New shoes…and nowhere to go

I love hiking boots and shoes. I love them almost as much as all my running friends love their running shoes, and that’s saying something. I love the solid feeling of them, how they connect my feet to the earth. Well, they’re meant to do exactly that, of course, but I’m talking more in the spiritual sense. 😉 I love where they’ve taken me, and how they’ve helped me scramble up rocks that made me scared. I love how they give balance to the silhouette of my less-than-skinny legs, and how they look cool with both jeans and hiking pants. At least, by my minimal fashion standards, they do.

So it’s with a little sadness that I announce it’s time to say adieu to my beloved Merrell MQM Gore Tex Flex beauties. I got them in late 2018 as part of some crazy good sale, and I had no idea what I was getting when I bought them. Turns out I wore them so much I literally wore the soles off of them. See example A, on the left.

Hmmm, late 2018 – that wasn’t a great time for me. I was sick, exhausted and likely suffering from burnout. On a trip to the Smoky Mountains a few months earlier, I’d gotten great joy out of throwing out a pair of miserably uncomfortable waterproof hiking shoes, and needed new ones. I got sucked into an instagram ad (yes, I know, I’m weak) and soon these arrived.

In the year that would follow, they would take me all over the trails in and around Virginia Beach, to Shenandoah National Park, and Arches National Park, and Canyonlands National Park, and Death Valley National Park, and up various trails in Utah’s Wasatch mountain range. They’d come with me to Arkansas, and travel all over the Canadian Rockies, from Canmore to Banff to Jasper and to some alpine meadow more than 8,000 feet above sea level. They’d even get a taste of my old stomping grounds in the Blue Hills Reservation on a brief jaunt back to Boston, and they’d collect sand from the Outer Banks in North Carolina along with the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic coastline back home. Given all the puddles and ocean they’ve splashed through, It’s a wonder they don’t stink to high heaven. (I just checked and they are a little smelly, but not too bad. I think.)

I entertained the idea of trying to figure out how many miles I trekked in these, but I gave up quickly, because that’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this because I’m grateful for the changes the last year has brought to my health. These shoes gave me a confident spring in my step, one that I badly needed in those early months, to climb out of the hole I’d dug for myself.

So, I have new boots/shoes now, also bought on sale from Merrell. The jury is out on if they will be as awesome as their predecessors, and the world looks very different for them. I was hoping to break them in at Shenandoah, to take them on my much-anticipated first visit to Yosemite, and bring them back to Utah this spring…but the coronavirus seems to have other plans. We’ll have to make do with the trails of our nearby parks (provided they stay open) and the beaches (same concern).

I decided to write this little post because over the past week or so, there have been little dart points of grief as I realized I wouldn’t be having my far-flung adventures in the months to come. I held on to the reservations in Yosemite in the hope for a miracle, but even that mighty park has been closed. Today, I cancelled the rental car and deleted the trip from my travel ap, and…blergh…it’s just a drag.

So, my new shoes are not starting out with a grand itinerary ahead of them. In truth, we don’t know how much longer our local trails will even be open, given the uptick in use since every other leisure activity has been shut down. If that happens, I’ll have to wear down those weird new treads on cement.

Look, I know that there are terrible things happening right now, far, far worse than me not being able to hop on a plane and go hiking. But as we navigate through this new reality, it’s important to note and mourn, just a little, the things we were looking forward to. Yes, we will adapt and make the best of our changed world. But I don’t think it’s selfish to simply acknowledge that there are things we are giving up, and that we will miss them.

Regardless, I remain grateful for my legs and the strength that they’ve developed over the last year. They will keep powering me forward, whatever that looks like, and in whatever boots they happen to be wearing. I remain grateful for my health, and for the comfortable chair that I sit in as I write this.

Be safe and well everyone. Hope to see you on the trails sometime soon. From 6 feet away, of course.

Throwback travel diary: Maligne Lake

It’s official. I don’t know what to say or do amid the coronavirus crisis that we are all living through right now. In reality, my life has hardly changed. I’ve always worked from home. I’m socially distanced by my nature, only closing that distance when I choose to, not because my life dictates it.

But I have this fist around my chest. It only lets go when I sleep – I think – and manifests in what feels like a permanent crinkle of my forehead. I don’t worry about getting sick, really, or running out of food. I worry about what’s to come for my friends in the health care field, or if I carried the virus around with me, shedding it, while traveling recently. I worry about my parents and their friends, who are all at increased risk if they catch this. It’s likely many of them will. And I feel for the parents trying to teach their kids, and the teachers who can’t anymore, and all the people whose livelihoods went poof when museums and theaters and stores and restaurants closed or reduced hours.

All of those things are problems I can’t control. So I compensate by cleaning things (my dresser in my bedroom finally got the dusting I’ve been meaning to do for months now), trying not to eat all my feelings, and fretting. And looking for ways to use what I am good at – words and pictures – to help somehow.

Which is why I found myself idly flipping through travel photos the other night. I know that the best adventure is supposed to be the next one, but it’s not likely I’ll be adventuring anywhere new anytime soon. So I allow those old trip photos to give me comfort and bring back memories of vistas that took my breath away, in the best sense of the word.

This one, though, confounded me. It’s from a trip to the Banff/Jasper area in the Canadian Rockies in Summer 2019. I kept a journal on that trip for the first time, but I started midway through, and left this stop out when I went back and wrote about the early days, for some odd reason. So my memories of the when and why we were there took some resurrecting.

First though, just sit with this one for a bit with me, won’t you? Imagine you’ve been hiking for 13 miles and your legs are tired, and you’re about to sit/collapse down on a gently floating dock as the light fades toward sunset, behind you. It’s been a pleasantly warm day for the Rockies, so your face feels sun/wind burned, but just a little bit, not too bad. Your skin is dusty and sweat-dried; you can’t wait to rinse it. Your hair needs washing and you’re hungry, verging on hangry. If we’re being totally honest, you’ve got some blisters and chafing going on, because your flatlander body isn’t used to hiking 13+ miles in a day. You’ve spent the day goggling at mountain lakes, emerald reflections of trees and flowers and distant peaks, but somehow despite everything, you still have enough wonder left in your heart to goggle at this view.

Now, come back to reality and take a look at the photo itself with me. Enjoy the way the light cuts down the middle of the green slope, and the mountains in the distance are almost dwarfed by the clouds. How the shadows are almost annoying in that they hide some of the detail. Note the specks from my dirty lens, that I could have fixed in Photoshop but I got lazy. From this photo, you can’t really know if there’s a boat over there on the right hand side, near the trees, can you? (There was. Sometimes photos show and hide things; it’s part of why I love them)

After looking at my diary and other photos, I came to realize that this moment at Maligne Lake was really short. It was the evening of our first full day in the Rockies and I’m pretty sure it came about after one of those “so what do we do now?” moments, when it’s too early for dinner and too late for anything structured. I think we just got in the car and drove, looking for bears along the way. There was so much more we could have seen and done at this lake, but we’d missed the window, so we just took in the view, took our pictures, turned around, and went back to (fantastic) showers and a yummy dinner.

I guess I share this because this image made me gasp a little, smile a lot, and ponder that even moments that we forget about can be magical when you look back at them through the lenses of memory, nostalgia, and a little bit of longing.

It makes me wonder what we will remember when we look back on these crazy days. I hope we are able to pick out some moments of good amid all the bad.

Be well, everyone, and keep washing those hands. And for goodness sake, STAY HOME!

PS: After I sat down, I turned and got this photo. Just more proof that you should always sit down, because you never know how your view might change. 🙂

Notes from the beach (3/17/20)

Before we begin, there’s a pandemic and Tom Brady is leaving the Patriots. Someone needs to check on Boston – you okay up there, Beantown? Can I get you a green beer or something? Sheesh, these are trying times in my favorite city.

But, back to the business of living in the world of Covid-19. If you want to know what I’m up to with these blog posts, check out yesterday’s, but be warned, it’s kinda gloomy. After all, this is a pandemic. I can’t make much sunshine and light out of a damn virus that has no vaccine or cure.

But speaking of sunshine, we had some today, and for me in my comfy beach apartment and cozy work-from-home life, that made a big difference. I scheduled a meet up run with a good friend, probably one of the only friends I’ll see in person during this quasi-shutdown, and had to stop myself from singing along with Hamilton (“Not throwing away my shot!”) as I set off; it felt so good to be in the woods, in the sun.

What’s a meet up run, you ask? It’s one where my friend starts at the end of the park near her house, I at the end near mine, and we meet in the middle. We used to do these in Boston, and reward ourselves with a yummy brunch. These such adventures make me happy for some reason; it must be the neatness of a math problem revealing itself when, right about the time I think she should, she appears on the trail.

If one person starts at one end and travels at X speed, and the other at the other end and travels at Y speed…where will they meet?

Anyway, Sadie came along for the run, and was sucking wind by the end of our almost-4 miles in 60 degree temps (as were my friend and I). But, you’d never have known it when she poked me in the leg about 7pm and demanded a walk. It was then I remembered my vow to take a beach walk every day during the Covid-19 quasi shutdown.

So off we went. It was sunset. A very different view from last night.

Sadie ate fewer fish guts tonight, and there were more people; oddly, they were mostly teenagers, and they were definitely not practicing social distancing. If by chance there is a teenager reading this, knock that off, will you? I suspect science is going to prove pretty soon that younger folks are the main spreaders of this disease, while older folks are the main victims. Which is really lousy; so, kiddos, wash your hands and quit canoodling on the beach, ok?

Speaking of canoodling, the beach was in romance novel form tonight. There is this sheeny color blue that comes over the waves in the moments after the sun goes down; it seems almost fake, like someone’s done CGI over the water. Can you see it here?

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#beach #sunset #waves #calm #peace

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As I wrote last night, I’m used to walking alone on the beach, but tonight was one of those nights when it would have been nice to have someone to hold hands with. That happens sometimes; the romance (and let’s face it, beaches at sunset are pretty romantic) just gets me. I try to just acknowledge it and then move on to other thoughts.

And there are plenty of other thoughts to ponder, like how the timing of Girl Scout Cookie season matching up with Covid-19 is either perfect or wretched, depending on your commitment to healthy eating. Or the philosophical question of why toilet paper?. Then there are thoughts of all the people for whom this whole Covid-19 thing is light years away from a joke or a contemplative walk on the beach. There are so many of them, and it’s hard to know how to help. I haven’t figured out how to do more than “just stay home”, and if anyone has suggestions, I’m open to them.

Be well, everyone, and I’ll hopefully see you all tomorrow.

Covid-19: Notes from the beach (3/16/20)

In case you’ve been living under a rock, the United States is in an unprecedented quasi-shutdown, in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, and it’s associated sickness, Covid-19. So I thought a new blog challenge was in order. After all, what else do many of you have to do but read my random musings?

My plan is to take a walk to the beach each day that we are under this quasi-lockdown, and see what deep thoughts emerge.

Disclaimer: I recognize that I am very lucky to have the luxury of blogging while there is so much sadness and terror sweeping our country. I send my love and sympathy to all those who are not as lucky as I am.

So this afternoon, Sadie and I set off on a raw, chilly, gray stroll along the waves of the Chesapeake Bay.

Sadie refuses to leave the boardwalk until she knows I’m coming with her onto the sand. Here, she’s galloping back to ensure that I’m on my way. She’s the best.

The beach was deserted, except for a man strolling at the water’s edge who completely ignored us. As usual, I found the waves beautiful, although here’s a secret about beach walks with Sadie; they don’t offer much scope for wave contemplation because all my attention is on keeping her from eating seaweed and fish guts.

Despite the distractions, it struck me, as we walked, that my life under quasi-lockdown is not that different from my usual life.

Strolling alone on the beach felt typical. Familiar. More normal to me than if I were with a partner or a large group. And it occurred to me that single, mostly introverted people like me are oddly better equipped for this strange experience of quasi-lockdown. After all, for us, being quiet and alone in our house or on a walk is just, well, normal.

Not that anything feels really normal these days. It was impossible to shake the specter of a looming health crisis, and how I’m worried about my friends who work in the medical professions. Or my friends who wonder where their rent money is going to come from now that their livelihoods have evaporated. Or my parents and their friends who are at the most risk from this damn virus.

At the end of the walk, I found myself doing something I always try not to; looking for a place to lay blame. After all, we are all very much in the “let’s get through this together” mode, but I couldn’t help but wonder when this crisis is over…will anyone be held to account? Today, I fantasized about a reckoning that would give us the momentum to, once and for all, call the insurance industries to the mat for all the terrible things they have done to our health care system. It was a lovely fantasy, quickly dispelled, because it’s unlikely that we will be mature enough as a country/society to really examine the underlying forces that keep our system teetering on the edge of collapse. This crisis has definitely shown that to be true.

This has turned gloomy, this post. Sorry! I do want you to keep reading, so I promise tomorrow I’ll share some funnier thoughts on cookies, show tunes, and working from home.

And here are a flock of piping plovers, hard at work, that we saw on our walk. I tried to get close enough to film them without scaring them off; I was only marginally successful. They made me smile, and I hope they do the same for you.

PS: Don’t forget to wash your hands!

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#plovers #pipingplover

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False Cape After Dark

False Cape State Park is a beautiful place. At least, I think it is. The trees, dunes and ocean looked pretty cool under an almost-full moon. I’m sure it’s quite lovely under the sun.

False Cape is located south of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge, which sits south of Virginia Beach. In fact, the only way to get to False Cape is by hiking, biking, or taking a tram through the refuge. I suppose you could also take a boat (but don’t quote me on that one), and apparently there are like 7 people who can drive up from North Carolina (more on that later), but for most of us, getting there takes some effort.

The After Dark program was a ranger-led evening that took us on a tram about four miles through Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge as the sun set.

Back Bay is a massive, human-built and maintained habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife. It was created in response to troubling trends in waterfowl population, and now serves as a major stopover point for birds migrating south via the Atlantic Flyway. It’s also a safe haven for a bunch of endangered or threatened animals including sea turtles and piping plovers.

Dogs aren’t allowed on Back Bay for obvious reasons, so it’s not a surprise this is was my first visit. It would be fun to go back and walk the trails, as it seems like a lovely place.

False Cape State Park got its name from the unfortunate fact that the coastline looks remarkably similar to Cape Henry, which is the entrance to Chesapeake Bay. Many an unlucky or navigationally challenged ship has run aground on False Cape; if you want a fascinating story, look up “Life Saving Stations”, a predecessor to the Coast Guard, where brave souls walked the beach looking for stranded ships and devising interesting ways to save the people on board. Our ranger guide shared many a tale about intrepid rescues (see “breeches buoys“) and losses (see “The Clythia“, a wreck where the people were saved but the priceless marble was not).

Anyway, once we got to False Cape, we drove through a maritime forest, accompanied by stories of the natives and Europeans who once lived there, hardy folk who used guinea hens and geese to keep the insects and snakes at bay, and built their floors so they could removed during hurricanes to keep their houses from being swept away.

The “hike” portion of the event was a short walk through what looked like gorgeous white sand dunes dotted with live oaks and other bushes. Because it was an almost full moon, we didn’t need our flashlights and couldn’t see all the stars, but we got our dose of the Big Dipper, Orion, Cassiopeia, The Pleiades and other winter star staples. I learned about the Winter Circle, which features 7 stars from various constellations including Castor, Pollux and Sirius. In all my star-gazing I’d never heard of that circle before. Very cool.

The ranger also found a fun way to educate the crew about Leave No Trace principles; she pulled out “scent bottles” with coffee and toothpaste scents and informed us that we were smarter than coyotes since we could distinguish those smells from food, while coyotes couldn’t. It was a clever way to remind folks to properly store food when in the wilderness.

The tide was high and the waves were roaring when we reached the beach. Under the light of the moon, it was pretty gorgeous, but of course IPhone photos can’t do it justice.

Standing on the beach, we were astonished to see what looked like a car to the south; the ranger explained that there are a few people who are given permission to drive CARS up and down the coastline for medical or supply reasons (I might have that story wrong, but we definitely saw the headlights of a car fading away).

On the way back through the park and the refuge, we learned that this area used to be a no man’s land between Virginia and North Carolina, a place that was missed by inaccurate surveys of the land, where taxes weren’t collected and laws weren’t enforced. Thus, a lot of people found their way to the spits and barrier islands, despite the land’s inherant inhospitability.

At any rate, despite the fact that I froze my butt off on the tram and couldn’t stop shivering for an hour when I got home, it was a fun evening of learning. While I would have liked more hiking and less driving, I still found the whole history of the area fascinating, and our guide to be fun and knowledgeable. I hope to go back and see the place in the daytime sometime soon.