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!”

“You are beautiful!” by Anna Huthmaker

In the hallway of my house, I have giant pieces of paper tacked up on the wall with a bag full of sharpies. Anytime I learn something, have a brilliant thought, or come up with a goal worth pursuing, I write it on the wall. Things like, “do the hard work, and then detach”, and ‘Does this feed my spirit?”

Each one means something personal to me.

You see, this past fall has been kind of a rough one. I have no good reason to say that…..my friends and family are all happy and healthy, as am I. Life is really, really good.

But, still……

Do you ever go through those times where you know you just need to grow? You need to suck it up, do the hard work and learn something? After six months of vacillating between feeling like I was metaphorically stuck in cement, and spiritual highs where I thought “I am getting it…I am finally getting it!!!”, I have firmly landed in a place of wanting to be better.

My wall plays a huge part in that.

A few weeks ago, I went through a few days of, “Woe is me….I am ugly…I am not good enough…I have nothing worthwhile to offer.” You know the feeling, right? We all have it from time to time.

I was walking down my hall and a slash of orange writing spread across the top of my wall caught my eye. It said, “You are beautiful!”(With a few hearts drawn in for good measure.)

I didn’t write that on my wall.

I am not really sure who wrote it, or when they wrote it. As I stood there, I thought, ‘someone out there thinks that I am beautiful. Someone cares enough to take the time to write it on my wall, (and to include some hearts for good measure.)”

My heart filled with love and gratitude. What a great gift!! From here on out, anytime I don’t feel beautiful, I can just go look at my wall. There is proof positive.

And then, I got to thinking…. I know a lot of people that are really, really beautiful. And I bet that they have days from time to time where they just can’t see it. It made me want to go through life with a shirt that says in giant letters “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL!!”

Since I can’t do that, I will start with this…..Dames, you are beautiful.

Each and every one of you.

You teach me all year long about strength, friendship, humor, love, commitment, and determination.

And yes, beauty.

So the next time you are having one of those days where you doubt yourself, and think that you have nothing to give, here is a gift, from my wall to yours……

You are beautiful

Thank you all for being shining examples of beauty in my life!

A few more examples of my favorite kinds of beauty……

Hike Inn

Trip Report: Backpacking with the Trail Dames at Pine Mountain

By Jean Swann (Georgia Trail Dames)

November of 2014 brought a wonderful flurry of backpacking trips! Pine Mountain was my destination for two weekends in a row. I had backpacked once before with Joan West and others from the Trail Dames organization. This was my second opportunity. I arrived at F.D. Roosevelt State Park at Pine Mountain early in the day and took advantage of the extra time to do a little geocaching. The woods were beautifully arrayed in bright fall Crayola colors.

Fall leaf along Pine Mountain Trail
Fall leaf along the Pine Mountain Trail.
Beautiful red leaves.
Beautiful red leaves.

Joan was driving in from North Carolina, where she had just finished thru-hiking the 77- mile Foothills Trail. She met me at Dead Pine campsite at dusk, just as I was polishing off the last of my dinner. The evening was chilly, and it was almost dark, so she quickly hung her hammock, and we retired for the night at 6:30 p.m.!

Joan at Dead Pine campsite.
Joan at Dead Pine campsite.

I thought I would have a hard time going to sleep, but I drifted off in about 30 minutes, snug inside my 10-degree down sleeping bag. This was its maiden voyage, and I was really glad I took it because the overnight low was 23 degrees and Mark wasn’t there for me to put my cold feet on!

I slept until almost daylight, when a group of hikers noisily tramped along the nearby Pine Mountain Trail, probably heading for the Country Store for a hot breakfast. Joan and I met the two other Trail Dames who would be hiking with us – Tonya and Kelly – at the park office, and we were off to Dowdell Knob to do a gear shakedown. By the time we got on the trail, it was nearly lunchtime.

Joan (at left) and Tonya on the rocky trail.
Joan (at left) and Tonya on the rocky trail.

We left Rocky Point parking lot and headed west on the Pine Mountain Trail. There, the trail drops quickly amid huge chunks of rock embedded into the mountainside. At the bottom of our descent, we rock-hopped across Sparks Creek, discovering, in the process, late fall blossoms of the lovely Grass of Parnassus. The delicate white flower is actually not a grass but an herbaceous dicot.

Grass of Parnassus.
Grass of Parnassus.
Tonya rock-hopping while Joan and Kelly wait their turns.
Tonya rock-hopping while Joan and Kelly wait their turns.

After taking advantage of the photo op, we continued until the merry waters of Sparks Creek beckoned us to stop at a creekside campsite and eat our lunches. We left the pleasant creek valley and climbed the ridge on the switchbacking treadway, eventually reaching a parking lot, where Tonya bid us goodbye and headed home. Following the Boot Top Trail, Kelly, Joan and I eased back down the ridge into the valley of Bethel Creek, the scene of extreme tornado damage a few years ago. As the Boot Top Trail rejoined the Pine Mountain Trail, we passed a Boy Scout troop taking a breather. For the next mile and a half, we played leapfrog with them as first one group and then the other stopped for rests or photo sessions.

Joan and Kelly passing a blue blaze of the Pine Mountain Trail.
Joan and Kelly passing a blue blaze of the Pine Mountain Trail.

We reached Whiskey Still campsite in plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely dinner and once again shut down for the evening by 6:30. At dawn we were up and loading our packs to head back. The walk out to Mollyhugger Hill parking lot, where we had stashed a vehicle, was beautiful and only about three quarters of a mile. It was a great weekend trip!

At the Whiskey Still campsite.
At the Whiskey Still campsite.

“Dehydrating Helped Me Improve My Trail Meals” by Debbie Wroten

I never thought I would try to dehydrate my food for backpacking.

It was so easy to go to the outfitter and buy Mountain House or some other packaged food. However, three summers ago I went on a 20 day backpacking trip—my first outing longer than 5 days.

I discovered that after eating the 4 dinners that I liked several times, the thought of having to eat any of them again gagged me. And the thought of having to eat another power bar or any other protein bar made me just want to forget about lunch.

When I was in town, I would load up on fruits and vegetables. I lost about 13 pounds on that trip and decided I had to have a better meal plan. The things that worked for a 3-5 day trip just weren’t working for a longer trip.

I needed better quality food that was better tasting and more nutritious if I was going to continue backpacking. After all I don’t really eat processed foods home nor do I eat foods that are low in nutrient density.

Dehydrating food for my meals seemed like a good place to start. I could control what went into my meals so I would have food that I liked in amounts that were satisfying to me. I have a Nesco dehydrator with 6 trays plastic sheets that I can line the trays with if I am dehydrating something like spaghetti sauce but most of the time I use parchment paper.

My favorite foods to dehydrate are:

*fruits — apples sprinkled with cinnamon, fresh pineapple slices, strawberries, and watermelon. The key is to slice the fruit evenly so that all the slices are finished at about the same time. I may do all the fruit at the same time since it uses the same temperature, but some fruits take longer. For example, a watermelon takes about 26-28 hours. Because of the sugar content of a watermelon I wrap slices in plastic wrap before putting in a Ziploc to keep the pieces from sticking. The key is to get all the moisture out. Why dehydrate fruit when they are so easily available at the grocery store? It is very hard to find fruit that does not have added sugar.

*vegetables — frozen mixed vegetables are easy to spread on a tray to dehydrate and can be added to anything. Many vegetables such as butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and acorn squash need to be cooked first. I usually roast them and then puree before spreading on a parchment paper- lined tray. Add any seasoning you like and you won’t have to carry seasonings with you. Canned black beans and kidney beans can be spread on the parchment paper to dehydrate and then use with rice for a tasty meal, especially if you remember to bring along single serving sour cream or even the powdered sour cream.

*meat — this is usually ground beef, sometimes plain but usually with taco seasoning. I can add this with any vegetable combination and some minute rice for a quick meal. I add the vegetables and rice before leaving home so I can play with herbs and spices. Beef and venison jerky are easy to make and there are a variety of recipes on the internet. It is very important to get all the moisture out or the jerky will mold.

*hummus — you can make your own or dehydrate your favorite brand. This makes a great lunch with crackers or flatbreads!

*leftovers – chili, spaghetti sauce, and hamburger stroganoff are three of my favorites and I plan to experiment with others this winter. I spread the food on parchment-lined tray and dehydrate.

Just a few things to remember:

*it takes planning to dehydrate your food but once you package it, you can toss it in the freezer until you need it

*I rehydrate each new food once at home to see how long it will take and how much water I will need. This also gives me a chance to play around with seasonings

*sometimes you will decide some foods aren’t worth it. I will never dehydrate tuna again—it is not worth the smell! Nor will I do bananas.

*your dehydrator should have various temperature settings. Fruits and vegetables need to dehydrate at 134* and meat 155*. Remember to make sure all the moisture is out

*I keep a notebook of foods that I have tried to dehydrate, the time needed to dehydrate, how much I packaged as a serving, and the amount of water need to prepare it. I write the amount of water on the package along with the contents.

I don’t get caught up in having “perfect” meals but I do want to have nutritious meals. After a day of hiking miles, pretty much anything will taste good. At the end of the day, my main goal is to have a satisfying meal that meets my nutritional needs and can be made with boiling water in less than 10 minutes with little or no clean up.

I can honestly say that this past summer I looked forward to my dinners every night of each of my backpacking trips. Now to improve my lunches!