Saturday, December 31, 2011

Where Would You Like to Hike in 2012?

I passed up a last chance to hike in 2011. The Meetup Group I sometimes hike with had a hike to Reed's Gap planned on a beautiful day that felt more like spring than winter. And they had room for people to still join, which is unusual. But I am running the Shamrock Half-Marathon in less than three months, to celebrate 10 years surviving cancer this spring. And I have not run much at all. So instead, I joined Team in Training for seven badly needed miles this morning. Hiking will have to wait until 2012.

So, here we are, on the cusp of 2012. Where would you like to hike in 2012? Be realistic, taking into account your time availability, finances, and physical condition. In my case, I work full time and have very little time off other than some weekends that I can hike. So although it is not like I have the money to drop everything and leave for the Rockies or South America or Alaska, vacation time limits what I can do more than anything else. So that being said, here are some places I would love to get to in 2012 - and have at least a realistic shot of attaining many of them:

  • Mt. Rogers - the highest mountain in Virginia, there are dozens of miles of trail in the National Forest there. I'd love to spend a few days hiking there and in Grayson Highlands State Park.

  • Do another loop in Shenandoah National Park, similar to my three day trip over Trayfoot Mountain a couple of months ago.

  • White Mountains in New Hampshire - I'd love to do a multi-day-trip to New Hampshire and hike in the Whites, staying at the (by hiking standards) luxurious huts maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club. But it is at least an all day drive each way from home.

  • Hike one of Manitou Islands in Lake Michigan, maybe on a trip to see my granddaughter.

  • Hike or backpack in the Dolly Sods area of West Virginia.

  • Make it to Trail Days in Damascus, Virginia this coming May. Lots of kindred spirits, bluegrass music, day hiking, and - rumor has it - cold beer.

  • A bonus would be a trip to a new National Park, and do some hiking - but that is a lot of time and money.

Those are some of my ideas. How about you - where do you hope to hike to in the brand new year? Oh - HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Here are some of the things I am considering from a foot racing point of view in 2012.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Black Rocks Panoramas

During my three day backpacking circuit over Trayfoot Mountain last month, I visited Black Rocks on the third day. While there, I took a series of photos, side by side, hoping to make a panorama at some point. Having gotten some photo editing software for Christmas, some point is now.

The first panorama combines three photos and shows our approximate camping location from the night before, tucked in behind Horsehead Mountain, well below us down in the Paine Run Valley. The ridgeline of Trayfoot Mountain takes up the rightmost third of the photo.My second panorama combines six photos side by side to show views going from the southwest to the east-northeast. You can see Trayfoot Mountain near the right side of the photo, with a little bit of the Black Rocks in the foreground right.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Poll Results - Hiking Alone

My poll about hiking along closed yesterday. Here are the results:

Would not hike alone - 0%. I am glad that people are willing, and not afraid, to hike alone!

I'd hike alone, but never anywhere I was not familiar with: 33.33%

I'd hike alone, even someplace new, but I would not go backpacking alone: 33.33%

I'd go backpacking alone: 33.33%

I didn't vote in my own poll, but if I had, I would have been in the backpacking category. Even though I have not gone backpacking alone in a long time, and although I prefer the company of others for a lot of reasons, I would not let it stop me if that was the only way to get a trip in.

Whether you hike alone or with others, have a great time doing it!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Photoless Hike

As I parked in the parking lot at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge yesterday morning, I noticed a large group of ducks and several tundra swans just offshore, in good range for a photo using my Sony CyberShot. I pulled out the camera and turned it on. Nothing! The rechargeable battery was dead. But that is not a problem, as I keep a second battery - the camera requires a special battery - in the bag. So I switched batteries, turned the camera on, and - nothing! Another dead battery. This camera takes great photos, but without a battery, the photo quality is the same as a picture taken with a pack of matches. I heard the sound of ducks and swans snickering at me. It reminded me of the time that I walked 10 miles each way to the North Carolina border and my camera batteries were dead. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then this will have to be a long post - but it won't be.

Well, I was there for a hike, and hike I would do. I knew that with no camera, I would be seeing lots of wildlife, and I was not disappointed there. No, a bobcat didn't step into the path and groom itself just feet away. Nothing that spectacular happened. But during my approximately four mile hike, I saw thousands of animals. Yes, thousands!

After leaving the ducks and swans, I headed along the path through the forest. A male cardinal displayed colorfully just feet away from me. Winter warblers flitted in and out of the trees. A great blue heron took off from a small pond, and a belted kingfisher perched high above the pond in a tree. At one point, he took off and made a circular flight above the pond, calling with his distinctive rattling cry as he flew. Despite the cold, a turtle's nose broke the surface like the snorkel from an old Diesel submarine. And at the end of the path, where the bay meets the woods, large number of ducks and swans swam and fed. On the hike back, a group of tundra swans flew directly over my head, about 100 feet above me. It was spectacular! I could hear every wing beat. It would have made a great photo.

As I reached the dike trail, a huge group of grackles flew around. There were hundreds of them. They tended to rise all at once, their voices sounding like hinges in need of oil. I hiked the mile along the dikes to the wildlife observation building, and watched many ducks and swans out in the freshwater. The wild cries of the tundra swans are amazing. They are just arriving from the Hudson Bay area. As I began my return, another huge flight of grackles - over a thousand, I estimated - flew around. They rose and moved like smoke, and as they would take flight from their resting place, it sounded like a wave breaking on rocks - there were that many of them.

I watched a harrier fly over the marsh, and then ended my hike with a short walk on the beach, seeing a single sanderling and a gull. No camera today, so the images have to all be in my brain.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Another Poll

I got 9 votes on my last poll about your favorite thing about hiking, broken down as follows:

Getting away from it all - 6
Fresh air and exercise - 1
Great scenery - 1
A chance to have an adventure - 1

All others - no votes

So I thought I would try another poll. Would you hike alone? Would you backpack alone? I'll leave the new poll open for a couple of weeks, until Christmas.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Returning to Black Rocks

On the last day of my three day backpacking trip in Shenandoah National Park a couple of weeks ago, I passed through Black Rocks. It is a spectacular area, with great views, but my lunch stop there had special significance to me that went far beyond any views. It was my first time there since June 2, 2002, the day before I started chemotherapy for Hodgkin's lymphoma.

On that day, nine and a half years ago, I wanted to go for a little hike in the mountains. It was a pretty spring day, and I was dreading what was coming the next day. I knew it would be my last chance to go to the mountains for a while, and to take a short walk there. Part of me, a part I didn't want to admit, wondered if I would survive to ever go again. That type of lymphoma is very treatable, and my odds of making it five years were about 80%, but even so, there is a lot of uncertainty to experiencing cancer. As the oncologist told me, "We are both old enough to know there are no guarantees in life."

Just three days before, on May 30, I'd had surgery to implant a portocath in my chest near my right shoulder. It was tied into my subclavian vein to deliver the chemicals directly into my bloodstream. They would enter that vein, and a second or two later flow into my heart, go through my lungs, return to my heart, and from there, visit every cell in my body. The drugs would cause lots of damage on their little trip, but hopefully as part of that journey, they would also ravage every single lymphoma cell in my chest, abdomen, and wherever else they might be hiding like tiny guerrilla warriors. Because if even one such cell would survive, I'd have to go through it all again in a year or so, with even less certain results. Little did I know, or even imagine, that nine years from the day I had that port put in, my sister Ann would die from breast cancer. She was so worried about me having to go through cancer.

So on June 2, I was still a bit tired from the surgery, and my upper chest was very sore - right where a pack strap would rub. Therefore, I took just a tiny and light day pack on the short - a half mile each way - hike my wife and I made to Black Rocks from the Skyline Drive. I'd been there once before, on a long day hike up Trayfoot Mountain with a group. Now, I kept thinking about chemo the next day. I had gotten a buzz cut, my preemptive strike for my upcoming baldness. I'd seen other people - my stepmother, my father, and my sister-in-law among them - go through chemotherapy, and I knew it was really rough. I was quite worried that I might vomit on a nurse during chemo (I didn't). I knew two of the four chemo drugs were really dangerous, and I wondered if I might survive the cancer but end up dying from the cure. There was a lot to think about, besides just trying to enjoy the mountains, with the mountain laurel in bloom, that June day.Now, nearly ten years later, I was back here. I waited nearly 45 minutes for my hiking buddy, Hawkeye, to arrive. It turns out that he had had a horrible calf cramp. During that time, I explored and climbed over the rocks,and reflected a bit on my journey I had taken to get here since cancer. Three marathons. Two half-marathons. I'd never done either one pre-cancer. Lots of hikes. Healthy enough to carry a 40 pound pack for three days just now. A three-day 60 mile walk just a couple of months before to honor my sister's memory. It was good to be back at the Black Rocks as a healthy person, and that is what I intend on staying for as long as possible.

I was last at Black Rocks in 2002 as a person with cancer, wondering what the next few years would hold for me, dreading starting chemo the next day. More than nine years later, I've returned as a strong survivor.