Thanks, Boston.

I’ve had a lot of time to think about this move I’m about to make.

In an effort not to bore you with details, I’ll just say that, in about a month, after just over 4.5 years here, I’m leaving Boston. Heading south, to live near family for a little while, and try my hand at a total life change. I’m sure I’ll write more on that later.

The job change that prompted this came fast, but the thinking about moving has been happening for years. Almost every year after the first, when I realized that, much as I might love Boston, it wasn’t going to give me all the things I was hoping for: a tribe, a partner, a job with longevity, a home, roots. No, like most of the places I’ve lived, it just couldn’t give me those. I suspect this has more to do with me than Boston, but regardless – it’s time for Boston and I to end our little affair.

And it really was an affair, one that sprang out of a terrible breakup with my previous life. You know the deal; you put on a good face when inside all you can think is…I failed. I misjudged the whole thing, and I put all of myself into something that wouldn’t give it back. And so I left, not quite tail-between-my-legs, but definitely needing to rebuild my life and my belief in myself.

Boston was the perfect rebound relationship. It made my heart sing every time I turned a corner and saw something new. It was big, messy, gorgeous, full of new sights and smells and a blissful anonymity; no one cares, walking down a busy Boston street, if I don’t have a boyfriend, if I screwed up at work, or even if I’m having a bad hair day.

In Boston, I started running, for real. Since I’ve moved here I’ve run two 10Ks and more 5Ks than I can count.IMG_7300

In Boston I learned the beauty of a (crappy) public transit system, and didn’t drive hundreds of miles as I went about my life. Instead, I walked them, and took the bus and the train, and spent hours observing my fellow travelers of all sizes and colors, wondering about their stories.

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In Boston I fell in love with my camera, and filled a creative gap in my soul that I didn’t know existed.

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In Boston, I finally came to believe, really believe, that I can both love my country and want it to be better.

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Everything wasn’t perfect in these years. I learned that racism is alive and well even in one of the most progressive states in the country. I learned that breaking into cliques is really hard. I learned that rats hang out in garbage barrels, and that too many dogs go missing every day. I learned that even walking everywhere, every day, won’t magically make me skinny. And I learned that a lot of people play music really loudly in their headphones on the train, which is really, really annoying. πŸ˜‰

But I also learned that, despite our reputation for being cold and mean, Bostonians do say hi on the street here, and stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Not every day. Not all the time. But l learned that one person thanking the bus driver as we exit makes at least 75% of the rest of the people do the same. And the drivers always wish us a good day.

But most of all, I learned that I am who I am. A girl who always takes up a bit too much space on the train, but tries to keep her eyes open for someone who needs her seat. A woman who will never be able to look downtown chic, but will stroll down town in her comfortable shoes with her head high. A person who doesn’t quite fit into any of the accepted categories of our culture, and has finally, after more than 40 years, begun to realize that there are quite a few of us wandering around, and that’s ok.

Two days ago, I was walking in the Public Garden on a humid, cloudy day. It was right after a thunderstorm. For those who have no visual reference for the Public Garden, its the park where Robin Williams sat on a bench with Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting. As I walked, I realized that, when my move is done and I’ve left this place behind, I will always be grateful that I lived here. That I was lucky enough to live here, even for a few years. After all, every small town kid in New England grew up holding Boston up like some kind of sparkling icon. It was our Oz, our big city. I never even considered that I’d live here; I always assumed I wasn’t a big enough deal.

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But I did. I got to live in the city of the Red Sox. I got to walk and run along the Esplande, cross the Mass Ave Bridge via bus, train, and by foot, and visit the top of the Pru. I took the train to Foxboro stadium. I watched the Marathon from 4 different locations, including high above the last mile as the runners approached the finish line on Boylston. I heard the Boston Pops at Christmas and the 4th of July, the BSO at Halloween. I paddled in the Charles under the sun and under the stars. I hiked in dozens of parks and reservations, and ate seafood on the North and South Shores. I took guests to see the Ducklings in the Public Garden, and to the North End for pasta and cannoli.

I survived 5 winters.

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As I get ready to leave, I’m comforted that while I wander the city in my last weeks, I’m finding that I’m not sad. There’s no regret in my heart as I realize there are many corners of the city I haven’t explored. I’ll miss my favorite places, but I have received what they have to offer, with gratitude, and will use all that they’ve given me to move on.

Boston was my home for nearly 5 years. I will always sing Sweet Caroline at the top of my lungs when it comes on, I will never forget how the skyline view always makes my heart jump, and I will always claim this place as my big city. In all it’s wonder and contradictions, Boston is the place where I put myself back together, and found the guts to change everything. I’m grateful.

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Hike 20 of the #52hikechallenge: Mount Monadnock

Two years ago, Mt. Monadnock kicked my ass.

So, when a break in the heat was forecast, and with an office-mate eager to join, it only seemed fitting to try again.

We set out “early” from Boston, in an effort to beat what we knew would be big crowds. We only marginally succeeded, but on a nice weekend, hikers everywhere flock to Monadnock.

Monadnock means “mountain which stands alone”; it’s not part of a mountain range. What an appropriate 20th hike for a girl like me, generally adrift alone in the world. Because while it may stand alone, it also stands tall and proud and is worth every minute you spend with it. Kind of like me. πŸ˜‰

Having been roundly smacked down by the Red Dot trail in my 7-ish mile hike last time, this time I decided to go with the crowd and do the White Dot to the White Cross Trail loop. This is the hike that everyone does, with good reason. For example, while the hike is pretty darn steep, it only lasts for about 2 miles. Even stopping and starting as we did, it simply can’t take all that long to get to the top of a 2-mile hike at less than 3000 feet of altitude.

Also, once you get up high, there are incredible views every 5 feet, which offers plenty of chances to “admire the view” while gasping for air.

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Monadnock does this little head-fake that crushes the souls of unprepared hikers: after slogging up some pretty serious rocks and boulders, hikers reach what “should” be the top – a nice open space just at the edge of the treeline – but instead, it gives you a view of the summit, which looks at least 5 miles away. In reality, it’s only .5 miles.

On this hike, I was prepared for that tantalizing view, and even could appreciate the dad warning his pre-teen daughter that, when they reached the open spot they would “have a discussion” about if they were going to go on. It’s worth pointing out that this little girl was hiking about twice as a fast as me, so I had no doubt she’d make it all the way to the top. We’d also been lapped by a troupe of boys and their handlers, as well as a dude who thanked us for letting him pass by proclaiming: “It’s just hard for me to stop once I get going. And I’m carrying 25 lbs of climbing gear”, thus making me want to smack his smug ass right into the woods.

But soon we reached the point in the hike that makes most folks wonder “why do I do this again?” The slab of granite stretches above, with nothing for it but to trust our shoes, enjoy the calf stretch, and get it done.

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As we were trudging up this, we ran into the leaders of the troupe of boys, on their way down, who seemed genuinely delighted to see us, which of course made me wonder if they thought we wouldn’t make it at all.

But we did, with a few dozen of our closest friends.Β  We reached the top of the world, with 360 degree views of NH, VT and MA, and a cold, whipping wind that felt great after the sweaty heat of walking above tree line in the sun.

I didn’t get very many photos from the top, because, to be honest, I just wanted to look at the view. At one point, I actually felt my head sag with relief, and it’s not exaggerating to say I felt all the crap of my daily life fall away with a huge sigh that took me by surprise. There is something about the view from the highest point – there is something about it that makes me feel better, no matter where I am.

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We spent some time agreeing that the payoff was worth the effort, and then it was back down those pesky rocks, which is a different kind of stress on the legs. By the end, I was longing for the sandstone of the canyons of Utah, because even if you’re going up or down out there, more often than not the stone is somewhat forgiving on your feet. In the granite mountains of NH, each step jars, and by the time you’ve done 2+ miles of clamoring down, you’re just glad you don’t have 2 more.

Hike 20, even thought it was short, was the hardest one I’ve done yet of the 52 Hike Challenge, and I hope that the rest of the year brings more such challenges. As anyone with a bit of math skills has figured out, I’m pretty behind on this challenge, and moving to the beach in a month isn’t going to make finishing any easier. But I am going to stick to it, because, well…I started, so finishing is the next thing to do.

Catching up on the #52hikechallenge: #hike 9, #hike10, #hike11, #hike#12, and #hike13

I’ve fallen behind on the #52hikechallenge (for more on this, go here), but the past week was a good one for catching up, both here at home and on a lovely visit to Canada. It was also a good one for feeling strong and being with great friends on the trail. Aka – all the good stuff.

Let’s get to the details:

Hike 9: First Blue Hills hike of “Spring” 2018
Location: Blue Hills Reservation, MA
Date: April 8, 2018
Distance: 6 miles
Wildlife: Do mountain bikers count?
Notes: When walking on muddy trails, the best thing to do for the trails is not to avoid the mud. It’s to go right through it. So wear the right boots and have fun making like a little kid again!

I love the Blue Hills Reservation. It’s right in my backyard and there are tons of routes to take. This hike, we explored familiar territory at the Eliot Tower, then veered off my normal route a bit to explore Breakneck Ridge. It was a nice hike of varying terrain and a lot of friendly people who were excited to finally be outside after our long cold winter.
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Hike 10: Thunder Cove Beach
Location: Kensington, Prince Edward Island, CANADA
Date: April 12, 2018
Distance: 2.85 miles
Wildlife: We saw a huge bunch of Canadian Geese having a feast out in the waves
Notes: When in Canada, your apps will all track in kilometers, which is way more fun than miles.

Even though this was a flat beach walk, we agreed that it could count as a hike since, well, I get to make the rules of this little challenge, and there were rock formations, so…there. πŸ™‚ Seriously though, this beach, which was hard to find on traditional tourist maps, was worth both the drive and the chilly temps. There was snow and ice all around but the red sand felt amazing under our feet and well, the views were pretty great.
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Hike 11: Hopewell Rocks Park
Location: New Brunswick, CANADA
Date: April 13, 2018
Distance: 4.36 miles
Wildlife: Pigeons and Canadian Geese
Notes: Bonus points on this hike for making sure you can read tide tables.

The highest tides in the world. Not a bad claim to fame for a little beach in Canada, but this hike involved us being sure we were there when those tides were on their way out. Otherwise, we’d have needed kayaks. This hike was more of a beach ramble, but it started off with having to climb railings and navigate rope ladders since the beach access stairs were closed to all but those of us willing to “proceed at our own risk.” It was totally worth it, as we walked and scrambled all over amazing sandstone rock formations that are only walkable when the tide is low. Can’t recommend this enough! It was SO COOL.


Hike 12: Caribou Plain Trail
Location: Fundy National Park, CANADA
Date: April 13, 2018
Distance: 1.8 miles
Wildlife: No caribou or moose to be found. Boooo.

When it’s still winter in a Canadian National Park, hiking options that don’t involve snowshoes or microspikes are limited. This little walk, through a pretty forest that winds around and through a bog, is normally quite accessible, right down to the boardwalks in some places. We did it with a bunch of snow on the ground, which made it an exercise in trying not to break through the snow pack with each step. Because my long-legged, sure-footed friend was in the lead for most of this walk, I got a nice little workout in as I tried to keep up. And we learned what a flark is.
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Hike 13: Irving Nature Park
Location: St. John, CANADA
Date: April 14, 2018
Distance: 3.8 miles
Wildlife: Squirrels, chipmunks, seagulls
Notes: The Canadians know how to do a nature trail.

On a gray and windy day on the last day of vacation, which we’d spent mostly in the car, we needed a little exercise, so we hopped onto the Squirrel and Seal trails in this HUGE nature park on the Bay of Fundy in the New Brunswick city of St. John. The trail was pretty easy, and it was lined with woodchips, which made the footing incredible solid (no rolled ankles for me, whoopee!), so we did this one at a pretty fast clip. As a bonus, we climbed a bunch of stairs to a so-called “Observation Tower”, which was really just a glorified deck. But still, a nice little interlude in a very well-maintained park.

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So, though I’m still behind, this was a nice week of progress. How are you doing, fellow hikers? Are you keeping at it? I have to say, it feels REALLY good to have been out there quite a bit these last few days. I didn’t log huge miles, but my legs feel happier than they’ve felt in months.

Sometimes hikes just aren’t awesome: #hike8 of the #52hikechallenge

Hang out on instagram with the hiking community enough, and you might think we all tramp around through pristine nature with artfully mussed ponytails and impeccably coordinated gear and the perfect partner.

I’m here to tell you it just ain’t so, folks.

Sometimes, hikes aren’t awesome. Sometimes, they almost suck. I say almost because even the worst hike is better than a lukewarm day almost anywhere else. But sometimes, all the things we love about hiking seem to abandon us.

#hike8 of my #52hikechallenge fell on my birthday. It was the first sunny, above 45 degree day we’d seen in this long, gray, slog of a New England winter. I was so excited to get outside with my pooch and stretch my legs and lungs.

I wanted distance, not elevation, and I immediately thought of a hike I did back in 2017, one that had me tramping unexpectedly through the woods in the dark. This supposedly 6-mile loop (that wound up being closer to 8) had been pretty at sunset, but I’d been so busy trying not to get lost in the dark that first time that I wanted to try it again. And, I wanted to correct whatever error I’d made that tacked an extra 1.5ish miles onto the hike last time. So off I went to Hopkinton, MA, to hike the Whitehall State Park/Whitehall Reservoir Loop.

I studied the map at the trailhead intently to make sure I wouldn’t go astray this time. Above the map was a wooden sign that read “Reservoir Trail: 6-mile loop.” Excellent.

The first mile passed easily. I noted the dismal state of the trail, with needles and roots and dried leaves making footing uneasy, and evidence of recent nor’easters that had toppled many a large tree onto the path. The lake shimmered with that wonderful sky-reflection shade of blue, and my phone buzzed occasionally with happy birthday messages. I stopped to snap a pic to tell a couple of friends who’d asked what I was up to:

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It felt so odd to be in the sun that I was squinting too. πŸ™‚

Anyway, the trail around Whitehall Reservoir is pretty varied; sometimes it’s a road, sometimes it’s nothing more than a foot of packed dirt hugging a steep slope next to the water. It requires attention even though it’s not particularly hard. I noted right away that this was the kind of trail that would get me and my bum ankle if I wasn’t careful.

At almost exactly the 1.5 mark, I started to feel pretty good, and figured I’d pick up the pace at 2 miles and get my heart rate going a bit more. My legs felt strong and I looked up to check out the view and then rrrrwomp…over went my ankle.

Those who know me know this happens often; the remnants of a high school basketball injury that comes back to haunt me, usually just when I’ve started to get cocky. It’s happened so often that I usually just swear loudly for a few minutes, hobble for a few steps, and then proceed under the assumption that it’ll work itself out. It usually does.

On this day, though, it didn’t. The initial pain subsided, but as I waded through muddy creekbeds and hopped over rocks, things hurt more than they usually did. My stride was off, and I saw each new patch of slippery leaves as another mine to be avoided, as it no doubt was hiding another tree root just waiting to take me down.

Oh, and that mud? It was gross enough to swallow the trail on more than one occasion, which meant getting pricked by spiky branches as we sought alternate routes, and having to yell at Sadie not to drink the stank water.

At 3.5 miles, just past my supposed halfway mark, I’d planned to stop and eat my sandwich. But there was nowhere to sit, the ground still being wet from recent rains, and the gorgeous views I’d been admiring earlier had receded into swampy woodlands. We pressed on, and as I eyed our progress around the reservoir, I started to suspect that my 6-mile loop was once again going to be more like 7.5.

Usually I love hiking alone in the woods with Sadie at my side. But this day, for some reason, I was feeling lonely, not an emotion I let myself experience very often. I was grumpy that it was my birthday and no one was hiking with me. I was pissed that I couldn’t let Sadie off leash because of the park rules. Those fluffy, nasty, gnat-like bugs swarmed along the trail just waiting to be inhaled. And to top it off, I’d worn the wrong socks; they were too thick, which made my boots fit too tightly…yeah, it was all a mess.

Fast forward to 5.5 miles, and everything hurt. I stopped looking at the views because I had to watch my feet and it was just swamp, anyway. (Not true, but by this point I wasn’t exactly feel charitable toward the Reservoir Loop.) My knees and back were most unhappy with me and there were still clearly a couple of miles to go. 6-mile loop, my ass.

I did stop to take in a couple of ducks swimming near a dock, and that was pretty. In fact, looking at it now, it was downright idyllic:

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But by that point, I just wanted to be done. I had plans for the evening, and the extra miles were making it likely that I’d be late. I needed to walk faster, but my legs were not having it. And with every ridge I cleared, there was another one standing between me and taking off my hiking boots and freeing my sore feet.

Finally, at long last, we made it back to the car and headed home; even Sadie sat quietly in the back of the car as if exhausted by a hike that should have been wonderful, but just wasn’t. As I hobbled up the stairs to my apartment and the bliss of a hot shower, I couldn’t help but chuckle that sometimes, no matter how perfect the blue sky might seem, the universe just doesn’t give us what we think we need. Was that rolled ankle a sign that I should have turned back, driven home, and watched some Netflix for my birthday instead of pushing through 7.5 miles of woods?

Maybe. But as I think about it now, I think it’s a good lesson in reality. While hiking may be therapy for many of us, sometimes, therapy just doesn’t work. But hopefully we choose to go back for the next session, because, well, we need it, and the alternative is worse.

So take heart, fellow hikers, if you’ve been feeling like everyone else’s adventures are so much better than yours. I promise, it’s not all as perfect as it seems. There are bugs and mud and fallen trees and rolled ankles. And supposedly 6-mile loops that are clearly longer. I still don’t know why the trail is mis-marked (or where I went wrong in my trail-finding), but it’s a good thing I was so tired, and running so late. Otherwise, I might have taken out my Swiss Army Knife and fixed that damn 6-mile loop sign myself. With my luck I’d have been arrested for defacing state property. πŸ™‚

Location: Whitehall Reservoir, Hopkinton, MA
Date: March 31, 2018
Distance: 7.81 miles
Wildlife: Squirrels, ducks, dogs, and the occasional human
Notes: If you see someone who looks like they know the area, ask about the 6 mile loop. Or prepare for 7.5.

Kilauea Iki Crater Trail: #hike6 of the #52hikechallenge

Let’s talk craters y’all. Like actual real volcanic craters in the earth that still have steam coming out of them. Did you know there are such places that have hiking trails into and around them? I didn’t, but I do now!

Every book or blog about the Big Island says that Kilauea Iki Crater in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is one of its best hikes. I was a little dubious coming in because it was only 4ish miles long and it seemed like much of it was on flat terrain. But I couldn’t deny the coolness of descending into a volcanic crater. It was pouring rain, and it was still awesome. I guess that’s the mark of a great hike.

Speaking of pouring rain, on the east/Hilo side of the Big Island, it apparently rains all. the. time. We were there for 3 full days and it rained steadily. But that didn’t stop us.

The us, in this case, is me and my former college roommate. Since today is International Women’s Day, I feel justified in pausing for a moment to reflect on us two women, and the fact that, on this trip, we realized that we’ve been friends for 23 years. We met when I was a sophomore and she was a freshman in college. We are partners in pale skin and curly hair, though I think she looks more like a greek goddess with her blond curls and great smile. Though we haven’t lived in the same state since a brief NJ stint in 2003, we’ve managed to stay in touch through good times and bad. She’s smart and awesome and beautiful, and I’m grateful for our long friendship.

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This is us at the start of the Crater hike, when the dripping rain was more of a fun challenge than a pain in the butt.

Anyway, the hike began in the pouring rain. We chose the counterclockwise route, which I would highly recommend. The first section is along the Crater Rim Trail, a mostly flat trail that should, per its name, offer amazing views of the Crater and its rim. For us, the views lacked a certain…something.

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As you can see, the rain cloud was basically right on top of us. Eventually, we were able to see a bit more of the crater, and if you look carefully, you can see the trail way down below; that faint white line in the grey.

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The Crater Rim Trail actually goes for about 12 miles around the Crater itself, a hike I’d like to do someday when it’s not raining.

Pretty soon, we left the so-called views behind and found ourselves in what can only be called “lush rainforest”, filled with dripping greenery and huge fern plants.

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The descent through the forest was pretty easy. Eventually, we started clamoring down some steeper, clunkier rocks that likely give this hike it’s “moderate/strenuous” rating. If it’s not raining, there should be no issue, but in the rain, we had to pay close attention to our feet! We also had to go through that process of realizing that yes, our boots would grip the volcanic rock even though it looked black and slick and like it was ready to send us tumbling.

After just a few hundred feet of steep downhill, we emerged from the trees and found ourselves staring out at a vast, grey, steaming wasteland that looked like what I imagine the moon might look like, if it wasn’t white. This was like nothing I’d ever seen before; I stood in the rain and goggled. Because of the rain, I don’t have a lot of pictures of those first moments in the crater, but I did get this one; look at those red flowers springing up out of the rocks!

28423776_10155894307231900_6649769202190451279_oAfter we picked my jaw up from the crater floor, there was nothing for it but to strike out across the lava field, wending our way through craggy mounds of blackness. Ahu is apparently the Hawaiian word for cairn (piles of rocks used to mark trails); following the ahu led us down onto the flat, asphalt-like bottom of the crater, where the trail widens a bit. This terrain is not hard to walk on, but we did it at a snail’s pace because it was just so amazing to look around at the landscape. Parts of the lava looked like it had just broken apart in an earthquake, other parts were smooth and rounded, and steam vents dotted the terrain. For a brief moment, it stopped raining and we were able to get a few good pictures, and we both remarked that we felt like we were about to either win a prize or get eaten by a monster in a Young Adult dystopian novel.

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It started raining again as we neared the end of the lava field, and then it was back into the forest, but this time the trail up was a series of gentle switchbacks rather than steep rocks. From here we got the clearest view of the Crater yet.

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As the switchbacks ended, we found ourselves in a busy parking lot near the Thurston Lava Tube, so we added that the hike.

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This is a short little walk through a dark lava tube, which was fun, but would have been more fun if we’d not gotten caught in the middle of a senior citizen tour group. Several of the group were wearing bike helmets, and it took us a second to realize it was because there was a chance they might bump their heads. This seemed like an overabundance of caution, but it was still pretty cool that they all found their way down the steep and slippery stairs into the tunnel. It was so loud and crowded in there that I was content to zip through pretty quickly. Then, it was back to the Crater Rim Trail for a final flat trek through the woods. There were some pretty cool views of the Crater from this side.

And then, we were done. By this point, we were both pretty soaked, even with raincoats and hats, so drying off in the car felt great. We drove to another lookout at the head of a different trail, where we could look down on what we’d just hiked from a different angle. Can you see the tiny, tiny person in an orange jacket down there?

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The moral of the Kilauea Iki Crater hike? Don’t let rain stop you. Though I would have loved to see this place in the sunshine (you can check out this flickr gallery if you’d like to as well), it was still an astonishing journey through landscape I’d never seen before. I was exhilarated when I was done even though it wasn’t a huge challenge for my legs. I would do it again in a second.

Summary: Hike 6 of the 52 hike challenge (read more about the challengeΒ here)

Location: Volcano National Park, Hawaii.
Date: February 25, 2018
Distance: 4.4 miles
Wildlife: None except for whatever rustled the leaves in the forest part of the hike.
Notes: Do the hike counterclockwise. If it’s sunny, sunscreen, water, and a hat would be a must for the crater floor. And always remember:

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