish” and the local Optimist club. Obviously we all had been on some kind of fried food fast because everything that landed on the table had seen Crisco and was not long for this world. Stuffed and satisfied, we over tipped Elsie and headed toward the great town of Erwin and the Holiday Inn Express.
A friendly check-in, settling into our clean room, a quick trip to the local Wal-Mart, (Always interesting,)dinner at Clarence’s Drive In and we turned in early. There was little movement and no snoring as we all dreamed of the trail ahead.
After a fascinating breakfast at the Holiday Inn, (Who knew there was an automatic conveyer belt pancake maker?!!!) we packed up at sunrise and headed toward the Hostel to meet our group.

The Mountain Harbor Hostel /Bed and Breakfast was delightful!IMG_2857IMG_2886

For $15.00 a night, hikers can stay in a clean bed, have access to a shower, stocked frig and small kitchen. There was a small General Store that operates on the honor system and for $9.00 a full breakfast at the main house can be had. A member new to our group had stayed the night and greeted us with enthusiasm. Patty aka Dream Believer would prove to be a tireless hiker and cheerleader sharing her wisdom and love of nature.
Soon we were joined by Hemlock, Cindy, and Sweet Pea and were IMG_2891shuttled up a bumpy, curvy route to the trailhead atCarvers Gap.The hike began on a beautiful, blue sky, 80 degree treasure of a day, and slipping through the gate we began our hike. Almost immediately we were embraced by a Balsam Fir forest that can only grow at 5000 feet.( I looked around for Ewoks, but saw none…..) Delighted, we wandered along and soon began our ascent up Round Bald, picking our way past a mile long bucket brigade of young people restoring the trail with rocks. (One of the girls commented as we went by, that we were the pretty hikers!) highres_50264351
The climb continued up, as we topped Round Bald passing masses of Rhododendron bushes with the wind whipping around us. We stop periodically to spin 365 degrees and burst into the Sound of Music ,which will be our theme song for most of the trip! On we go over and up Jane Bald surrounded by magnificent mountains and valleys, numerous plants and flowers and goats grazing beside the trail, guarded by a ferocious “goat”dog.
Jane Bald proves to be the perfect lunch spot to languish in the warm sun and chat with other hikers as they pass through this intersection. Nourished, hydrated and rested we head down the AT back into the forest. Our hard work rewarded by an amazing sea of wildflowers blooming all around us. Much of the trail barely wide enough for our feet, it is like we are walking through a carpet of colors. The surprising and pleasing display included Yarrow, Daisy’s, Bee Balm, Echinacea, Dodder, Turtlehead, Phlox, Gentian, yellow and purple touch me nots, Beech Drop, Queen Anne Lace and Angelica. I can hear Joan swooning in the distance……

We pass the Stan Murray shelter, do a quick Keen Hiking boot commercial….IMG_2977and follow the rolling trail down to the Overmountain Shelter, a two story red barn structure housing several college students. This proves to be a good place to regroup and watch the clouds rolling over the valley like waves in the ocean…We made the decision not to camp here, but to press on UP and over Little Hump Bald.
and this……is where we lost Shemeah……….
Almost everyone needed to replenish their water and this was IMG_2933the last source before we would camp. Still Waters and Hemlock had filled up while the rest of us were airing out our toes at the barn. Hemlock waited with April while the water bearers loaded up and Still Waters decided to head on to scout out a site.

The mighty climb up Little Hump began…..Hemlock, with her long legs and natural gait soon became a distant pinhead as I followed, Fabs and Leslie not far behind and April and Patty bringing up the rear. To an overhead observer, I think we might have looked like one of those slinky caterpillar toys, starting and stopping, getting closer together and stretching back out, as we made our way, our breathing heavy and labored up, up and more up.

The views are breathtaking as we go, making the pain worthwhile, majestic mountains with tufts of white clouds rising out of them, waving grasses along the trail, rocky outcrops and the sun breaking the clouds providing us with “God Rays” and more layers of blue mountain ridges.
Catching up with a waiting Joan, Leslie, Fabs and myself reach the top and go up and over trying to outrun a rain cloud with April and Patty being pursued by a rolling fog beneath us. Confident that Shemeah is ahead of us, we laugh that she has already started a fire….. Just as we hit the shelter of the scrubby trees, it starts to rain and we quickly cover out packs and put on our jackets, all the while looking along the narrow grown up trail for a place to hang four hammocks and place three tents.

Not far into the woods, I manage to once again step in a yellow jackets home and feel stinging on the back of my leg. Tearing down the trail with Leslie right on my heels feels all too familiar! Sprays and cream is applied and Joan and Fabs meet up with us after waiting for the nest to die down and suddenly we spy the perfect campsite!!! The heavens openmusic plays and we are practically delirious with joy……until we realize…..there is no Shemeah……….

Warbonnet VillageWe are joined by April and Patty and begin the work of setting up camp before darkness falls, all the while worrying about our hiking partner. A cell call is placed with a single bar and a message is left. There is discussion about sending Hemlock out to look for her but it is decided that we will all stay put, that Still Waters is a competent hiker and will be fine. We speculate that she might be eating Spam with the Boy Scouts when suddenly we hear her entering camp with a shout!
IMG_2869She receives a heroes welcome and we are all relieved that our group is once again complete. Apparently, she hiked an additional 4 miles, while exploring a new trail and making a wrong turn headed back toward the Stan Murray shelter . She did indeed meet up with the Boy Scouts, but they did not have Spam. ….
Relieved, our dinners are prepared, bear bags hung, business is done and we all retire early, exhausted from the days adventures. Thankfully, I sink into my hammock, cocooned by my borrowed Yeti, (thank you KP) andfaithful Ethel, slipping off to sleep to the night chorus of critters and campmates….
to be cont.

Stone Mountain

From the North Carolina Trail Dames….

The views were stunning. We spent a while just sitting, chatting, contemplating, relaxing, and enjoying the view. After 30 minutes, we decided to push on and continue down the relatively flat trail to another outstanding view. After another quick break, we continued on, going down hill to hike along a stream that soon became a huge waterfall. When we got to the bottom of the falls, we took a snack an water break and indulged our feet by taking a dip in the cool refreshing water. It was perfect. We continued on to finish up with an amazing view of the mountain we had just climbed. By this point we were all hot and sweaty and ready for our reward. ICE CREAM!!! We all headed for the local general store for some home made ice cream and cold drinks. This was an awesome ending to a beautiful, warm day.

Posted at 08:12 PM in Appalachian

Maryland Dames Hike…..SNP

Awesome hike report from our Maryland Dames…..
Four of us set out on Wednesday, July 27th, for Shenandoah National Park to take on the 7 1/2 mile Rapidan-Laurel Prong -Hazel Top hike. We all went in my van and left Frederick at noon so that we could arrive at our lodge shortly after check-in time. We had reservations for two rooms, 2 queen beds in each room, at Big Meadows Lodge in the central district of SNP, mile marker 51. The drive went well and we had a wonderful time just chatting as we enjoyed the scenery along the way. We were at the lodge by 3:15 pm. We had hoped for, or actually assumed really, adjoined rooms but that was not to be. Barb K and I shared a room on the first floor of the Rapidan building and Barb M and Katrinka shared a room on the far end of the second floor. We did try to get the rooms changed but the lodge was already booked up and there was no way to manage it.

We settled our bags, checked out our rooms and the lovely views they had, and went to the lodge’s New Market Tap Room for drinks and appetizers. Not a bad way to start a hiking trip, aye? Winking smile We enjoyed cocktails, spinach dip and quesadillas while carrying on a nice long discussion about the books that we enjoyed and the possibility of a Dames book group in the future. Then it was upstairs to the lodge dining room for dinner and wine. Lovely! Afterward Barb K went to our room to relax and read while I went up to the other room to join Barb M and Katrinka on their balcony and watched the sun set. We watched deer silently stroll out of the woods to begin their evening browsing and we think we may have caught a glimpse of a black bear cub, still quite small, as it waddled out of the woods and into the safety of some heavy ground cover. It was a gorgeous evening of peace, towering pink edged clouds, and companionship. Off to bed as we had an early morning start planned.

Always an early riser, I was up first around 5 am, showered and sitting on the patio of our room drinking coffee as the sky lightened up. Birds called and sang, deer wandered out, and soft breezes rose along with the sun. We met for breakfast at 7:30 am, again eating in the lodge dining room, and then drove the 2 miles south to the trail head at Milam Gap parking lot. There was a short-lived panic attack on my part when I thought I had left my wallet in the lodge’s restroom. I raced back, searched around, found no one had turned it in, went back out to the van and searched again….to find it in the glove compartment. HUGE relief, but sorry that I had delayed our hike start.

We set off across the road and into the woods, hitting the Mill Prong Trail first. This part of the hike descends gently deeper and deeper into the woods toward Mill Prong Creek. The creek eventually joins Laurel Prong Creek and these two cold, rushing streams form Rapidan River, which drew President Herbert Hoover to the area with the dream of building a fishing camp as Presidential retreat – the first of it’s kind. Two miles in from the start of the hike, Rapidan Camp is the predecessor to Roosevelt’s Shangri-La in Thurmont MD, eventually renamed Camp David by President Eisenhower. We crossed the creek and picked up the trail again as it paralleled the water until we reached Rapidan Camp. The original Brown House (designed by Mrs Hoover as the residence) is still there and is often open for tours. There is usually a caretaker there to answer questions and explain the camp’s history. One other building, the Prime Minister’s cabin, is also open to the public and contains self-guided displays from the era. We spent about half an hour exploring the camp and chatting with the caretaker before picking up our poles and packs and setting off once more. The day was warming up but still much cooler than the heat we knew would be building in the Frederick area by then.

We hiked along about another mile or so on easy terrain, crossing creeks, and eventually reaching the beginning of a 3 mile ascent that would take us up to Hazel Top, the 3rd highest point in SNP. The first mile of the ascent is a long, steep, switchback. It tops out on a ridge line, takes a hard right turn, and continues up and up and up the side of the ridge. Enormous, ancient rock formations form a wall on your right and the steep descending hillside and valleys are on your left. The trail grows quite rocky and narrow as it takes you the 2 miles to it’s junction with the AT. We identified wildflowers along the way – native red columbine, turk’s cap lily, joe-pye weed, trumpet vine. There were many others that we could not identify in spite of the book I was carrying – “Wildflowers of Shenandoah National Park.” For a few seconds we found ourselves frozen in place as the unmistakable whine-roar of low flying fighter jets approached. We caught a glimpse of them through the tree cover and they were gone in a flash.

I had done this hike with my husband in May 2010 and I truly did not recall the long steep slog from the junction of the AT to Hazel Top! From the start of the ascent on the switchback to Hazel Top we gained 1000 feet of elevation. That’s a lot of continuous gain. The day was definitely getting hotter and more humid. We found some rocks to sit on (before reaching Hazel Top) and sat down to rest and eat our lunches. Huge flies clung and bit, no doubt feasting on our salty sweaty selves. We swatted, ate, cursed, ate, swatted, cursed…….pretty much any typical lunch stop on any summer time hike in the northeast! We finished up, stood up on sore, tight leg muscles, and continued on to our goal of Hazel Top summit.

There is a short side trail leading to the left off of the AT to the rock formations that give the best panoramic views of the mountains and valleys. As each person climbed up onto the rocks “Oh my, look at that.” “Oh my God” “Wow, just wow.” could be heard. Ridge after ridge after ridge of mountains dipped, rose, and dipped and rose again in the distance in multi-colors of greens, blues, grays. We took it all in, deeply grateful for the opportunity to be out there. With deep sighs, it was time to move on. From this point the AT is described as taking an “incredibly delightful descent”, and delightful it is. The trail heads down and down in a very gentle slope, through trees, grasses, huge stands of turk’s cap lilies, ferns that were 3 – 4 feet tall. We encountered a pair of deer on the trail and stood still and silent. They did the same and gazed back at us. As we slowly moved forward they would also move away from us, but never very far nor very fast. They stepped into the woods and grass and let us get within about 30 feet. We took pictures, thanked them for their cooperation and patience with us, and continued on back to Milam Gap and the van.

We made a stop at Big Meadows Wayside to use the restrooms, buy some cold drinks and blackberry ice cream, piled back into the van and took off for home. It was agreed all around that our time in SNP was perfection and that we definitely want to do it again. It is well worth the time and expense to get there the day before a long hike and spend the night. We also realized that it would have been very well worth the cost to stay one more night after the hike, rather than make a 3 – 4 hour drive back. The lodges feature live music in the evenings and it would have been heaven to go back to our rooms, shower, change into non-hiking clothes, and enjoy another night of cocktails, dinner, and some good ol’ mountain music.

The photos of this hike can be found on the Meetup site. Enjoy!


How I want to be when I grow up…

This is a seriously AWESOME post by Dame Sandi Adams!!

Inspiring Aging or How I Want to Be When I Grow Up…

I’ve thought a lot about getting older lately… Probably because I am older. This birthday, I finally conceded to being middle aged…, considering 106 to be a respectable run. Sometimes I look in the mirror and am surprised. In my head, I don’t feel different and my body is still strong. ( though a few chinks in the armor are beginning..)
That is why I adore reading about people, who challenge themselves and are still moving, dancing, hiking, playing and living out dreams.

Last week I came across a blog post on Hiker to Hiker, that reallycarolina mt club made me smile. It was titled “Taking Care of the Elderly on the AT” The Carolina Mountain Club had planned a 9 mile hike led by an 81 year old. They all are over 50, as they point out, some way over 50. (These are my people)
Even thought it was hot, (we are southerners and it is hot here in the summer….) and the weather man kept telling them to “be careful and check on the elderly,” they still kept it moving and had a splendid day on the Appalachian Trail.

I’ve also been following Cimarron, an 88 year old man who has been THRU HIKINGthe Appalachian Trail since February and has completed 914.5 miles as of today.

His quote before starting says it all, “If you never try to do it. You will never know you could do it.” You can read his trail journal HERE

This week Diana Nyed attempted to swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida at the age of 61. Moments before slipping into the water, Ms. Nyad, clad in a black swimsuit and a blue swim cap, played reveille on a bugle. “I’m almost 62 years old,” she declared. “I’m standing here at the prime of my life; I think this is the prime, when one reaches this age. You still have a body that’s strong, but now you have a better mind.”

While her journey was cut short, she still managed to swim for 29 hours, t1larg_diana_swimming_day1suffering through an asthma attack, shoulder pain, in cold. shark and jellyfish infested waters and finally abandoning her quest after becoming violently ill. Her comments following the experience were inspiring. She said that her goal had been to demonstrate to people in their 60s that “life is not over” and that the age of “60 is the new 40.” “I wasn’t the best swimmer I could be — the asthma and the shoulder made sure of that,” she said. “I was my most courageous self.”

Life goes by so quickly and, at my age, you really feel the passage of time,” she said. “People my age must try to live vital, energetic lives. We’re still young. We’re not our mothers’ generation at 60.” For people over 60, she said, the goal should be “to live a life with no regrets and no worries about what you are going to do with your time. Fill it with passion. Be your best self.”
I think these are words that are worth living by no matter your age. So if you are sitting around on your hiney feeling sorry for yourself, put one foot in front of the other and you never know where you might end up.
We should all try to be our most courageous selves…