Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Presidential Memories

Well, my foot is still too sore to go on any real hikes yet, although I hope to do a few short ones in the next week or 10 days. So in the meantime, I thought I'd take a hike down memory lane, mostly in photos.

Four years ago, almost to the day, my brother and I joined a friend of mine for a three day hike in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. My friend Dick was 82 at the time and had been in the Whites dozens of times. For my brother and I, it was just our second time to hike up Mount Washington, the highest peak in the Northeast. Our first had been 40 years before when we were in highschool and our dad took us up. I decided it was time to do it again, to celebrate being alive 40 years later and to mark five years surviving lymphoma.

It was a fantastic trip. We slept in the huts and had great meals prepared by the AMC "Cru." Mount Washington's fabled "worst weather in the world" took a vacation and we had three glorious sunny and calm days. It was a trip I will always remember, and I share memories of it here in this link, in a series of 100 photos in a slide show, if you are interested. Enjoy my presidential memories!

I plan on doing it again. Hiking the presidential range and climbing Mount Washington again will surely be on my "Do It Now Decade" to do list! And I hope I am still hiking strong when I am 82!

Monday, July 18, 2011

What to do in My “Do It Now Decade”

Here’s where I would love some reader comments.

So, I just hit the Big Six-O! My friend Betty, who is 62, calls this the “Do It Now Decade.” Her line of reasoning is that the 60’s could be the last decade of your life where you are still vital and strong enough to really enjoy life. So if there are things you’ve been putting off, things you really want to do, then you’d better do them now. We could debate whether the 60’s is the last good decade of one’s life, but that is not the point. The point is that none of us really knows how much sand is in the top of that hourglass that we call our life. Sure, we can see all the sand piled up in the bottom – sixty years and two days worth in my case – but the top of the hourglass is painted the deepest midnight black. So don’t assume how much time is left – live it!Betty and two other friends bought me lunch today to celebrate, and Betty gave me a card and a tiny notebook with 80 pages in it. The notebook is maybe 2.5 by 3.5 inches. On the cover, she wrote “Art’s Do It Now Decade Notebook.” She said “Write down sixty things you want to do in the next 10 years, any order, anything. It might be something huge, or it might be a small thing – like visit a specific restaurant, write a poem. Write one thing per page, and as you do it, write some notes about it.”

I like this idea and started writing a few things in it already. It occurred to me that even though we assume we will live a full decade at age 60, nothing is guaranteed, so I may want to prioritize my final list. I also thought that there are definite categories of things that I would love to do over the next 60 years, such as travel, family, volunteer, athletic, personal growth, and outdoors to name some.

Since I love the outdoors so much, no doubt my “Do It Now Decade” list will have at least 15-20 things of that genre. It will take me a couple of weeks to list all 60 of my ideas, but when I do, I’ll share the outdoor oriented list items in this blog. In the meantime, what types of things would you love to do in the great outdoors in the next 10 years of your life? Take into account your interests, fitness level, finances, and time availability to come up with a list that is feasible for you. Make a blog comment to this post with the things you would like to do, or send me an email. Maybe I will get inspiration from things on your list and some of them will end up on mine!

I started my list today by writing on five pages of the little notebook. One of my initial five ideas is outdoors oriented – to backpack Isle Royale National Park again. There will be many more on there when I am finished.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Final Fifties Hike

The Big 6-0 comes roaring in for me in less than a week, closing out an amazing decade in my life. I decided, sore foot or not, that I needed to get in one last little hike while I am still fifty something. So I went to Maymont, a combination flower garden - wildlife display - landscaping - nature center - historic home property along the James River. I walked about two and a third miles, going at a nice, slow 20 minutes per mile pace. While this hike can't match so many of the ones I've done in my 50's - Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Glacier NP, Mount Rainier, White Mountains, Shenandoah - it was a nice little walk on a hot day, and a fun way to close out another decade of traveling on my feet.

My route is shown in blue. I started and ended at the upper left of the image. The red track along the bottom is part of last fall's hike along the Northside Trail and Buttermilk Springs Trail. (photos here). Maymont is fairly hilly, as seen by this elevation profile. The elevation range here is about 120 feet.

A lot of Maymont is open ground.

There are lots of beautiful flowers in the gardens here:

This nanny goat lives at the childrens petting zoo here.

I rarely get to see this gray fox, but he or she was out an alert today.

This great horned owl was somehow injured and cannot live in the wild.

The black bears here are very popular and have a huge enclosure. This point is meters from the Northside Trail shown in the map above.

There is a beautiful Japanese Garden here, with lots of streams and ponds,

some of which contain large coy:

One of the stately buildings on the property:

This hollow tree was large enough for me to comfortably lie down in, had I so chosen:

Monday, July 4, 2011

Visualizing a Hike

Two and a half months into plantar fasciitis, hiking is still out of the question unless I want to make it worse and put up with even more foot pain. So I thought I would visualize a hike on this pretty July day. On Independence Day, I hope that I can soon be independent of foot pain.

My first long hike after surviving lymphoma was to Rip Rap Hollow in Shenandoah National Park. This was in July, 2003, and was my statement that I was strong enough to hike again, even though the long uphill at the end felt like it was going to kill me. I’ve been back every summer since then to celebrate life and survival. This year, it looks like I won’t make it, so I will visualize the hike.

I leave my home early, and so arrive at the trailhead by 8:30. The morning is still cool at over 3,000 feet on the ridge line. I park at the Wildcat Ridge parking lot, lace on my boots, and shoulder my pack. As I step out, I am thankful to be walking without the awful heel pain that has been plaguing me for months. In minutes, I am hiking north along the Appalachian Trail.

I’m too late to catch the blooms of the mountain laurel that are so common here, but the cool green of the forest is soothing to the spirit. I keep my eyes and ears peeled for wildlife, but all I hear right now the is the call of a distant oven bird: “Teacher, teacher, teacher, …” Then, I hear the call of an Eastern wood peewee somewhere out in the green canopy. The trail undulates up and down, but is easy hiking all the way to the Rip Rap Parking lot, where the AT climbs steeply to meet the Rip Rap Hollow trail.

I leave the AT here, climbing some more and passing through a more open forest with some nice views at Calvary Rocks and Chimney Rocks. I pause and eat some GORP, and reflect on life for a few minutes. What a miracle it is to be alive! That this collection of chemicals that is me has emotions, memories, thoughts, feelings, wishes, dreams! We truly take so much for granted each and every day. I think back to my first time at this spot since cancer – how amazing it felt to be hiking, to feel well again, to not feel sick every single day for months and months. I bow my head a bit and give thanks.

I’ve come along a dry and sunny part of the trail as it descends steeply. I once came across a bear here. Staying alert, I am rewarded when a deer crosses the trail just ahead. It melts into the forest, and when I arrive at the spot where it crossed just seconds later, it is as if it the deer is invisible. I wonder how many animals we walk past on any given hike and never have a clue that they are there, yet we probably sound, and smell, like a huge and easily detectable being to them. I move along, the combination of the sun and lower elevation heating things up quite a bit. Then suddenly, I am back in a cool forest as the trail bottoms out.

As I walk along, I suddenly see the first water – a small spring. I’ve reached Cool Spring Hollow. It is so pleasant here, and quite the contrast to the hot and dry area just minutes ago. An old box turtle, some of the colored plates missing from its shell, pulls its head and legs into its shell, and closes up as tight as a drum. I always love seeing these increasingly scarce turtles! I leave the old turtle and move along, walking besides more and more water. There are little cascades from time to time, and it is so beautiful! I pause to admire the view from a little rise, and am startled by a crashing sound just behind me. I whip around just in time to see the black form of a young bear disappearing into the foliage. He had been gorging on berries just feet from the trail, and I never saw him!

My pulse returns to normal as I cross the now-wide stream several times, heading to the hollow that I love so much. I arrive at the deep pool, and because of my early start, I am the only person there. As much as I would like to skinny dip here, it is much too popular a spot, so I move into the woods and change into a swim suit. I come back to the pool and examine it. The moss surrounding it makes it look like it is encrusted with emeralds. Small brook trout swim in its depths as the sun glints off of their bejeweled sides. I slowly step into the pool, glad that I didn’t put on bug repellent that must be washed off first.

Man, is that cold! I move deeper – calf depth, mid-thigh depth. The deepest part is just ahead, and gathering my courage, I take a deep breath and plunge in face first. In seconds, my head breaks the surface and am nearly hyperventilating with the cold, but shortly after, it is more comfortable and I dive down to the bottom to explore it a little bit. The trout have vanished, although now and then, I can see one of them flash by at my eye level in the crystal-clear water.

I climb out of the pool on the other side, and wade up the stream that is feeding the pool. I look under rocks for salamanders and snakes, but find none. I once saw a water snake catch a trout not far from here. Returning downstream, I swim across the pool and climb out, sunning myself on a rock to partially dry. There has not been a soul here other than myself, which is very rare. After a while, I go back in the woods to strip and finish drying, put back on my hiking clothes, and reluctantly, start the hike out. I’ll stop for lunch along the way, because it is still too early to eat due to my early start today.

I hike along the last level stretch of this hike, along the scenic stream. I go slowly, looking for more bear, and making sure not to step on a timber rattler, which I once nearly did along this very trail. Eventually, I cross the stream again – there are several more crossings to go – and start the steep hike out up the Wildcat Ridge Trail. I’d love to see a wildcat, but never have, although I wonder how many times I’ve unknowingly walked near them in my travels. I stop along one of the last stream crossings to rest and eat my sandwich – peanut butter – and apple. With this setting that I am enjoying, a king would not have a finer meal in his palace.

After lunch, I continue the steep hike out of the hollow. It is a climb of about 1,500 feet back to the car. I watch for wildlife, but all I see is a garter snake that rushes away as I inadvertently disturb its siesta. I pause to drink from my canteen several times and take a few short rest breaks, but mostly, I just continue my hike out. It is a far cry from that first post-cancer hike in 2003, when it seemed I had to stop and rest here every 10 minutes. The body knows how to heal itself much of the time, if we do the right things.

All too soon, I cross the AT again, and minutes later, I am back at my car. My lovely virtual hike to Rip Rap Hollow has ended!