Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mountain Meanderings

Late summer flowers in the formal garden at Biltmore Estate
Asheville, North Carolina - September 15, 2012

It has been an excellent week of varied activities for me here in Maggie Valley, North Carolina, although, in some respects, I've been challenged, forced to punt and can't exactly say that I met all the challenges in fine fashion.  This week in North Carolina was planned quickly and my wonderful cabin reserved just a couple of weeks ago.  Fairly easy to do during the "off season" which September is considered to be.   Us "insiders" know that there is NO off season in these wonderful mountains!  But I digress!   When the reservation was made, the weather forecast called for perfectly sunny skies and almost zero chance of rain for the entire week.   Normally, that close in, the forecast is somewhat accurate, so I made hiking plans accordingly.  As we all know, there is really nothing predictable about weather and the forecast for Monday and Tuesday did a total about face going from zero chances of rain to 100% chance of 2-4 INCHES of rain!  And it was on Monday afternoon when things started becoming a bit challenging.   But before then............................

Bill arrived on Friday afternoon and we had a wonderful weekend doing the things we love most about being in western North Carolina.  Most of Saturday, we spent at Biltmore Estate and Justus Orchard.  I've written about Biltmore and the fact that we are longtime season passholders many times before so will not repeat, but Justus Orchard was a new discovery last fall.  After finding a new variety of apple there (Candy Crisp) that I cannot find anywhere else, rest assured, this will be an annual fall pilgrimage.   Love the fact that Candy Crisp is a early September apple, so I get to start enjoying them just about the time I start missing the fresh berries of the summer!

Always on the lookout for a new surprise, we "discovered" the Rose Walk at Lake Junaluska.  We've walked this delightful 2.6 mile paved pathway a few times, but had never seen the roses or even noticed the rose walk.  This is a huge claim to make, but last Saturday, the roses blooming along this path put the much better known rose garden at Biltmore Estate to shame.  Take a look...........


If you get tired of looking at roses, you can turn around and this is what you will see............

Lake Junaluska, North Carolina - September 15, 2012

Being the avid walkers that we are, we make it a practice to learn where the "locals" walk.   I'll have to say that this path rivals any I've seen with respect to scenery and beauty.  I hope the folks around Waynesville, NC never take this for granted!

We are so fortunate that Bill has been able to arrange his teaching schedule (actually, there was no arranging to it - he inherited it) so that he finishes teaching on Friday at 2:00 and doesn't have a Monday class until 1:00.  Between commitments that come with being head of a thriving choral department, his other "job" with Knoxville Choral Society and our church, we have to FIGHT to find a free weekend each month (our goal) to head out of town.  Thankfully, we are able to extend it to a three-night weekend which makes it just perfect.  He left at 6:30 Monday morning, was sitting in his office by 8:45 and the greatest gift of all on this particular day, is that he made it BEFORE the torrential rain set in for the next 24 hours.  

I, on the other hand, was left in Maggie Valley trying to figure out what to do with four days of completely altered plans.  A highly anticipated hike on Tuesday was not to be and another scheduled for Thursday would need to be changed at best because of trail conditions after 24-36 hours of rain. And so it was, that over the long hours and unrelenting rainfall of Monday/Tuesday,  I confirmed two very important realities about both myself AND my relationship with food.  

1)  Very real panic inducing claustrophobia sometimes has nothing to do with four walls or being enclosed in tight physical spaces.   

2)  Boredom is not something often used to describe the way I feel, so when I realize I am bored, I'd best act quickly OR I WILL EAT!

I have a whole lot more to say about both of these, but for now, just know that some major introspection and dare we say, insight has been born from my days in these mountains.

Thankfully, Wednesday dawned bright, sunny and much cooler.  I was itching to get back on a trail and that is exactly what I did.  Hiking solo, I once again had my sights set on Gooseberry Knob, a place Becca and I visited at the END of our hike last week and one of my favorite places on this side of the park.  It was the perfect day and a spectacular ending to my week in Maggie Valley.  Tomorrow, I will make my way back across the mountain to the Tennessee side and if the weather prognosticators know what they're talking about, we've got an amazing span of autumn like days coming up.  It's predicted to be a spectacular season.

 Cataloochee Divide Trail - GSMNP
September 19, 2012

Is boredom something with which you ever struggle?   And remember, boredom can come in many forms and doesn't necessarily mean having nothing to do!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Mountain Musings

Back deck view from my "home" from the next week!
Maggie Valley, North Carolina - September 14, 2012

Even though I woke up with my left knee killing me and my whole body still dragging from one of my hardest hikes yet, I was still filled with an amazing sense of joy and gratitude for the life I am fortunate enough to be living.  Sometimes a simple change of venue, albeit temporary, can put things in a clearer perspective and remind us that even though life is always full of both physical and emotional pain, it is when we allow ourselves to focus ONLY on that pain, do we become impatient and whiney.  I'll be the first to admit there has been a good deal of whining going on in my house recently.  Yes, I hurt and no, I will not minimize the fact that the pain of Acute Rheumatoid Arthritis is something no one should ever have to experience, but since I was first diagnosed in 1983 at the very young age of 28, it has never, nor will it ever, define me!  And neither will it ever defeat me!

What does define me?  This picture, horrid as it is, does!

September 13, 2012

With another mile or so left to hike, I had just completed what some call the "worst" trail (I beg to differ) in the GSMNP.   It included a 2,000 foot elevation climb in 2.3 miles at the END of a 9.5 mile hike.  At that point, although exhausted, nothing was hurting just yet and the smile says it all.  You may see something altogether different, but I see someone happy in her own skin, doing what she loves most, in the place she feels at home, with a new and already very special friend who hikes for the joy of hiking.   I see someone who is at a healthy weight, has blood pressure and cholesterol levels most would envy, feels energetic from following a diet of 99.9% good things and is no longer embarrassed to have a rather non-flattering picture of her posted on a blog.  I see someone who was looking forward to a week in a cabin on the North Carolina side of her beloved mountains and a fun evening just ahead with Becca watching Dirty Dancing, a movie we both love.   No gossip, no hidden agendas, no bingefests, no negativity, just good clean girl power fun!  Once rested up (she hopes), Mr. B arrives for a weekend of visiting Justus Orchard to pick some early fall apples and Biltmore Estate to check out the progress of the fall mums.  We'll enjoy dinner at The Sweet Onion and lunch at Tupelo Honey Cafe.  I suspect there will be plenty of walking and some naps.  And after all that, I see some remaining days for more hiking and more introspection continuing to remind myself that we are only limited by those things we give permission and room to limit us.  I will continue to visit my doctors regularly and follow their instructions as we experiment with new meds for controlling pain while keeping the disease in check, but I will not be defined by it, nor will it dominate my thoughts and actions.

Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure, you may look at the glow on my skin in the picture and assume that it's the product of this wonderful healthy eating plan, but Becca and I both know that it's just plain old sweat!     Plus, the grand plan of watching Dirty Dancing never happened.   I was in bed asleep by 9:45 and I suspect Becca wasn't far behind!  We had a lot of fun and just think, she and I became friends through this blog!!  She joins a long (and hopefully ever growing) list of treasured friendships formed because of this blog and I am very grateful for every one of them.

Now back to that hike..........This wasn't my first hiking day this week.  I hiked on Monday with Gene and Judi (also a friendship formed through this blog) to Jakes Gap, a hike that begins in the Elkmont section of the park.  Judi, who write much better accounts than I, wrote about it here.

Thursday's hike was unique in several ways.   It originated on the North Carolina side of the park and included parts of Cataloochee Divide Trail, Hemphill Bald Trail, Caldwell Fork Trail and all of McKee Branch Trail.   McKee Branch is the one people give varying descriptions of in their hiking accounts.   It is steep, deeply rutted due to horse usage, extremely muddy when wet and some would say has no "ah" factor i.e. a waterfall or views.   It is an internal trail which means neither trailhead is at a road and in fact, the least amount of distance one must hike before even starting this trail is a mile and utilizing that option will cost you!   But to treat ourselves, that is the option we chose.  

The Swag is a VERY exclusive (translate: expensive), yet quite comfortable inn just outside Maggie Valley, North Carolina whose property borders the GSMNP.   Therefore, the Cataloochee Divide hiking trail runs directly behind the length of their property.   The Swag's longtime owners are hikers and the inn is considered hiker-friendly.   But because the property is gated (and the gate is 2 1/2 miles below the actual property), in order for day hikers to park and access the trail, one must purchase, with advance reservation only, the brown bag lunch that is offered to all their guests.  By purchasing the lunch, you are considered a "guest" and have access to all common guest areas and the restrooms not to mention easy access to MANY trails.   So to treat ourselves, that's what Becca and I did.

The other unique thing about doing a hard trail this way is that you START high, go down and then at the end of an already long day, you gotta hike back UP.   And that's what made this one such a challenge.   But it isn't a "bad" trail and we couldn't have picked a better time to do it.   Little rain recently has left the trails dry so mud was not a problem, creek crossings weren't even rock hops, we just plowed right through.   As you know, I'm working slowly, but steadily toward completing all 900+ miles of trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and this loop allowed me to color 5.8 miles of new trail.   It was trail that every single one of my "regular" hiking buds have already hiked including Becca so I have to say a loud "thanks" to her for her willingness to repeat hard stuff just to help out a friend.  We had a great, great time and I see many more hiking adventures in our future!

Enjoy a few more pictures from Thursday's hike.................

 Hemphill Bald Trail - GSMNP

 Thankfully, this was the only major blowdown we had to negotiate!

 Caldwell Fork Trail - GSMNP

McKee Branch Trail - GMSNP

We knew, and now YOU will know, that this is what was waiting for us just up the trail from where the "see exhausted Sharon crumble" picture was taken.

Gooseberry Knob is one of the areas The Swag has provided for their guests and which hikers are encouraged to use as a rest stop (whether or not you have purchased the Hiker lunch).  It is about half way between the top of the McKee Branch trail and the inn itself.   Once we arrived here, we RESTED!  And gave ourselves the credit we deserved for a job well done.  All was well in our world!

Tell me about the last time you "saw" something (i.e. a picture of yourself, a quote, a song, etc.) that caused you to look inward and "define" yourself.   Was is a positive or negative experience?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

For The Love of Reading!

Early morning on the Little River Trail
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - August, 2012

I come by it honestly.   After all, I am the daughter of a librarian.   As a child, my disciplinary infractions most always involved a book in one way or the other.   From bringing a book to the dinner table to getting caught long after lights out trying to read just a few more pages while balancing a book and a flashlight UNDER THE COVERS!!   I read anything and everything I could get my hands on with favorites being mysteries, biographies and (no surprise here) anything travel or adventure related.  As I grew older and hopefully, a little more mature, my selections began to include lots of "classics, " both fiction and non-fiction. 

But somewhere along the way, I seemed to have forgotten how much I loved finding a new book by a favorite author on the shelf at the library. Or a tempting title catching my eye at Barnes & Noble.   Heck, I couldn't even tell you the last time I was IN Barnes & Noble, a place I used to spend hours.   And my mom, who used to bring me stacks of books to review for her church library (which she founded and is still considered one of the premier Church Libraries in our state), has stopped doing that.   What makes me sad is I hadn't even noticed.  

So what happened and why I am I writing about it here?   Two things happened.    They didn't happen at the same time, but once they intersected, I became aware of what was missing.    You might have figured this out by now, but the writing of this blog and the reading of so many others gradually took priority over settling in for an afternoon with a good book.  And that isn't a bad thing!  Not at all.   I love writing this blog and love even more, reading yours!  But I will not let it overtake my life to the exclusion of other things which are so much a part of me.  

It was the bursted blood vessel in my eye and subsequent eye infection that caused me to remember.   I was more or less placed on computer abstinence for 10 days so that my poor, strained eyes could heal.  And then there was the insinuation that as long as I insisted on spending most of my waking hours staring into a laptop, I could expect more problems with dry eyes and infections. 

So the laptop took a long hiatus and I almost instantly remembered that the calming print of a real book was a sweet respite indeed.   I've mentioned that I haven't been feeling well on several levels (we are currently working on that) and the truth of the matter is I've spent a luxurious amount of time resting, relaxing and READING!  I think I like those three R's better than the more familiar ones - don't you???  

But most important of all is the peace that comes with rediscovering a piece of yourself that had taken a back seat and putting it back in the place it belongs!  Once more, there is a stack of real, hard bound BOOKS right beside me, I've become reacquainted with the folks at my closest library branch and yes, I called my mom and asked, "why?"   And her answer made me cry.

Here on the homefront, things are settling into the fall routine.   We are loving our new normal.   I am working hard to confront head-on these health issues that are plaguing me and fighting with everything in me to find solutions.   Yesterday morning, for the second time in my life, I endured the full battery of allergy testing and learned some interesting results that directly conflicted with results reported from the earlier battery in 2008.  Go figure!  I see my Rheumatologist later on this week to go over the results of today's appointment and hopefully make some decisions regarding medication that can get me off some of this temporary stuff (Prednisone) that I hate so badly.  Other appointments are coming up in the next few weeks that have me hopeful for progress and solutions.

I am so grateful that, although inconvenient and often uncomfortable, none of these problems have kept me off the hiking trail because if that were the case, I'd be seeking MENTAL help!!   My mountains, the trails and my trail "buds" keep me sane!  

Through all of this, my weight is remaining stable.  I am hovering right at goal weight give or take a couple of pounds which fluctuates daily.   Right now, it isn't difficult!

I've got a cool roadtrip coming up in a few days that promises cooler temps in higher elevations and some chances to hike in one of my favorite areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  So stayed tuned....Gains and Losses is revving up for the fall season.  

But in the meantime.........Mary Jane Clark and her Wedding Cake Mystery Series is wooing me back to her pages!

Are you a reader?   What was the last thing you finished reading?