Friday, March 27, 2015

Hiking Catoctin

The last hiking trip was nearly 2 weeks ago, on March 15th.  I haven't blogged at all since then, with (sort of) good reason (that's a story of another blog post).

Anyway, we decided to travel to Catoctin Mountain to try out one of their trails.  This is an area that is not too far from the actual Appalachian Trail, and it's and area that is equidistant between the members of our hiking group.  It also has the most rugged terrain we've hiked so far- closer to the terrain we would encounter on our trip in October. 

We opted to go on the 5 mile round trip hike that took us from the parking lot at the Visitor's Center onto the Falls Nature Trail that leads to Cunningham Falls (also known as McAfee Falls to locals) then on to the Hog Rock Nature Trail to the Blue Ridge Summit Overlook and back down the mountain to the parking lot.  My mom and I both had our packs along to try them out for the first time, and I also had my new "Indiana Jones" hat on for a trial run. 

We started out on the trail easy enough, but it didn't take long for those hills to start killing me.  Basically, I think everyone on the hike realized they had some more work to do to be in trail shape. My pack, which is the new anti-gravity Osprey Aura 65L, was comfortable.  The added weight killed me, but that was because I'm just not in shape and not because of the pack.  I love the pack.  However, my "Indiana Jones" hat isn't going to work for the trail with a pack.  The back of the hat hits the top of the pack and, quite frankly, it drove me insane.  So my son now gets to wear the hat whenever he wants to without having to share it with me (except now he's realized that my cousin has the same Mothman hat that I do, and now he plans on wearing my Mothman hat, which is the baseball cap I planned to use- I can never win).  And I discovered that if I already didn't think hiking poles were essential, I would now.  They really do help take the strain off of your joints, especially on the downhills, which really are worse than the uphills just like everyone says.  In fact, my cousin ended up using my son's poles (he got tired of them) and she has since decided she needs a set of her own. 

My husband and his hiking poles
My cousin (left) and myself
My mom and son and their poles

It was a gorgeous day- our first real taste of spring after getting hit with some snow earlier in the week.  The views from the summit were spectacular and Cunningham Falls was beautiful as always.  I definitely want to hike here again, and there are a few other trails that we haven't been on yet, though I hear they have pretty steep uphills.  As it was, my son, who has a fear of heights, was pretty nervous near the summit.  His exact words were, "I'm pretty sure there's an 80% chance of dying here.  I've been looking, but I haven't seen any skulls yet."

Despite the abnormally high chance of death, the aches and pains and feelings of discouragement, I enjoyed the hike.  I think that was something we could all agree on.  And I was extremely proud of my son who managed the whole difficult 5 miles without too much whining- I'm pretty sure I whined more and tool more breaks than he did.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

All Who Wander

"Not all those who wander are lost" is a line from a poem written by J.R.R. Tolkien that always resonated with me.  While I don't know the specific meaning of the line based on the actual Tolkien book (because I've never read any of his books), for me it says that sometimes you need to journey to find yourself.  That even though some people might think you're floundering around, you're actually learning how to find your way. It's similar to the idea that it isn't the destination that matters but the journey it takes to get there. 

There have been many struggles in my life in the last 20 years- some bigger than others- that had me feeling as though I had completely lost who I was.  I don't really consider it a mid-life crisis but more of a life crisis as I've felt like this for some time.  Just somehow in the life choices I made and the people I encountered and the things that I had to go through, I was not the person I wanted to be.  Or rather I didn't really know anymore what kind of person I wanted to be.  I know I'm not alone in those thoughts.  I'm sure there are many other people out there thinking the same thing.  As I mentioned in my post about how this hiking trip came to be, I had found an old list written on a post-it note of things I wanted to accomplish before I was 30.  I hadn't completed any of them.  And the moment I had it in my mind to plan this trip- even before I actually voiced my intentions to others and actually started to plan the actual logistics- there was a sort of awakening.  Something I thought was lost started trickling back. 
Lately I've had one struggle after another and sometimes I just want to lay my head down and just give up.  Just let the depression take over because it feels easier.  But that little awakening, that little tiny bit of light that started was enough to keep me going.  It's gone from a tiny pinprick to a beam, and every time I struggle, I just focus on this trip. 
I've been learning that it really is the journey that is important.  And by journey I'm not just talking about the actual 40 (or 60) mile hike.  I'm talking about all the planning and prepping that is going on before the actual hike.  Because while preparing, good things have happened.  I've turned an acquaintance into a friend.  I've discovered some health issues before they developed into more serious issues.  I've become healthier by starting to eat better and by joining the gym and being more physically active.  I've been spending quality time with family outside every week- which means my 8 year old son is also outside hiking and not playing a tablet or DS.  I've gained online acquaintances with like minded people on Facebook groups and in doing so I've learned quite a bit.  I've had my long ago interest in the paranormal reignited while doing research about the Appalachian Trail.  And I've begun seriously thinking about writing a book (which was on that post-it note list) about some of the paranormal things I've come across in my research.  And I'm excited.  
This is just the beginning.  This one hike is just the first because I've already set the new goal of completing the entire AT section by section.  I'm liking this new person I'm becoming.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Hiking at Gettysburg

 Once again, the weather threw a wrench in our weekend hiking plans. 
 Our area received 12 inches of snow this past Thursday, 
and that meant 12 inches of snow on the trails.  
So we took off to Gettysburg Battlefield again. 
Feeling a little more adventurous, we decided to go off road a bit and try one of the trails.

Of course, you can't actually see the trail when it's covered with 12 inches of snow. 
 I'm fairly certain that we were following more of a deer trail,
 if we were even following a trail at all.  
But that didn't really matter since the sun was shining
 and the temperature was near 50 degrees.

My son told me several times that if he didn't have his new trekking poles 
and hiking boots
he would have probably fallen off the "mountain"
(it was barely a hill, no steep drops, no cliffs just a gentle sloping hill).
We hiked to a peaceful spot along Rock Creek.
And I tried distracting the 8 year old 
by pointing out tracks in the snow 
and teaching him how to identify them.
(these are rabbit prints).
In total, we did about 3.5 miles
which isn't bad for throwing together a plan last minute.
Hoping next week we'll get to do something a little more strenuous.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Happiest Place on Earth

I had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of my tax refund so I could finally go shopping at REI for a decent pair of hiking boots and my pack.  I finally had the opportunity to head to the nearest REI this past weekend with my husband, mother, son and friend.  All of us (except my 8 year old son) are going on the big trip in October.
Let me stop here and explain the reasons why I love REI.
1. The knowledgeable staff: you ask them a question, they know the answer and if they don't know the answer, they will get another staff member who does know the answer.  And they're all very friendly.
2. REI Membership benefits- You pay $20 for a membership and you get paid dividends on certain purchases that you can use towards more purchases or cash out.
3. The Return Policy (if you're a member): If you buy boots and you wear them on the trail and suddenly they don't feel like the right boots, you can take them back within a year of the purchase date!  My mom posed the question last week "What if I spend all that money on a pack and I find out I just don't like back packing?" I said "Take it back."
4. REI Garage Sales: The items that are returned that can't be put back on the shelf to sell at regular price are sold in a "garage sale" every few months at a discounted price.

So, back to the shopping excursion.  Myself, my friend and my husband all needed new hiking boots.  I had done my research prior (my mom already had her boots so I picked the brain of her sales associate) and knew which ones I was pretty sure I wanted to try.  When you try on boots at REI, they have you walk on "the rock" to make sure your toes aren't going to hit the front of the boot.  In the end, my mom, myself and my friend all ended up with the same exact boot except for each of us being a half size different from each other.  My husband got the men's version of the same boot, and my son even scored the kid's version of the same boot in the garage sale.
Also scored at the garage sale was an oil skin hat that reminded me of Indiana Jones.  I scored a $50 hat for $12 because when it was returned it smelled of cigarette smoke.  But, by the time I bought it, there was only the smell of the oil skin.  The only problem is my son keeps taking the hat.  In fact, he's wearing it to school today for "Hat Day".  So I'll probably have to find one of his own because I'm not giving up the one I purchased.  I hum the Indiana Jones theme song every time I wear it.  A bull whip purchase might be next.
So after the boots and the garage sale, I finally made it over to the packs and picked mine out.  Again, I had done my research and had settled on an Osprey Aura 65L.  The newest model for this year comes with a new "anti-gravity" feature and if purchased at REI came with the rain cover and a 3L dry sack.  So I got sized and got ready to try out the pack with 30 pounds of weight in it.  This has been my biggest worry about the whole thing- carrying a pack.  This worry came from a trip I took out to the UFO Ranch in Washington.  I used my brother's large pack and crammed it full of all the things I needed (we had to take all our camping gear across country in a plane).  I think it weighed almost 50 pounds and when I was walking through the airport with it I made the comment that I'd never go back packing.  So here was the moment of truth- I put on the pack at REI and was shocked at how much lighter it felt than what I was expecting.  Not that it was light, but it wasn't 50 pounds shoved into a too big pack.  It fit well and it felt doable.  So all my worries are gone and I'm even more excited about this whole experience.  My mom also got her pack.  We'll be trail twins as she got the same one I did.  We'll have to tie different ribbons to them or something to be able to tell them apart.

All in all it was a productive and fun day.  My family scored 3 sets of hiking boots, 3 pairs of hiking socks, a pack and a cool Indiana Jones-esque oil skin hat.  My mom got her pack and my friend got her boots, some socks and some purchases at the garage sale too.
So, all there is for me to get is my husband's pack, the tent, 1 or 2 sleeping bags (I haven't decided if I want to try to see if my existing one will work), 1 sleeping pad, the water filtration system and the stove- though my cousin (who is going) has 2 stoves so I might not need one (but I might want one).

It was a great shopping trip with fun people and nearly made up for the fact that the next day we got snow and ice and had to cancel the weekly hiking plans.  Hopefully March will bring warmer temperatures and no rain on the weekend (and no snow at all)