Zero to 6,000 – #hike40 of the #52hikechallenge

I had made a vow to myself before this hiking trip. I broke it just a few hundred feet into our first hike.

When one lives at – literally at  – sea level, it’s to be expected that hiking at 5,000 feet of altitude won’t be easy. After a rough 2018, I’ve been doing better in the fitness department, but I have a ways to go. Part of being healthier is trying to appreciate my body where it is now, and thus I vowed, before heading out to a long weekend of hiking in Utah, that I would be chill and relaxed and give myself permission to struggle without suffering embarrassment or self-hatred. Mind over body, right?

It was a good thought.

With me fresh off the plane and eager to breathe that city mountain air, we headed to the Living Room, a popular Salt Lake City hike that is usually referred to as “short and steep” or “moderate.” 1000 feet of elevation gain in a little over a mile.

A gradually sloped and wide path begins the hike and there were flowers to look at and hillsides to marvel at, but I could already feel my lungs struggling to take in enough air. And then we started to climb.

Within a few hundred feet, my lungs started sending distress singles. My calves, which hadn’t climbed real hills in 5 months, began screaming obscenities at me. My upper legs did the lactic acid thing, and just like that, my zen was gone. I started to dream of elegant ways to turn back (I couldn’t think of any). It felt like I stopped every 10 feet, and I felt like an abject failure.

The patient steps of my hiking friend, who lives at 5000 feet and was barely breathing hard, sent me into a mild panic of embarrassment, and I had to stop and wave him on – “go ahead a bit, make some friends, and wait for me.” Having been through this with me before, he did, and I bent over, gasping, fighting nausea, and reminding myself that this always happens, and that I was supposed to be forgiving myself for it. Then I straightened, plodded forward at the slowest pace I could conjure, and kept going up.

At one point, I looked at what we had left to climb and wondered aloud if it was worth it. Bless my friend for simply not accepting my foolishness, and cheerfully urging me onward.

I was saved by the dogs out for hikes with their owners; petting a dog is a wonderful excuse to stop and gasp like a landed fish for a bit. I took solace from a few other hikers who stopped to sit and rest, sitting with them. And then suddenly, we reached the top, sooner than I’d expected.

The hike is named The Living Room because there are rock “chairs” and couches spread all over. It’s a popular hike at sunset, which meant there were quite a few people up there with us.


We watched as the sun set over the city, oddly comfy in our rock chairs. Titus the dachshund, who’s climbed more mountains than me, stopped by to say hi, and we agreed that we should have brought some beer. With downhill in my future, suddenly it all seemed magical.

As we headed down, my legs reminded me that I hadn’t done this in while, and I mentioned that I’d likely be sore the next day.

To my surprise, I felt great the next day, with very little soreness. My friend, upon hearing this, remarked “You see? You’re fit, you’re fine…you just live at sea level.” I don’t think he knows how much those words meant.

The moral of the story? There are three:

  1. Mind over body is a good theory, but sometimes its just a theory.
  2. Thank god for dogs (in this and all things) and patient friends.
  3. I’m not a failure, I’m just a flatlander.

Solo Snaps: Sparkling rose in the rain

Welcome to “Solo Snaps”, exploring some of my favorite photos, their stories, and the musings that sometimes come with them. Click here if you’d like to know more. 

If you’d like to buy customizable notecards with this image on them click here

Biltmore Oct 2018 (31 of 43)

I won’t lie: I LOVE taking pictures of flowers.

And while I like to consider myself a non-traditional girl who is immune to the pressures of society, I love roses in all their lush, overblown, blowsy glory.

I believe 100% in stopping to smell them. When they don’t have a smell, I feel slighted by the universe.

I also am not immune to receiving them (hint, hint), but that doesn’t happen very often since roses are mostly given by significant others who have been pressured by the aforementioned pressures of society into gifting them. Not that friends can’t give roses, but it’s not quite the same, alas.

Anyway, where was I? Oh right, this picture:

Biltmore Oct 2018 (31 of 43)

Here’s the story:

This one was taken at the Biltmore Estates in North Carolina, in their gardens outside the greenhouse/conservatory. Obviously, it had been raining.

I adore this picture for it’s vivid color, sparkling drops and lovely background. It came out of the camera like this. I love it when that happens.

It seemed like a good one to share for Mother’s Day, a holiday that has, of course, been totally corrupted by Hallmark, and is now, for many people, a stressful time of: 

a) worrying about giving the right gift to their wife/mother
b) feeling sad because they are not mothers
c) feeling sad because they miss their mothers

I am sorry for everyone who feels sad on Mother’s Day. I hope this photo gives you a little joy, and makes you think fondly of someone who played the role of mother in your life.

NOTE: This photo was taken with my Canon EOS Rebel T5. I used my kit lens at 49mm. Settings were ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/60.

Solo Snaps: A Slice of Sky

Welcome to a new series I’m calling “Solo Snaps”, exploring some of my favorite photos, their stories, and the musings on being solo that sometimes come with them. Click here if you’d like to know more. If you’d like to buy customizable notecards featuring this image, click here.

There are some – a very few – photos that I know are going to be amazing the moment I press the shutter button. This was one of them:

Here’s the story:

My travel friend and I were on a short visit to Canada in April 2018. Winter still had a firm grip on the landscape. We were on our way to the Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, Canada, and found ourselves on a very back-ish of back roads. As we came into this marshy valley, the light seemed unreal. Metallic silver and gold that made the entire world shimmer. I almost leapt from the car.

We spent most of the stop shooting on the other side of the road, at a little dock that jutted into a swampy pond/very large puddle. The silvery light turned out to be terrible for taking photos. My friend took a few shots and then climbed back into the warmth of the car, leaving me alone in the cold. The wind was bitter, the kind that numbs ungloved photographing fingers.

I’m not sure why I decided to cross the street and check out the other view, but once I spotted that little strip of water, my heart gave a skip. I looked up: blue sky. The sun was behind me…perfect. Could it be that the sky was reflected in that strip of water? Maybe? Please?

It was, and I laughed out loud as I lined up the shot and snapped. I knew I’d gotten something wonderful. Here it is again.

I climbed back in the car with a warm glow in my chest. Later that night, after an exhausting day, this was the only photo I pulled from my camera. When I shared it on my social media, we discovered it had another gift to give. My travel friend had a friend who grew up in this part of Canada, and her grandparent’s house is visible in this photo. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

I’m an amateur, and I can always do better, but there isn’t much I’d change about this snap. I did a little post-processing: a minor crop, and applying one of my favorite Lightroom filters to increase the saturation, and the result is what you see here.

I love that this would be a totally nothing photo without that little strip of water. Why did I see that when my friend didn’t? He asked me why I was so excited when I got back in the car, and I pointed to the strip of water. I’m pretty sure he looked skeptically at me as we drove off. I guess that’s the beauty of photography; sometimes it just takes one person, alone and shivering in a Canadian marsh, to see something special.

NOTE: This photo was taken with my Canon EOS Rebel T5. I used my 24mm prime lens. Settings were ISO 100, f/9, 1/400.

Introducing a new series of blog posts: Solo Snaps

Photography is a solo activity. Sharing a photo is a social activity, and photography can be done with others around (and its often fun when that happens), but at it’s core, most photography is done by one person, looking through one lens, trying to capture her unique view of the world. Maybe that’s why I love it. It’s one of the few things in modern life that doesn’t require a partner.

I am intrigued by how much we like to look at photos. And I’m more intrigued by those who want to look at MY photos. I suspect those folks love my snaps because they know me; if I was just another photographer they’d probably skip right over my stuff. But they know me.

They also know that, for better or worse, I will likely tell them a story to go with my photo.

Truly remarkable photos can, occasionally, tell a story without needing a description. None of my photos are thank remarkable. And I love stories. To me, they are essential to understanding and enjoying art, especially visual art.  Even when the photo is incredible, I usually want to know how the photographer made it, what she was thinking, what tricks she employed, and how she feels about how others react to it.

(It’s worth noting that this need for story has gotten me in trouble with classical music conductors in the past, and might get me in trouble with visual arts curators in the future. But I digress.)

This blog series will be about my photos, and their stories. And it’s likely those stories will involve some confessions about navigating my world solo.

Just as everyone else’s kids and marriages and partners shape their worlds, so does my status as one who exists outside of those institutions. Being solo infuses all that I do. And while some may find my musings incomprehensible or uncomfortable, you will find me working hard not to apologize for them. See, there are a lot of solos out there in this world, and we are making and doing and living and figuring it out. Most of these posts are for them. But I hope non-solos will enjoy them too.

solo |’sōlō|

ADJECTIVE for or done by one person alone; unaccompanied.

snap |ˈsnap|

VERB To take (a photograph). 

NOTE: Many of my photos were taken when I was not alone, so don’t believe every definition you see.

Thanks for reading.

Solo Snaps: A rainbow in a Virginia swamp

Welcome to a new series I’m calling “Solo Snaps”, exploring some of my favorite photos, their stories, and the musings on being solo that came with them. Click here if you’d like to know more. 

It was January 26. For weeks, I’d been fighting a persistent cough and annoying lethargy; I was starting to think that my body was in revolt after I put it through a fairly stressful last half of 2018. The beautiful treks of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, my last real hiking experience, seemed far away and out of reach. I needed to get into the woods, and the sun was out that day. So I stocked up on tissues and headed into First Landing State Park with my dog, Sadie.

The trails in this swampy, sandy park are flat, which means that they get a lot of use. It seemed like everyone was out that day, and I enjoyed the smiles and nods of the passersby as Sadie and I stretched our legs with more miles than we’d done in a while. We did enough distance that I counted the hike as hike 36 of my #52hikechallenge, which is now in its 2nd year.

Right around mile 4 of our 5.5 mile loop, we hit a long, flat, wide, and usually dull section of the Cape Henry Trail. Runners and bikers started to replace walkers and hikers. As Sadie and I strolled along, I caught a shimmer of something purple-ish out of the corner of my eye. I gave it no thought other than to figure it was my polarized sunglasses filtering the light. Then something blue flashed, and I slowed down and looked into the swamp, lifting my sunglasses to be sure I wasn’t dreaming it.

This is what I saw.

IMG_0909Not much to write home about, right? But then I remembered an article I’d read weeks before about some kind of rainbow in a swamp. Since this was a swamp, and that appeared to be a rainbow, I looked closer, and kept walking.

Soon, I came upon this:


Hold the phone. This was for real. I looked around; a couple was walking by, engrossed in conversation, and I made some kind of vague, stunned gesture at them to try to get them to look, but they just rambled past. I walked a few more feet, and then…there it was:


A perfect rainbow…on the swamp. In..or on? the water. All of the colors. Laid out like something from a daydream. I turned again to look for someone to tell, but all I saw was a biker zooming by without a glance. I held up my phone and snapped, looked at the result, and then snapped again, because I was convinced it wasn’t real. I even took a video so I could prove to myself there were no filters involved.

At the beginning of this hike, I’d started at a new trailhead, and within the first few steps, came upon a hollowed-out tree with a gaping hole shaped like a perfect heart. As Valentine’s Day was looming, I rolled my eyes at the universe for taunting me with such symbolic reminders of my singledom, and then promptly forgot about it.

4-ish miles later, I stood gazing at this rainbow swamp that no one else seemed to see, gawking, taking pictures and wistfully wishing someone other than my unappreciative dog was with me. Then something happened.

I decided to take it all for myself. I drank in the otherworldly colors and stopped looking for someone to share it with. It became a sign meant just for me: the universe reminding me that even though I’m far from the mountains, there are still magical things to be seen in the woods, that I can see just fine on my own. Others may have seen the rainbow that day, but for just a moment, all that glorious magic was all mine.

The last mile of our hike went by quickly as we headed for the car; I couldn’t wait to read more about what caused the rainbow. Turns out it has to do with chemicals in the water, and a lack of wind that causes them to build up and refract the light…that’s about as far as I got in my research. Others saw this phenomenon before me, in other swamps; they even became Reddit famous, I discovered.

But none of that matters. I was there, I saw it, and I enjoyed the heck out of sharing it later. And I hope you enjoyed looking at it now. Unless you come visit me in Virginia, and it happens to be 2:45 on a windless day in January, and the chemicals are just right, it’s not something you’re likely to see in real life. So yeah, I’m bragging a little. That’s what’s happens when the universe manufactures a rainbow just for me.

NOTE: The photos above were taken with my I Phone 7. I didn’t edit or crop them, as I normally would; I wanted them to be as close to my memory as possible.

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