I’m an athlete, right?

Here I sit, the night before family arrives for Thanksgiving. My Tuesday night volleyball team just had a disappointing 3rd place finish in the playoffs, but we still had fun, because we’re awesome like that. I sit in an apartment that needs vacuuming, with dishes to do, and laundry to fold. I have way too much to do to be blogging,

But I feel the need to write this little post about something I said and realized today.

I was telling a colleague about volleyball playoffs tonight. And she said “Wow, Jodi, you’re so athletic. You run and hike and play volleyball. Good for you.”

It was right there, on the tip of my tongue. The thing I’ve said my entire life. It’s practically a reflex by now. The rueful, “Nah, not really. I’m just an active overweight person.” Because I don’t look like an “athlete”. And therefore I must not be one, right?

It’s crazy, when you think about it. I’ve been playing sports since I was a wee one. Volleyball, basketball, softball, even a year of tennis (I was terrible, but who’s counting?). As a teenager, I swam and I was damn good at it. I rode my bike, I walked a lot, and I would run off and on.

I was on NH’s first Junior Olympic volleyball team, and we were GOOD. I played college volleyball for two years. But I would always cringe at the “athlete” label. Because, well, I carried too much weight, I didn’t have the sculpted muscles, so I couldn’t really claim it. Right?

These days I can run a 5K without much issue, and I just did my second 10K a couple of weeks ago. I can hike a bunch of miles up and down a bunch of rocks and my legs don’t hurt (that much) the next day. I even swam again a few years back. And yes, there’s my Tuesday night volleyball, where I play a game I have been playing for more than 30 years.

On a recent Utah adventure, my hiking buddy and I were sitting at a roadside pizza wagon, waiting for food, and he was talking to his mom on the phone. He hung up and said, with a grin, “My mom says you must be pretty athletic if you can keep up with me.” I don’t remember how I responded, but I think I probably just laughed awkwardly and said something like “Well, what does she know?”

But looking back, that moment makes me smile. Because his mom doesn’t know me, hasn’t met me, but she knows that I had just spent days tramping around the canyons with her fearless son, and thought that was pretty badass.

And today, when my colleague said “You’re such an athlete”, I swallowed my standard retort, and said “Thank you. I guess I am. You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but yeah, I guess I am.”

And she, kind soul, replied, “Oh, no, you do know it to look at you. You carry yourself with strength.”

What a thing to say. And what a thing to believe.  I actually did believe it, for the first time, today. It only took 41 years.

Pretty cool.



You should go here: Acadia National Park

Seems like Acadia is the place to be this summer – everyone is going there! The National Park Service ran a great marketing campaign for their 100th anniversary, and so the Parks seem to be busting at the seams this year. I’m glad that more people are getting outside and enjoying these gems, but it does add a bit of work in order to not to get too caught up in the crowds. So here are some hints if you’re planning to visit Acadia during peak season (it’s probably very different during off-season).

First, if you, like me, have been recently enjoying the massive, epic National Parks and Monuments out West (Yellowstone, Zion, Grand Staircase Escalante, etc), make sure you adjust your expectations accordingly. Acadia is comparatively quite small, and it’s carved into and out of the towns on Mount Desert Island. This smallness means that you won’t be able to lose yourself in a 13-mile strenuous hike where all you see is wildlife and the occasional grubby adventurer. No, you will see people no matter where you go. Embrace this, and you’ll have a much better time overall.

That’s not to say there aren’t some chances for peace and quiet. There are – you just have to work for them. Here’s what we did on our recent visit, which turned out to be a lovely mix of populated and not. FYI: Acadia is located near Bar Harbor, Maine, about 5.5 hours by car from Boston – a long but doable drive.

The first thing to note is that Acadia is spread out throughout Mount Desert Island (and beyond) in several large chunks of land, mostly separated by sounds and peninsulas. It’s an ISLAND, and so you’d think it would be easy to get from A to B, but getting anywhere does take some driving. This is not a walkable park, though once you get to attractions, there’s plenty of walking to be done. There is a shuttle, which we didn’t use, but it will likely be helpful if you don’t want to worry about parking.

We stayed at Blackwoods Campground, the only official campground within the main confines of the Park. It’s perfectly fine – clean and well kept, good sources of firewood nearby, and a very short walk from a lovely ocean view:

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Blackwoods, while nestled within the most populous part of the Park, is not easily accessible via the Park Loop Road, which is your main method of getting around. This is a strange sometimes-one-way-sometimes-two-way road that I’m sure has some grand design behind it, but I found it confusing and had to consult my park map quite a bit. But if you want to be close to the action of the park, this is a good place to stay.

Our first night, we were chasing a sunset, so we headed to another part of the park to see the Bass Head Lighthouse. It was small, but still fun to see.

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After a night spent listening to the nearby church group sing by guitar and firelight, we woke, breakfasted, and then drove up to the Hulls Cove Visitors Center (not very impressive, to be honest, but it’s always good to watch the park movie and hear the rangers’ spiels). After determining – alas –that we would not be able to see moose on the island, we set out for Sand Beach and Ocean Path, some of the most popular parts of the park. I can confirm that at the end of August the Atlantic ocean is freezing, and that even when it’s cloudy, the coast of Maine is awe-inspiring.

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I highly recommend simply spending a few hours tromping over the rocks and breathing the salt air – you are never far from your car no matter how far down the path you go. You will see lots of people of all ages and mobilities at this part of the park – and most everyone will be smiling. One of my favorite sights was a bunch of senior citizens dragging their camp chairs out onto the rocks for a good old fashioned contemplation-of-the-ocean session.

By the time we got back to the campground and relaxed a bit, it was getting late in the day, and we decided to take a hike on the South Cadillac Mountain Ridge trail, which happened to start at Blackwoods campground. Here, we found quiet and solitude on a moderate hike that, had we been so inclined, would have taken us to the top of the famous Cadillac Mountain. However, it was getting late, and the shuttle does not run to Cadillac, so we had to remember that anything we hiked out, we had to hike back, so we turned around at the 2-mile mark. But we still saw some lovely views, got our legs in motion, and enjoyed some peace and quiet. I’d like to do this hike in full (about 8 miles out and back) someday.

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Hint when camping: invite friends who like to cook, are not intimidated by campfire cooking, and who have relatives who cook for you. Thanks to my companions, when we got back we feasted on Indian food, delicious vegetables, and banana-boat s’mores and can I just say…yum.

On Day 3, we rose at dark to make the drive up to Cadillac Mountain where we joined several hundred of our closest friends to watch the sun come up. It was glorious.

Next, three of our merry band departed, leaving two of us to enjoy, finally, a beautiful 70-degree sunny day. We decided to hike the Beehive, which was rated “strenuous” and promised ladders, bridges, and rungs to help us up the hard parts. This short and awesome little hike did indeed deliver on the mountain-goat factor; it was a blast!

Acadia2017 (2 of 12).jpgIt was as close to Angels Landing as I’ve gotten since, though it’s nowhere near as exposed. But you still have to be cool with heights and in relatively good shape to do this hike, because once you start up there’s no other direction to go. We saw a young girl get stuck on a bridge in utter terror, which reinforces that kids really shouldn’t do such hikes. But she made it up eventually, as we all did. The bonus to being at sea level is that you don’t have to get very high to get views.

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After the Beehive, clamoring up and down a few more boulders will lead you to the Bowl, a gorgeous little pond tucked between the hills. We stayed here for a long time, dangling our feet in the water and soaking up the sun and generally enjoying the quiet and the wind. It was pretty close to perfection.

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Then, a relatively easy trek back to the trailhead. Without breaks, this whole hike could probably be done in a little over an hour. But the stops are so worth it. I don’t actually know how long this took us, because I wasn’t watching the clock – a rare and wonderful little break from reality.

Our next destination was Echo Lake, a good 45 minutes away from the main park, and the only public swimming spot available. It was incredibly windy, so we only swam for a bit, but I was determined to swim and we did! Brrrr. This is a pretty little beach that is a wonderful place to read and relax.

Our final stop on day 3 was Jordan Pond, where the park restaurant and gift shop are located. The restaurant is famous for its popovers and views. Seeking to get a few more miles under our legs, we set out to walk around the Pond, about a 3 mile loop that took us about an hour, with a few little stops. The path is mostly flat, but one whole side is made up of “bogwalks” – boards that allow you traverse above the ground, so you have to watch your feet. And there was some climbing over boulders on the far side of the pond. But the flat gravel path was well maintained and gave me a chance to just walk without worrying about rolling my ankle, which is a big deal when I’m out in the woods. Such a pretty place; the pink granite is gently reflected in the water which makes everything feel a bit magical.

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We encountered very few people on this walk, which was confusing because it’s so pretty and easy. The park rangers do say that most of the activity in the park is from 10-4, and guess I guess this proves them right.

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We finished off the day with a nice meal at the restaurant – confirming that the popovers are indeed yummy and that wild blueberries are mighty tasty.

The next morning, on my way out of the park, I stopped for one last look at the ocean, which, for me, will remain the reason to come to Acadia.

Acadia2017 (10 of 12).jpgAll in all, Acadia is a lovely, lovely place. It’s wonderful for families and seniors in particular given how many easy hikes and rambles there are. If you are seeking grand-scale adventures, you won’t find them here, but you’ll find plenty to keep you inspired and get your heart pumping.

What are your favorite Acadia memories? Share in the comments below.

Great day hikes near Boston: Hiking Mt. Wachusett

Today, for the first time in a while, I feel a literal spring in my step. Also a metaphorical one. For weeks now, I have felt strangely weighed down, either by my actual body feeling stiff and creaky, or my head feeling clouded into inertia. I’m not a fan of this feeling, which is why it feels good to write this post.


The literal spring comes from my legs feeling like they finally got some use as I hiked up, down, and around Mt. Wachusett in Central Massachusetts this past weekend. More on the details of that hike can be found below, if you just came here for the hiking details and have no need to hear my philosophizing about life.

A lot of folks out there talk about the power of a detox – and I sort of feel like that’s what yesterday’s 4-hour hike was for me. It was a chance to worry about nothing more than a few immediate, real-time things:

Sucking in enough oxygen to keep climbing up;

Placing my shaky feet to avoid breaking an ankle on the way down;

Watching (and occasionally helping) my dog navigate her way down some pretty steep rocks;

Oh, and of course, letting the gorgeous blue/green colors of summer in New England wash over my pale, office-bound, city dweller’s body.

I didn’t take a lot of pictures, and failed at taking a panoramic photo (see the really long and skinny photo I posted here), proof that I probably shouldn’t even have taken out my phone as I enjoyed a nearly perfect summer New England Day.

We talk of hiking as therapy, and I guess, in my case, it’s true. I definitely felt like I’d hit the reset button on my soul this time around.

Now, for those who are interested, here are details of this hike.

Mt. Wachusett is the tallest mountain (just over 2000 feet) within a relatively short (just over an hour) drive from Boston. I have a hard time making the trip to NH (for Mt. Monadnock or the White Mountains) in a day, mostly because of how much my dog hates being in the car (plus I am SO BAD at getting up before the sun when I’m hiking solo), so finding something with a bit of elevation a little closer to home is always a bonus. I hiked this hill last year but took a relatively short route that left me feeling less than challenged. So this year I scoured the interwebs for other hikes and found a good one. Here’s an abbreviated description – I recommend getting a map of the Mt. Wachusett State Park so you can either follow this or find your own route. There was a whole box of them at the trailhead, or you can download it here.

From Boston, take Exit 25 (140 South) off of Route 2. Follow the signs to the Mt. Wachusett Ski Area. Avoid the first parking lot you see and turn right onto Bolton Road to the main Ski Area parking lot. Look for a light brown warehouse to the right of the main lodge. The trailhead is right next to it.

Your first leg is on Balance Rock Trail (yellow blazes). You will, after a relatively short and mild uphill hike, realize why it’s called Balance Rock trail.


There are lots of rocks and roots on this entire hike, FYI, so be prepared.

A little way beyond Balance Rock you’ll come to an intersection – take the Old Indian Trail. This trail will cross a few other trails, and also a few (4) ski slopes, and one summit road, but basically, just stay on this trail as it’ll take you to the summit. It’s about 1.2 miles long. There are a few places that are fairly steep, but nothing truly difficult, although if it’s rained recently, there will be mud and the rocks could be slippery, so it’s worth proceeding carefully. This was my first real uphill in quite a while, so I stopped several times to…ahem…catch my breath, but the good news about this hike is that it’s never the same challenge for very long. If it gets steep, it’ll flatten out pretty soon. Unlike a hike into the Whites, for example, you’re not facing 3 miles of steady uphill until you get to the good stuff.

Right before you hit the summit you’ll come upon a ski lift platform with a lovely view of a lake – if one of the gondolas is open for lounging, take it, and remember that these summer days are what make the long, snowy winter bearable.


Anyway, the good stuff on this hike is 360-degree summit views that on a clear day, will show you the Boston skyline, the Berkshires, and Mt. Monadnock. The summit is likely to be crowded unless you’re hiking really early, but the views are worth it. Definitely make sure you climb up to the viewing platform and snap some pictures of the prettiness. There are plenty of warm rocks to grab a snack and a drink on as you soak in the views.


There are several options to get down from the summit. You could turn around and go back the way you came, but I’m a loop person, so I chose a different way down.

Harrington Trail, my way down, gets pretty steep and rocky. It reminded me a lot of coming down East Oceola in the White Mountains. There were a few times when my pooch watched me slide down a big rock on my butt and gave me a look as if to say “I’m not jumping that.” Dogs should be on leash in the park, but on the hike down, I did let Sadie off occasionally because it was simply safer for her and me to let her find her own way.

This trail heading down was significantly less crowded than the Indian Trail heading up, but it was also later in the day so that probably contributed to the relative peace and quiet. Anyway, Harrington Trail will cross two “roads” as it descends, and you want to take the 2nd one and head right. This is West Road, and it’s flat and goes on for a while. I was getting pretty zen at this point, so I don’t know the mileage, but I’d say it’s at least a mile or a mile and half before you reach the gate marking the end of the road.

There, you’ll turn right onto West Princeton Road, which is open to traffic, so be careful. You’ll stroll along here for a bit, and then you’ll want to take a right onto North Road, also marked by a gate. This road climbs a bit, but it’s gentle.

There will be an intersection relatively soon, and you want to take a left onto it. This is Balance Rock Road, and soon you will find yourself back at the intersection of Balance Rock Trail. Take a left onto the trail and head back past Balance Rock to the parking lot.

I read that this hike should take 5-6 hours and is rated moderate/difficult. I would say that, unless you are with kids, stopping frequently, and/or having a several course meal on the summit, it’s more like 4+ hours. The total mileage was about 6.25 miles. There are only two parts I would call “difficult”: one stretch of Indian Trail near the summit, and coming down Harrington Trail. Otherwise, this is a pretty easy/moderate hike, with the benefit of a lot of different terrains so you never get bored, and plenty of flat strolling that allows you to just zone out and enjoy being in the woods.

So if you can’t make it up to the White Mountains, this is a nice alternative. It’s not a 4,000 footer, but it’ll get your heart pumping and give your legs a little challenge.

If you do this hike, let me know what you think in the comments! Have a great day, everyone.

A toast to the slow and average

I’m not gonna lie…I’m slightlyhugely addicted to my hiking and running tracking aps. I love logging my treks on MapMyRun and MapMyHike, I love trying to figure out my pace, and I love seeing what my (few) friends on the aps are up to. It gives me that little jolt of competitiveness: “oh, look, he/she ran/walked/hiked…I need to get out there and do it too!”

However, this also happens on a regular basis:

I finish a 2.5 mile run or maybe a 4 mile hike. I’m feeling good and proud of myself. And then my phone buzzes, and I see it:

So-and-so ran 5 miles at an 8 minute pace. 

Another so-and-so hiked 12 miles in 4 hours. 

Or Alex Honnold free-solos El Capitan.

And ugh, cue the wha-wha of a deflated-sounding trumpet. Because damn, I am SLOW!

When I first got into running in Boston, about 3 years ago, I figured it would be fun to find a running group. I stumbled on one right in my ‘hood, and I was excited, because they said on their facebook page “all levels welcome!” Then I started getting notices about runs with descriptions like “We’ll do an easy run on Tuesday. 5 miles, about a 9-mile pace.” A friend who was running a 10k said casually to me once: “Just train for an hour and you’ll be fine.” That’s basically a 10 minute mile, FYI.

I have been “running” for 3 years and the fastest mile I’ve ever run was 10:30, and I wouldn’t have minded getting some oxygen after I was done.

I am a slow runner.

The same can be said of hiking. I admit to being slightly terrified of joining a hiking group, because I’m pretty sure that their “moderate” pace would leave me gasping for breath within a few strides. It’s one of the reasons I like hiking alone, even as I’m lapped by children, dogs, and those incredible lean-legged mountain men/women.

I might be called an average hiker, whatever that means.

I don’t look like a runner. I don’t look like a hiker. And frankly, it’s easy to let such comparisons get you down. But to that, I’ve gotta call bulls#!%.

I don’t know the stats (and Google didn’t give them to me in 10 seconds of searching, so I gave up), but I do know that those of us who are out there hiking and running are NOT in the majority. We are a small percentage of the population. And again, I’m guessing, but I bet the slow/average folks outnumber the super fast folks. It’s just that the fast folks will win the races and get to the top first and generally be more visible (and usually less red of face and less out of breath).

And there is only one Alex Honnold.

So to my fellow 11, 12, 13 (or more) minute-milers…you go, friends! You are awesome and you should be proud of yourself.

To my fellow bringing-up-the rear/stopping-to-catch-your-breath hikers…keep on with your bad selves. You will get there eventually, and don’t let anyone ever make you feel less than proud of yourself for doing it in the first place.

To the slow and average among us, I salute you with my Nalgene bottle, and wish you happy trekking. I’ll be happy to high-five you as we are lapped by the gazelles at our next 5K, or stop to “admire the view” with you on our next hike. Anytime.

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A Spooky lesson in confidence

There’s a thing that happens to fat kids. Or at least, it happened to me.

Let’s pause for a moment to acknowledge how hard it is for me to write the words “fat kids,” because they are so incredibly fraught with anxiety and shame. They carry – literally – a lifetime of doubt, of fighting to believe that one is still worthy of joy, love, happiness, even when one is overweight. I never, never, never, want any kid to feel any of what I felt as someone who’s struggled with weight my entire life, so it’s hard to even say the words.

For fat kids, everything active that “normal” kids do is harder. At least, it was for me. Pull ups. Situps. Learning to waterski. Playing soccer. Running. All of it.

Don’t get me wrong, in many cases, fat kids are as strong as other kids. But what they aren’t, or at least what I wasn’t, is as confident in their bodies.

It’s taken a great deal of self-analysis and deliberate, almost dogmatic self-encouragement, for me to accept my non-skinny body and still demand a great deal of it. I ask it to play volleyball, to run, to hike mountains, and in most cases, it obliges, albeit with the occasional protest.

But sometimes I am faced with a situation where – even though I KNOW I am a strong and confident 40+ woman who can do anything I set my mind to – I suddenly become that fat, timid kid who couldn’t climb the rope for the Presidential Physical Fitness test.

It happened to me this past week, on the tail end of a marvelous vacation. I’d hiked my way through Southern Utah, up “strenuous” climbs in Zion National Park and even up one trail in the pitch black of night. I’d done most of the trip pushing through a minor ankle injury that made every step a little more precarious. I wasn’t as fast as my hiking buddy, but I’d finished nearly everything he’d done. I felt good…happy, strong, confident.

And we were heading for the famous slot canyons of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. For those who are wondering, a “Slot Canyon” is a narrow path that’s been carved into sandstone by flash floods and water flow over time. I’m sure they aren’t meant for man and woman to traverse. But because they are so magical, traverse them we do. Here’s a picture of a very wide and accessible one that we visited earlier in the trip.

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Now, I won’t lie, when I heard “Slot Canyon”, my knee-jerk reaction was to wonder if I’d fit; that’s the lifetime of being just a bit too big for comfort kicking in. Rationality indicated that I would, as did the eagerness of my hiking buddy to add this to our trip, so I set that foolishness aside and prepared to enjoy myself.

And for a while, I did. I had to suck it in and make sure I found the right contours in the rock to accommodate my, ahem, curves, but it was a riot. I was laughing and having a blast.

Then, we came to the first of two sections that required some climbing. I took one look at the height, did the math, and was instantly despondent. In the space of a moment, I was reduced to a trembling child, fearing, above all else, that I wouldn’t be able to do what the other kids could do, and that I would look foolish trying.

If you want to get to know Spooky Gulch and its tiny crevices, here’s a good description, but keep in mind that, on the advice of our shuttle guide, we were going the opposite way from what’s described in the article. This would wind up being a good thing in the end, but at that moment, it was a crisis for me. I was certain I wouldn’t be able to get up that first section. Certain of it.

My hiking buddy, who loves to climb and has complete confidence in his own body to get him where he wants to go, scrambled up like a monkey and then looked down at me with a grin. But I was flummoxed.

In the end, it took him hauling me from the top and a stranger down below giving me a boost, and then basically just planting his hands on my butt and shoving, for me to clear the obstacle. And all my mojo was gone. Shaky, embarrassed, filled with adrenaline of the not-good kind, I slogged forward. Then the 2nd obstacle appeared, and I heard myself, to my chagrin, whimper “I don’t know if I can do it” in a tiny voice that I hated to hear coming from my mouth.

With little choice, and his own brand of confidence, my hiking partner blithely assured me I that could, told me he’d help by anchoring my foot, and basically forced me up. Surprisingly, I popped through this one pretty quickly; I even heard another stranger exclaim in pleasant surprise when my head cleared the top.

After that, it was easier, but the residual fear of being weak – and all the scars of fat kid embarrassment – followed me through the rest of the canyon, so that I don’t remember much of it. I’m sure I missed some amazing pictures because I was so far gone into my head that I couldn’t even look beyond my feet.

As we cleared the slot and sat to have lunch, I fought the shake in my hands and the welling tears in my eyes. I was so freaked out that I couldn’t even figure out how to turn the water valve on my water bladder. We faced another slot canyon and I honestly gave thought to bailing, right then and there.

But my hiking buddy just tossed me a bagel and told me how to switch the water valve without making me feel even more stupid than I already did. We talked a bit about technique, and he offered me his gloves, and then we set off for the 2nd slot, known as Peek-A-Boo. I discovered, to my joy, that we were going to go DOWN this slot, rather than up, and for some reason that seemed better, even though Peek-A-Boo was supposedly full of water, which had a lot of our fellow hikers freaked out. My hiking buddy was determined to stay dry, and I was pretty much resigned to getting wet. But I felt like I could handle downhill. I’m always on friendlier terms with downhill.

And then something wonderful happened. As we entered the slot, we tramped along a bit, and then came to a big pool of water ringed with sandstone. Ah well, I thought, it’s time for me to get wet. My hiking partner did this nifty thing where he basically plank-walked his way over the puddle, inching his way in a spread-eagled fashion. He made it look easy and quite impressive. As I looked at the pool and prepared to step into it, he suggested that I try it his way. No way, I said, laughing. I can’t do that.

Sure you can, he said back. Give it a try. Just don’t fall in.

So I did, and by God if I didn’t make it across. At one point, I was what felt like completely parallel to the pool (I suspect it wasn’t quite as bad-ass as that, but it felt like it) staring at the water, thinking “Man, this will suck if I fall in. ” But I didn’t, and with a whoop, I cleared the pool and stood up, laughing in relief. My hiking buddy was laughing too, regretting that he’d been too busy watching me (and hoping I wouldn’t fall in) to snap a picture.

And on we went. Eventually, I had to get my feet wet, though he managed to pull off some Spider-Man worthy moves and stay dry.


It was a riot, and I was soaked and giddy when we finished.

Later that afternoon, we met up with the strangers who’d helped shove me over the first obstacle, and they were smiling and chatting with us and no, they didn’t laugh at me or or make fun of me for my struggles. When I thanked them for their help (again) they seemed surprised that I felt I needed to, even though they’d literately had to shove my butt up a rock crevice.

So, here’s the marvelous thing to learn from all of this. It’s nothing new or revolutionary. It’s that we are often our own worst enemies in situations like this. Everyone ELSE in that canyon figured I’d make it up eventually. Sure, maybe they felt a little embarrassed for my flailing attempts, but odds are, they were more worried about themselves than me. Even after watching me struggle, my hiking buddy kept pushing me to try stuff beyond my comfort zone, because he figured I could do it.

Sure, it’s a little annoying that I needed the external affirmation before I could get over myself. But how great that it was there when I needed it?

And how lucky that we did the downhill portion of the hike last. 🙂

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