Flying with the Falcon

Flying with the Falcon

Gone to the Dogs

*Photo of our mopey dog, Luna. We love her very much, though she’s convinced we don’t give her enough attention, food, or time outside. And every time we leave, we’re never coming back, just like every other time we left.

I feel like I was recently writing a blog post about best-laid plans going sideways. Here I am again, writing a blog post about best-laid plans…but these plans went sliding down a muddy slope. Last week, I wrote a lovely post about going to the Adirondacks, whitewater rafting, romping around on Whiteface Mountain, and left you with the teaser that we expected to go backpacking in the High Peaks region of the wilderness. Well, that’s not exactly what happened. I want to first say that I am about to fall down a rabbit hole of amused ranting, but I promise to end on a high note, so don’t say you weren’t warned.

The day we left the camp where we stayed with Michael’s family, we decided to give Michael’s legs a day to heal from the horrible sunburn he got while rafting. His burn was so bad it swelled, and he couldn’t even put his sneakers on without pain, so we thought it best to wait a day. We found ourselves a campground in Wilmington, called the North Pole Campground (more on that in a minute), pitched our circus-sized tent we use when car camping, and called it a day. It was still hot as a witch’s britches, so we honestly weren’t going to be sad about not heading into the woods with packs and hours of hiking over several peaks, followed by making camp and dinner. The heat melted us both into puddles, and the campground had two pools available for campers to use. Let me tell you, that was a welcome treat. After paying the hefty fee for a tent site with no hook-ups (a whopping $35, which is about what we often paid for full RV hook-ups), we were led to the site by a nice gentleman in a golf cart who showed us the possibilities for where we could fit our tent. For the price we paid, I was disappointed in the site itself. No area flat enough to place the tent. No picnic table. No directions to the bathroom, and no direct route to the bathroom which I found difficult to locate on the map provided. Okay, no campground is perfect. I can deal.

We pitched the tent on a spot which was the flattest we could find, and because the heat was really ripping we decided to go for a swim. By this time it was late afternoon, and the air temperature alone could probably have fried an egg. Since this campground is actually located in two separate areas on two sides of the street, we had to drive to the pool. I didn’t mind driving really, since it was just another excuse to shove my face into the AC so I could breathe, but when we got to the pool area, there were not many places to park. A guy in a golf cart offered to move for us, which was nice, and then we wilted into the pool for a short half an hour or so before a storm kicked up and the sky opened and ended our pool time. Not a problem. Being in the pool did its job of cooling us down considerably, and we felt more like human beings after our swim. We got ourselves dinner, fortunately regaining the picnic table which had been removed by our neighbors, hung our wet suits and towels, and night began to creep closer. When we finally rolled onto our air mats to sleep, our neighbors decided to come back to their site for the evening.

Let me just say, the rest of the night did not go well. Our neighbors had their car running and their headlights shining and they were talking at the top of their voices for a long time before finally quieting down. Typically campgrounds have quiet hours by 10pm, but I was too darn tired to get up and ask them to be quiet. Eventually I fell asleep anyway, only to wake up a few hours later to the sound of thunder. I wasn’t really too troubled about a thunderstorm, but it’s hard to sleep to the crashing and flashing. And it’s hard to sleep when the rain beats on your tent and you discover to your horror that your tent is not as waterproof as it used to be. I try not to be that person who only sees the misery, but this particular night was not one for the cheerful happy camper. As the rain dripped down from the tent canopy, we rushed in a stupor of exhaustion (neither of us had slept well for several nights in a row before this) to relocate to a dry spot in the middle of the tent. We hurried and scurried to move everything around so the important things like cell phones and books and flashlights and bedding would stay dry.

Eventually the rain made itself just nuisance enough to dribble down the sides of the tent and left us at least the middle to sleep in rather restless damp dreams. What made the night extra fun was that once we relocated, we were sleeping on an incline. If you’ve never tried to sleep on a hill, this is your friendly neighborhood camper telling you not to bother trying it. You won’t sleep much when sliding down a slope all night long. Several storms rolled through the region that night, each of them dropping a good deal of much-needed rain. I’m sure the forest rangers were rejoicing, as the Adirondacks had been dry for the prior month or so, according to our rafting guide. We, however, emerged from our tent like zombies in the late morning. So late, in fact, that we realized without even discussing it that backpacking was not happening for us on this trip. Michael had been able to get more sleep than me, but neither of us was anywhere near rested enough for a hike over several high peaks that day, and the thought of strapping on a heavy pack made me want to cry. On top of the sleeplessness, all our bedding was wet. And after the rain, the trails would no doubt be nothing but mud and I forgot to pack our gators. Seriously, way too many counts were against us this time. Sigh. It makes me so sad.

We wanted so very much to go hiking. Lesson learned: never plan a hiking trip after you go on any other trip. Because we went rafting before hiking, the sunburn problem really threw a monkey wrench in the works. Tent leakage did not help. Lack of sleep was probably the worst of all. Next time we plan a backpacking trip, we are going directly to the trailhead and that’s that. On the bright side, I’m certain my mother-in-law was glad we came home a night early because our dog, Luna, was howling all night while we were gone. HOWLING. This surprised us, as she has never done that. She’s used to staying with Michael’s mom when we go out of town and can’t bring the dogs, but Michael was only home from New Hampshire for a couple of days before we left. Apparently Luna did not approve. If we go again, we may need to try to bring her with us, though I don’t know how well that’s going to work. She’s getting old enough that mountain climbing may be too hard for her, and she will need to carry her own food and water—a factor which may prove to be too much for her, even though she’s a stubborn husky mix.

Come hell or high water, we came home swearing up and down that we would make a point of camping later in the summer. Both of us are desperate to get out in the wilderness, and we have camp food ready to go in the bear can. Don’t want to waste it! Must go camping! Must climb mountains! Must escape screens! These are the important things in life, and we must make time for what we love. It’s essential. I will not give up on camping, especially after the debacle we just left behind us. Truly, though, these are first-world problems. I complain with a dose of reality, still thankful I have a home with a comfortable bed, choices about taking vacations, plenty of food to eat, a reliable new vehicle, my family is safe, and I have a husband who is wonderful. All these annoyances in my silly little vacation are miniscule problems, and nothing in comparison to carrying all my belongings in a bag because I have no home. It’s completely different when you carry all your belongings in a bag because you enjoy escaping the world for a while. Even though I didn’t get to do that on this trip to one of my favorite places, I still got to enjoy the Adirondacks. The rafting was an absolute delight (and I’m addicted now), and the stars were glorious in the night sky. Time with Michael’s family was a lot of fun, especially getting to be with his niece and nephew. For all those aspects of the trip, we are grateful. And this is where I hope to stay centered. Grateful for what I have, because in this moment I have plenty. Friends, please get out there and find some joy, remember to be grateful for what you have, and then do something nice for someone who doesn’t have anything. I think I might just find a way to help a homeless person this week, a thing I like to do once in a while. It’s been too long since I did that. If you like, leave a comment about nice things you’ve done for someone else this week. I love hearing from you!

Flying with the Falcon

Prepping for Backpacking, White Water Rafting, and Whiteface Mountain Fun

*Photo taken from the summit of Whiteface Mountain, overlooking Lake Placid in the Adirondacks of New York.

Right this minute, as I begin to write to you, Michael and I are driving up a winding highway toward the Adirondacks of New York State. It’s one of our favorite places in the world, and we haven’t been there in a couple of years. Our plan is to first spend some time with family, starting with a white water rafting trip, and then later we hope to get out and backpack. I have no idea how that will go, since we packed late into the night yesterday, to the point that I couldn’t see straight, which may mean I didn’t pack very well. Usually we keep our packs full of the things we typically need to have with us on a trip to the woods, and most of the time I don’t change my supplies much other than what I pack to eat. This time, our packs had been rearranged to be packed into a small container in the truck, so now I don’t know if I actually remembered everything I need. Want to help me make sure I have everything? Allow me to introduce my gear (and then I will share the first leg of our trip).

First, I checked my pack to make sure it was intact. This is just smart. Nothing could be more frustrating than getting your pack all set to go, you drive to wherever you plan to hike, and then you pull your pack out of the trunk to discover a torn strap, a massive hole in the side, or a broken zipper you didn’t notice. Yeah, that would stink. I also spent hours packing our food, which is the next biggest task for me. If I don’t have the right fuel, I have a tough time with my energy level. When hiking up mountains, I need a lot of protein, especially in the morning. My intention was to have eggs and oat bran for breakfast, but the eggs didn’t work out as planned. I now have oat bran with dates and pecans, and I dearly hope it will be good enough. If not, I may switch meals so the higher protein meal of chicken and rice with zucchini may become my breakfast. Or I might pilfer a package of tuna from the lunch snack and eat it for breakfast instead. Who cares which meal you eat in the morning? As long as it gets me to the mountaintop, I certainly don’t. We have bins of freeze-dried food that I use to create my own meals because I refuse to eat the pre-packaged meals you mix with hot water. Most of the time those meals have too much sugar, salt, and empty calories I eat and then still feel hungry. No, thank you. Of course, they are also very expensive. At about seven bucks a meal, I might as well be paying to eat out without the benefit of someone else cooking and cleaning.

With the food packed in the bear canister, I moved on to the clothes and bedding. When Michael and I hike together, we usually split the gear so that he has the heavier pack with the food, and I carry the bedding. Michael is a large person, so he can handle a lot more weight than I can. Thus, I carry the bedding for both of us. At camp every night, after we put up the tent together, I go into the tent and set up the beds while Michael preps dinner. It works fairly well as a system, which is reversed in the morning. Typically we carry a pair of inflatable sleep mats that are insulated. My former sleeping mat decided to stop holding air, so we have to pick up a new one en route. We also carry a down-alternative throw, a silk liner which holds our sleep mats together, and sometimes a down blanket for the underside if it looks like it will be cold. It will probably be unbearably hot, as New York State has been in the 90s for the last few days, so we probably won’t need the extra blanket. Lastly, I use inflatable pillows. All of these items were checked and jammed into a compression bag. The clothes I bring are the same no matter how long we go camping: cargo camp pants that convert to capris (with plenty of pockets), cotton tee, two pairs of cotton wick-away socks, one pair of wool socks, one long-sleeved shirt, a pair of leggings, a hoodie, a knit hat, a pair of gloves, a bandanna, a waterproof hooded jacket and rain pants, a pair of flip-flops, and my fabulous Adidas Swift-R hiking shoes (I never go hiking without them—having waterproof sneakers is a must). No matter how warm or cold it gets, in summer this supply of clothes is plenty.

After the soft stuff got packed, I made sure my head lamp had batteries, my lighter worked, and that we had a cook kit. Michael usually does the check on the cook kit and medical supplies, and then we make sure we have all the proper tent parts (especially tent stakes, which are so easy to miss when packing) and that the tent is in good shape. After years and years of camping, Michael and I both appreciate the importance of making sure everything is in good order before hitting the trail. It’s such a horrible moment when you get out in the woods and go to unpack for your first camp, only to discover you foolishly forgot something you really need, or that an item is broken. Taking those few minutes to look over all the supplies is worth it. As an aside, I will mention one item I have discovered to be incredibly useful for carrying snacks and keeping toiletries away from the food in the bear can: Op bags. If you haven’t heard of these, I suggest an internet search. Op bags were originally created for military use, and they are heavy duty plastic zip bags which are waterproof and prevent animals from catching the scent of whatever is inside. We tested the bags with our dogs to see if they really worked; we stuck a raw steak in the bag and put it on the kitchen floor while the dogs were in another room, then brought the dogs in to see if they would notice it. At our house if anything falls on the floor, the dogs know it’s theirs. In came the dogs, they sniffed the bag, and then they ignored it as if it contained nothing of interest. If they could smell the steak, trust me—they would have chewed through the bag in a heartbeat. Now I use Op bags to carry snacks and toiletries in my pack. If dogs can’t smell it, bears won’t smell it, either.

In the morning, the day hot as blazes with a blast of 90-100-degree heat for the week, we hit the road for Wilmington, where we planned to meet with some of Michael’s family for a few days of fun before we hit the trail. The drive to the Adirondacks is about seven hours from Olean, and it still makes me laugh that such a trip used to feel really long before we went out West. Now this drive seems like a quick jaunt. When we arrive at the large camp house rented by Michael’s family, it’s a nice little spot in the woods with plenty of space for six to sleep comfortably, cook meals in the stocked kitchen, and have some outdoor fun. Our first night there we took it easy, since the next morning we needed to be up at the crack of dawn to get out on the river for the rafting trip. Thankfully, Michael’s brother and sister-in-law had found a rafting company and booked the trip. In the morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed (I got absolutely no sleep in the heat and on the mushy bed—ugh) and drove an hour and a half to arrive at the headquarters for North Creek Rafting Company.

Truly, I had not thought about the rafting trip prior to leaving for the Adirondacks. I never really expected to go on a white water rafting adventure of any kind, mostly because such things are fairly expensive, but also because it seemed kind of dangerous. I don’t know what I thought of rafting, but I was honestly surprised by how much fun we had. Once we got ourselves outfitted with helmets, life vests, and oars, and then had our ears filled with the safety procedures, we took a short ride on their bus to the river’s edge. There, we carried our raft to the water after receiving our instructions about rafting jargon and more safety procedures from our guide. As we lifted the raft and shuffled down to the river’s edge, I began to worry about the water and getting dumped off the side of the boat. I mean, the way these rafts work, we were instructed to sit on the outside edge, nothing to hold onto when we hit rough waters, no straps to hold you in place, only a foot stuck beneath the center of a squashy seat was supposed to keep us all in the boat. This seemed dubious at best, but by the time we were shuffling toward the water I was not about to chicken out and throw in the towel.

Instead, I dutifully hauled the boat down to the water with the rest of the family, waded into the water to my knees, and climbed into the boat like a good little camper. Immediately we floated right into the rapids on the Indian River, so we got a quick lesson on listening to the guide’s instructions for how to paddle the oars and even lean into the center of the boat to avoid being dumped into the water. We all listened so well she questioned whether or not we were newbies, since she was surprised by how well we managed ourselves. When we explained our familiarity with canoe trips, she understood immediately why we seemed so well-versed in handling the oars. As we made our way through the rapids of the first leg of the trip, I found myself joyfully whooping every time we hit the rough water. Once an adrenaline junkie, always an adrenaline junkie. I mean, I like canoeing, but white water rafting might be my new favorite thing. It helped that we had an experienced guide who had been rafting since she was four, and had learned how to read the river from her father. Her experience combined with our ability to adapt our previous boating skills made the trip a lot of fun for all of us. As part of the day, the rafting company incorporated several stops to rest, to swim if people wanted, and a quick lunch they provided for us. The only negative about the trip was our own foolish decision to skimp on applying more sunscreen about halfway through the trip. We had bright, hot sun shining on us all day, and they did try to warn us that our knees would probably burn…none of us reapplied the sunscreen and we all got burned knees. Oh, well. Totally worth it.

Floating down the Indian River to the Hudson is apparently a year-round thing, though I can’t imagine it would be fun to raft in the winter. Being in the midst of a heat wave, the water which occasionally jumped over the side of the raft cooled us gorgeously, and we appreciated the stops which allowed us to either swim or soak our feet. In all, the trip surprised me. If it becomes my new favorite thing, I may need to figure out how to do it more often. After the rafting, we all went to dinner in Lake Placid. Sitting outside allowed us to enjoy the live music playing across the street, and we all discussed our surprise about how much fun the rafting was for all of us. Something about the trip down the river seemed to bond us differently, a good outcome indeed. Our final day for family time revolved around a trip to Whiteface Mountain, a trip I wanted to take since I have successfully faced my terror of heights. It was on Whiteface many years ago that I cringed fearfully on a bench near the elevator while my children and parents went exploring. My phobia of the exposed height of the mountain gripped me so badly I couldn’t even watch as my children romped near the edge of the rocks on the mountaintop. The short climb to the top of the mountain was also impossible for me, but not this time. Since working on my terror, this climb I was first up the mountain and I leaped up the rocks with glee, not the least bit afraid. Wonder of wonders! This was a big milestone, and I am so glad we went so I could enjoy the beautiful view this time.

The remainder of our week is a mystery now. Michael got a terrible burn on the rafting trip, and his legs are looking very bad. It may not be possible to hit the trail on this trip if he’s still in pain tomorrow, but we shall see. If he can’t backpack, I may just take myself up one of the high peaks so I can add it to my growing list of high peaks I’ve climbed. Now that fear is no longer an issue, I feel like conquering mountains is just what I do now that I can. It’s so satisfying to hit the summit, especially for those tough climbs. My hope is to hike Big Slide, a peak that has some scary ladders I might have to climb to get to the summit. If I can conquer my fear of ladders, I believe my fear of heights will finally be well in hand. That would be fabulous. See you on the other side, friends. I hope each and every one of you had a beautiful holiday if you are from the States. We enjoyed a delightful show of fireworks over Mirror Lake in Lake Placid last night, a perfect way to end our night, and a perfect place to end my weekly trip with you. My lovelies, please do get out there and see something beautiful this weekend. Life is too short to waste it in front of a screen.

Flying with the Falcon

Why Diet Is Key for Getting in Shape for Summer Hiking

*Photo taken from Congress Trail at Sequoia National Park. 

Even if you aren’t a hiker, I still believe we all need to take good care of our bodies, inside and out. If we want to live our best lives, we need to be healthy and to have energy. It’s not enough to go on a diet to lose weight, or to hit the gym once in a while. We need to look at the entire quotient of the cycle of our eating, sleeping, and exercise routines, because within that system is the secret to why you might not feel as good as you should. If you struggle with time, money, or what to tackle, let me assure you those are only excuses helping to keep you trapped in your unhealthy lifestyle. You can end the imprisonment by making a few choices that will not be easy, but they will alter your life. In my post “Failure to Climb” I shared the story of my failed attempt to climb Mount Monadnock during a recent visit to New Hampshire. It was frustrating to get on that mountainside and be defeated by a hike that should have been achievable, but after that hike I decided to train so I could be ready for Adirondack hiking this summer. For anyone else hoping to get out there on trails, I thought I would share how I am choosing to get my body prepped for the trail, but this post is for anyone who wants to feel better, to lose weight, or to change their thinking about their body image.

First, I am not a dietary expert, and I encourage you to research anything I say here for yourself. I discovered the means for eating a better diet by doing a ton of research on new science about the best diet for helping to heal my body from injury, to help curb the effect of hormones on my middle-aged systems, and then I also combined that with learning how to shift my thinking. It didn’t happen overnight. It requires my daily attention and focus, and I made exercise and eating better non-negotiable in my mind. Not everyone is ready for this kind of dedication to self, but some people may have reached the conclusion that being depressed and sick all the time are enough reason to start making changes. Seriously, eating foods that contribute to being overweight do more than just make you tired. The imbalance of extra weight can also cause a lot of other issues, like joint pain, depression, anxiety, lack of energy, poor sleep, and more serious issues like high blood pressure and susceptibility to heart disease. What is most damaging is how you feel about yourself. If you feel defeated, you probably eat for comfort, which only makes you feel worse. I used to do this to myself, and still have to catch myself doing it on occasion, but it is possible to stop this madness. Before I share my exercise routine, let me plug the dietary needs first. It’s hard to get out there to exercise if you feel lethargic.

In my not-so-expert opinion, one of the best choices I made was to stop eating refined foods full of sugar, preservatives, and lord-only-knows-what-else. Seriously, this is not rocket science. When you eat Frankenfood, you are going to feel crappy. How is this not already clicking for people? Nothing at a fast food restaurant, not even salad, is going to be good for you. Stop going to those places. Stop buying junk from the freezer section at the store. If it’s prepared for you, it probably has a bunch of mystery ingredients that will make you feel like crap. Rarely I will buy prepared foods from the freezer section, but I read those ingredients to make sure they are all digestible. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. If an ingredient list is a huge paragraph, it’s probably not good for you. I know it takes more time to prepare your meals if you have to actually cook the food yourself, but if you’re too busy to make a bowl of oatmeal instead of dumping cereal in a bowl (or eating a granola bar full of sugar), then maybe you haven’t yet reached the point where you’re ready to embrace a healthier lifestyle. You have to make the choice to make the time for cooking good food. Real food. Like vegetables and fruits in a rainbow of variety. Whole grains with all the vitamins and minerals still intact. Proteins like poultry, nuts, tofu, eggs, beans, and occasional beef (like once or twice a month). It’s not hard to figure out a diet that’s good for you, it’s just hard to resist all the garbage you see every time you go to the store or go out to eat.

This is where you have to make the choice to see that eating better is what’s good for you, not that momentary gratification of eating a donut because you want it right now. You think you want it, but your body really doesn’t. Nothing in a donut makes you feel good. It makes you happy for as long as you are eating it, and then it floods your body with trash. That donut lives in your cells as something to be isolated like a virus, and your body must insulate your cells from the damage it does by making fat cells. That’s what fat is for: to protect you from the poison you ingest. If you look at that donut and instead see it for what it is—poison—you won’t want to eat it anymore. It’s actually easy to stop eating foods you use as a crutch when you really let yourself dwell on what that food is doing to your body. Imagine how those bites of food are turning into fat cells in your body, think about how disgusting it is to have those fat cells multiplying, how it is creating cholesterol clogging your arteries, and you won’t want to eat the donut. That’s the real issue. Your thinking about dessert is skewed because you associate it with pleasure. If you switch to thinking about strawberries in the same way, you’ll be deliriously happy to buy a container of strawberries instead of the donut. You can also learn healthy options for making your own desserts that don’t have all the garbage in them, and then offer yourself a cheat day so you can have your donuts once in a while. Again, if you alter your thinking, that’s really key.

When you want to start training your body for hiking, if you start with the fuel first it will be easier to get off the couch and get outside. I exercise almost every day of the week, and have done so for most of my adult life. The exercise wasn’t enough by itself. I worked hard to make sure I walked for at least a couple of miles a day, and then I also tried a bunch of other things like kickboxing, yoga, dance, cycling, and numerous other activities. I still gained weight and struggled with energy because I was still feeding myself refined foods with too much sugar and empty calories. Eventually I shifted my diet and added weight-lifting to my weekly routine, and everything changed. I lost 25 pounds without starving myself or working like a maniac. I stopped getting sick every time a virus came around at the schools where I worked at the time. I stopped having back pain from sciatica for the first time in two decades because I strengthened my core and back with weight training. When you give your body fuel it can use, it has what it needs to start repairing damage to your tissues. Cool, huh? This is really life-changing stuff.

What I do now to prep for the trail is to get out and walk every day. I have dogs, so they give me the mopey eyes if I get lazy, which helps make sure I get out of the house every day. To build the legs, I also climb uphill. This is key to getting your legs ready for mountains. Long stretches of uphill climbing are necessary to push those muscles for growth. You need to make it hard, so a hill that makes you work to climb for at least 20 minutes is what you want, and then having to go down for that same amount of time is also important. Uphill is good, but your legs need to build strength in the knees by going downhill, too. If you forget that part, you’re going to struggle when coming down from the mountain during longer hikes, especially if you’re carrying a heavy pack. To be really ready, you could climb uphill every day, but even once or twice a week is going to help. I also work out with weights every other day, and I focus on specific muscle groups each time. Arms, legs, abs and shoulders, and chest and back. Each day I focus on one set of muscles, and I have a specific routine I follow. For a long time I was using Daily Burn, which is an online program that tailors your exercise to your time and ability. If you haven’t heard of it, I recommend this program. My body has never been more muscular since I used Daily Burn. You can stream the videos in your own schedule, and it also offers nutrition advice which is actually realistic (along with recipes and daily menus). It’s the best program I’ve ever found for exercise that helps strengthen your body while also protecting it from injury with before and after stretching. Go check it out: www.dailyburn.com. Recently I also discovered a yoga program called “Fit and Fierce over 40” by Sadie Nardini. It’s available on Daily Ohm if you’re interested in checking it out. I’m still working through the program which is available for a single donation of your choice, and it’s 21 days long. I’ll let you know if I like it when I’m finished, but for the moment I can say it’s been good in terms of positive messages, 20-minute workouts, and dietary advice that’s based in healthy options.

I learned a lot about diet and a healthier lifestyle from a movie that recently came out on Netflix, titled Hungry for Change. If you’re interested in reasons to shift away from junk food and getting in better shape, this movie will motivate you. Over the last several years I have been studying what successful people do in their daily lives, and without exception almost all of them live an active life and they eat healthy diets. You don’t have to be wealthy to eat well, either. When you cut the junk from your diet and you instead buy a head of broccoli, a bag of brown rice, and a can of Goya pinto beans, you have yourself a healthy meal that costs very little. Since I cut the refined sugar from my diet, I only eat two meals a day because I only eat when I’m hungry. With my food being so good at keeping my glycemic index low, I don’t burn through my fuel so fast. My meals usually last for at least six hours now, even when I exercise a lot. I never starve myself, either. When I eat a meal, I eat until I’m satisfied, and I eat as much as I want. It’s okay to eat all you like when you’re eating well.

When you want to start making this kind of shift, you may need to involve someone who can do it with you, but it can’t be someone who may also drag you backward. It needs to be a person who is already dedicated to this lifestyle, otherwise you and your best friend who so happily goes out to get dessert with you may end up helping you to crawl back to the local coffee shop for treats to avoid the trip to the gym. Find groups of people who already exercise regularly, and who are positive about how they encourage you to stick with it. Look for online groups that share menus of healthy recipes using whole foods. (I discovered an app called Yummly which is full of great recipes for all types of diets.) Share your progress daily on social media to keep yourself honest, or if you can afford a coach to keep you on track, do it. Your body has what it needs to heal a lot of damage done from eating badly, even after decades of bad eating, but you have to give it the right fuel. It might take years to undo what you’ve done, but eventually the body does heal. Get enough sleep, too. That’s another thing we love to skimp on in the rat race, and then we wonder why we feel so awful. Sleep is the time when your brain flushes out the chemicals built up over the day, and it’s the only time it can do that. Without enough sleep, your brain keeps building up the chemicals it needs to flush. Get sleep. Your body also heals during sleep. Get sleep. Most people need between 7-8 hours a night. Get sleep.

Is this picture clearer now? Eat whole foods. Exercise every day. Get 7-8 hours of sleep every night. This is an easy prescription to understand, but the thinking is where most people lose ground. When you think about eating healthy, you have to focus on how yucky the junk food is, and how fabulous you will feel when eating the good stuff. To get yourself out to exercise, you have to think about how wonderful it will feel to have muscles, and remind yourself how much you hate being overweight and tired. To get yourself in the habit of sleeping enough, realize how wonderful it will feel to be able to get up in the morning and feel rested and ready to tackle your day with gusto, and remind yourself how lousy it is to walk around like a zombie all the time. Focus on the good things you get out of doing what your body needs, see yourself healthy and happy, and keep yourself honest with help from people who will support you. This kind of life change will probably spill over into a lot of other things you might be doing, too, like how you earn money, the people you spend time with, and where you live. You might be surprised by how differently you view the world when you start taking better care of yourself. Stop using money and time as an excuse. The rat race does not care if you feel better. Stop giving the rat race control over your life. You deserve to be happy, to feel good about yourself, and to enjoy your life. Start today by eating a healthy dinner, take your kids for a bike ride, organize a game of kickball, or plan to go to bed at the hour you need for a full night’s sleep. You do have time. In fact, time will become a thing you have in abundance when you really look at your schedule and discover how many things you do to work against your own health. Make your health a priority before all other things in your day, and it will become a habit as natural as brushing your teeth. Get out there and make yourself beautiful. You deserve it.

 

Need meal ideas you can afford on a budget?

-Tofu or chicken stir-fry with brown rice

-Chicken sautéed with garlic and tossed with quinoa and zucchini

-Beans and rice with broccoli and cheese

-Pulled pork over polenta with wilted greens

-Any meat with baked sweet potato and a green veggie

These are just a few thoughts, but eating well does not have to be expensive. If you stop buying the junk food, or limit the junk to one or two days a week, it makes affording the good food a lot easier.

Flying with the Falcon

Stories from the Heart

*Photo taken at Sequoia National Park. It’s hard to tell the way the photo cropped, but the shape of a heart appears in the tree, with the graffiti word, “rage,” above it.

I had a blog post about self-care all set to go, an article about prepping for the trail and the importance of diet and exercise…but I decided instead to share some stories with you, reader. Next week I will get back to trail prep, but for a moment let me take your hand. Hear me say I love you, no matter who you are. I do. Your purpose in this world is important. Be here with me for a few minutes, and know that I realize we may be miles apart, but that does not change how I feel about your importance. We all have stories, we all tell stories when we meet; stories string us together like knots in a net, and we are all tied to one another whether we know it or not. For a short time, let me tell you a few stories because I feel right now it is important. My purpose in life is to tell stories and hopefully change lives, or at least draw attention to the need for humans to take care of each other. My first story begins at the Canada-US border on the Peace Bridge.

Long, long ago I went on a trip to Canada with my parents and a family friend. After so many years, I have no idea why we went to Canada, or what we did there. What I remember is sitting in the back seat of our family car, hearing the conversation of the border patrol officer as he questioned a man I cared about, a man accused of being a foreigner attempting to gain entry to the US without documents. His name was Gordon, and he was a Seneca. The accent heard by the officer was not foreign, it was more American than my own. After several questions and answers fired back and forth, the officer insisted we pull over and park, saying that Gordon needed to go inside to answer more questions. My concern grew like a balloon filling with water, the weight of my anxiety trembling and contained only by the confines of my inability to understand what was happening. When we pulled into the parking space by the concrete building, my parents asked Gordon if he would like them to go with him. Gordon said no, he was used to this, and he would be fine. I didn’t feel like it was fine. I knew this was wrong, and I was afraid for him to go into the building alone. I knew this, even though I was under the age of five or six.

We sat waiting in the car, though I don’t know how long. My fear held me prisoner while I watched for Gordon, a man I knew as kind and funny. He made me laugh, as did many of our Seneca friends, and I associated our visits to the reservation with a great deal of joy. Campfires and dancing, stories, delicious food, beautiful colors on hand-sewn outfits that jingled and whirled as if alive. I sat in the seat, waiting. In my memory, I am cold. I don’t even know what time of year this happened, but I remember being cold, and dark. The wait for Gordon didn’t last terribly long, according to my parents, but it seemed infinite. When he returned to the car, he was full of assurances that he was fine, but that exchange at the border remained in my memory, rooted to me as a lesson of the reality of how people I love might be treated because they speak with an accent. To me, Gordon’s accent sounded beautiful. To border patrol, it sounded an alarm to protect the country. Though both points of view may be valid, what is the truth? The officer’s fear, or my love? My love caged with fear?

When I was a few years older, we had moved to a small town in Western New York. My parents wanted to move away from the Buffalo area, where we lived back when the border patrol incident happened, because they thought small town life might be safer and better for my brother and me. The town they chose had a population of about 650 people, and was situated close to Houghton, a town where a conservative Christian college is located. At school I befriended children who lived in Houghton, and who were vocal about their beliefs. I was not Christian. When my “friends” at school discovered this, it became routine for them to tell me I was going to hell because I wasn’t saved. They thought I didn’t believe in Jesus, and that I was condemned. My retorts always revolved around the fact that I didn’t believe in hell, so it didn’t matter, but those accusations still stung. My “friends” labeled me as an outsider, a heretic, a person undeserving of the compassion of God because I didn’t share their religion. For all the years we lived in that small town, those girls kept at their consistent denial of my right to heaven. Their judgement of my right to God’s love left an indelible rift in my spirit, and anchored a deep well of insecurity in my desire to discuss religion with people. I felt the need to hide my beliefs in God, and the fact that I was raised to believe all people are equal, no matter what. It also bred a sense of shame about being different, and I still believe now as I did then that no matter what religion (or lack of it) we choose as our community, I don’t think God, if God even exists, cares. I think what matters is whether or not we are kind, take care of other people, and express love for each other. What I felt from my friends did not strike me as love. Later in life, the religion to which I clung in my childhood and young adult life also left me reeling, bereft, and lacking in love. I left.

In sixth grade, I still lived in the little town next door to Houghton, and we were learning about the Holocaust. I know what you’re thinking. Oh, no. Here we go again with another Holocaust story. No, it’s not really about the Holocaust so much. Our teacher, Mrs. Cummings, was a sweet, kind, mild-mannered woman near the age of retirement. I remember she wore glasses which she kept on a chain around her neck, and I used to think I wanted to have such a necklace because I liked the way the chain looked when it dangled from the sides of her liver-spotted face. One day Mrs. Cummings brought in the movie projector, and we all got excited, as kids did back in the 70s and 80s, because movie time was fun. The lights went out, and the screen shone bright white before the film caught, and then the black and white images of people in labor camps flooded my head with nightmares which revisited me for years. I have no memory of what Mrs. Cummings said during that footage. I do remember the outrage in her voice, uncharacteristic of her usual soft-spoken tone. One particular image of a man in a barber chair stood out as particularly horrific: a man having his hair pulled out by the roots. Even now, it brings tears to my eyes. I was in sixth grade, and it was too early for such images to be tethered to my soul. Sixth grade.

Yesterday, a woman I only know through Twitter posted a response to a tweet about the children being separated from their parents at the border. She said she understood their pain because she had been abandoned by her own mother at the tender age of five. Fortunately she had a grandmother who took care of her, but she said her experience left her with scars she still must manage today. I tweeted back to her I was sorry she had to experience such a loss, and that I understood her pain as a survivor of my own past abuse. She thanked me for my comment, and I was glad I connected with a woman I never met in person, a woman who deserves to know her compassion is recognized, and that someone cares. So many of us do care. We care deeply, and many of us are deeply troubled by the knowledge that children are being taken from their parents, especially when we learn many of the people suffering this fate have come asking for asylum. Certainly there are those crossing illegally, but do we know why? Are they fleeing danger in their home countries? It’s possible some are criminals, traffickers of humans or guns or drugs, or maybe they have gang affiliations. Even if that’s true of a few, the number of people in the world who do harm to others purposefully is much smaller than those who want to do good. I am willing to believe most of the people coming to the US only want to be safe, get a job, take care of their children. And now babies as young as three months old are showing up in Michigan in need of shelter because the border patrol took those babies from their parents.

I grew up knowing and loving all kinds of people, from all parts of the world. Thanks to the religion I left, I did learn the value of multiculturalism, equality, and the beauty of honoring our differences. Individuality was seen as a strength, and I learned to take care of people because they needed help, not because they belonged to a certain group or had a certain skin color. I have a lot to learn about prejudice and how it affects people of color, but I do understand being treated as “other” even though my skin is white. As a woman, I have been subjected to plenty of unwarranted abuse which I must work hard to overcome. When I became a mother, it turned a key in my subconscious. Any time I hear a child cry, it urges me to run to the rescue, to help, to hold, to reassure. The cries of babies, toddlers, grade-schoolers, mothers, and fathers stirs up the memory of cold vinyl in the back seat of our car, cold condemnation of my religion, a cold black and white image of a man having his hair torn out, and the cold white background of Twitter when a woman speaks of the loss of her mother at a tender age. We cannot afford to be cold now. I cannot. Those babies need their mothers and fathers. Every single one of us who knows about this horror, we are all part of this cold, despicable network of agents who are parting parents and children, often losing the children in the chaos of detention centers spread across the nation. A child as young as three months has absolutely no means of advocating. How will that child’s cries be interpreted? Who can hear the names of a child’s parents in her cries? Only the parents, and they are lost in prisons, waiting for who-knows-what behind bars, possibly to be deported while their children are still in the hands of those who took them.

My fingers are icy and clammy while I type, despite the comfortable temperature of the room. The temperature of my heart has dropped down into the hypothermic space of hate, a gray lining around the bubbles in which we live, the hazy cloud of misunderstood meanings which we create around “others.” There are no others. There is only us. Humans. We belong to the same family. Those babies are our babies. Those mothers are me. Their hearts are mine. Their grief is my burden. I already donated to the ACLU and Together Rising to help get lawyers to advocate for the human rights of the families being broken apart. If you believe in God, your prayers are not enough. If you are a parent, hear the cries as your own children, because they are. Those are your children sleeping in cages, being given to strangers to hold them if they are fortunate, begging for their loved ones. We cannot undo the suffering our nation has already caused, regardless of how long this has been happening, but we can begin building a future bound to love. Let love be your fuel to propel you to whatever action you can take. This is my action today, to ask you, reader, in your importance, to make a choice of love. An action list can be found here to give you ideas for ways to help, if you feel inclined. You may want to call your US senators to tell them to support the families, deny funding to ICE, or whatever else you believe is in their power. Do what your heart tells you, and know that I love you no matter what you choose.

Flying with the Falcon

On Life and Gritting It Out

*Photo taken from Summit of Mt. Herman, overlooking Olean, NY.

Last week I woke to the news that Anthony Bourdain was found dead from an “apparent suicide.” What?! After years of success traveling the planet, bringing the world’s cultures into the homes of those who watched his shows, giving us all a reality check for what it’s like to live in the social structures and microcosms of every conceivable country, after overcoming his own demons of addiction to heroine, and finally becoming a father in his 50s, how is it possible that now the world must live without the snarky-voiced narratives of Anthony Bourdain? The world cruelly rips open the bellies of any and all who dare to live well, you might think. Though I feel despair for Anthony’s choice to die rather than face whatever troubles provoked his decision, I believe there is always a reason to find a way to live. Every life is made for greatness, even those busboys Anthony liked to joke about in his writing, the poor unfortunates who lived on the skids in cities, broke and barely getting by on the meager tips scraped from the bottom of the barrel. Even the homeless, the destitute, the indebted, the migrants, the beaten, the tortured, the addicted, every single person suffering in the world right now deserves to know that even when life is at its most miserable, your life is meant for greatness if you can find the formula for what you are meant to share with the world. This alone will not save you, though. Tony found his greatness, but he didn’t believe it. He didn’t see it for what it is, or he would still be alive.

Last week I failed to climb a mountain I thought should have been a sure thing, an easy achievement to get back into shape for summer backpacking. To say the least, I was surprised and dismayed that the mountain conquered me. I got to the tree line and had to retreat. This surprise could have turned me toward a path in which I started telling myself the story that because I am nearing 50, because I felt so exhausted from a climb without weight on my back, because I am in better shape than ever and I still couldn’t climb, for all these reasons I am doomed if I go backpacking again. I could tell myself the story that backpacking is no longer possible for me, but that would be shortchanging my ability to rally and overcome obstacles. My past is littered with failures, all of which I have overcome, and by overcome I mean that I am still alive and have continued to improve on my own inner workings. Even though life can be a grind, I kept gritting my teeth and moving forward. Believe me, I have had many moments when I wanted to give up, to run away (and I did run away from a lot of things), to escape. What I learned is that no matter how often you run or hide, the same problems will keep coming back to the kitchen door, rapping at the window in the middle of the night, and whispering the worst of your fears through the cracks in the sash. You can rob the world of your life in those moments, or you can decide to find a reason to live.

Lately the world seems like an apocalyptic novel. Every world culture hinges to the others, social media has bonded us all together in a strange and sometimes upsetting web of real-time updates to the especially tragic horrors we visit upon every kind of life, whether human, animal, vegetable, or mineral. We can view humans as a cancer or a magnificent wonder of ingenuity, and both are true, depending on who you are and what you experience. While one person celebrates victories, another wallows in losses so excoriating just breathing can seem impossible. Why is it that some people who have lived through the worst humanity has to offer can overcome those nightmarish experiences and grow into happy, well-adjusted people who genuinely cherish life? Why do some people who appear to have it all figured out and live a life of fame and fortune suddenly decide to check out in a mysterious suicide in a random hotel room on the other side of the globe? It boils down to belief. Not belief in God, not belief in humanity, not belief in being positive. None of those things will bring you comfort, not really. Plenty of people who take their own lives or falter through life on the edge of wanting to die believe deeply in God or their religion. Just saying positive mantras all day will not bring you to believe in them. The kind of belief that will change your life lies only in what you choose to see in the world, and whether or not you believe you can be, do, or have anything you want of it if you are willing to make the time for yourself.

After my failure to climb Mount Monadnock, only three days later I dragged myself up the steep slopes of another mountain. Granted, this other mountain gave me less than half the elevation gain of the hike up Monadnock, but it was still a challenge to climb. As I said in my last post, East Coast hiking tends to be harder in terms of the steep grades. The slopes are far steeper than most out West. No matter how little nor how much it required of me, I made myself go so I would get two things: 1) I gained the success of a climb, and 2) I get myself in better shape so I have more assurance of future success. We have the option of giving up when we peer into the periscope and discover danger ahead, or we can train ourselves for battle so we have the chance to win. If you look at the failure as a chance to grow and improve on yourself instead of an insurmountable obstacle, then failure becomes a friend, a teacher, an opportunity. It’s easy to look at the world through the lens of horror, hate, and division, but why? Because it’s what we are trained to see. The world also happens to be full of loving, thoughtful, generous people who are doing inventive, creative, astonishing feats of human ingenuity. We hear often that lessons must be learned “the hard way.” Who says? Lots of people. Does that make it true? For them, yes, and for anyone else willing to believe it. Belief, as I said, is the key.

If you believe the world is flat, you will find proof because your brain is trained to find the proof of any beliefs you consistently tell yourself. Whatever you heard or saw in your lifetime, if you internalize those experiences into your belief system, your brain spends its day looking for signs of proof. Two people with completely opposing beliefs will see proof of their beliefs in the world around them, and they will both believe their experiences tell them they are right. This is why we have so many people fighting about fake news or the nuances of why New York pizza is better than Chicago’s. Just because you have a belief system which allows you to see what you want to see in the world does not mean you’re necessarily right—it just means your mind finds proof for your beliefs to seem real to you. Truth is still truth, even if you deny it. I mean, no matter how much you want to believe the world is flat, it’s not going to shape itself into a pancake just for you. The only reason you can believe the world is flat is because you’ve never traveled to space to see that it’s actually round. Until then, you can tell yourself all day and all night that the pictures of earth from space are all just a hoax. Like I said, belief systems are built on proof. Plenty of people believe the world is flat. Lack of experience will shape a mind to believe a lot of things that aren’t true. This is also what happens when people don’t believe in themselves.

Obviously, the world is full of a lot of scary people doing a lot of bad things. But how many times in your day do you experience those things? Compare that to how often you encounter people who are kind, thoughtful, polite, or just nice to you. I have a feeling the latter is more correct, though it’s possible you live in a very scary, unhealthy place where you have to fear for your life every day. Those places exist, and I do not doubt their power to keep a person trapped in fear and despair. And yet, I was homeless once. I struggled through vast amounts of trauma over the first 25 years of my life. Most of my life I lived on the edge of poverty and in relationships rife with chaos. Did those experiences make me miserable? Sure, but somewhere inside me I knew there was a better life to be lived, and I searched for it until I learned how to create it for myself. Even though I had no idea how I would find a way to make my life any better, because I saw people living happy, fulfilled lives I knew it was possible. And it is possible. For anyone. For you. Belief is the key.

When you want to learn how to climb a mountain, you go find a mountaineer, not a person who’s terrified of heights. Because I was so terrified of heights and wanted to overcome that fear, I hiked with my husband, who has no fear of heights and loves to conquer mountains. He taught me with patience how to overcome my fear, and now I climb mountains all by myself with no hint of fear. Did I have reasons for my fear? Sure. After being dangled over a 450-foot canyon by my arm, and being told I would be dropped (at a young age)…that certainly filled me with serious phobia. I still have trouble with ladders. But phobias can be unlearned, and so can beliefs. If your belief system falsely accuses you of being an imposter, that you’re not good enough, or you deserve to live in misery, then that is exactly what you will see and experience. People who have achieved fame or fortune aren’t just lucky; they usually follow a path which takes them to that success, and it has to do with belief. Those who do achieve success by accident may not believe they deserve it, and then they live with guilt, shame, a life out of balance. None of us needs to live that way. All of us deserve to be happy, healthy, and safe, and I believe the world has plenty of resources for all of us.

If you have been struggling, please, take the time to center yourself, discover your greatness, believe you deserve to be happy, and discover what you are meant to do in the world. The world needs you. Find the voice of someone inspiring to uplift you, give yourself the gift of a retreat to a place that offers you relief from the troubles of the world, treat yourself to a good meal which will nourish your tired body, go outside when the sun shines and soak it up for an afternoon, head to a bookstore or a library and get a book that can teach you how to change what’s missing in your life. No matter how much you know, there is always more to learn. A Lakota hoop dancer named Kevin Locke once said, “Every child will unlock a secret.” I believe that’s true. Every individual in this world will experience their own unique way of expressing their knowledge, and when we realize how important we all are to the health of our planet, we all win. I wish Anthony Bourdain had found peace with his journey while he was alive. His death has broken a lot of hearts in the world because he deeply touched so many of us, even without ever meeting him in person. His greatness was obvious to all those who learned from his commentary on world culture and the importance of humility. May we all learn the lesson of how important it is to attend to our inner selves, rather than rob the world of our fortunes.

For those who may be interested in delving deeper into creating a life forged around passion rather than being a slave to despair, I have created a seven-day course I am going to offer for free for the rest of the month. I originally planned to put it up on my website as a paid course, but the loss of Anthony Bourdain has urged me to give it to anyone who might need it right now. It’s more important to me that people get help they need. For the rest of the month of June, the course will be available below this post. Please share with anyone who may need it. We need to be good to each other, take care of each other, and not just offer random acts of kindness, but purposeful and meaningful acts of compassion. Love will be a lighthouse. Get out there and do beautiful things, and believe those beautiful acts will be a healing balm to both the giver and the receiver. Be a lighthouse. Open the kitchen door wide. The world will be what we make of it right now.

Click the link below to sign up for the course:

Free Yourself Email Course

Flying with the Falcon

Failure to Climb

*Photo taken below summit near tree line from the Dublin Trail on Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire.

We all have those moments in life where we fail at something, but it’s especially jarring when we fail at something we expect to achieve with ease. It’s a life lesson, maybe. Or maybe it’s just a bad day. I blamed my failure on spring allergies, exhaustion, and not eating enough breakfast. It really is my own fault, but I want to blame it on things out of my control. I really can’t. In reality, I think we all like to blame other people, unfortunate circumstances, the dog, random problems at the grocery store, whatever excuses we can find when we fail. This weekend I failed to climb a mountain I thought I should be able to climb with ease. The entire time I struggled, I sought for reasons why I was having such a difficult time. We humans often like to do that. Blame. Well, crickets, we can only blame ourselves when we fail. Good news: we can also rise to the occasion and try again. Let me explain.

Over the weekend I drove to New Hampshire to visit Michael. I miss him horribly, and because his schedule at work is so erratic, I often only get to see him once every ten days to two weeks. It’s hard for both of us, but we chose this because if I stay in Olean I can keep working on the house while he makes money in New Hampshire. We don’t like it, but it’s temporary. We plan to make New Hampshire our new home base soon, and we will continue traveling for a while because we love it, but we need to sell our Olean home in order to buy land in New Hampshire. The drive to New Hampshire from Olean is seven hours, about half of which is highway driving. It’s a long drive to make for just a short few days, especially when two of those days is spent on the road. Too short, but we make the most of it.

I brought along our Camelback water bladders so we could hike Monadnock on Saturday because both Michael and I want to go backpacking in the Adirondacks over the summer, and we both need to get ourselves in condition for the trip. Though Mount Monadnock is only a little over 3,000 feet, it’s the kind of climbing one must do in the Adirondacks: lots of scrambling over boulders and big rocks. I expected this to be a snap, since out West I climbed much higher mountains out there every other day. Heck, I climbed to the peak of a prominent mountain in the chain of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, well over 12,000 feet, though I did only have to climb the last 2,000 feet to get to the top. Still. It was high, and plenty of the climbing I did on other peaks was very challenging with a lot of loose sand and steep slopes. Plus, a few years ago I climbed Mount Haystack in the Adirondacks with a 30-pound pack on my back, and that peak was almost 5,000 feet. So you can see my thinking here. This peak which I climbed a couple of summers ago should have been easy.

Michael and I both suffered from a lack of sleep, to be fair, but I am used to having my sleep interrupted and functioning without much difficulty. We ate a decent breakfast, filled our Camelbacks, brought along a few snacks, and away we went to the Dublin trail on the western side of the mountain. If you hike Monadnock, you can go to the White Dot or White Cross trail, which is supposedly easier, but you have to pay a fee. We chose the Dublin trail because it was closer to drive, and because we wanted a little variety. When we got there it was early afternoon, plenty of time to hike the peak and back before dinner. I read a website post that stated it should take about 2 ½ hours…right. Well, if you’re not slow as molasses in January, which is what we were. At first, I got on the trail and felt fine. I was excited to hike the peak again because I remember it being fun to scramble on the rocks to get to the top. It’s a fun challenge to be free of the past terror that used to turn my legs to jelly when I saw how high I was on a mountainside. Now I climb with the glee of a Billy goat, tackling slopes I never would have dared in the past. Little by little the dirt track became large rocks to negotiate on the trail, and then the rocks became more like stairs. Stairs which went up and up and up, seemingly without end. Without bug spray, we were at the mercy of the gnats and mosquitoes under the trees, which only made the experience more difficult. Still, despite my growing fatigue, I felt determined to push onward.

By the time we reached the portion of the trail where the trees shrank in size and the exposed rocks became the norm, both of us felt whooped. I could not believe it had taken us two hours to get to the point where we still had at least another half hour (or an hour at our rate of speed) to achieve the summit. What the heck? We sat down and ate some almonds, looking at the beautiful view. From that height, we could see the dots of lakes that appear as puddles in amongst the saddles of the rounded valleys. The sun shone between the imposing clouds, birds soared in the updrafts, and the breeze kept the bugs away for a while. Despite this delicious moment on the mountainside, we felt spent. We knew it would be a mistake to try to press ourselves any farther, as both of us knew we were running on empty. At the time, we blamed the humidity, the lack of sleep, our work schedules…blah, blah, blah. We threw in the towel because we had to get back down without getting hurt, and it was a wise choice. By the time we got to the bottom again, I was in a haze of exhaustion like I had been hiking for days. In fact, I’ve felt better after days of hiking than I did coming off that peak.

What reason could possibly be blamed for such a bad climb? I have only myself to blame. Since coming back to the East Coast, I have climbed zero mountains. The only hiking I have done has been on relatively flat trails, with only a few occasions when I climbed up hills, not mountains. Hills do not qualify as training for mountain climbing. After all my hard work out West, once I got home I got wrapped up in working on tearing the guts out of the Airstream, and then working on the house in Olean. I did not climb any mountains. The last mountain I climbed was in February. February! That, in my mind, seems like weeks ago, but it’s been months. And though I have had plenty of success climbing mountains in the East, the climbing I did out West was very different. Less humidity actually works to your advantage out West, in my opinion. Your sweat actually does its job out there because it evaporates and cools you. In the East, not so much. Also, even though you have less oxygen out West due to altitude, you also have much easier climbing on the slopes because the trails are a gentle grade, even up high peaks, most of the time. For some reason, East Coast hiking means climbing much more difficult grades while also scrambling over boulders. Not so easy.

Now I find myself in the position to have to work very hard to train before I attempt any hiking in the mountains here, otherwise I will most likely face a very miserable trip. At this point, I absolutely must find a place where I can scramble up a steep slope at least once a week if I want to move at a pace faster than a sloth when I don my heavy pack in the wilderness. But I am glad to have the face-slap on an afternoon hike, rather than to have the misery of unexpected fatigue and suffering due to unpreparedness on a backpacking trip. Even though I’ve been hiking for a long time, even I need to be reminded to take care of myself in order to avoid issues on the trail. Let this be a lesson, hikers. If you plan to get out there this summer, take the time to prep yourself with a strenuous day hike first. Know your body and what it can do, and then learn what you must strengthen before you have to be reliant on your body for days or even weeks on the trail. Even if you’ve backpacked in the past, if it’s been a while, take the time to test your limits before you go so you don’t have any nasty surprises. Nothing is worse than getting out on the mountain only to discover you don’t have the strength to make it over the peak to the camping area on the other side. Trust me, it’s not fun. So, get out there and get strong. Find the views. Enjoy the struggle. Drink in the fresh air and bask in the sunshine. Those of us who choose to hike know that the struggle and conquering the peak is a joy like no other, and we do it for the satisfaction of being able to say, “I climbed that mountain.” Yes, I did climb that mountain once. And I will do it again.

Flying with the Falcon

Allegany State Forest and “Little” Rock City

 

Greetings and salutations, friends. I hope this day has been good to you, wherever you find yourself in this moment. After a hard day of work yesterday on both my house and my writing, I decided that today needed to be a reward, so I took a trip into the woods. As always, whenever I get overburdened by the world, work, technology, or anything else unpleasant, if I spend even an hour in the woods all things right themselves again. It’s like a magic spell is cast, and I come out of the trees with a grin on my face and a calm interior. A recent conversation I had with my brother-in-law’s girlfriend reminded me that we are surrounded by government land, a fact that I simply forgot since returning to my old stomping grounds. Funny how we return to old ways of thinking when we go back to familiar places, isn’t it? Even though Michael and I frequented plenty of trails on government land out West, when we came home I lamented the lack of hiking opportunities to which I had grown accustomed while we were away. Well, that conversation reminded me that government land is all around us, ready for visitors.

I remembered a place I haven’t visited in a long, long time, a forest situated between Great Valley and Little Valley in Western New York State. The entire region set aside is over 2,000 acres, and is known as the Allegany State Forest (not to be confused with the forest in Pennsylvania). Within this forest is a special spot called Little Rock City. There are lots of places in the country where one can find the deposits of giant boulders left behind by glacial movement in the ice age, but certain regions of the Northeast are absolutely riddled with boulder deposits. Western New York happens to have several places set aside for exploring, due to the grandeur of these massive boulders which were left behind in city-like placements in the lush forests of the hills. If you ever visit Western New York, there are lots of places one can go to enjoy the fun of scrambling over these massive boulders, and I will share those at the end of this post. First, let me take you on my afternoon adventure.

When I first arrived at the boundary of the forest, I was on a dirt road which surprisingly still had plenty of homes built well into the state forest land. The drive to the trail loop access only took a few minutes, and as I entered the area known as Rock City Forest, I could see immediately in the woods the shapes of several large boulders looming in the shade of the trees, all of them dripping with green growth, and the promise of the fun ahead. I brought the dogs with me to give them an outing, since the forest allows dogs on leash (you might be surprised by all the places that do not allow dogs, which usually makes me sad). They sat happily panting in the back seat of my beat-up Buick, thrilled to have the windows down and a phat couch on which to relax for the ride. Minutes later, we arrived at the loop where the trail access can be found. Since my last visit here years ago, I had forgotten that picnic areas are secreted into little coves in the woods, right off the road to the loop. Picnic tables with small shelters abound, so if you ever take the time to make this short hike, bring a picnic and make it an afternoon.

Also delightful to discover is the fact that this particular trail loop, called the Little Rock City Trail Loop, is part of the larger trail network called the Finger Lakes Trail. FLT is a long trail which cuts across New York State, and is maintained by a conservancy group, which is lucky for those who wish to enjoy this small portion of it. To locate the trail, look for the white trail blazes on the trees, which also happen to be labeled with the FLT logo at the trailhead. Though this trail can be hiked as a loop of about .7 miles, you could also continue longer into the woods on the FLT and enjoy a longer hike. As I hopped onto the trail with the dogs, right away I noticed the cheerful birdsong lilting in the air, the butterflies weaving through the trees, and the soft fragrance of blooming flowers. Ahh. Following the trail blazes through the woods I came to the “city” of rocks almost immediately (the system is easy, in case you aren’t well-versed: one blaze means straight, two blazes means turn, and the top blaze tells which direction to turn, whether on the right or left of the lower blaze). How to describe this scene? It’s almost like stepping back in time to me. As if a dinosaur could step out from behind one of those enormous boulders coated in lichen, moss, and fans of ferns.

The path took me on a wending road between the boulders, most of them the size of large houses, some even larger. Though the day was hot at almost 90 degrees, the stones gave off a comfortable coolness. At times the path narrowed considerably to walk between the boulders, and then it widened again when the boulders were more spread apart, but the size of this rock city is not small, regardless of the name. I felt so insignificant next to these monoliths of the past, but also giddy with excitement to get to enjoy the fun of walking amongst giants. At one point, the path skirted a couple of boulders which jutted out and created a cave-like space underneath. Pools of muddy water stood in darkness, reminding me of the scene from the Lord of the Rings movie where Frodo gets snapped up by the enormous water beast. Dripping water echoed in the cavernous space, and then every once in a while one can hear the scrabbling of some water creature in the darkness. It was both creepy and amusing all at once.

Eventually I reached a point at which I could not go forward without my gators on, since the way forward was far too muddy for me to continue, and the entire path went up between two tall rocks, all deep mud. Though I had avoided taking alternate paths through the woods up to this point (because I had no desire to get lost—there are a lot of trails winding around the rocks, as people like to climb the rocks while they hike), here I chose to try going around them to see if I could pick up the trail again on the far side of the rocks. I didn’t find the trail again, but I did find myself back up on the road leading back to my car. By accident I had taken a slightly different route to complete the loop, which ends on the roadway. Rather than take the boring route on the road, I chose to backtrack through the woods again. Why not? The trail is short, easy, and fun. My dogs appreciated the time in the woods, especially when I let them stop and sniff the world of smells available.

If you have never been backpacking, I was thinking this trail would be a perfect introduction to learning. It reminds me of places I love in the Adirondacks, with little bridges over muddy spots, fun paths between boulders, and the delight of discovery in the forest. This path gave me many of the features of some of my favorite places to go, and if it had a waterfall, I dare say it would have hit them all. Even without the waterfall, this trail is a special treat. Trees canopy the entire trail, lush plants soften the hard edges of landscape, the path follows the undulations of the hillside, and the forest is alive with animals and leaves rustling in the wind. It’s a busy place in nice weather, so expect it to be frequented by hikers in the summer months. I got lucky and had it all to myself today, which was lovely. Still, you might find this place less busy than the other places like it in the region, such as Rock City Park, Thunder Rocks, or Jake’s Rocks. What’s best about this state forest is that it’s completely free, as nature should be. However, in case you feel that the deep woods and dirt roads are not your cup of tea, I will share what I know about the other places one can see the rocks and enjoy the fun of scrambling over and around then in Western New York.

Rock City is located south of Olean on Rock City Hill, though it’s more of a commercial venture and everyone is charged by the person for a ticket to enter the family-owned land on which Rock City sits. A gift shop is attached to the property, and a lovely picnic area is provided for visitors, as well as a stunning overlook view of the region. Thunder Rocks is located within Allegany State Park, which is close to Salamanca, NY. As with all New York State Parks, each car is charged a flat fee for entry for the day (I believe it’s $8, though fees vary for some parks). Thunder rocks can be found on the park maps available where you enter at the gate, and is popular with park visitors. Here, you are left to simply wander through the woods to locate the rocks, rather than following a designated path. You might get lucky and show up when the Racoon Rally takes place, which is a mountain bike competition involving riders performing tricks on a course through the rocks—on the rocks themselves. It’s a sight to see, trust me. Finally, Jake’s Rocks is in Pennsylvania near the Kinzua Dam. The path in the woods here is paved for the most part, so if you have a stroller or anyone requiring a wheelchair or other sorts of wheels to get around, this place is a delight. Enjoy the beautiful mountain laurel when it blooms in late spring, and a gorgeous view of the reservoir as the reward for your walk through the boulder-studded forest. Picnic areas are also provided here with tables, and the access to the trail is free. Bonus!

For anyone interested in exploring the possibilities of government land in your region, try a search for “government land near me” or “Bureau of Land Management” to see what you find. You might also try looking up “government land with hiking trails” to see if that gives you different results. Regardless, I believe most states have land which is owned and maintained either by the state or by the federal government, is often  considered open for recreation, and is usually free of charge for use (though some places do charge minimal fees for camping). In New York State, the DEC (Department of Conservation) is the site which has information about all the parcels set aside for recreational use, and each county is listed separately. I found the place I visited today by using the DEC website, and each place is designated for specific types of recreation, which are listed on each parcel’s page. What are you waiting for? Get out there and enjoy the beautiful world. Go see something you’ve never seen before, especially if you’ve been living in the same place for a long, long time. Isn’t it about time you had a little variety in your life? I have a feeling if you look, you might find a treasure of nature set aside closer than you think.