Friday, September 30, 2011

Facing Our Fears

Old Sugarlands Trail - GSMNP
September 29, 2011

According to the National Park Service, there are approximately 1500 black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  This past Tuesday morning, I met one of them up close and personal.  Unlike the dreaded grizzly bears of the west, black bears really don't want to eat you.  In fact, they are more intent on getting away from you than you are from them.  Unless of course, you mange to  a) get between a mother and her cubs,  b) startle or scare one, or  c) happen to encounter one that has been habituated to humans because of being fed (thank you so much for that, silly tourists!!).  Most hikers crave the experience of seeing a bear deep in the backcountry.  I can assure you that I am NOT one of them, but nonetheless. there we were about 2 1/2 miles down the Old Sugarlands Trail when I saw him.  He had already seen us and had stopped eating.  In our circumstance, we did exactly what we were supposed to do and he was courteous enough to do exactly what HE was supposed to do (turn around and amble away).  

But I will tell you that it scared the living daylights out of both my hiking bud and me.  Because it was one of those moments when you knew your life and your safety at that point in time was out of your hands and dependent upon the actions of a giant 300-400 pound ball of black fur.  And for me, it was a brief moment of true fear.  

After staring at us for what seemed like an eternity, he moved far enough away for us to pass and began eating again, so we headed on up the trail.  Did we consider going back the way we'd come?  Absolutely, but had we done that, it would've only served to make us more apprehensive about the next time.  And there will be a next time.  It might be next Monday when we hike again or it might be 25 years from now.  But turning back from fear was not the right thing to do.  And I am so thankful that we didn't although I'll have to say, we were extra vigilant for the remainder of the hike especially on our return trip past the same spot.  

That fear will always remain and I consider it a healthy fear.  But on the other hand, having been part of a "real" encounter and seen that the bear truly does exhibit the behavior exactly as it should, I am much more comfortable heading back into the woods and while never letting down my guard, will no longer take each step wondering "oh my gosh, what if we see a bear."  Knowledge and experience is power.

On October 1, 2006, with little preparation and not much hope, I began a journey to lose weight which resulted in a 65 pound weight loss over the next 15 months.  I don't know why it clicked that time when I'd tried so many times before.  Neither can I really pinpoint when the hope actually began to return that I was going to be successful.  But I do know this.  There was never a point in that entire 15 months when fear was not my constant companion.  Fear of failure.  Fear of no one noticing.  Fear of criticism of my eating choices.  Fear of regaining (yes, I was worried about that before I ever lost the first pound - it had happened so many times before).  Fear of not being able to handle myself when food settings were out of my control.  You name it - I feared it!!  

But one by one, I slayed those dragons.  Just like that bear, when I did the things I was supposed to do, my body did exactly what IT what supposed to do and as a result, I lost weight steadily and dare I say it, easily!  

I wish that I could say I had maintained that entire 65 pound loss as I approach this five-year anniversary, but you know that isn't the case.  And I've got some new fears to face and some old dragons that need to be slayed again.  My body is five years older now and those were significant years with many changes.  The dragon I cannot seem to slay is the one that keeps telling me I can't lose it again.  And that fear is every bit as real as the adrenalin that shot through my body when I saw that bear just off to my left.  

So on the eve of that important anniversary, I'm sitting here in my den thinking about that gorgeous trail that I meandered along seeing things like this:
 and this..................

.......while reminding myself that fear is a very real part of life.  Without it, we can quickly get ourselves in tough situations.  But fear is best used when it serves as a catalyst for learning, for education and for preparation to face the unknown.  

I've hiked in these mountains my entire life.  I've read the books, I've attended seminars led by rangers and I've witness demonstrations of what to do when you encounter a black bear.  I KNEW what to do and I did it.

I've battled my weight my entire life.  I've read the books, I've attended seminars led by everyone from doctors to celebrities to total quacks and I've witnessed the power that comes to me when I've faced the fears and been successful.  I KNOW what to do and I CAN do it again!  

Are you willing to share what you are most afraid of right now?  It doesn't have to be related to you weight or eating.  Sharing might help someone else (like me!!).

Monday, September 26, 2011

Colorado Trip Wrap-Up

Originally published in My Trip Journal on July 17, 2011

The questions I am asked most often regarding our travels is how do you decide where to go and how do you decide what you are going to do once you arrive? Neither are easy to answer in writing, but here's the short version.

Where we decide to go is generally based on my research into places appropriate for the months we will be traveling. Until Bill retires, our long trip each year will be in May/June, so we will travel to places where weather conditions are favorable then. I have a long list and we just work out way through that list until we settle on an area. Once the overall destination is decided, I take over from there with lodging decisions as well as plans for what we'll do.

Lodging decisions take up a LOT of time because I am very picky. That is where we save the dollars that allow us to do this, yet it isn't necessarily "cheap" lodging I seek out. These places are "home" for at least a week and need to be comfortable with a good kitchen. We choose to cook our own meals to save money and maintain our healthy eating habits plus Bill just enjoys cooking, so only on rare occasions or one-night stopovers will we choose lodging that doesn't have a FULL kitchen.

Once the lodging is settled, I start spending hours on the websites of the states, cities, national parks, etc in the areas we will visit. I order visitor guides, state tourist information, attraction specific guides, etc and just start making lists. The "A" list are those things we must see and do, the non-negotiables. The "B" list are important things we need to make time to do if at all possible. The "C" list is other things that sound interesting or fun. Things that might substitute when for whatever reason, we are unable to do what we'd planned from the other lists. The "C" list usually grows after we arrive at a destination and get recommendations at local Visitor Centers.

The BIG thing here that makes this doable for us is that I LOVE doing this. I'm a researcher and an information junkie. And I love all things travel related. For me, planning is half the fun. I truly believe that for folks to travel wisely and successfully, at least ONE of the people involved has to relish in the planning of it. It also helps if the OTHER person is an easy going "I'll love it no matter what we do" kind of personality. It always amazes me how Bill just goes with the flow. I know his limits (no hikes over 8 miles, no more than one museum a day, if one day involves lots of driving, the next needs to be out of the car, etc.) and as long as I consider those, he just gets up every morning and says, "what are we doing today?"

This Colorado Trip Wrap-Up might help give a better understanding of my favorite "go-to" places for information.

TOTAL TIME GONE: 6 weeks, 2 days (left May 9, returned June 22)

TOTAL Miles Driven: Unfortunately, I do not have this figure. One of us tripped the TripMeter at some point along the way. Google Maps tells me we traveled 3,490 miles from home to home, but that would not include any mileage except travel from point A to point B.

GAS Expense: We truly believed we'd have to bite the bullet and pay over $4.00/gallon, but we didn't. The most expensive was $3.89 in Durango, Colorado and the least expensive was $3.21 in Manhattan, Kansas. These figures are a bit skewed because gas prices actually DROPPED approximately $.20/gallon while we were gone.

Magnolia House Bed & Breakfast (1 night)
Clarksville, TN

Gray Stone Guest House (3 nights)
Hermann, MO
Source: (under lodging)

Residence Inn by Marriott (1 night)
Overland Park, KS

The Tuscan Bungalow (7 nights)
Colorado Springs, CO
Source: (VRBO listing #274302)

Riverfront Loft (14 nights)
Durango, CO
Source: (VRBO listing #139148)

The Victorian Inn (1 night)
Telluride, CO

RiverBend Retreat (15 nights)
Estes Park, CO
Source: (VRBO listing #77548)

Morning Star Bed & Breakfast (1 night)
Manhattan, KS

Amber House Bed & Breakfast (1 night)
Rocheport, MO

Candlewood Suites (1 night)
Paducah, KY

These sources are pretty typical of my "go-to" places for travel planning. We have been using for well over a decade and have never had a bad experience. We are HUGE fans of any Marriott property because ALL of their facilities are totally smoke-free. For the second time, we had an issue with Candlewood over this very thing as they tried to put us in a smoking room even though we had a guaranteed non-smoking reservation. Candlewood Suites are excellent, low priced, no-frills hotels that are always clean and perfect for a short stay, but a smoke-free room is a non-negotiable for us and having that happen twice was a deal-breaker. We will not use them again.

All of the other places, we would highly recommend.

Lesson Learned from this trip: Really, only one!! We've learned some painful lessons in the past, but we didn't forget them and each time, we seem to have our routine set a little better. But I did plan two travel days that were just too long and should have been divided up into two days. Since we avoid interstate travel if at all possible, our travel days need to be no longer than 400 miles. After that, Bill reaches "not nice" and let's just say it's no longer fun!! I knew that and I should'nt have pushed the envelope, but I did. Lesson learned.

What went wrong: For the first time in any of our trips, we actually did have four things happen that weren't pleasant and caused some stress.

1) The night before we were to leave Hermann, MO, Bill went out to start loading the car and discovered a totally flat tire. AAA could find nothing in the tire, so they put on the tiny little spare. With a 250 mile drive the next day and a fully loaded car, we didn't feel comfortable on the spare, so we had to figure out what to do.

2) I was stopped by a Kansas State Trooper for speeding. He was very kind and only issued me a warning.

3) Just outside of Colorado Springs on our long travel day to Durango, a construction truck coming towards us threw a rock and cracked our windshield. It scared us to death - we thought we'd been shot at. Thankfully, the crack was at the bottom of the windshield and although it is quite large, it didn't hinder our trip. The people from whom we were renting in Estes Park own a construction company and we knew they'd be able to recommend someone who could look at it. That person said it was safe and no longer spreading so we chose to deal with it after we returned home.

4) When we arrived at our condo in Durango, we could not get the code for the lockbox to work so we could retrieve the key. We were very tired and this was extremely aggravating. When it became obvious it wasn't going to work, we called the owner and thankfully, she answered. Within 5 minutes, she was there with another key. As it turned out, the lockbox had not been reset from the previous renter, so it wasn't our fault. As a token of appreciation for our patience, she gave us a gift card to a local restaurant. These are the kinds of folks you are dealing with when you use!

In each case, we worked together to find the best solution and got it done without a lot of drama. It's pretty cool to have been married 34 years and realize that when one of you is stressed to the max, the other usually remains cool and that's exactly what happened in each of these cases.

I'm in the process of planning our next adventure. It won't be nearly as exciting as Colorado, but I'll write about it anyway.

Until then, the journal will be quiet!!

East of the Missouri, Mississippi and Ohio Rivers

Originally published on June 21, 2011

Technically, I suppose it's SOUTH of the Ohio River rather than east, but I just know it felt a little more like home each time we crossed one of those milestones. We had thought all three were quite full as we headed west in early May, but that was miniscule compared to the way they look now. All three rivers are well out of their banks and causing major flooding in the areas close by.

We had an enjoyable evening and a leisurely morning at the
Amber House Bed & Breakfast in Rocheport, Missouri. For the second evening in a row, we were the only guests at the place we were staying, so were able to enjoy the inn's common areas all by ourselves. Our breakfast on Tuesday morning was prepared by Mary, the owner of the inn and graduate of culinary school. It was totally delicious. With only 308 miles to drive on Tuesday, we took our time leaving and also enjoyed wandering around in the little village of Rocheport. It is located directly on the Missouri River and much of the area along 1st street was either already flooded or expected to be within the next 24 hours. It was our understanding that portions of the Katy Trail had been closed due to flooding.

We had decided to retrace our route back through the town of Hermann, Missouri since we had enjoyed our stay there so much in May. It had nothing to do with the Cinnamon Rolls at the little bakery we had found.

After leaving Hermann, we made our way back towards St. Louis, across the Mississippi River and into Illinois. Choosing some different roads made the journey very interesting and the day passed quickly. Just prior to getting on I-57 at Carbondale, IL for the last leg of the trip, we stopped at McDonalds for coffee and learned from local radar that severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings were in effect for Paducah, KY where we were headed. Hoping that the bad weather would move through the area and off in another direction, we pressed on and arrived in Paducah under sunny skies having never seen any bad weather. We checked into the Candlewood Suites of Paducah and after checking weather radar again, headed down to Paducah's Riverfront. (Ironically, Paducah's weather was clear, but central southern Illinois, where we had just come through, was now under several tornado warnings. We managed to dodge the warning areas all day!)

Paducah has always capitalized upon its location at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. In more recent years, it has become a mecca for quilters and is the home of the American Quilters Society. A nationally acclaimed Quilt Show is held each year in April and there is a very impressive National Quilt Museum located in the riverfront district.

Following the catastrophic flood of 1936, the Army Corps of Engineers was commissioned to build a flood wall to protect Paducah from future devastation. As a result, a 12.5 mile flood wall lines the riverfront throughout and beyond Paducah. The community makes the most of their beloved riverfront and that is evident by the number of people we found enjoying the evening when we went down to check it out. People sitting in lawn chairs, children playing, people socializing and enjoying the warm evening. As we walked along, Bill finally asked someone if they were waiting for anything in particular. We thought perhaps some well known ship or barge was about to come down the Ohio River. But no, we were quickly informed that this is just what people do in the evening. This led to a lengthy conversation about what we were doing there, where we were from and a cordial invitation to sit a spell with them!! We also learned that the floodwall had been activated on April 25 of this year and the nice folks pointed the waterline out to us on the floodwall. Where we were standing talking with these folks had been completely under water.

But we moved on because the
murals were what we had come to see. To make the most of all that floodwall space, muralist Robert Dafford was commissioned in 1996 to depict Paducah's history with murals along the floodwall. The result took eleven years and includes 45 breathtaking paintings with beautiful color and detail. Each mural is lighted for night viewing and there is a placard explaining its historical significance. We thoroughly enjoyed looking at every single one of them. They are simply beautiful.

Unfortunately, I had to let go of my desire to visit the National Quilt Museum. I am not a quilter and really know nothing about it other than I know quilts are works of art and are beautiful. I have three given to us as wedding gifts, one made by each of my grandmothers and one made by a family friend. They are among my most prized possessions and just looking at pictures of the quilts found in the museum made me want to visit. But we didn't arrive in Paducah until after the museum had closed and it did not open until 10 the following morning long after we needed to be headed toward home. So that will have to be for another visit.

We turned in early with the plan to be on our way by 6:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. By this time, we were both looking forward to being at home in our own Bed & Breakfast!! We also knew that with the extremely warm temps we'd been experiencing at home and a house that had been closed up for almost seven weeks, we hoped to arrive home early in the day to give the house plenty of time to cool off.

Other than a torrential downpour of rain we drove through less than fifty miles from home, the drive the uneventful. And yes, as much as we loved every minute of this trip, it was very, very good to see our home waiting patiently for us always knowing we'd come back!!!
Thanks so much for following along on our journey. I will post one more entry in a few days that will include some summary details and answer some questions that have been asked of us along the way.

Following that update, I suppose the journal will lie dormant until we travel again!

Kansas City BBQ

Originally published on June 20, 2011

We were quite pleased with ourselves because we pulled out of Estes Park at 6:20 a.m. Sunday morning. Our goal had been to leave at 6:30 and it's always great to begin a 1,418 mile journey by leaving on time!! We had a long travel day of 557 miles ahead of us and knew as the day wore on that we'd be glad of the early start.

Our first stop was in Boulder where we were sitting at Whole Foods when it opened at 7:30. Well, actually our first stop was at McDonald's for Bill to get a couple of gut-busters (a.k.a sausage biscuits)with which I had bribed him to get him to agree to such an early start! The stop at Whole Foods was to purchase a new brand of yogurt I discovered at the Boulder Farmer's Market that is made by a small company and only found in and around Boulder. It's the best yogurt I've ever eaten and after corresponding with the company, I learned that I could purchase some to bring home at Whole Foods. That didn't take long and we were on our way. Shameless advertisement here: Can't wait till we get our Whole Foods next year!!

The first 300 miles of our trip was uneventful and went by quickly. Sunday morning travel meant little traffic and NO truck traffic, so we stayed on the interstate crossing the border into Kansas in just under four hours. After a quick stop for gas, we made our way towards Colby, Kansas where the plan was to exit I-70 and spend the rest of the day on
highway 24. In Kansas, the two-lane roads are so straight and flat that speed limits are usually 65 which means we are able to travel almost as quickly on "blue" roads as on the interstate and believe me, they are much more interesting. We went through numerous sleepy little towns and were quite surprised to find the visitor center open at the Nicodemus National Historic Site. Nicodemus has a fascinating history involving the migration of former slaves from Kentucky and Tennessee who were told to "go west" when the war ended. A few of the original buildings have been preserved and the story of how this community thrived through the help of several men (both black and white) working together is a story of courage and hope.

Moving on from Nicodemus, I was anxiously anticipating our entry into the village of Cawker City, Kansas because it was here that we would visit what has been verified as the
World's Largest Ball of Twine. One of my favorite websites for travel planning is Roadside America ( Are these types of attractions silly? Absolutely! But the stories of how they get started and become a part of Americana are usually quite interesting. It is incredible to me that this ball of twine was begun on a farm near Cawker City two years before I was born. And yes, it is quite large. Even Bill, who had told me he would be waiting in the car (remember the old commercial??), was impressed enough to get out and take a few pictures.

We got our first taste of heat and humidity during the visits to Nicodemus and Cawker City. It had been 38 degrees when we left Estes Park and by now, it was over 90. We could hardly breathe!

Manhattan, Kansas is home to Kansas State University and we spent an enjoyable evening at the Morning Star Bed & Breakfast. After checking in, we ran out for a quick dinner and drive around the city to see the campus. It had been a long day. We were tired and after spending a few quiet minutes on the huge front porch of the B & B, we called it a night. We had just turned out the lights when there was a knock on the door of our room. When I opened the door, the owner stood there to warn us that severe thunderstorms and tornadoes were in the area and in all likelihood, the warning sirens would sound. She then proceeded to tell us how to get to the basement. A bit unsettling, but we went back to bed and if Dorothy & Toto came through during the night, we didn't hear them. We slept great and woke ready for another exciting day.