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

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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. 


 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


Patuxent River at Jug Bay in the late afternoon


View from our campfire


View from our tent




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.


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.



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

Dear Calleva …


Thank you for reminding me about my love and passion for nature and the outdoors this weekend. I am often frustrated by my fellow humans who don’t respect the earth we live on, take it for granted that Mother Nature will always be present and constant and choose behaviors that dominate nature instead of live in harmony with it. This weekend though I am grateful for thirteen people, your employees, who share the same passions and love for the outdoors and mores and ethics to live and recreate as equal partners with our natural environment as I do.

IMG_5369The Calleva philosophy and mission shone like the north star on Saturday and Sunday with each member’s unique personality contributing to its community through passion, dedication to their sport and the Calleva mission, tons of laughter and a genuine respect and care for each member of the family. During each instructors teaching of a Leave No Trace principle, their creative preparation displayed forethought from a catchy rap on dispose of waste properly to philosophical discussions on “what if” to building a habitat castle and a mating dance on respect wildlife. There was hardly a moment that I was not smiling or laughing due to their creativity with the training or as an extension of their relationships with each other. The Calleva mission and community has IMG_5372established a sense of pride, purpose and passion in each individual and as a collective family.

Each year, you lead and engage with thousands of people, many who are children, to help them experience the wonders of the outdoors; however, with that comes a huge responsibility to lessen your impact on the natural resources in our region. This weekend’s opportunity to train eleven of your instructors demonstrates Calleva’s commitment as a community but also with each of these individuals to model and teach stewardship by lessening our footprints on nature. I am appreciative that Calleva leadership has taken on this responsibility to train its camp and school instructors to model and teach the seven principles of Leave No Trace. As leaders in the outdoor industry, we have no greater responsibility than to help people build a relationship with nature to enable them to become stewards of our earth. Thank you for 20 plus years of commitment and dedication to creating a community of passionate outdoors men and women.

Jennifer Chambers, MD State Advocate for Leave No TraceIMG_5378

Amplifying Community Among Women While in the Outdoors


After most outdoor adventures with my family, friends or by myself, I often reflect upon its themes(s) and meaning in my life. This past weekend was no exception. I organized a group of my friends from my neighborhood to go on a women’s hiking retreat in the Shenandoah mountains. I wanted the weekend to be a mixture of adventure but also relaxation because we all lead busy lives with careers and families. Therefore, we stayed at a B&B called Belle Meade outside of Sperryville, VA but I lead them on a difficult nine mile hike up the Whiteoak Canyon trail and back down the Cedar Run trail.

Both trails fool you into submission as they begin with a gentle ascent or descent but the true meaning of stamina, body and mind, grabs you at midpoint on each trail. While the Whiteoak Canyon trail was mainly snow free, the connecting fire road and the upper section of Cedar Run still had a layer of slush that acted like sand; therefore, foot placement on the downhill was conscious and important. The elevation gain from the lower falls to the upper ones on the Whiteoak Canyon made our hearts pump heavy and fast, requiring an occasional rest to breathe in some extra oxygen and slow our hearts. After our legs were tired from climbing and hiking on slush, the Cedar Run took us through a steep ravine on wet trails.

This trek left one friend in our group questioning her presence on this hike with some self-doubt about her ability to finish. Self-doubt is that negative conversation one has inside their head when they have hit a wall, whatever the wall symbolizes. Negative in-your-head conversations are easy to have but hard to overcome with positive ones. It is rewarding to set ambitious goals and experience their accomplishment but part of this achievement is overcoming the self-doubt on the journey to the reward of exhilaration upon finishing. People have different strategies for wrestling with doubt. Mine is to chunk reaching the finish line into small obtainable goals where each milepost erases a bit of the self-doubt to where it is replaced with the cheerleader inside of me. I am not sure what my friend’s strategy is when she is on her own but she had a community of women who chipped away at her self-doubt to replace it with external rallies of support and encouragment.

We hiked on International Women’s Day. While this was not intentional, it is symbolic. Women create powerful communities (sometimes though we can be our own worst enemy) and have been for millennial. Women have a keen sense of creating community because it takes a village and we know our collective bodies, minds and spirits provide a powerful force of support and strength not only for ourselves but for our families and communities. Communities of women throughout history from the first pioneers to suffragettes to women working in factories during WWII to those who burned bras during the feminist movement created strong communities to weather the hardships, celebrate the victories and pave the road for future communities of women. Our hike on International Women’s Day symbolized our collective strength to overcome one friend’s self-doubt to reach the end but a greater community strength of women resides in our neighborhood who share life’s failures, triumphs, laughter, life, friendship and love together. Together.


Trail Discovery for Kids: Lower Magruder Trail

IMG_5238Lower Magruder Trail

Magruder Stream Valley Park

Damascus, MD


Hike Information

  • 3.2 mile out-and-back hike.
  • The trailhead is at the parking lot on Log House Road to its turn around at Watkins Road.
  • Mostly level with one rise above the stream valley near the turn-around.
  • Follow blue blazes.
  • Jogging stroller passable.
  • Link to the trail map.

Age Appropriateness

  • 5+ years old

What is fun for kids?

  • Multiple places to access the stream for water play.
  • Vernal pools in the flood plain where many tadpoles can be found during spring.
  • Spring flowers to photograph.
  • Multiple, large stags (down trees) where kids can test their gross motor skills.


  • No restrooms or trash cans available (pack-in, pack-out).
  • Multi-use trail – may encounter mountain bikers and horseback riders.

Do You Dream of Your Next Goal?

Have you ever looked at something and instantaneously realized that was your next goal in life? I did when I saw and read this website from a link shared with me. My eyes popped out of my head and my mind took me on a movie-like tour of the possibilities: spend time on the ocean, conduct research on a topic (litter and its impact on ecosystems) I am passionate about and share this research and education with my students and others in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Image 1-30-14 at 6.00 PM

My husband would say “I am a dreamer”. Yes, I freely admit it. Sometimes he brings me back to earth but not often as I have achieved many goals in my life: starting my own business, writing two books, doing a marathon and half-ironman and biking the C&O Canal in a weekend. Having goals in life is very important for my personal growth, living life to its fullest and being a good role model for my children (and students).

While reaching this goal in 2014 will be difficult due to my current teaching schedule, I am determined to make this goal a reality in 2015. What goals, life-long or 2014, do you have? Share them in the comments.