took a hike, took a camera: Overall Run Falls

The park is burning and I have a horrible feeling inside me because of it. Beautiful, tragic photos of the glowing ridge line are spreading through my social media feeds like, well, like wildfire. And while I know the ashes will bring lush new growth and our mountains will survive, it breaks my heart to watch my favorite playground struggle like this. I’m sad for those old trees. I’m sad for the baby seedlings. I’m sad for the flowers that waited so long to burst open in the warm sun. I’m sad for the hungry, tired, fearful animals fleeing from the flames. I’m sad for the history that is being erased and made. I’m sad for the workers and volunteers who put countless hours of care into our trails. I’m sad for the work that is ahead.  And I’m sad to think this was caused by a careless, human mistake.

In December when it was warm enough to hike in light layers, we hit the trails on the north end of the Drive. This time to Overall Run Falls. It’s been a few months since this particular hike but a few key things stick out about that day: Ella slipped and fell on a rock (she’s ok) and thought it was the most hilarious thing in the entire world. We found a tree that looks like a hippo, I got to catchup on life and cackle with my sister, we saw a whole family of quiet, graceful whitetail deer, and my son gave sound social advice to my daughter as they talked about some struggles at school like ol’ friends.

As I sit to type this the view out my window is smokey and I can smell the tainted air. I hope you find time, real soon, to get out there and enjoy those simple pleasures like hiking, breathing with the trees, catching up with your family and watching your children bond. Let this haze be a reminder that nothing is permanent – go enjoy the things and beings that fill you up!

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took a hike, took a camera: Jones Run

I’m convinced that, in general, I can juggle more than the average Joe/Jane. Because I do, regularly.  I’m not saying that to brag and I don’t need a pat on the back for it or anything. It’s something I’m proud of. I can’t imagine my life any other way. I love all the things I do; I thrive when I’m involved; time management is one of my strengths and I enjoy feeling productive, active, motivated. Last week was different though. I had real things on my mind. Like, health things. Things that made me reflect on my life. Things that took over my brain and mixed-up the hours and made everyday routines a challenge.

On Friday I was at work and a bit foggy. Half way through the day the stench of a skunk hit me like ammonia. It knocked me out of my mind and plopped me in the present. There was a kid in my class who had been sprayed by a skunk before school. Poor thing had to walk around all dang day like that. And teenagers are not equipped to notice a skunk stink and not say something about it. That student had to carry that around all day. The least I could do was pull myself together and give them my 90 minutes of love and attention that day. As much as it sucked for that kid, I was thankful for that jolt.

Hiking is my skunk stench…in the best possible way. When I’m cloudy, a visit to the mountains helps me see things more clearly. When I’m antsy, focusing my energy on the steep incline towards an overlook cures me. When I feel like I’m being swallowed by to-do lists, the trails give me a release that I don’t feel guilty about. You know how it feels to stretch when you get off a plane? Or how perfect it is to chug milk after scarfing a warm cookie? Or the sheer relief of taking down the friggin’ Christmas tree on the morning of Dec. 26?  Well all of that plus fresh air and no cell service = zing!

This hike was no exception. I decided on Jones Run Falls and invited Ben and his children to join me. We saw signs of “a giant animal” along the way but I wouldn’t dare speak the b-word. Partially because I don’t wish to encounter bears on my hikes and partially because Ben’s son, Aiden, thought my fear was hysterical. The hike down to the falls was mild and beautiful. We had lunch on the rocks with a waterfall backdrop then started back to the car. On our way off of Skyline Drive, just moments from the trailhead, we saw mama and her cubs just off the side of the road. Pretty cool, especially from the comfort of my car.

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Cell phone summary:Jones Run Falls Cell Phone

 

took a hike, took a camera: Hawksbill Zombie Hike

On our last hike, the kids had the idea to do a Zombie hike. (um, ok!) Hurricane Joaquin interfered with our first attempt but our second attempt was filled with clear blue skies and beaming Fall colors. The hike included zombie-inspired snacks by my daughter, lots of strange looks from fellow hikers, a few strategic scares and a couple capsules of fake blood. Happy Halloween!fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4469 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4453 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4440 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4450 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4456 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4436 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4471 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4476 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4477 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4481 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4479 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4486 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4501 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4502 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4530 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4514 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4509 fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4543fclHawksbillZombie_IMG_4462

Cell phone summary:HawksbillZombieCellPhone

took a hike, took a camera: Hawksbill

A harmless invite and there I was in a panic. “Meet us at the park,” she suggested. “The kids can play.” Time paused a moment as my world zeroed in on me: my son doesn’t play at the park. My son doesn’t play at the park! He’s a teenager. Teenagers don’t play at parks. Little kids play at parks. And he is not little anymore. When he stands our eyeballs meet. He will soon surpass me in height. Seemingly impossible considering I just paced a path into the living room floor after mid-night feedings, rubbing his back, shooshing him the way mothers do to relax his ten pound little body back to sleep. That tiny life that I raised, that I’m raising, is too big for park swings. One day you wake up and everything is different.

I am peeved by mottos instructing us to “live like there’s no tomorrow.” Sayings like this are far removed from their intended meaning and used as an excuse to live an irresponsible and reckless life. Living like there’s no moment after this moment, in the literal sense, is not realistic. Tomorrow my electric bill is due, therefore today I have to plan how to pay it. And that probably means I’m going to say no to dinner with friends a time or two in order to work to earn said money for said bill.  If everyone lived like there was no tomorrow, the world would be in complete shambles. The laundry would never get cleaned, the seeds would never be planted, shelters would never be built, books would never be written, families would fall apart, everyone would be broke and uneducated and the world would turn black and die! I exaggerate, but really, who has the time and resources to truly live like there’s no tomorrow? Not me.

Every now and then, I am reminded that time isn’t waiting for my electric bill to be paid. It’s not waiting for invites to the park. It’s not waiting…it’s moving. So there are times when even if I’m tired, even if the dishes are dirty, even if I haven’t had a moment to shower in three days, even if it means we’re having Nutella and granola bars for dinner…I just go and do something that deposits memories in the bank. That’s what the sunset hike to Hawksbill was for us. It was a long day and I was tiiiiired with endless to-do’s to check-off but we went anyway. We couldn’t have timed it more perfectly and arrived at the summit with thirty minutes to spare before the sun fell below the blue ridge. The looks on my kids’ faces at the vast, spectacular view are the moments I live for. Uninhibited awe. We snacked and explored and sat together and said prayers for people who need them. With the setting sun came almost immediate darkness so we strapped on our headlamps and headed back down the trail to the car. With nearly no light pollution and tree leaves covering the starlight, the walk back was the darkest dark I remember. My daughter squeezed my hand and chatted with me the whole hike back. The boys searched for deer and frogs with their flashlights and clonked their every-growing teenage feet behind me. It was the coolest hike of the year.

While you can’t plan every second and you can’t realistically live like there’s no tomorrow, you can enjoy right now. You never know when you’ll give them their last push on the swing set. You probably won’t remember the last time you helped them wash the shampoo from their hair, the last time you had to walk around the grocery store with a babydoll in your cart or the last time you cut up their dinner. But the last time will come for all of these things, as it should. Their childhood is moving and changing and fading and with good effort, it will be a fond memory they tell stories about one day. I hope to keep giving them stories to tell. ❤

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took a hike, took a camera: Storybook Trail

I can’t comfortably call this a hike post without a disclaimer: this is not a hiking trail. This trail is a walking path. A user-friendly sidewalk through the woods. I’m not putting it down, in fact, I think it’s great to have a trail so pedestrian-friendly that you can roll a wheel chair along it, push a stroller on it, walk through the woods with your accident-prone friends or just enjoy a short, leisurely stroll to a beautiful view. The incline is gradual, the path is wide and paved and the overlook is a big metal deck that sits on the edge of the mountain. It was Sunday morning, July 5th when we decided to pay the trail a visit. We were all puffy-eyed, fireworked and slow moving from the previous day of Team America: parades, beer, ice cream, meat, heat, fried things, and condiments…always with the condiments. It was a foggy ride up to Storybook Trail, which is located on top of the mountain that sits between New Market and Luray. I didn’t plan on taking photos on this particular morning but as the fog got thicker, I was high-fivin’ myself for bringing my camera anyway. My friends Kirsten, Chris, Jack and their two dogs joined me, Ben and my kids. At the overlook, we were literally in the clouds. White clouds moved over us, on us, through us and we could see nothing below. It was eerie but awesome and mysterious. And what better way to kickstart a slow Sunday morning than with a little bit of mama nature…followed by sangria and a cheese plate.
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Cell phone summary:Storybook Trail

See more from my series took a hike, took a camera here.

 

took a hike, took a camera: Stony Man Mountain

I forgot about my approaching birthday until the day before it. Not because I’m a doofus but because I had a ridiculous schedule the two weeks prior. I shot a wedding on a Saturday, left for Alaska on that Sunday, hiked 1, 2, 3 mountains, returned home way late Thursday, Friday was my son’s birthday and dinner, Saturday I shot another wedding, Sunday we went on a group hike to celebrate his birthday and all of the sudden, it’s Monday and my birthday was the next day, Tuesday, June 30. When I list it, it feels like I’m lying. But I’m not. For my birthday I wanted to do a hike and luckily the weather was in my favor. My friend Danielle met me in New Market and we headed to Skyline Drive. There is truly never a dull moment in her company. On our way over the Luray mountain, there were a few whoops and hollers and fragmented sentences and white-knuckle clutching coming from the passenger side.  I got the impression my driving was making her nervous. We laughed. A whole lot. I almost hit a deer. Then we laughed some more. I’ve heard of Stony Man Mountain before but it wasn’t until I read the description in my hiking guide that I learned how the name was given. As we rounded mile 38ish on Skyline Drive, we could see the profile of ol’ Stony, and his chiseled manly nose, looking west. I couldn’t wait to get up there and look with him. Within moments of being on the trail, we met hikers ranging from diapers and pacifiers to fanny packs and canes. A really mild hike and certainly enjoyable for all ages. At the top we had a granola bar while enjoying an amazing view of the Shenandoah Valley. Danielle is a photographer, too, so we each got lost in our lens for a bit before returning to real life where we sat on Stony’s forehead and chatted about life. One of my favorite things about the trail guide I have, is that it tells about the flowers and trees you see along your hike and often it gives some history of the area.  For this hike it said that we’d “pass red spruce and balsam fir, remnants of the Ice Age.” That’s pretty cool! So on our walk back down, we set out to find the trees. I was so eager I tripped over the same rock twice. We found what we think is a red spruce and/or a balsam fir. (You can judge us below.) We left the mountain content and with minds and hearts recharged from the vast beauty of our Valley. Our post-hike treat was a cheese plate and wine on my deck because Happy Birthday to me!

The profile of Stony Man from Skyline Drive.

The profile of Stony Man from Skyline Drive.

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photo by Danielle Campbell

photo by Danielle Campbell

photo by Danielle Campbell

photo by Danielle Campbell

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photo by Danielle Campbell

photo by Danielle Campbell

photo by Danielle Campbell

photo by Danielle Campbell

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photo by Danielle Campbell

photo by Danielle Campbell

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A cherry tree?

took a hike, took a camera: 13th Birthday Group Hike!

And just like that, I have a teenager. My son, my precious baby boy, is a teenager. We’ve all heard it before, and it’s true enough to repeat: time moves impossibly fast. It’s just leaving, right now, right past us. My children, who souls are most beautiful, remind me of this daily. It’s like I have three hearts and two of them beat outside of my chest. They exist, enclosed in the ribs of my children. A nearly perfect combination of me and his father, Blake is a kind young man with a heart of pure gold. He is wonderful with small children, has a ridiculous sense of humor, is sharp as tack and, most importantly, he loves his mama. (swoon) When I asked him what he wanted to do to celebrate his 13th birthday, he said he wanted to hike to one of his favorite waterfalls, Whiteoak Canyon, and invite friends and family. His request made me proud. I’ve intentionally been taking them hiking more frequently this year and we hiked Whiteoak in February. Then, the trail was covered in ice, snow and mud and there was hardly any green to be seen. This time, it was a completely different hike with lush life all around us. The air was surprisingly cool for a June afternoon so when we arrived I looted the soon-to-be-dropped-off-at-Goodwill bag in my trunk and tossed sweatshirts out to our shivering group. There were 11 of us total: a good group of adult friends, kid friends and family.

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Tree-huggers.

Tree-huggers.

took a hike, took a camera: North Face Trail, Girdwood

It was our fourth and final day in Alaska. I woke up still full from last night’s massive attempt at eating my weight in fajitas. After a quick shower I walked downstairs to find a sweet note on the counter from Kate. She treated us to a train ride to Girdwood, left her car keys, gave directions to the train station, jotted down a few key words and instructed us to have a good day. She’s awesome like that. We boarded the Alaskan Railroad(!) and for about an hour we took in gorgeous views while sipping our morning coffee to the hum of the train. Girdwood was the first stop and I had to laugh when I saw the small wooden “train station” sitting in the middle of nowhere. I reached in my back pocket for the note Kate had left that morning and some of her notes started to make sense: “take Alyeska Hwy to The Bake Shop and get on shuttle to Alyeska Resort.” From the train stop, we walked up a hill, through some trees where we found a pedestrian trail that followed Alyeska Highway, the main road. It was a beautiful three mile stroll to the heart of Girdwood. The skies were beaming blue and the roads were lined with giant wildflowers and a good sampling of Alaskan-style housing: angles, decks, steep roofs, great windows. Since we forgot to pack water (doofus move) we stopped at the first roadside business we came to (about a mile and a half in) called Chugash Adventures. They had some really cute local items and since it was our last day, I let myself be a tourist and left with a small piece of pottery and a trucker hat that features the work of a local photographer. (Support the arts y’all!) Our walk continued and soon we arrived at the end of the highway. We located The Bake Shop and took the shuttle to Alyeska Resort. Just behind the resort is a slew of trails to choose from. We chose the North Face Trail. This 2.2 mile hike sounds meek…but don’t be fooled. In that 2.2 miles we climbed 2,000 vertical feet. And I didn’t take many breaks for photos because I was certain, as I usually am, that a wild beast was just around the next turn. Even though most of the hike was spent huffing it up steep inclines and making lots of loud noises to alert the animals of my presence, there were a few moments that stand out. Like this one section of the hike where a foot-wide walkway made of boards and plywood lead you through a lush meadow. And this other section that is so steep, there was a big chain to hoist yourself up the rocks. And then this other part near the top where you’re out of the tall bush, switchbacking through a more gradual incline and you can see everything! Gosh, I really couldn’t think of a more perfect time to visit this town. It was absolutely breathtaking. At the top we exchanged exhausted high fives and walked to a spot on the ground were we could sit and catch our breath. The last two days of hiking ended with trembling legs so when I felt my legs trembling, paired with the rumble of the tram coming and going, I didn’t think anything of it until I overheard one of the guides explaining that we just experienced an earthquake. (!) All the way up there on top of that mountain…those trembling legs and tram rumbles I thought I heard was actually an earthquake. Talk about an epic day. Ben and I ordered a beer from the deli and sat on the deck in disbelief of the sites around us.  FullSizeRender-49FullSizeRender-51 IMG_0547 IMG_0548 FullSizeRender-50FullSizeRender-52 IMG_0555IMG_0562IMG_0565IMG_0567FullSizeRender-53FullSizeRender-54IMG_0646IMG_0582IMG_0647IMG_0611IMG_0608FullSizeRender-55

After a sufficient rest, we hiked a little further up the mountain to a footbridge hovering over fast-moving glacier water. I had to touch it – it was cold. Ben had to taste it – his nose went numb.  Then we hopped on the tram and watched the North Face Trail zoom right by us. Kate drove out on her motorcycle to meet us for dinner at Jack Sprat and one of her friends joined. Everything brought to our table was delicious and beautiful. After dinner we got a ride to the train station and headed back to Anchorage for the night.

Farewell Alaska, you have a beautiful soul. I hope to return to explore more of you one day. ❤FullSizeRender-57IMG_0631IMG_0634IMG_0633IMG_0636IMG_0642IMG_0670FullSizeRender-58

took a hike, took a camera: Flattop Mountain, Anchorage

In my brief experience, Alaska breeds badasses. “A short walk” translates to ~3 miles. “A moderate hike” translates to post-hike leg trembles. “I’m a little out of shape” translates to “I think I’ll do some push-ups while I wait for you pansies to catch up.” <–All of these things actually occurred.

After the day in Denali and Talkeetna, we returned to Kate’s home in Anchorage and crashed. I was up early because the sun was peaking through the blinds. I showered and enjoyed part of a danish that Kate bought in Talkeetna the evening before. Jessie picked us up and we all grabbed a breakfast burrito and latte from the City Market where we met up with her friend Holly. Jessie and Holly were taking us on a short, moderate morning hike to Flattop Mountain located in the Chuggash State Park. And while the name “Flattop” does in fact describe the appearance of the top of the mountain, there was nothing else flat about it. The hike is just over 3 miles and it starts out easy. The terrain was similar to that of the trail the day before in Denali National Park, except this time we had spectacular views of a whole different set of incredible mountains, the city of Anchorage and the coastline. We reached a series of plateaus on the way to the top, each followed by another climb and all with wonderful views. About half way up, there was a class of preschoolers following close behind me. They shouted question after question to their teacher and she patiently answered each one as we all huffed our way up. Surely there was a superhero cape tucked away in her backpack. When I reached the rocky mountain face right before the top, the climb got harder…in a mind-over-matter kind of way. Loose gravel on steep inclines proved challenging. On the way back down, Holly darted through the crowd and the next time I saw her, she was doing pushups on a log. She’s hardcore. We ended the hike successfully covered in dust and sweat.

I remembered my camera (and battery) on this hike but I also shot with my iPhone. There is a mix of both below.IMG_0425bsomeIMG_5440bsomeIMG_5446bsomeIMG_5453bsomeIMG_5455bsomeIMG_5450bsomeIMG_5462bsomeIMG_5464bsomeIMG_5471bsomeIMG_5472bsomeIMG_5478bsomeIMG_5479 IMG_0450IMG_0447bsomeIMG_5484IMG_0435IMG_0432FullSizeRender-40

Later that day we grabbed some fuel at Spanard Roadhouse where Jessie drew us a map and highlighted all her favorite spots. We set out on foot to explore downtown Anchorage. Later that evening Jessie and Kate had a kickball game. We watched and cheered them on and then headed to dinner. Sleep followed soon after…one more day and one more mountain to hike before flying back home.
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took a hike, took a camera: Denali National Park

Alaska, Day 1 | fly, drive, camp | Baltimore to Anchorage to Healy

June 21, 2015 : to-date, my Life Solstice. It was literally the longest day of daylight of my life. We left Arlington, VA for BWI at 4am on June 21 and 24 hours later, on that same day, we were pitching tents in Healy, Alaska under dusk or dawn skies, I’m not sure which.

Our flight landed in Anchorage around 1pm. Kate picked us up, put an Alaskan beer in our hand, drove us to her place to load up camping supplies and then we ate a meal at Snow City Cafe where her sister Jessie works. When Jessie finished up, we all hit the road for Healy, Alaska. Healy is about four hours north of Anchorage but with wild fires lining parts of the road, seasonal road reconstruction and two eager, snap-happy tourists – the drive took us six hours. Kate pointed out that billboards weren’t allowed there and because of this, we were able to see the beauty from the car, without obstruction. Our destination for the day was 49th State Brewing Company where we caught the tail-end of their Solstice BrewFest. It was around 10pm when we arrived but the party was going strong. Live music played while we deliriously ordered a cold beer and way too much food. Neighboring the brewery is an extremely convenient campground where we set up for the night. There was intention of hanging out and playing card games but….zzzzzzz, I was out when my face hit the pillow. I was so tired I mistook a moose for a horse as it trotted by our campsite. Everyone laughed but, in my defense, well, whatever – I was tired.

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…from wild fires to lush landscapes…
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Road work was sprinkled along the trip. We met one worker who reminded me so much of my aunt Debbie. She was fun and welcoming and had a cigarette hanging from her mouth during most of our conversation. She had the right idea though, the mosquitos were fierce.
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The bus from the movie “Into the Wild” was at 49th State Brewing.
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Above: a short time-lapse video of us setting up our tents in a sleepy stupor. Below: a shot from our campsite in Healy taken at midnight. The sun dipped below the horizon but it never actually got dark!FullSizeRender-26Alaska, Day 2 | hike, drive, sleeeeeeeep | Healy to Talkeetna to Anchorage

Woke up in a tent around 6am. The whole no-darkness thing it pure tomfoolery. You just get up and go until you slam into a wall and then you sleep until you can’t. Kate and Jessie were still sleeping so Ben and I went on a serious search for coffee. Our search led us to a gas station where the Russian man behind the counter assured me they had “whole wheat” milk to use in my latte. My uncaffeinated brain laughed a little too much. Kate made us breakfast at the campsite and we all packed up and stopped for more coffee at a cute little spot along the road. Under the sleepless sun, we sat and enjoyed the morning. Ben ordered a triple Americano and didn’t realize “triple” meant three shots of espresso. Half way through our game of Cards Against Humanity, he kind of tweaked out…we’re talking giggles and shakes. He later said “I didn’t know if I was going to be alright.” (lol) After coffee and cards we drove into Denali National Park. I never saw the name of the trail we hiked that day but it’s right off the parking lot at the Savage River stop. It wastes no time heading straight up. Before we knew it we were already at the first of many impressive overlooks. The trail consisted of rocky switchback after rocky switchback, some rock scrambling and hoisting, then later there was loose soil with a gradual climb and wide open views. As my first hike in Alaska, I appreciated being able to see across the terrain…in other words: I was happy to know I could spot a grizzly from afar. And while we didn’t spot any grizzlies, we did see some Dall Sheep, caribou and some cool birds. I also learned that there aren’t any harmful snakes in Alaska. And they don’t have poison ivy/oak. I asked these questions because I realized I was on the lookout for those things…like I would be if I were hiking here at home, in Virginia. We hiked in one direction for about 90 minutes then turned and hiked back to the car. We devoured leftover brewery sandwiches by the Savage River before doing some abbreviated yoga to loosen up and then we hit the road again. A little more than half way back to Anchorage is a town called Talkeetna. Kate has spent a lot time there and wanted us to see it. Our timing was perfect for dinner so we stopped at Denali Brewing Company for food and, of course, a unique local brew. My favorite beer that day was their Louisville Sour. I was very sad to hear they didn’t sell bottles or cans to bring home to share. After dinner we walked around the quaint little town of Talkeetna. I bought some souvenirs for my kids, who I was missing already, Kate grabbed some pastries for the next day breakfast and Ben met Stubbs, the town mayor, aka the cat.

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These photos are all shot with my iPhone. I did not forget my camera on this excursion to Denali…I just forgot my battery. Doh!