Monday, February 25, 2013

Monday Meanderings: She Hikes and She Hikes

The most comfortable pair of shoes I own!!
February 5, 2013

The National Park website for The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will tell you that there are three main entrances to the park, but those of us who really KNOW the park will tell you that there are at least nine with countless others than only us "locals" know about and rest assured, we are not telling...............  

I have loved this park from the time I was brought here as a tiny child (my mom has pictures to prove it that she refuses to part with) until now and count myself truly fortunate to have lived most of my life at its doorstep!  I have gone to these mountains to celebrate the happiest days of my life and run to them during the darkest.  

Within the park boundaries, there are 900 miles of officially maintained trails, but one doesn't have to look far to see evidence of many hundreds more.  It doesn't take long to sit on a rock in the solitude and almost see the lives and hardships of those who built their homes among these hills many of whom were displaced by the park service.  But that is a story for another day.

Becoming a member of the 900 Mile Club by hiking all 900 miles is quite a feat because one has to hike somewhere around 1500 miles in order to access all 900 miles.  That makes more sense by looking at a trail map, but a simple explanation is that many of the trails are "internal" trails which means either end can only be reached by hiking another trail.  In other words, there is no road access.  Some have done it, but it is almost impossible to hike all 900 miles without backpacking overnight.  To do so, you'd have to hike some 25-30 mile days which is beyond most people's capability.

Realistically, I have always known there are trails I'd never see because I do not backpack and even in my healthier days, 14 miles was about my limit.  I long ago accepted that fact and simply set out to hike every trail I could.  Every trail is unique and most of us will tell you that there is no bad day when you are hiking in the Smokies.  I have favorite trails and I have trails which I laughingly say I'd probably never do again unless someone needs me to accompany them in order to help them "color their map," which is hiker jargon for marking off a trail you've completed.   Sadly, I do not know exactly how many miles of trail I've completed because I only began keeping records in 2010.  One of these days, I'll get around to tallying up that number, but I do know that since January 1, 2010, I have hiked 178 miles of trail I'd never done before.  

But I have some favorites.  And those are the ones I return to year after year after year.  They are ones I know every turn, every hill and every rock.  I know what the vistas look like in every season and I can tell by the amount of water in the seeps whether the mountains need rain or not.  One of those trails is the West Prong Trail and it is there that I made my way two days after returning from Florida.

Easy to see from the pictures why this might be a favorite place.....................

On a gorgeous Saturday, Bill and I hiked from the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area to one of the most well preserved cabins in the Smokies, the Walker Sisters Cabin.  Two days later, I hiked back to the cabin from the opposite direction via the Little Greenbrier Trail completing the hike we'd begun.  On that day, I spent over an hour at the cabin eating lunch, thinking about the hardships of the lives of those who lived in that cabin and simply being grateful that I could enjoy it on that day. 


Last Monday, after what seemed like forever, I was able to hike with my friends, Gene and Judi, whom I met two years ago through this blog and who have become friends as well as wonderful hiking partners.  We hiked the Schoolhouse Gap and Chestnut Top trails on a wonderful winter day with snow capped mountain views off in the distance.

 Then to cap off a wonderful week, Becca and I hiked to Indian Flats Falls, a "secret" waterfall that is about a tenth of a mile off-trail and you have to know where to find it.  You can read her account of that day HERE because her pictures are much better than mine and you gotta see the one of me in my bright orange down jacket drinking coffee.  You know a girl is serious about her coffee when she's willing to carry it four miles into the backcountry.

And when you read this on Monday morning, I'll be off again with Gene and Judi to conquer the Jakes Creek Trail with a little off-trail adventure to the summit of Blanket Mountain.  It isn't new trail for me, but one I love and am looking forward to a great day.

So I leave you with a story of friendship and kindness.  We hikers hike for the love of the trail and the joy it brings to our souls.  I take not one step for granted because with a progressive chronic illness like Rheumatoid Arthritis, I am always painfully aware that my hiking days will likely come to an end.  And it's a thought I can't even begin to comprehend or imagine.   After a month off the trail while in Florida, I realized that the constant pain in my neck and shoulders was 100% gone leading me to understand it had to be caused or aggravated by carrying the heavy backpack.  Water is HEAVY and when you hike eight to ten miles, you HAVE to carry appropriate amounts of water.

But the thermos of coffee????  Nice on a cold, 23 degree morning, but not essential.  So imagine my surprise last Wednesday morning when, as we strapped on our packs, Becca sticks her hand out and says, "give me your water and while you're at it, hand me the thermos of coffee I know you have hidden in that backpack.  I'm carrying it for you."  And despite my protests, she insisted on carrying one of my water bottles AND my coffee. 

Now, granted, Becca is MUCH younger than me (a fact I forget as she is so settled and mature, she never SEEMS that much younger to me) and does backpack so is conditioned to carry a much heavier pack, but even so, hiking protocol dictates that each person is responsible for their own equipment and safety.  This was above and beyond, a gesture which meant the world to me and one I'll never forget!  This blog brought me Becca, a friendship I truly treasure!
Has someone done something for you lately that was totally unexpected, but will never be forgotten?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Weight Loss Wednesday - Unsettling, But Not Surprising!

 Little Greenbrier Trail - GSMNP
February 12, 2013

I have enjoyed some amazing hikes since returning from Florida although my loss of stimina has certinaly been a lesson in humility.  Walking two hours each day on flat, paved surfaces in Florida was good exercise, but not even close to the same thing as walking for two hours on a mountain trail in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Thankfully, I knew this and was prepared.  I started out with short hikes on trails with less of an elevation profile and have gradually increased both distance and difficulty.  I'm not yet back to the level of confidence I had last fall, but soon will be.  Interspersed within some nasty, windy and wet weather days have been pockets of warmer, sunny days perfect for winter hiking.  It's my favorite time to hike as the clear blue skies and long range views are simply gorgeous. 

You may or may not have noticed a theme I quietly introduced on Wednesdays.  As I approached maintenance weight levels, I began a subtle change from the blog being totally about my weight loss journey to a lifestyle blog covering any and everything that came to mind.  It was at that time that I merged my separate travel journal into this blog and opened it up to people in my "real" world.  That was also planned and I've never regretted it!

But the blog was begun as a weight loss journal and many of you became my friends when losing the weight and writing about it was the number one priority in my life.  And the thing is.......I've always known that losing the weight didn't end the journey nor did it even lessen the battle.  So for those who are really only interested in that aspect of the blog and for me to retain a specific platform for us to always talk about weight loss issues, I've decided that the subject on Wednesday will always have something to do with weight loss.  I know Weight Loss Wednesday is not even remotely original to me, but I'm using it anyway although my WLW post title will always have a subtitle.   My plan is to post something every Wednesday and hope that you will come on Wednesday knowing there will be something there to ponder.  See, I'm even making it easy for you to remember.  Wednesday!  Weight loss! 

I'm still working on a set posting schedule and other ideas, but let's get this one well established first!

Sometime back in January, I heard a report on the NBC Nightly News which troubled me.  I'd like to say that it surprised me, but I'm not sure that it did.  I just think it was the first time I'd heard a statement about obesity and a link to cancer that was this bold.  Here is a link to the report which was entitled, "War On Cancer."   The statement you are looking for comes very near the end at about the 1:22 minute marking.

In essence, the report states that although there is much good news in the war on cancer with some cancer rates falling to all-time lows, the battle on some fronts just keeps getting scarier.   The gentlemen from the American Cancer Society states that (I'm not quoting) in 10-15 years, obesity will replace tobacco as the leading cause of cancer in America. 

What are your thoughts on this?   Do you believe it?   In your opinion, how does that happen?  Do you think we have all the information we need or do you think there is still much to be learned as to what does and does NOT cause cancer?  Do you have a personal story to share of someone whose obesity directly contributed to a cancer diagnosis?  What was the outcome?   What can we do?

Doesn't it just make you feel kind of helpless?   So many people that I love are obese and I feel unable to help because I know that they will only help themselves when they are ready.  But maybe there is more we can do to get messages such as this one out.  It is so easy to hide our heads in a hole while tearing the paper off that candy wrapper or pulling open that bag of chips.  No stone-throwing here.   I've done it and am certainly not immune to being right back there again.

The trail I walked last week and shown in the first picture is rare.   To find a stretch of trail in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park THAT straight and THAT flat is highly unusual.  It just doesn't happen.   More often they look like this.........

 Little Greenbrier Trail - GSMNP

Our journey through this life is rarely going to be straight and flat.   It isn't often that we are able to see this far beyond the curve.  Or through the trees.   Or how far downhill the path is going to go before it flattens out again.  We don't know everything that cause cancer.  But we know SOME thngs and we know that obesity is NOT harmless or without consequences.  You ALL, everyone of you, matter to me.  Do what it takes to get yourself out of that category that defines you as "obese."  Let me know if there is anything I can do to help or encourage!

(click to go to the post)

Talk to me.....................

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Weight Loss Wednesday: Two Ingredient Dinner

Back On The Trail - Lunch Spot of the Day
West Prong Trail - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
February 5, 2013

It is high time that I just came right out and admitted it!  I just don't like to cook.  There's a certain element of humor to the fact that I have more cooking blogs in my reader than any other single category and I read them all faithfully.  I have hundreds of recipes bookmarked neatly in all sorts of folders and am just certain that one of these days I'll get around to making them all.  And yes, every once in awhile, the mood strikes and I'll spend two or three days in a kitchen flurry whipping up all sorts of interesting things.  But the mood goes as quickly as it came.  It isn't that I CAN'T do it.  Or that everything I attempt to cook is a disaster.  Truthfully, I can't remember many complete failures at all.  It just isn't something I've been able to develop a desire to remain enthusiastic about on a daily basis.  Probably a good thing we didn't have kids and an even better thing that Bill loves to cook almost as much as I hate to cook.  He also is very simple in the things he likes so even when he doesn't want to cook, finding something for dinner isn't complicated.

Having said all that, it is important to me that we eat healthily and as much as possible, we eat food that is natural, fresh and unprocessed.   Since I am at my best early in the morning, I've learned that my slow cooker is my best friend if I want us to enjoy a good meal together that evening.  If I can plan ahead, come back from our morning walk and get something started in the slow cooker, we are good to go for a meal that just needs the addition of a salad or vegetable.

 As I mentioned, Bill does not care for heavy entrees, gloppy type dishes or he really isn't even a casserole type person.  He's fine with meat, potato and something green!! 

A few weeks ago, I came across a blog post entitled, "Two Ingredient Slow Cooker Meals." I had seen Andie's blog, Can You Stay For Dinner before.   She is a 135-pound loser who has maintained her weight loss for more than six years.  But I had never seen this particular post or seen this slow cooker idea before.

Here's the premise according to Andie..... you can combine any meat (chicken, beef, pork) with any pre-made bottled sauce (marinades, salsa, marinara, you name it), and set it to cook on low for 8 to 10 hours, and what you will be left with is nothing short of marvelous.  You use just enough of the sauce to cover the meat.  That would normally be 1.5 to 2 cups and supposedly the sauce flavors mix with the meat and it turns out delicious.

She gives examples of chicken and salsa, pork and honey barbeque sauce, ground beef and marinara sauce.   And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the combinations here are endless.

So I thought it would be fun to see what ideas you could come up with.   For some of you, I know that idea is probably unthinkable, but for others like me, I'm hoping to get lots of good ideas. 

Put your thinking caps on, be creative and tell me what two ingredients you'd put in your slow cooker to come up with a delicious dinner.   She doesn't mention fish, but I wonder if this would work with salmon or another thick filet of fish and what would be your choice for a second ingredient?

I'm hoping for enough ideas to use my slow cooker and have two-ingredient dinners for a long, long time.

One meat, one sauce, eight hours in the slow cooker.
What combination will you contribute?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Tough ReEntry

Rear View Mirror last glimpse of the beautiful Atlantic Ocean as I crossed the Intercoastal Waterway Bridge headed west for three miles before pointing the RAV4 north towards Tennessee.
February 1, 2013

Saturday afternoon, I slid into East Tennessee on the heels of a quick moving snowy, slushy, icy mess that arrived four hours earlier than predicted and left southeastern Tennessee interstates in a mess.  It was supposed to begin as rain, then change to a few hours of snow with little to no accumulation.  I never saw any rain and the solid white stuff dancing around on the highway in front of me didn't bode well for my respect towards local meteorologists!!  I ending up stopping twice between Chattanooga and Knoxville for about an hour each time.  I knew the temp was eventually going to rise above freezing and the system move on through.  I just needed the patience to sit and wait rather than put myself or my car in danger.  On the twenty mile stretch between stops (locals will know it as the fog advisory zone or the Bowater Plant "stink" zone), I saw 56 cars either against the retaining wall, in the median facing the wrong way, t-boned into another car, in the woods, down an embankment or upside down.  I was grateful for the Wendy's at the Riceville exit!  Believe me, you may have driven this highway all your life, but the Riceville exit is one you've never noticed until you need it!

But as you can see,  I made it home safely, but I don't mind saying that the days since then have not been easy.  Going from a constant temp of near 70 (both indoor and outdoor) to the extreme temp variance has been oh so tough on the old arthritic joints.   The constant change from freezing to warm to cold to hot to sunny to cloudy and back to freezing just spells painful!  I knew that would be the case, so rather than get out and be excited about being home, all I really want to do is wrap up in a blanket and hide!  I am so thankful to have had those days in Florida - physically, I felt better there than I have in a long, long time.  

So how did I spend those last couple of days in Flagler Beach.......................

There was a lot of this......................

And some route planning...........................

 Hmmmm....guess I better start actually putting some things IN these suitcases!

Will all of this fit in my one large cooler?  (Yes, those are frozen dinners - don't judge!)

One final visit to my beloved farmer's market.  Look at that cloudless, blue sky!

A final walk on the boardwalk with a look at the bridge that would carry me away from Flagler Beach the next morning.

Yes, I'll have to admit there was a little more of this..............

In order to avoid the nightmare of driving through Atlanta during rush hour on Friday afternoon, I chose to stop in Macon, GA for the night.  After a very restful evening in the Candlewood Suites Macon, I was up and out very early Saturday morning still confident I'd be home well before the snow began.  An easy drive through quiet downtown Atlanta, but a very eye-opening mile through Adairsville, GA where the tornado had devastated the little town just two days earlier.  A short time later as I crossed the state line into Tennessee, I was greeted with a WALL of swirling snow that had begun much earlier than predicted!  WELCOME HOME, SHARON!

My days at home thus far have been very low key.   I have enjoyed getting back in the routine of our early morning walks even if it is at the mall.  Although my own parents are still in Florida (lucky devils!), I spent a few hours with my MIL yesterday and it was good to get caught up with her.  I have a lunch date planned for later in the week with my niece whom I've really missed and tonight will find me back in my seat (if it hasn't been given away!!!) at choir rehearsal.  And yes, with a couple of sunny, relatively warmer days on tap, I'll be heading for my beloved mountains in the next day or so.  Not sure I can call it a hike as these legs are going to have to work back up to mountain goat level, but a ramble will do and I can't wait!

Yes, leaving Florida was tough, but this is home and I truly am glad to be here.

Thanks for reading!