Throwback Thursday: Dusk hike to Grotto Falls, #hike30 of the #52hikechallenge

So yeah, it’s been a little busy around my life, y’all. Finding/securing/moving in to a new apartment, figuring out a new job, hunting foliage and views in Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s all good stuff, but it means I’ve had little time to do more than experience whatever event or emotion is right in front of me before moving on to the next…not a lot of time for blog-worthy introspection.

This is why I decided to force myself to write tonight. Because amid all the wonderful, I worry that I will forget the lessons and discoveries. So without any more ado, let’s dive in.

Exactly two weeks ago I was in the Smoky Mountains with a friend, enjoying one of our twice/thrice yearly adventures. It was day 7 of 12, but it was only our 2nd full day in the Smokies. Until the day prior, we’d been adventuring amid waterfalls and caves, but we hadn’t done any real hiking up anything worth writing home about. It’s worth noting that there had been a few uphill sections and those had pretty much kicked my ass, because, you see, I have been living at sea level for several months now. Not just on flat land, but literally next to the sea. I hadn’t been up a real hill since I’d left Boston back in the summer. Plus, living in a place where the only real way to get around is to drive, I’d let myself get out of shape. No doubt about that.

So, it was Thursday. The day before we’d done our first real “hike” in the Smokies, a relatively easy 4ish-mile trek that nonetheless killed me. On that Weds hike, I’d had one of my moments where I had to send my friend ahead because I was freaking myself out: about how slow I was, how tough the uphills were, how much of a loser I was. It got to the point where the anxiety in my head was defeating my determination to be cheerful, and my body was threatening an onslaught of tears that really had no basis in reality. I told my friend (who, incidentally, had been living and hiking in the Western mountains for the past 6 months, and thus was barely even breathing hard) to walk ahead for 5 minutes and wait for me, and I stopped and gazed, mostly unseeing, out at the gorgeous mountains, willing my throat to relax and my eyes to dry.

I have come to recognize that these moments are likely to happen any time I take myself out of whatever routine I’m in, and jump feet-first into adventure; they have happened on every trip and I’m sure they’ll happen again. That doesn’t make it any easier to cope with in the moment. After all, I’m supposed to be a fierce and strong and independent woman who can do anything, right? It’s tough to claim that when you can’t breathe after walking uphill for a barely more than a mile.

Anyway, I got myself together, set the slowest pace I could manage, and plodded on. I eventually found my friend lounging on the side of the trail. He gave me a smile and said “pull up a rock” as if absolutely nothing was wrong in the world, and I knew it would be ok. I would make it up the hill and through whatever else we planned to do. Maybe slower than I’d like, but I’d get there.

The next day, Thursday, I was feeling better. I had to work that morning, so that afternoon, we did a wonderful – and again relatively easy – trek up to a gorgeous place called Alum Cave Bluff. I’ll share pictures when I get them off my camera; that’s how busy it’s been around here! Anyway, I felt good about the hike – we weren’t speedy, but I didn’t suck wind quite as much. The views were lovely, and we enjoyed a leisurely journey down, stopping to take pictures of the river and the just-beginning-to-turn leaves. At the end of the 4ish miles, as late afternoon was turning to evening, we weren’t ready to be done with the day. So we decided to find a hike we could do in the dark.

My friend, fearless one that he is, would have been fine tackling another 5 miles or so of mountain, but I knew I needed to treat my newly-found confidence with care. So we hopped in the car and drove out a long, winding, one-way road to Trillum Gap, and the trailhead for Grotto Falls. By the time we got there, dusk was falling.

The whole reason I wanted to write this post can be summed up by the first few minutes of this hike. As we started up the trail, 2-3 groups were finishing up, and they all looked a bit askance at us. After all, it was getting dark. But you see, this friend and I have figured out the night hiking thing. Our first hike together ended as an unexpected night adventure, where I was so slow coming down from a NH White Mountain that we had to hike our last 1.3 miles out via one measly flashlight. We’ve climbed to the top of canyon overlooks to take star pictures, and there was that time we got separated, at night, in the middle of Arches National Park (a story for another time). We are prepared; we have headlamps, layers and batteries, plus a healthy appreciation for the invisible power of hidden tree roots.

So as one outgoing hiker suggested we bring carrots to help our vision, and another asked warily, “Um, do you have lights?”, I felt a sense of tremendous satisfaction that we never broke stride, just smiled and said “yes, we do”, and headed off into the evening. How far we’d come…how far I’d come in the years since we started these adventures, that I was actually planning on and really looking forward to a hike up a hill in the dark.

Because, you see, we were heading for a waterfall, and I’d never seen a waterfall at night – at least not one that I’d hiked to. The trek was easy, muddy, and quiet…I don’t remember talking much. As always, I watched my feet and concentrated on breathing. Before long, we could hear the rush of tumbling water, and a few careful steps on slippery rocks later, we glimpsed Grotto Falls. It was lovely, and after a few moments of looking, we both agreed that we needed to get closer, so up we went, this time over some slightly more serious wet, rocky terrain. In fact, we went all the way up and UNDER the falls, and had a riot shining our headlamps on the water to try to take pictures. Well, my friend did, at any rate. For some reason, I left my fancy camera in my bag and on a whim, just held up my iPhone to see if I could capture the contrast of white water reflecting the last smidgen of light left in the day.

I got this:

IMG_0385

When I looked at it on my phone, I gasped. Magical, I thought to myself, then tucked my phone away and headed back to the falls to run my hands under the water.

Then, it was back down the hill by the light of our headlamps. I joked with my friend that this was one time I would not ask him to go ahead of me. I wanted to lead the way down, to enjoy knowing he was right behind me and not likely to wander off, to appreciate the feeling of dawning strength in my legs, and to ponder how incredibly lucky I am to get to see waterfalls in the dark.

When we got back to the car, I didn’t really want to drive away. I stood for a moment, looking up at the black sky, smelling the trees, and wishing I could freeze time so I could always feel how I felt at that moment. But we did have to leave, back down into the reality of what to cook for dinner and the knowledge that life can’t be entirely about wandering in the woods. That’s ok, really. I’m just glad I get to have moments where I know for a fact that no one, other than us, got to see the world as it was on that night. That night, the world was nothing but a waterfall and some rocks to clamor over, and it was more than enough for me.

Advertisements

Hike 21 of the #52hikechallenge: Last time at Ward Reservation

It’s been a while since…a lot of things. Since I took my camera out for a spin. Since I last went hiking. Since I last blogged.

It’s also been a while since I shared plans to leave Boston for a new job and a new adventure…and I won’t lie, it’s been a looong wait to get to this point. One more week of visiting and cleaning and then the final pack and drive and then finally, finally, I will be beginning this much-anticpated new adventure.

It’s also been a long 19 days for the family of Samantha Sayers, a young woman who was hiking in Washington State and vanished on August 1. I stumbled onto the #findsamsayers story thanks to a random post on social media, and I’ve been following it, dare I say, obsessively, since. Initially, I was following it because I was waiting for the interwebs to explode into self-righteous “never hike alone” pontificating (a sore spot for me), but surprisingly, that’s been minimal. What’s happened is a remarkable, wonderful/terrible thing, where literally thousands of people are following this story via facebook, and offering their prayers, hopes, and in some cases, ridiculous attempts at help.

In addition to my heartfelt hope that Sam is found alive, and my sadness for her mom, who has been doing heartbreaking facebook live video posts, I find myself goggling at the bizarre nature of watching this play out on social media. The idea of the virtual prayer circle isn’t new. And it’s pretty amazing and if it gives strength and support to the family, there is nothing I can say against it.

But I have been disappointed and appalled by a lot of the behavior I’ve seen; total strangers speculating that she was kidnapped with no reason to other than having watched too much TV, dozens of people saying some variation of “has anyone thought of checking her phone?”(as if that hadn’t occurred to anyone yet), and others actually messaging the mother – who’s daughter has been missing for 19 days, she has things to do, people! – asking for updates when they don’t think they are coming fast enough. It makes me sad that people feel like they have to somehow become a part of this story. But I guess that’s the world we live in. Everyone wants in on the drama, and everyone has an opinion and is going to express it. But just because we can say something doesn’t mean we should. This also applies to others, like, say, leaders of the free world, but I digress.

Anyway, this little rant composed itself as I was trekking through the woods at one of my favorite New England hikes, Ward Reservation in Andover, MA. It was an easy 4.3 mile ramble, and I couldn’t help but compare the tiny hills to the grand, glorious, dangerous peaks I’ve seen as I’ve learned more about Vesper Peak, where Sam was hiking when she went missing. I hope to someday be badass enough to hike there.

Anyway, I grabbed a couple of pictures of Sadie, but I wasn’t able to really lose myself in the woods this time. Of course, the fact that, just before I snapped this picture, Sadie rolled in something smelly and nasty, didn’t help. Ward Reservation AUgust 2018 (2 of 3)But really, my mind was moving beyond the familiar and lovely views; wondering where I will hike when I’m living near the beach, dreaming of a fall trip to the Smoky Mountains, running over my moving checklist, and yes, thinking about Sam and how much I hope that she is still alive.

So farewell, Ward Reservation, one of the few places I found where Sadie could roam free on the trails. Even thought I wasn’t able to give you all my attention today, I will miss your views of the Boston skyline, your Solstice Stones, your Elephant Rock, your quintessentially New England stone walls, your birches, and your tall, tall pine trees. Ward Reservation AUgust 2018 (1 of 3)

Ward Reservation AUgust 2018 (3 of 3)

Sadie will miss rolling in gross things, climbing the rocks, and sniffing all the ferns.

If you’d like more info on Ward Reservation, visit my previous post here.

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. 😉

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.

IMG_2396

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.

IMG_2400

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.  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.

IMG_2401

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.

Hikes 18 & 19 of the #52hikechallenge: Dogs rule

I won’t lie – it’s getting tougher to find inspiration for the #52hikechallenge these days. I am longing for a trip where I can pack 3 or 4 hikes into a couple of days; I’m longing for a trip that takes me to canyons and mountain lakes and waterfalls. But, my work schedule and some big upcoming projects mean I need to stay close to home and save my pennies. Thus, I head back to my favorite haunts and look for ways to make them seem fresh.

In reality, once I’m out on the trail it’s all good, but it’s the getting there that’s proving harder than it should be. Reading this, I think I’m just lazy and need to get off my ass. Here’s looking at you, next weekend (this weekend I had to clean my apartment – no, I had to, I promise – and it was supposed to rain (it didn’t), so I skipped a week).

20 hikes is so close. I’m behind the pace, but I have high hopes for some trips later this year that will help me catch up before the end of 2018. Anyway, after focusing on my family twice in a row, it seemed fitting that these last two hikes be about my usual hiking companion, my sweet pup Sadie.

Hike 18: Ward Reservation + Boston Hill

I’ve told you of my love of Ward Reservation before. Indeed, since the Trustees of Reservations have recently decided to change their dog policies and demand dogs be on leash at my other favorite, Noanet Woodlands, Ward might now officially be my favorite spot in the Greater Boston area. It’s one of the few remaining places where Sadie and I can explore the woods at our own paces.

This my girl:

IMG_2325 2

She’s going on 9-ish (her actual age, like her Arkansan origins, are a mystery) and she loves being on the trail with me. There’s a zone of about 50 feet from me that she roams in, trotting ahead, then falling behind to sniff all the things, and racing back to me if we get separated. Occasionally, if we’re heading up something, she’ll stop and peek back at me to make sure I’m following. If I stop, she generally stops too; no judgment, just patience. It’s marvelous.

As she gets older, I worry about her stamina, so we don’t usually go beyond 4-5 miles, especially in the summer. This hike was supposed to start early in the day, but as usual I set off later than planned, so by the time we got into it, it was mid-morning and the cool of morning had burned away.

We went in a reverse loop from our normal path, which made for a nice change. We started with the quick hike up to Holt Hill, which features one of my favorite settings and views.

Ward Reservation June 102018 (2 of 8)

Can you see Boston waaay off in the distance on the left side of the horizon?

Then we headed on the blue trail toward Elephant Rock. Along the way, we took a little detour onto Boston hill, which was a narrow, cobwebby trail that snaked around some pretty dense hillside forest. Something back there smelled divine (I think it was honeysuckle?) – more than once I just stopped and stood sniffing for minutes on end. At one point on this trail, Sadie got distracted and fell behind, and I got to enjoy listening for her galloping at full speed down the twisty path once she realized I was out of sight. There is something about this that just makes me happy.

Before we reached Elephant Rock, I noticed this new feature of the trail:

Ward Reservation June 102018 (6 of 8)

I hope you’ll forgive the heavy, sentimental editing hand, but good grief. Can this be any more idyllic for those who travel in twos? Sadie refused to sit with me, by the way.

Approaching Elephant Rock from a different direction made a nice change. This really is one of the prettiest places I know of around here.

Ward Reservation June 102018 (7 of 8)

And then it was back through the forest toward the parking lot. By this point, it was pretty warm and we were getting tired. And of course, Sadie had to find the muddiest creek and slosh about in it. Of course. When we got back to the car, we cranked the AC and celebrated a lovely New England morning spent in the woods. Well, I did, at any rate. Sadie hates the car.

Ward Reservation June 102018 (8 of 8)

Hike 18: Ward Reservation and Boston Hill
Location: Andover, MA
Date: June 10, 2018
Distance: 4.68 miles
Wildlife: Bugs, the occasional squirrel
Notes: Don’t forget your bug spray!


Hike 19: Reservoir Trail, Middlesex Fells Reservation

Next up, a trail we’ve done before, but not since the start of #52hikechallenge.

Middlesex Fells Reservation, or The Fells, as it’s known, is managed by the Department of Conservation and Recreation. It’s a huge property that is pretty close to Boston, just a couple of exits up on Route 93. It’s a lovely place, but dogs have to be on-leash there, so we don’t hike it very often. They do have a huge off-leash dog park at the head of the trails, which is very nice of them.

Anyway, for a trail with a name like Reservoir, there wasn’t much water to be seen on this trek. It’s about a 6-mile loop, and it does indeed loop a couple of reservoirs, but the trail itself is far enough into the woods that water is only seen a few times. This is one of those odd hikes, like in the Blue Hills, where all kinds of trails wind in and around each other, so while one person can be clamoring up some rocks on the Reservoir Trail, a family can be strolling on a flat open path just 20 feet away. As the miles fell away and the temperatures climbed and the views didn’t really impress, I was tempted to bail on the “moderate” trail (it’s really quite easy, actually, despite a few boulder-strewn sections) and just walk by the water, but I persisted.

This hike was an example of another way my dog is amazing: she can do 6 miles on-leash and not pull my arm off. And it really is a good idea to keep your dogs on leash on this trail, because you share it with mountain bikers, and you don’t want to be the one who causes them to take a fall and/or run over your dog.

About 5 miles in, you do get a nice view of the reservoir:

IMG_2345 2

We stopped for a break here, to Sadie’s delight:

IMG_2346

The last stretch of the hike skirted the dog park, and we got a little turned around on the trails behind it, but eventually emerged into the hot sun and trudged back to the car. Sadie was dragging by this point; we stopped for a drink near a tree and she flopped delightedly into the cool grass and could probably have stayed there all day. We both napped when we got home. 🙂

Hike 19: Reservoir Trail, Middlesex Fells
Location: Winchester, MA
Date: June 17, 2018
Distance: 6.3 miles
Wildlife: Bugs, chipmunks, mountain bikers

Hikes 16 and 17 of the #52hikechallenge: Family time

A recent visit to see my new nephew, followed by a parental invasion, led to adding two more hikes to my list. Though they were far from my most challenging, of course I included them, because I got to share love of being outside with the people that matter most to me.

For those who haven’t been following along with my #52hikechallenge – it’s basically a hiking challenge where I try to hike 52 times in a year. So far, I am quite behind, but pressing doggedly forward. I skipped a blog post about #hike15 – it was just a romp through the Blue Hills with nothing terribly exciting to report.


#HIKE16: Lake Lawson, Virginia

This toddler-friendly hike was suggested by my sister-in-law. On a rainy weekend, we managed to find a clear window, and loaded mom, dad, aunt, pre-schooler, 3-month-old, and a giant-ass stroller into the family minivan (which, it’s worth pointing out, had room to spare). It was probably 100% humid out, and it looked like the skies could open at any time, but we were determined.

As we began the route, we strolled along a widely paved path on the way to a playground. Everyone seemed quite comfortable with this level of challenge. 🙂

Lake Lawson (1 of 4).jpgI was worried the playground would be the end of the adventure, but luckily we had our explorers hats on, and we continued into the park.

“Claire,” I said to my niece. “Did you know this is one of my favorite things to do? Walk in the woods?”

I wish I could have captured her face that at moment. She shook her head, answering my question, but also gave me this look as if to say “You are crazy, Auntie.” It was clear this wasn’t her comfort zone, so I began a bit of a campaign to get her to look around and open up her imagination a little bit. As we rounded a corner to an isthmus that speared between two parts of the lake, I heard her say “Whoa!” and knew we were making some progress. As I stopped to snap a couple of pictures, she asked “why are you taking those pictures?” Because the trees are cool, I answered. We agreed that this one was creepy like a spider.

Lake Lawson (2 of 4)

The bridge to the “island” portion of the park held great fascination, and as we cleared, I pointed out where we were on the map and asked Claire if she wanted to keep going around the loop. She nodded yes, and her parents shrugged as if to say “Whatever. You’ll have to carry her if she gets tired.” So off we went to tromp through the woods and make a loop of the island.

Lake Lawson (3 of 4)

The loop was full of mountain laurel and the occasional platform with a view of the lake. Claire and I led the way, with my nephew Elliott in his stroller following behind, and she started to enjoy herself a bit more. We invented songs for the various up, down, and flat portions of the trail (really, it was all pretty flat, but when you’re 4.5, hills are bigger in proportion), and Claire pointed out that the smaller trails leading off the main trails, which had branches growing over, blocking the path, were the “Ouchie Trails”. I got great joy out of imagining using that phrase when I inadvertently led my hiking partners off trail in the future.

After about 1.5 miles, we emerged back onto the paved path as thunder boomed in the distance; our timing was excellent. Claire made it the whole way; auntie was very proud of her. Elliott was unimpressed and slept the whole time.

Hike 16: Lake Lawson
Location: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Date: May 19, 2018
Distance: 1.57 miles
Wildlife:  chipmunks, birds
Notes: The first of many hikes with my niece/nephew, I hope.


#Hike17: Great Blue Hill

It’s become a tradition of sorts when my parents visit; I take them on a hike to some of my favorite trails around Boston. On Memorial Day, instead of heading into the city to play tourist, we headed out of it to play in the woods.

I’ve hiked the Blue Hills many times, but never with my parents in tow. This hike was probably the most challenging one I’ve taken them on, and they rocked it. We started at the Trailside museum parking lot, and took the easy green dot trail for about a mile and a half, maybe. Because my folks are flatlanders, and not habitual hikers, I choose routes that start easy, but generally trust them to get up some of the steeper parts, depending on how things are going.

“Are there any views on this trail?” asked my dad.

“Yes,” I replied, instantly deciding that I would, in fact, lead them up to the top of the hill. So we started up, and my mom’s eyes widened a bit. But slowly, steadily, we made our way up. I love hiking with my parents, because all pressure goes off of me to set a fast pace or minimize how much I’m sucking wind; it’s all about paying attention to them and being sure they know it is totally ok to stop whenever needed. We next hooked up with the red dot trail, which climbed up at a decent slope to the top of Great Blue Hill, which boasts a tower and one of the oldest operating weather stations in the country. It was foggy and cloudy, so the beautiful view of Boston wasn’t visible, but it was still pretty. We snacked while sitting on a rock near the weather tower and agreed this was a pretty great way to spend an afternoon.

The path down was where I wondered if I’d pushed my folks too far. Clamoring down big boulders can actually be harder than going up them (see previous hikes in the Whites and Mt. Monadnock), and it’s easy to roll an ankle or twist a knee.

IMG_2273

But as I said, they rocked it. My mom even got that little jaunt her step at one point – you know, where you could just tell that she was feeling badass. I of course, had to warn her that such moments are usually when I roll my ankle, but lo and behold, they made it down in grand form.

IMG_2271 2

I was very proud of them. And we enjoyed a tasty meal that night that included a fried Mars Bar – without guilt. Well, without much guilt, anyway.

Hike 17: Great Blue Hill
Location: Milton, MA
Date: May 28, 2018
Distance: 2.82 miles
Wildlife:  squirrels, birds