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!
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. ❤
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!Alaska, 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.
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!
Want to know what happens when I go on a hike with 6 kids: I don’t take many pictures. That’s what. Those kids had my attention directed and redirected all over the place! All six kids and four adults, including me, hit the trails to Lewis Falls. On the hike back to the car, my daughter and I led the pack. We sang songs and talked and laughed. I think it’s safe to say that we all had a great hike that ended with a much needed stop at Jack Brown’s Singlewide on our way off of Skyline Drive. We refueled and headed home. Also, there are no photos of the falls on this post. As mentioned, I was easily distracted and never got a shot. Wamp. But hey, go see it for yourself!
One time when I was a little girl, living with my Nanny, she made a quick run to the grocery store. Nanny left me home alone watching He-Man and She-Ra, coloring innocently at the coffee table. She walked out the door and a beacon of light shined down onto a bowl filled with mini Snickers, placed just out of my reach, on top of the microwave. I tossed my crayon and tugged a chair across the thick carpet. Wobbly legs and tippy-toes. The dog, Fluffy, gave me a sideways stare. That bowl was mine. I tore into those Snickers like a boss. I probably threw back 15 of those suckers! One after another into my little tummy. I heard Nanny’s car pull up so I quickly put the bowl back (empty wrappers and all), returned the chair and resumed my coloring. Within the hour I was in full regret mode. I felt gross….then, I yakked. And if you’ve ever yakked a candy bar, you know exactly the terrifying alienesque blob that was staring back at me from the toilet. I didn’t eat a Snickers bar for 10 years after that day.
Ben and I woke up one Sunday a couple of weeks ago and realized that, for the first time in a long time, we were kid-free and obligation-free onthesameday! A beacon of light shined on our day and we were eager to get out. I was so pumped I skipped a shower and threw my hair up in a tangled knot, put on some week old shorts and grabbed my backpack. We decided to hit a trail that a co-worker had recently told me about with beautiful 360 views called Bearfence on Skyline Drive. The trail was rugged and included some rock scrambling that will put your ego in check. As promised, the views were amazing. The layered gray clouds hovering over layered blue mountains were perfect. The kind of perfect you see in magazines and wish you could visit one day. I showed off a yoga pose (which is really dang hard to do when you’re on top of the world!), Ben ate a bagel, we took some selfies and then we hiked back to the car. We filled the rest of our day with a stop at two vineyards: Kilaurwen where we got to go on a property hike and Moss where we watched a rainband move in over several sets of hills before heading home to watch a movie.
When I was a little girl, that day of over-indulging in mini Snickers taught me a very valuable lesson. Mainly: the good things in life are best when savored, not indulged. There aren’t many free hours in my life these days and that makes those rare gems of unplanned days better than any candy bar, mini or deluxe, that I can imagine. I truly savored our time on the mountain and every drop of wine that followed….and I did not yak up an alien blob of remorse that day.
I was the first one awake on Mother’s Day morning. My son returned home after midnight the previous night because of a band trip to Busch Garden’s. He was exhausted and my daughter likes to savor the morning so the house was quiet that Sunday at 7:15am. I filled a small pot with water and scooped some rich grounds into my french press, hearing the grounds hit the glass for maybe the first time ever. Light poured in the window as my coffee steeped, the house still and quiet. I tidied and swept the main floor carefully then tippy-toed the trash and recycling to the bin outside. The kids woke up one by one and greeted me with a hug and a “What’s for breakfast?” They ate sleepy-eyed and I packed our bag for the hike. We arrived at the Doyles River Falls lot around 11am and it felt a little like my house that morning. It was calm and still, as if our presence alone would wake up the residents. Not far onto the trail we rounded a turn and met a deer. Then, one after another, we saw lots of life on our hike: flowers, snails, millepedes (so many millepedes), gnats (so many gnats) and a snake (which I did not get close enough to photograph). We even passed our Harrisonburg friend Danielle and her boyfriend Cody on this trail! Doyles has two falls: upper and lower. The trail guide I have says “two waterfalls with different personalities.” I didn’t know what that meant until I saw the second waterfall. They were equally beautiful but so very different. And, they’re close to each other so you get two falls in one hike which is sweet. On our way back we passed a group of hikers that let us know there was a black bear ahead, peacefully turning over rocks, looking for food. I had a little tinge of fear, I’ll be honest. But it was way helpful to know it was up ahead and that the people who told us about it lived to tell us so… We saw it, I took a blurry photo of it and then we hauled it up the path. On the last leg of the climb, Ben and Blake raced to the parking lot. They each met their match…neither wanted to keep going and neither of them would quit. It was a fun sight for me and Ella, casually lagging behind. The day ended with one more pull-off along the Drive to take in the rolling mountains under gray skies followed by a Mother’s Day barbecue courtesy of my little sister, Brook. It was the perfect gift from her and a delicious post-hike meal for all.