Instead of Hiking Along, Hiking Alone

Tuscarora Trail in PA

Tuscarora Trail in PA

When was the last time you went outside your comfort zone? It is really easy to be content with the known, with what we can control. Often fear about what will be encountered and self-doubt prevent us from seeking the exhilaration and confidence when taking a risk. Of course, there are people in the world who thrive on risk-taking and are adrenaline junkies who constantly seek and earn the next physical and mental rush.

Two days ago, I went outside my comfort zone and took a twelve-mile solo hike on the Tuscarora and Standing Stone trails in Pennsylvania. I am definitely not an adrenaline junkie which I place at ten on a risk-taking spectrum with zero being the person who day-in, day-out maintains the same routine never venturing from it. I put myself at a solid seven; still have a fear of heights but resolved mine of snakes and bears. I don’t have a fear of being alone but have always preferred being in the company of people and therefore have not ventured or adventured solo much in my life until the last two years. I started small by doing local hikes and long trail runs and car camping at a campground by myself – all situations where I was alone but not really. There were still people around me. On Saturday, I upped the ante and hiked the Tuscarora and Standing Stone trails in Pennsylvania because I believed I would be ALONE. And I was. I hiked from 9:30 am to 1:45 pm, eleven miles, without seeing or hearing one person. It was just me, the trail, the trees and the animals. My companions were deer, a turkey, a black bear, many types of butterflies, squirrels, chipmunks, vultures, woodpeckers and tons of spiders, many of which ended up on my body because I broke their webs on the trail.

Marbled Orb Weaver & Great Spangled Fritillary

Marbled Orb Weaver & Great Spangled Fritillary

Did my heart thump when I began the hike? You bet! During the first two miles, I was a bit anxious, in addition to being in and out of my head. Kind of like when my yoga instructor says “acknowledge those thoughts that present themselves in your mind and let them pass”.  Well many thoughts presented themselves, usually questions about the unknown of that day’s journey or reflections about the relationships in my life. However, as my feet pounded out more miles, my shoulders shrunk from my ears, my head rotated around to observe and my thoughts became present on the there and now, particularly as I scrambled many rock outcroppings on the ridge.

Standing Stone Trail

Standing Stone Trail

Over the last fourteen years, I have been accustomed to having kids, whether my own, customers or students, surround me on the trail. Therefore, it felt foreign on Saturday to not have small feet pressing forward in front of me on the trail tread. At first, I saw them and heard their voices in my head but as I grew more comfortable with my aloneness on the trail that vision and those voices faded and the hike became mine.photoGridImage

Summer Snapshots Through a Kid’s Lens

Kids in summer conjure visions of endless outdoor possibilities with limitless carefree time that create adventures with stories to remember for a lifetime. The best part of being a kid is living in the here and now. Nature gives adults the ability to soak in through our senses the presence of life; whereas, nature enables children to live through their imagination to experience life with their senses .

Summer is the ultimate time for families to share adventure in nature, particularly with Earth’s biggest natural resource water. Chasqui Mom and I partnered up again (Summer Snapshot Through a Personal Lens) this year to celebrate (and cry a little) summer’s end with a montage of contributor’s favorite photos taken this summer of kids in nature, whether their own children or those in their community. These photos exhibit the creativity with which kids interact with nature and their feelings about it as expressed on their faces and through their body language.

Chasqui Mom and daughter taking a hiking break at Emerald Lake in Sequoia National Park. Photo by Melissa Avery

Chasqui Mom and daughter taking a hiking break at Emerald Lake in Sequoia National Park. Photo by Melissa Avery

Middle Patuxent River in Columbia, MD at a Columbia Families in Nature hike. Photo by Chiara D'Amore

Families hiking along and playing in the Middle Patuxent River in Columbia, MD organized by Columbia Families in Nature. Photo by Chiara D’Amore

Idaho's City of Rocks National Reserve. Photo by Michael Lanza of The Big Outside

Family and friends adventuring in City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho. Photo by Michael Lanza of The Big Outside

Hiking to a swimming hole in Bentonville, VA. Photo by Holly Rothrock

Brother and sister hiking to a swimming hole in Bentonville, VA. Photo by Holly Rothrock

La Jolla, CA. Photo by Melissa Wilson Busby

Brother and sister making drip castles in La Jolla, CA. Photo by Melissa Wilson Busby

Hiking Skellig Island, Ireland. Photo by John Lucas

Hiking Skellig Island, Ireland. Photo by John Lucas

Playa Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. Photo by Mike Sauter

At the beach in Playa Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. Photo by Mike Sauter

Hiking above the Mississippi River in Alma, Wisconsin. Photo by Christine Jasper of Smart with a Twist

Hiking above the Mississippi River in Alma, Wisconsin. Photo by Christine Jasper of Smart with a Twist

Anticipating the chill of Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire. Photo by Allison Corbett of Allison Corbett Photography

Anticipating the chill of Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire. Photo by Allison Corbett of Allison Corbett Photography

Horseback riding at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Photo by Liz Dart Caron

Horseback riding at Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Photo by Liz Dart Caron

Which photograph is your favorite in this collection that embodies the spirit of kids in nature?  Share your choice in the comment box.

And you ask, what is my favorite photograph that I took of kids in nature this summer? Air and water are the backdrop. The photo epitomizes kids, nature and summer. Curious? Head to Chasqui Mom’s blog post to see it.

Share your favorite “kids in nature” photograph you took this summer on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Tag @ChasquiMom and @HikingAlongKids and hashtag #outdoorfamilies with your photo.

Until next summer!

Family #Backpacking in Sequoia National Park

IMG_6317I’m an idealist, a glass half-full kinda gal and always seeking the next greatest idea, particularly when it comes to adventure in the outdoors. Therefore, my plans for our summer vacation were no exception – cram as much family adventure in as many national parks as I could in two weeks. During the spring, I laid out the plans over a family dinner and immediately I was hit with the reality check. So I scaled back a bit and added a few days at the end in San Francisco to appease my kids desire.

What I was most excited about was a backpacking trip in the Mineral King area of Sequoia National Park. My original plan was to do one in Yosemite to get away from the crowds but after reading Michael Lanza’s family backpacking trip in Sequoia, I was hooked by his description of the beauty. I bought a Tom Harrison map of the Mineral King area as suggested and began planning. My excitement grew.

IMG_6305There are three loops approximately 25-35 miles in length that start from the last two trail heads at the end of the Mineral King road, Sawtooth and Franklin Pass. After examining their length, elevation gain and suggested camp locations, I determined my family didn’t have enough time to do any of the loops. I figured they (my kids in particular, ages 13 and 9) could backpack 5-6 miles a day with 2,000 plus feet of elevation gain at elevation which was the only difference from a backpacking trip I did with them two years previous in the White Mountains. To help us acclimate to the elevation from our normal DC sea level, I scheduled the backpacking trip at the end of our vacation after hikes and camping at elevations above 7,000 feet.

I deviated from my desired plan to backpack the Sawtooth Pass loop that would take us over and past many beautiful alpine lakes and jagged peaks to the more realistic itinerary of Monarch and Crystal Lakes. With our wilderness permit confirmed, I began planning the trip’s logistics, in particular packing the equipment for our plane ride to San Francisco.

IMG_6293After ten days in Point Reyes National Seashore, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks, we woke early and began our, what turned out to be, long drive on very curvy roads. We’d already experienced curvy roads throughout our vacation but this drive was crazy curvy. From Giant Forest to the Foothills park entrance, we experienced many hairpin turns and dropped about 5,000 feet in elevation to have to go back up that on the Mineral King Road. The drive on the Mineral King Road is 25 miles long on a narrow, not-well maintained road with approximately 580 curves, expected drive time 1.5 hours. The whole drive took us three hours. As I reflect on mistake number one; we should have stayed the night at Cold Spring or Atwell campgrounds or Silver City resort before starting our backpacking trip.

My daughter has always had a weak stomach. The norm has been to keep ziplock bags in the back seat and even then we had many clean up jobs. I brought Bonnaire but forgot to give it to her – mistake number two – and sure enough the nausea began. About half way up the Mineral King road with all the windows down, she called out, “I’m going to throw up.” She flung open the door and lost her breakfast on the pavement. All of a sudden, our son barfs, only he didn’t make the asphalt but instead his lap. Clean-up in….

IMG_6298All returned to normal in the car and we made it to the trailhead after getting chicken wire for our car at Silver City (to prevent marmots from eating the hoses under the car) and getting a bear canister at the ranger station. After some backpack adjusting, we headed 4.2 miles up 2,500 feet at noon for Monarch Lake under sunny skies.

Within the first half mile, my daughter declared her stomach ache returned; therefore, I checked for other signs of altitude sickness, headache and dizziness, which weren’t present figuring it was remnants from our 3 hour roller coaster ride in the car. She continued to drink water and eat little bits of food. At lunch with her stomach ache present, a hearty discussion took place between my husband and I – turn around or keep going. We kept going up the switchbacks to Monarch Lake.

IMG_6307About 2.5 miles up, my daughter unfortunately vomited again. Okay, now I needed to put my plan into check. Was this mistake number three? My first doubt about the trip occurred and our ability to continue to our destination. She sat for a while, took in small sips of water and checked her again for a headache and dizziness. None. She announced she felt better and we decided as a team to continue up while discussing alternatives for the remainder of our backpacking trip (ultimately, we decided to stay put at Monarch Lake for two days). The last half mile was hard for my daughter as she was weak from vomiting. She was brave, strong and persevered to the end but crashed on a rock where we decided to camp.

Along our hike up, we followed a family of four with older children, 17 and 21. The dad became our trail angel. At Monarch Lake, he came over to tell the kids he was impressed with their hike up the mountain. He noticed my daughter wasn’t feeling well and offered a vitamin C pack full of electrolytes. I had packed everything else in our first aid kit but unfortunately not an electrolyte supplement – mistake number three. After a nap and the supplement, she woke happy and with energy to eat dinner, Italian mash potatoes without the pepperoni. With relief that we had conquered the difficult hike up, a swim in the gloriously cold lake and dinner in our stomachs, we enjoyed a beautiful sunset over the ridge, played crazy-eights on a huge rock and stargazed at the millions of twinkling lights that we aren’t fortunate enough to experience in our light-filled city of DC.

IMG_6311We woke the next morning to grey clouds that sat on the ridge tops surrounding Monarch Lake. After our morning cups of joe, hot coco and some pecan, pomegranate oatmeal, we stuffed one of our packs full of supplies to hike for the top of Sawtooth Pass. From Monarch Lake to Sawtooth Pass and down the backside on the eastern face, there is no prescribed trail. One begins from the lake but a third of the way up, multiple paths exist between the boulders and alpine vegetation and on the pea-sized granite that covers about 50% of the face. Essentially, it is every man, woman and child for him/herself to seek the best path up or down the pass. With the kids leading the way, we conquered 3/4 of the way up the face before we heard thunder. The decision was made for us; we would not see what lay to the east of Sawtooth Pass that day. Very shortly after turning around to make our much easier descent, two different groups of backpackers came running of the ridge away from the lightening. Not exactly what I would do, run down that steep face.

We returned to the lake to eat lunch, listen to the waterfall from upper Monarch Lake and watch the still reflection in it. Our lunch was cut short as the hanging grey clouds on the peaks opened to let rain fall. We retreated to our tents where we stayed for the next two hours. This was hard for my very active, restless son. At 2:15 pm, after watching the clouds out our tent flaps and listening to the persistent rain, my husband and I made an executive decision to stuff our packs and start for the trailhead by 3:00 pm while our kids still had smiles on their faces and a positive frame-of-mind. With wet gear, we hiked the 4.2 mile descent in half the time it took us to ascend. However, this time there was a skip in our step and the opportunity to linger a bit at the bends to breath in the spectacular, grey and red stone landscapes that surrounded us.

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Looking Through a Macro Lens: iPhone #Photography

This spring I learned from fellow outdoor adventurer and blogger, Saveria, at AdventurUs that clip-on lens exist for the iPhone. Who knew? Turns out I was way behind on this eight ball and there are many to choose from on Amazon. I document my life and our outdoor family adventures using only my iPhone, including all the photos in my soon-to-be-released hiking guide book, Best Hikes with Kids: Washington DC, The Beltway and Beyond. Some might frown at me but I like one-stop-shopping – carrying all my electronic needs in one device. It makes life simple.

Before leaving on our two week vacation to explore national parks in California – Point Reyes, Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon – I bought a set of clip-on lens – macro, wide-angle and fisheye – for my iPhone so my kids and I could have fun with photography in these beautiful landscapes. We had lots of fun with the macro lens, in particular my nine-year old son. Below are the best of the macro photographs that he and I took while hiking and backpacking in these amazing national parks. For me, these photos represent art in nature and beauty in all things small. IMG_6020 IMG_6345 IMG_6341 IMG_6335 IMG_6332 IMG_6328 IMG_6321 IMG_6134 IMG_6130 IMG_6089 IMG_6085 IMG_6071 IMG_6066 IMG_6044 IMG_6038 IMG_6037 IMG_6026 IMG_6025IMG_6326

 

Confessions of a Hiking Mama

IMG_5899Confession. My daughter hates hiking. Each time she tells me this, she stabs me in the heart with a 10 inch blade. It hurts because I love hiking. She is 13 and at a perfect age to complain about EVERYTHING. Furthermore, she wants independence from anything that her mother says and does; therefore, that means nothing adventurous outdoors. She has done a lot of hiking during her 13 years of existence on earth from being carried in a baby bjorn to backpacking 40 miles on the Appalachian Trail. Even though she professes her distain for her mother’s passion, part of me doesn’t take it seriously because of her age (I am a middle school teacher; therefore, living this age 24/7) but the other half of me questions, “gosh, what if I did initiate this hatred for hiking by doing too much of it?” That really does break my heart because I truly believe that introducing children to nature via a trail enables them to develop comfort and a relationship with a place which translates to a relationship with nature and a sense of stewardship to care for and respect it. Because my daughter hates hiking, does this mean she hates nature?

IMG_5452Another confession. I was not fond of hiking and camping when I was a kid. Sure, I loved playing outdoors and in the woods with my neighborhood friends but I rarely camped with my dad and brother who did each summer. In my twenties, I grew to love the outdoors and all its adventurous recreation. Now, I just want to share it with everyone, especially kids.

Hiking allows me to be surrounded by the natural beauty of Earth. When I hike, I get to be a part of all the plants and animals that surround a trail. I observe how tree trunks stretch toward the heavens some straight and tall while others short with branches reaching through the canopy. I smell the decomposition of energy as it is transferred between living things. I hear the bugs, birds and amphibians as they call out in distress or to find a companion. I feel my heart beat rapidly when ascending boulders or a hill to discover what is next. Hiking allows me and all of us to experience all things small but the grandeur of the most magnificent landscapes on Earth. Hiking allows us to celebrate within ourselves and as a community the gift and glory of our natural world.

sycamore treeThis gift is why I want to protect and share the natural world so that my kids and students and children in general can experience and share the same small wonders and grand landscapes as I have. It is also why I am a mom, a teacher, an activist and an author to help make this a reality. I want my kids, my daughter in particular, to love hiking. I will not stop hiking or participating in outdoor adventures with them because I hope (deep inside I know, despite doubt) they have the same love for nature and desire to share the outdoors with others as I do. This is my legacy I leave to them – a desire to love nature and leave less of our footprints on it.

Book Review: Hives in the City

Image from www.beefriendlysj.com

By coincidence it was pollinator week while I was reading Hives in the City: Keeping Honey Bees Alive in an Urban World, a book written by a fellow local environmentalist, Alison Gillespie. This book was born out of a passion for bees that started at a young age for Alison.

Hives in the City is a comprehensive look at urban bees, starting with educating readers about bee physiology and hive culture and the growth of urban beekeeping. As readers progress through the book, Alison delves into more complicated issues, such as bee identification and colony collapse disorder and it’s possible origins from pesticide use on farm fields but an increased, improper use of them by homeowners. To increase the population of bees and improve their health, Alison prescribes to property owners the planting of native plants and flowering trees.

Many kids share my reaction to bees as a kid, fear and a desire for an adult to kill it. While I did not go into anaphylactic shock due to a bee sting, the limb in which was stung would swell, turn red and be very itchy. Hence getting stung was not a pleasant experience that lasted a few days. Even though my allergic reaction continues today, I no longer fear bees but view them as the powerhouse behind the food grown and eaten by people. Bees bath themselves in pollen on the flower’s stamen that contains sperm. They carry that sperm to other flowers because many plants can’t pollinate themselves and need help from insects and birds. Bees are a kin to postal carriers; many are needed to carry sperm to the ovaries of millions of flowers to produce the plant’s fruit.

Hives in the City is an essential read to learn about bee culture and the rise in popularity of bee keeping in east coast cities and their surrounding suburbs. This book is not text heavy. Alison writes about bees from her personal perspective and those of the beekeepers and researchers she meets and learns from, providing the reader insight into their personalities and their passion for bees. If you are at all intrigued about this highly productive, buzzing insect, then read Hives in the City, an easy read for those interested in poking their head inside the hive.

Celebrate Trails?

It seems as though for each of the 365 days on the calendar there is something to celebrate: National Donut Day, World Toilet Day, World Oceans Day and National Trails Day. Some of them are absurd, like National Tiara Day but others like World Toilet Day (even though this is gross in kid’s eyes) have a vital purpose. World Toilet Day draws attention and provides awareness about sanitation issues that plague millions of people around the globe that we take for granted in our developing nation. While National Donut Day provides a great marketing tool for Dunkin Dounts, even though that’s not its historical roots, many organizations designate and promote a national or world day to bring awareness and educate the public on issues that affect our body, community and environment. Sometimes, these designated awareness days are to draw people together in like-minded communities to celebrate.

It’s a little ironic that National Donut Day falls on the first Friday of June and National Trails Day is on the first Saturday of June. Hmm, was this intentional? Probably not but you can gorge yourself on free donuts on Friday and then hike off the calories on Saturday. National Trails Day was founded by the American Hiking Society over twenty years ago to celebrate a network of 200,000 plus miles of trails across the US. Whether the trail is in your backyard or a national park, trails are gateways for people to experience the natural bounty of our communities and our nation either on foot, wheels, in a saddle or with a paddle. Trails bring families together to share quality time; trails provide a window to observe a community of creatures big and small who mimic our human world; trails enable us to conserve land, landscapes and their natural resources for future generations; trails help us lead healthy lives, physically and mentally; trails provide us with adventure and challenge; trails also give us peace, solace, solitude, tranquility and escapism from our chaotic world.

Why you ask is there a day designated to celebrate trails? Trails are bountiful. We celebrate as a national community every year on the first Saturday of June because of that bounty, whether we choose to recreate on a trail or give back to the trail’s bounty. We all share a common thread, the trail, and National Trails Day links us as a community of thousands of trail enthusiasts in our neighborhoods and around the country. Each National Trails Day, I choose to be a carabiniere that links my community to a trail, often giving back by building or maintaining a trail, which connects us all in a national community of trail users.

Jennifer has had the privilege of serving on the board of directors of the American Hiking Society for the last six years and is its current chair. Melissa Avery at Chasqui Mom and another board member of American Hiking Society wrote Cleaning Up Limantour Beach – National Trails Day. Hop over to her blog and read how her family spent National Trails Day. 

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 How do you celebrate trails? Tell us in the comments box.

 

A Tradition Created on the Appalachian Trail

My friend and I didn’t know last year that we would be creating a tradition with our daughters but by the time we made it to Harpers Ferry having hiked 40 miles of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, we were hooked. And our daughters, ages 12, made it, even with a 14 mile day carrying a backpack. Of course there were frowns along the way, their kids, but many more smiles, laughter and memories created.

Last year was an introduction to the trail, the Appalachian Trail. This year with experience in their bodies and minds, the girls truly soaked in the allure and culture of the trail and participated in it. They developed trail names for each other, Cliff Bar and Hammock Hog, read and wrote in the trail logs at the shelters and on the trail and engaged in conversations with thru-hikers, curious about their experiences and learning their vernacular. The strong female thru-hikers they met inspired them to posit, yes, this could be my adventure in my coming years to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. To them, I say thank you for being that possibility in their minds and modeling the strength and fortitude to seek a big goal.

Enjoy the scenes from our 2014 mother daughter adventures on the Appalachian Trail.

Beauty in a Campsite

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Patuxent River at Jug Bay in the late afternoon

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View from our campfire

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View from our tent

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Jack-in-the-Pulpit

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Morning sunrise from the dock

Being in a beautiful place is restorative

for the human soul

but sharing it in fellowship

with people you love and care about

makes life complete.

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My son hugging a tree.

 

5 Gyres Expedition Video Contest

On January 30th, I wrote a blog piece entitled, “Do You Dream of Your Next Goal?” Well, I am dreaming and trying to fulfill it by entering a video contest sponsored by the 5 Gyres Institute to be a crew member and help them conduct research about plastic pollution on their next expedition into the North Atlantic gyre.

Here’s the video I made about why I want to join this expedition.

I need your help – VOTE for ME. You can vote daily.

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Please share! Thank you for voting for me and my aspirations to teach, lead and inspire the next generation of Earth’s stewards.