A New Thing to Do

I think it is good to do something new, every once in a while, if you can find something. Finding something new to do is not always easy, but it really helps to  hang out with someone younger. Someone who does things that you didn’t know about.

Now this could be an introduction to several things, but what I’m actually referring to is geo-caching.

It’s an odd sport, but I saw it in action the last couple of days and I think it has a certain charm. For me, at least, it attracts me in the same way as doing jig saw puzzles, playing Microsoft solitaire challenges, or hunting down sea shells at the beach. It calls for a focus, a dedication to the hunt, and possible putting up with some inconvenience.

We were walking in the forest, on a treacherous unpaved path with tree roots and rocks grabbing at our shoes as we climbed steep embankments. Julia, as usual, was paying no attention to the path but was fixated on her phone. She said we were near a geo-cache and she was going into the woods to find it. She handed me the dog’s leash, and the dog and went off the path and disappeared into the brush. The wait was rather long. I was developing a story plot in my mind about a girl finding a cache (whatever that was) and falling into an alternate universe as she grabbed it, never to be seen again. A man and woman came by on the path and as I felt awkward standing there doing nothing, I explained what I was waiting for – a person who had gone looking for a metal box hidden out there somewhere.

I finally heard a shout, which sounded excited, and I attributed it to a successful find. But there was still a long wait before she was seen or heard returning. It is customary to open the box when it is found and leave a record on a small notebook, or leave an object as proof of your presence. As with much of today’s fun, an app on a mobile phone is responsible for announcing the nearness of a geo-cache and guiding the way to it, within a small margin of error.

20170926_180757
Yes, we are never free from our phones, even out in the forest it seems.

Today we went hiking again. Wanting to see how easily this sport could be called up, I asked if there were any geo-caches in the area and Julie turned on her app to find out. There were several, and they were not too far away. The hunt was on.

It took us 30 minutes to find the first one after we reached the area. We are in a forest downed trees, brambles, ravines and all sorts of natural obstacles strewn about. The forest floor is covered with leaves and debris. The clue given to us, as I remember it, was to look on the downhill side of the path for a fallen log, with some parallel sticks on its uphill side. We also had a picture of a little boy holding the box by the log. It’s a forest. There are fallen logs everywhere, parallel sticks are not scarce either. As I said, it took us 30 minutes. Julie found it. She was quite pleased because this improved her record, having now found more caches than the ones she had tried to find and missed.

20170926_174958
Find a log with some sticks by it. Sure, no problem.

A mile or so later we were following another clue – find the cache not more than 50 feet from the path, on a fence line between a pine and a hardwood. I saw the fence line first. That was my only contribution. Julie found this one too and our only disappointment was not finding a pen in the box so we could record our presence. We took a picture instead – at least we know we were there.

20170926_174919
One of Julie’s finds – the one by the log obviously.

We finished the hike discussing where we could hide our own geo-caches, and how we would carry pens with us next time – enough of them so we could leave one in the box if necessary. I would dearly love to get rid of some of the many pens I have accumulated and this would be a fun way to do it. My only problem is that my phone’s storage space is full of apps I don’t use and can’t get rid of (thank you Verizon) so I have no room for the geo-caching app. I may have to get a new phone, just sayin’…

The Wind

Who has seen the wind? Neither you nor I. But when the trees bow down their heads, the wind is passing by.   Christina Rossetti

It is a noisy morning here – blowers, saws, vehicles coming and going – and out on the street emergency trucks are dealing with the downed electrical wires and traffic is down to one lane, taking turns going east and west.

20170505_064219
Emergency vehicles converge on a dark morning

Last night it started to rain. I was awake and heard it intensify, hitting the metal roof. The main gust of wind was frightening and I remember being thankful we were in a cement block structure. It was short and quieted down immediately after. The intermittent beep of the smoke alarm, like a low battery signal, was all I heard until my daughter got up and took it down. The electricity was off, but we went back to sleep without a clue to the chaos we would see at daylight.

20170505_064459

The beautiful farm where daughter Julia rents a small house, sustained heavy wind damage in that storm.  Our view of the main house, out her front door, was obscured by the giant oak that had fallen. Oh, the trees, it makes my heart sick – anyone who has read my blog knows how I feel about trees. Just last night we had the sad job of burying Rodgey the cat in a garden area next to several beautiful trees, on a mound with a swing attached to them. The garden is now invisible and covered with the limbs of those trees that were ripped off. A large cattle feeder from an adjoining field was deposited under what is left of one of them. Oddly, the swing is still there.20170505_095601

There are several areas of downed board fencing, a couple of them right on the road. A herd of mini horses that were kept in that field evidently left through the break and came back in again in a different place. They were racing around loose in the back of the barns when Julie found them.  Her own horses were safe and in place, but the shelter in their field was dismantled and distributed all over the pasture to the north. The fence was gone there too.

 

20170505_07010720170505_070116

The owner of the farm has come to survey the damage. She is a businesswoman who has a construction company of some kind and has already dispatched many of her workmen to the farm to clean up the damage. Indeed, there are already blowers and chippers running everywhere and loads of limbs being hauled off. “It will look better by the end of the day,” she told us. But it will look different than it did before the storm.

20170505_08075520170505_064334

As we look around outside, it is very obvious that we were spared loss of life, and even serious property damage. It’s a strange sort of day here.

20170505_074329-1
Dr. Julia taking Rocker and Fea to a safer paddock.

North Carolina Hiking

20170502_151347Today was a good day. I accomplished two things. I tested out a new pair of hiking boots and I stretched myself physically to see if anything was going to break. So far, nothing has.

We are visiting our daughter in North Carolina. I have been looking forward to this visit for several reasons – one of them being the hiking terrain that’s available there. Today was Julia’s day off from work so we went looking for some mountains.

About an hour from Greensboro is Hanging Rock State Park and there are mountains there very similar to other places on the AT that I have hiked in the past.  The rock outcroppings at the tops of these wooded ridges are so dramatic. I couldn’t help but thinking of the violent seismic forces that must have pushed them up at such angles. And what a beautiful ride there! North Carolina is all leafed out and green, fields are planted, and rhododendron is blooming along the roadside as you get to higher elevations.  The sun was shining and there was just enough breeze to keep us cool.

The state park has no admission fee so we drove in, parked near the visitor center and got a trail map. The girl manning the information desk marked out a trail for us. I told her we were ambitious and wanted some up and down time, so she suggested an 11 mile route that visited five outstanding spots. We honestly had no idea how this was going to feel for us, and I was glad there were several optional places to quit our route and get back to the car.

20170502_134333
Photo op after peeling off first layer of jackets

We set off around 1 pm, Julie had Tess the dog with her, and I carried the backpack with water and snacks. We soon peeled off our first layer of jackets, mostly out of embarrassment as we passed people in shorts and tank tops, and partly because we started climbing and sweating right away. The main feature, Hanging Rock, was first on the list. We saw lots of people on this trail, all ages and hiking abilities. There were benches at convenient resting spots.  The trail is well maintained but it is rocky in places with uneven footing. It’s sometimes steep, but the view at the top is worth the climb. The rocky outcroppings allow one to see wide expanses of the valleys on both sides, east and west. Although there is ample room at the top for people to spread out and rest awhile on the rocks, there are no barriers anywhere and the vertical drops are scary. (What I’m saying is that if you had carried your young child up there, you would want to hold on to them. Every. Minute.)

20170502_135905
Tess was so good on this trip, but she was on leash up here, for sure.

We had a snack and then doubled back on the trail to the next outcropping, Wolf Rock. It and the next two, House Rock and Cook Wall, were reached along the next five or six miles along a ridge. Ridgewalking is somewhat of a relief because it has fewer steep climbs or descents. This trail is forested and shady except on the outcroppings. The path varies from soft forest floor to tangled root stair steps and ragged rock slabs and boulders. You spend a lot of time looking down for safe places for feet to land. There were fewer people to share the trail with us after Hanging Rock since the other features are visited less. However, they were all worth seeing.  We decided to head back without going to Moores Wall, the last on our route. Our feet were beginning to feel the rocks and over eight miles (five hours) of unaccustomed hiking were making my legs feel a little rubbery.  Besides, the dog was really tired.

20170502_162513
A gorgeous spot along one of the ridges

It is true that the descending path can be harder or as hard as the climb up – you feel the strain in other places though. The last mile was mostly level ground that followed a clear brook, spilling out of Magnolia Spring and emptying into a beautiful lake.  I saw there a sign for a trail I hadn’t heard about before, The MTS or Mountain to Sea, not that I need another trail to add to the list.

20170502_152038
Julia, with a milkshake on her mind. Can you tell?

Julia is a wizard at finding her favorite treats and evidently a milk shake had been on her mind for the last few miles of the hike. We found one of those at the Milk Bar in Walnut Cove. It was the perfect end to a great day of hiking.

 

 

Times and Travels: Hiking the AT cont.

Four hikers set out in the rain. Bonding misery takes place.

wp-1490023030688.jpg
Esther, goofing around at a dry, warm lunch stop (just trying to keep mom alive).

 

Day 3

Did I mention that the temp dropped? 38 degrees F.! Most everyone has hats, gloves, sweaters and warm stuff on and I am thinking sadly of the clothing I decided to leave home. Jerry and Shelley, Gingerbear and Mercury , the newlyweds and others who shared the shelter with us, all got themselves fed and headed out. We draped our wet things on our packs and, wearing all our dry things, headed for Bly Gap. We reached it around lunch time and had just taken a few bites when it started to rain, again. We put our wet clothes back on in order to save our dry ones, and quickly got going for the next shelter.

The next four hours had three long climbs, in wind that nearly blew us over, and very little environmental shelter. It was easier to stay warm if I kept moving but when the only choice was to move up, I was hardly going fast enough to be considered in motion. Esther was ahead of me singing “the hills are alive with the sound of… blah, blah”.  I was thinking it was good the hills were alive, since I was almost dead.  But her singing kept me going. I think she was afraid I would sit down and succumb to hypothermia.

We got to Muskrat Creek Shelter about 4 pm. I played Elijah (from the Bible story) and made some wet wood burn – truly a miracle which amazed everyone.  Electing to go without mice this time, Esther set up the tent for us. We crawled into our sacks feeling almost too cold to sleep.

wp-1490023069072.jpg
She, whose fingers still worked, set up the tent with this wonderful attitude.

Day 4

Ice on the picnic table! I am so glad we slept in the tent last night. It was warmer and less drafty than the shelter, but that is still not saying it was warm. I slept in fetal position all night. My fingers were so cold I could hardly get the damp tent folded up and packed. Esther made breakfast. At least it was a clear and sunny morning.

On the trail by 9 am. By 10 am we were stopping to take off layers of clothes – how quickly things changed. Lunch at Deep Gap and we were finally warm! It was so beautiful there.

wp-1490023112745.jpg
Hiking long ridges is absolutely the BEST!

This was our longest day, hiking 12 miles, but it was mostly flat or downhill with only gradual climbs. Esther started to feel some twinges in her knee on the downhill stretches and we had to consider what we would do if it got worse for her.

We made Carter Gap at 6:30 and we had the shelter all to ourselves! Esther and I scouted out the nearby spring and, never one to forego cleanliness, Esther decided to wash her hair (not easy in a freezing mountain spring, coming out of a hole in the ground, brrr).

My legs and feet were sore and I felt generally awful. We had been warned that there were bear around with no fear of humans, and that a pack had been torn apart, so I hung a bear rope all by myself and prepared to string our food packs up. Esther set up the tent again. We ate supper and talked with Dave from Australia who wandered in. To sleep around 9 pm.

to be continued

Times and Travels: Hiking the AT

I have tried for days now to find my journal of the first AT hike – I’m coming up with nothing, although I know I’ve seen it somewhere. But I have the record of the second hike from 2004.

Finding people to hike with can be a bit of a problem. Someone has to be able to get time off and really want to do this. That narrows down the prospective pool of hikers. I found three women online who were interested in planning with me and we corresponded for a couple months before our hike. One of them hurt her ankle right before the hike and couldn’t go. 

Day 1

wp-1489972943257.jpg
Our packs look a little overwhelming, but we need it all, probably.

A good start from my daughter’s house in Tampa. Just enough clouds to make easy driving. We met Lorraine for the first time in person. She was nice and talked easily so we got to know each other pretty well.  I forgot all my vitamins and pills at Esther’s so we stopped at a grocery store to replace it all (plus a cake server, don’t ask…). Other than that we only stopped once for breakfast in Gainesville, and once for gas in Tifton, getting into Franklin N.C. about 4:30 pm. Another of our hiking buddies, Elyse, and her husband were waiting at the motel. The last member, Kenton, came a few minutes later.

We decided to do the car drop at our end point, Wayah Gap. What a beautiful drive up in the mountains! We had a real dinner (maybe our last for a while) and then went back to the motel to go through our gear one final time. Our packs still look too heavy.

 

wp-1489973032046.jpg
Hopefully not our last meal, but perhaps our last GOOD meal for a while.

Day 2

I am up first and out to the lobby to journal. There are big storm clouds out there and 70% chance of rain. Are we being stupid?

I barely survived the ride to Dick’s Creek crammed in Elyse’s small Blazer (actually I was stuck to the ceiling). Dick’s Creek. Who is Dick? I want to know. We took parting pictures and got on the trail by 10 am.

wp-1489677715707.jpg
Kenton, Lorraine, Elyse, me and Esther. This is a hike, not a fashion show. 

We had only a few sprinkles for the first two hours, which was kind of cool and pleasant. Then it started to pour, which was nothing but cold and unpleasant. We put garbage bags over our packs and that worked fairly well. But our ponchos only kept part of our bodies dry. By the time we reached Plum Orchard Gap we were soaked head to foot, either with rain or sweat, it didn’t much matter which.

We crowded into a trail shelter with 10 other wet, smelly people at about 1 pm. This left a lot of afternoon and evening to sit and do… yes, what? Dry off? Hardly. The temperature started dropping so we huddled in our sleeping bags after supper and listened to mice for the next eight hours. May I never have to repeat a night like this. Saw my first “bear bag” cables.

wp-1489973269082.jpg
Esther in her deluxe upper shelf (where most of the mice were). This was before five other hikers joined her. My cold, wet finger on the lens, sorry.

 

 

Times and Travels: Revisiting the AT

wp-1489677768868.jpg
Countless stunning views on the trail

Last night when I should have been sleeping I was instead thinking about how I would get back to my car after hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail. This is a step beyond getting time to do it, or finding a suitable section to hike. I am in the commitment stage.

It has been a long time since my first hike in 2002, with four high school girls. We were all newbies.

wp-1489677629641.jpg
Seriously, we were blessed to have made it out alive.

And thirteen years since my last hike in2004 (when we could have died in freezing rain).

wp-1489677715707.jpg
The lady with the crutches backed out (for obvious reasons). 39 degrees, brrrr. Seriously, we were blessed to have made it out alive.

It takes longer than that for a dream to die however, and countless times I have gotten the maps out, looked at the pictures and considered possible hiking companions. I finally have hopes of getting back on the trail, possibly for this year’s birthday treat in April. The excitement is building.

Hiking the AT is kind of like birthing a baby. It’s an arduous process, but if you wait long enough you forget the horrible parts and remember the joy. I want to re-visit those times, all of them, and make sure I remember the ones that are crucial to health and safety.

One of my reasons for wanting to hike now is to see what damage the last thirteen years have done to my body. Another dream of mine, hiking down into the Grand Canyon, is scheduled for this fall and I need to know if I can do it. Since I have reasons for being in North Carolina these days (daughter Julie’s new home), some trips on the AT will be good conditioning and a test of my stamina. A friend has offered a place to stay in Franklin, NC and there are several sections near there that I’ve not done. It feels good to have a fun challenge and a goal on my list.

I didn’t have a blog back then and I’ve never published a good account of all we saw and did on those hikes. I’m going to do it now as a way of remembering. The 2017 A to Z Challenge is coming up in April too so I have a lot of writing to do in the days ahead.  Hiking and writing, two of my favorite things, should make this a fun spring. Just sayin’…

Ordinary Times and Travels: Signs

I was in danger of becoming discouraged yesterday.  My job for the last two days has been to give an outside look to the house listings being sent to my daughter from the realtor. There are so many variables to keep in mind and each variable has a priority assigned to it. Price, distance to work, adequate space, animal friendliness, resale value… I could go with this list, but you get the idea. I went south of the city the first day and north of it today.

The first place today was a no show. I could not find a house or a driveway at the supposed address after driving for 30 minutes to reach it. The second place was somewhat less disappointing but certainly not a place Dr. J would have liked to live. I was stoked for the third place to be really awesome. How could it not be? It was time for some good news. After many turns, roads getting smaller and smaller, this is the sign that marked the last gravel lane.

wp-1487428833509.jpg
Some people have welcome signs, then there are others…

 

With that message in mind, I started thinking about what I’d read that morning before setting out, a specific message in scripture that is pretty commanding. “Don’t let your heart be troubled.” And along with that were words from Jesus promising to love me and send the Holy Spirit to guide me.  I’m not saying the Holy Spirit was looking over multiple listing for the perfect house for Julie. But it does seem to be a promise from someone who is faithful and loves me, that I will have guidance when I ask for it, if I love him, trust him and am obedient. The question is not whether God is guiding me in this small thing. The question is what is he guiding me toward or away from. In this instance, if God were a realtor he would be saying “location, location, location…”

As Julia and I look over listings on the internet, I see our focus changing a little. Maybe we are listening to guidance. It’s interesting to watch for signs, of all kinds.

I saw another sign the other day. I pulled in to fuel up the truck for my day’s adventures and got stalled at the gas pump looking for the credit card slot. There wasn’t one. There was a sign which surprised me enough that I had to post a pic on Facebook.

wp-1487457719161.jpg

I paid the cashier and told him I didn’t remember the last time I saw a “pump first” sign. He very calmly told me I had been traveling in the wrong neighborhoods. Sometimes I do get the sense that the climate here is a little quieter, less oriented to crime and its prevention. That would be nice, just saying…

Ordinary Times and Travels: North Carolina

wp-1487255446685.jpg
View out the kitchen window. Could it be prettier? No.

I am in North Carolina for about 10 days, staying with eldest daughter Julia. She has recently moved here to start a new job with Carolina Equine. She is an equine veterinarian. She left her previous work in Jacksonville, FL over Christmas vacation and is gradually getting moved. It hasn’t been fun or easy for her, and moving is quite often a risky endeavor. How do you know it will be better for you in the new place? You don’t, really.

North Carolina has been a dream of hers for a long time. I think it started when we visited a friend’s house in the Nantahala area. It was cooler than Florida and had interesting terrain with streams, mountains, and forests.  Later on, we went hiking on the Appalachian Trail and saw more of the state’s mountainous western side. We’ve spent a week in Charlotte years ago. We’ve heard glowing tales from friends who have moved to the state – that’s it. Somehow the dream grew from these beginnings.

I feel that it was divine providence that Julia found a temporary place to live. She was worried about finding an affordable rental that wouldn’t require a long lease. She wants very badly to find property of her own where she can finally settle and unpack. She has not had a place she could really call her own since she left for school eight years ago. One of the clients of the practice she works for has a small rental house on their horse ranch and offered it to her. She can’t unpack and is still surrounded by boxes but it is a comfortable abode and the ranch is so beautiful it is going to be hard to leave.

wp-1487255341345.jpg
Over 100 acres of field and woods, loved and cared for by Cesario the ranch hand.

Of course, the husband and I are interested in all this because she is our daughter, but also because we have entertained the thought of moving here as well. We have been wanting to live nearer to family, specifically our daughters, for a while, praying about it and considering where and when.

So, here I am, determined to find out some things about Greensboro, NC. I am learning my way around the roads, looking at the neighborhoods and trying to imagine living here.  I’m trying to help while I’m here by fixing some meals and, as usual, cleaning the old food out of the refrigerator. I find it strange that after years of not liking to cook, it now seems that is one of the ways I am most useful to people. I had better start to like it. I clean, I take care of pets, I get groceries. Ordinary times are the norm, and that’s good because ordinary times are wonderful.

wp-1487255407018.jpg
Horse trailer, pick up truck, Tess the dog, Todd Rogers the cat – all part of ordinary life with Dr. J.