Dames at the Pocket

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Trail Dames at the Pocket

“Happiness held is the seed; happiness shared is the flower.”  ~Author Unknown

You may have noticed that I’ve been doing a lot of solo backpacking trips this spring.   But this weekend I took a break from my loner ways, and instead led the Trail Dames on the Third Annual Hike to the Pocket.

The Pocket of Pigeon Mountain is an extremely special place for wildflowers in Georgia.  The setting is stunning too, with steep rock walls surrounding the valley and a clear blue-green stream and waterfall.  The remote location– lack of signage, (sometimes rough) dirt road, stream crossing– combine to keep this place protected.  Though it’s several hours drive away, I’ve taken the time to visit the Pocket repeatedly each season for the past few years and it has always filled me with awe and wonder.

I arrived at the Pocket at dusk the night before the Dames hike, hot tired and cranky after a long drive.  My mood darkened further as I walked around the short boardwalk.  The plants I’d been eagerly anticipating, the Virginia bluebells and poppies, had dropped their petals and gone to seed already.  All I could see was a drab, empty forest.  I was horrified and mad at myself for not changing the timing of the hike to coincide with the earlier emergence and warmer temperatures this year.  I thought, “What if all the Dames were disappointed and felt like I wasted their time bringing them all the way out here?  What business did I have leading hikes anyway?  I didn’t know anything!”  I contemplated canceling the hike.  In retrospect, I was having a serious case crankiness and (what I later recognized was ) Imposter Syndrome.

Faded Virginia bluebells

Thankfully, an evening spent listening to owls calling back and forth across the valley, a good night’s sleep in my hammock, and an early morning walk around the Pocket cleared my head.  The magic of the place soaked into me.

Morning beauty

Rather than missing the familiar early bloomers,  I noticed flowers I’d never seen before, including wild hyacinth.  Masses of wild blue phlox, wild geranium, and purple phacelia created a sea of purple.  I was actually lucky to have gotten the timing “wrong” and to find these late bloomers I’d missed in previous years.  More importantly, I remembered that the thing I do best (or so I’ve been told) in leading hikes is sharing my enthusiasm for nature.  I resolved to keep my lack of self-confidence hidden, and try to be myself and be there.

Purple phacelia
Wild geranium
Wild blue phlox
Wild hyacinth
Bent trillium

When the Dames arrived, I watched with delight as everyone started pointing out plants and bugs and a million other things, and asking all sorts of fascinating questions.  I could feel their excitement echoing off the walls of the valley.  They totally felt the magic of the Pocket too!  Listening to their laughter and seeing the wonder in their eyes, I realized that what makes the natural world come alive, more than anything else, is having the opportunity to experience it and share it with friends.

Photo by Jules
Photo by Donna

Please note: if you are lucky enough to visit the Pocket, please keep this place preserved for future visitors and generations by staying on the boardwalk and trails, never ever picking or trampling the flowers, and please pick up the GORP pass (which is now required) to help support this place (there is no way to get one at the site, so order it ahead of time online).

How Hemlock Found the Dames

Monday, January 4, 2010

How I found the Trail Dames

I moved to Georgia in fall of 2008, not knowing anyone in the whole state. The first Saturday after I moved, I hiked up Blood Mountain with one women’s hiking club. They were nice and I had a good time, but I could tell this wasn’t the group for me. On my way home, I stopped at Mountain Crossing (at Neels Gap) and asked them if they knew about any hiking groups. The guy at the desk gave me a card for the Trail Dames and said he wasn’t sure if I’d fit in with this group, but this group has the most fun and laughs the most and to give them a try. I went and looked at their website, and found out it was a hiking club for “curvy” women who hike slow. I’m average size but the thing is, I do hike fast. I put the card away.

In the next four months I hiked with nearly a dozen other hiking groups (and random people I met on the internet). I hiked with botanists, college kids, athletic guys who flew up mountains, a firefighter, a lady who talked nonstop, and many other wonderful, fascinating people. I learned to be open. I learned to look beyond superficial differences and connect with people from different backgrounds. I kept searching for my tribe. I was looking for people that would be more than just people to hike with. I wanted friendship and community.

When I showed up at Woody Gap on an early spring day for my first hike with the Trail Dames, I was filled with uncertainty. What would they think of me? Could I hike at my own pace? Would I be accepted? It turned out that I smiled and laughed the whole time and felt more relaxed with them than I had in a very long time. It wasn’t my typical hiking pace, but I was eager to join them again.

View from Blood Mountain, my first AT hike in Georgia

The Curvy Chicks Guide To Hiking- Part 2

This is a re-post of an article that I wrote for The More of Me To Love Website.  For more info, check out 

TD fun2

(Continued from part 1)

As I said in part 1………..

First, remember the basic tenants to responsible hiking.  

  • Always tell someone where you are going
  • Research the trail
  • Take a friend
  • Never leave your car without the 10 Essentials. 

    Simply put- food, water, rain gear, warm clothes, fire starter,   compass and map, first aid kit, head lamp, knife, and emergency contact info. 

A simple Google search will list the 10 Essentials in more details for you. Just remember that being prepared on the trail is the best way to assure a pleasant trip.


    Physical Challenges  

The physical challenges that rounder hikers face can be easily compensated for.  These fall into several different categories:


    Managing your pace-When you hike, the first thing to remember is to enjoy yourself.  It is not a race or a competition.  The best thing about being out on the trail is experiencing the smells and sounds of nature, which you cannot do if you are rushing.

    If you are gasping for breath, slow down.  I have done trails that required me to take a step….stop and breathe…take a step…..stop and breathe.  In the end, you will still get to the top of the mountain; it will just be a much more pleasant journey if you respect your body’s natural pace.

    Along these lines, chose your hiking partner with care.  You want someone that has a similar walking style and speed.  Finally, taking rest stops frequently will help you to not only enjoy the hike, but to take in your surroundings.   


    Knee Health– While all hikers need to take care of their feet and knees, the curvy hiker has to be even more aware.  The majority of stress that we are asking our bodies to support can be alleviated in two simple words.  Hiking poles.  Hiking poles are a girl’s best friend!  Not only do they help protect your knees, they also improve your balance.  They make crossing a stream on rocks much easier and even give you something to lean on when you get tired. 

    However, be aware that not all hiking poles are the same.  The cheap hiking poles available at many big box stores are fairly worthless.  I have seen many cheap poles break under pressure and that could lead to an ugly spill.  Good hiking poles tend to start around $80, but the health of your body is certainly worth that, wouldn’t you say?     


    Foot Health– This is one place where shoe fit is very important.  Poorly fit shoes or boots can lead not only to blisters, but to more lingering problems like plantar fascitis and Achilles tendonitis.  Many trails can be hiked in a good pair of running shoes.  If you decide that you love hiking and would like to move up to a pair of boots, go to a specialty hiking store and have them professionally fit.  Again, the health and comfort of your feet are more than worth it.

    Also, carry blister treatment and prevention with you on all hikes.  If you feel a hot spot coming on, sit down on the trail and take care of it.  Don’t make the mistake of saying, “It is only a mile back to the car”.  A mile on a hiking trail is longer and harder than a mile on a road.  Go ahead and treat the hot spot and you will be on your way before you know it.


    Sweating and Chafing – On a little more personal note, sweating and chafing are a major concern.  Again, they are concerns for most hikers, but they seem to be a larger source of discomfort, both physically and mentally, for curvy hikers.

    When it comes to sweating, I say enjoy it!  Revel in the fact that you are moving your body…. exercising it and stretching it.  You are doing something athletic and you should be sweating.  In terms of keeping yourself comfortable, pin a bandana to the strap of your day pack and let it hang down as you hike. This keeps it handy so that you can wipe off your face as you walk. 

    Also, remember that light jacket in your pack?  The one from the list of 10 Essentials?  When you stop for a break, throw it on.  Your damp clothing will cause you to get chilled very quickly and that can be dangerous. 

    Finally, don’t hike in cotton.  It absorbs all of that sweat and lets all of your body heat out.  Look for performance materials that allow your body to stay warm when they are wet.


    Chafing– chafing takes place wherever moisture and rubbing meet. Anywhere you have skin rubbing on skin, chafing can become an issue.  This can be the crotch or groin, under your arms, and under your breasts. Chafing can become very painful if not treated. 

    The best way to avoid chafing is to stay dry.  Hmmmm…..not so easy when you are hiking!!  Luckily, there are several products you can use to combat chafing.  My favorite is Body Glide.  It can be found at most sporting goods stores.  It looks like a deodorant stick and can be applied anywhere chafing is a potential problem.  I truly never leave home without it.

    You can also apply Vaseline or petroleum jelly to affected areas.  This both prevents and treats chafing.  Slather it on before you leave home.  A little prevention will go a long way to helping you have a wonderful trail experience!

   What is your personal challenge?  Comment below and we will visit the topics in a follow up post!

Anna aka Mud Butt

The Curvy Chicks Guide To Hiking- Part 1

 This article is a re-post from one I wrote for the More Of Me To Love Website.  or more details, visit www.moreofmetolove.com

The Curvy Chicks Guide to HikingTD fun

Have you ever wanted to stroll along a trail or climb up a mountain?  Hiking is the perfect pastime.  Of course, we all know that it is great exercise.  It is not only good for cardio and strength conditioning, but also for balance and coordination. 

However, hiking is also great for the mind and spirit.  It can clear your head of worries, stress and anxiety as well as give you a huge boost in confidence.  I guarantee you that nothing feels better than reaching the top of a climb and looking back to enjoy what you have accomplished.  Hiking will get you in touch with strength and pride that you never knew you had.

Hiking is an activity that can be enjoyed by everyone.  However, many curvy people shy away from hiking due to concerns, both physical and emotional.  Here are some basic guidelines that will help you overcome those worries and get out on the trail.

First, remember the basic tenants to responsible hiking.

  • Always tell someone where you are going
  • Research the trail
  • Take a friend
  • Never leave your car without the 10 Essentials.

Simply put- food, water, rain gear, warm clothes, fire starter,

compass and map, first aid kit, head lamp, knife, and emergency contact info.

A simple Google search will list the 10 Essentials in more details for you. Just remember that being prepared on the trail is the best way to assure a pleasant trip.

Emotional Challenges

    When asked why they don’t hike, many round women will say that they are embarrassed or ashamed. Between the gasping for breath and sweating, they see hiking as an activity that points out their weaknesses, rather than their strengths.  However, one can combat these feeling of inadequacy by putting a plan in place. 


    Select a Good Partner

   The first thing to think about is your hiking partner.  Does he/she make you feel good, strong and capable?  Or slow and anxious?  Just because you love and cherish someone, does not mean that they are the perfect person to hike a trail with.  In general, male hikers tend to be more goal oriented than female hikers.  For that reason, they tend to be faster, i.e. harder to keep up with.  In female hiking clubs you often find women that joined so they didn’t have to worry about ‘keeping up with the guys’. 

    In any case, whether you want to hike with women or men, think about your partners hiking style.  Are they fast?  Are they patient?  There is a world of difference between a partner that will barely conceal her impatience with your pace and one that laughs, smiles and matches your walk up the hill. 

    Hiking can be a vulnerable experience if you are new at it, so chose someone that you can be yourself with. 

    While we are at it, don’t limit yourself to just one person.  Call a group of friends and hit the trail together.  Not only is it a ton of fun, but you all get to brag around the water cooler on Monday morning about the mountains you climbed that weekend.


    Change Your Paradigm

    Remember that book from a few years ago, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People?  One of its most profound chapters talked about changing your paradigm.  Simply put, change the way you see the situation.   

    Hiking gives us a lot of opportunities to practice the habit of changing our thoughts.  The biggest of these is the idea that people are laughing at us.  In my twenty years of hiking and backpacking, I have often been the curvytest woman on the trail.  In fact, I have often been the ONLY curvy woman on the trail. 

    When I first began to hike, I was determined to not let the ridicule of other hikers get to me.  I was going to hike anyway, by golly! Throughout the years, though, I slowly noticed something. No one ever made fun of me.  No one laughed at me and no one ridiculed me.  All those snide comments I prepared myself for?  Not a single one came my way.

    You can chalk this up to two different things.  One, hikers are actually really cool people.  They don’t look at you and see someone that looks different from them.  They look at you and see someone that shares a common interest with them.  In the hiking world, if you love the outdoors, you are pretty much automatically accepted. 

    The second thing is that people aren’t paying nearly as much attention to us as we would like to think.  When that Boy Scout troop goes flying by you on the trail, they are thinking about hotdogs, s’mores and campfires.  Trust me; you and I are the last people on their minds. 

  Claim Your Place

    Finally, this is your world and this is the perfect time to claim your place in it.  The outdoors are there for everyone to value, experience and love.  When you step out on the trail, claim your place on it.  You belong there as sure as anyone and everyone else. 

    When the little voices in your head tell you that you are not fit enough, fast enough, trail-wise enough or good enough, remember… what does that voice know?  That voice is not your friend and the things that it tells you are not rooted in reality at all.  Reality is that with some preparation, common sense and just a touch of courage, you can be climbing mountains in no time. 

To Be Continued…………