Monday, December 8, 2014

How About An Update?

Whittleton Arch Trail - Red River Gorge, KY
December 2, 2014
(I have much more dramatic pictures to share, but the simplicity of this makes it one of my favorites from our trip.)

Don’t worry!  I’m still here.  Gains and Losses is very much alive and well!  For a season, I’ve just not been into writing.  I don’t know why and I know the joy will return, but in the meantime, I’m allowing myself the freedom to write only when I choose to and not stress it over when I don’t!  So here’s an update catching you up on what’s been happening in my life over the past month.
BILL – For those who might be new, just over a year ago, my husband was diagnosed with an unusual form of cancer.  The cancer was advanced and harsh treatment was required.  He endured nine chemotherapy treatments of what his oncologist called “one of the harshest chemo cocktails known” and 34 radiation treatments.  This occurred between October, 2013 and March, 2014.  The side effects were as difficult as you’ve always heard (I pray you’ve never been through it yourself or watched a loved one suffer through it) and recovery will take a long time.  The good news is that his post treatment scan revealed that the treatments had been successful and the cancer was gone.  He will be scanned again on December 15 and although we don’t anticipate any reoccurrence, this is cancer after all and one never knows.  His most difficult lingering problems are unmanageable fatigue, problems with eating and peripheral neuropathy in his fingertips.  He is very grateful for the progress made in each of those areas, but still often discouraged because the process is so slow and he just wants to feel “normal” again. 

HIKING/TRAVEL – As I write this, I have just returned from what has been another wonderful girl’s getaway with Pam (Nomadic Newfies) at Red River Gorge, Kentucky.  We hiked and enjoyed each other’s company for four days.  Who would’ve ever have thought that the subject of hiking and travel in an update would be the LEAST about which I had to say, but obviously my (our) life changed dramatically when Bill became ill and I became his caretaker.   My hiking log shows that I have hiked just barely over 100 miles this year (compared to 300+ in past years) and we have done very little traveling.  But that is beginning to change as Bill recovers.  I am once again comfortable leaving him for a few days for solo trips and he is slowly becoming comfortable enough with finding food that works and being away from home.  We are so excited that we have our next “big” trip planned in late December while he is out of school.  My mountains (the Smokies) have been calling and are welcoming me back with open arms.  I am also discovering new places to hike closer to our condo.  Bill became ill shortly after we moved last August and I am just now having the freedom to get out and find new places nearby! 

MY WEIGHT – Since this blog was begun as a healthy eating/weight loss blog, it is only fair that I address this in an update.  While Bill was ill, I actually lost a lot of weight and in those long dark days/nights when he was so sick from the chemo, I spent a lot of time thinking about the whole weight thing and how my entire life/emotional state/way I viewed myself/etc. was dependent upon (and always had been) how much I weighed.  For the first time ever, eating became something I HAD TO DO in order to live.  I didn’t want food, nothing tasted good and I truly was able to experience what people feel like who just don’t enjoy eating, but do it only because they have to.  I vowed food would never be the source/focus of my life or self-esteem again.  When Bill began recovering and transitioning from a 100% liquid diet back to real food, I ate along with him and we cried together from the joy of watching him go from destroyed taste buds/salivary glands to the delight in his eyes when something once again tasted like it was supposed to.  And yes, I gained weight.  And I have no regrets!  It’s hard to explain and some bloggers will swear this would never happen to them.  But when coaxing the person whom you love most in this world and whom you have almost lost to please try and just taste something and this person says, “if I can’t eat it, will you finish it, I can’t bear to waste it,” yes, you will compromise and if you don’t, well then, I feel sorry for you as your life is very self-absorbed!   (I realize that’s a grammatically horrible sentence, but the point is important) And don't judge or give me all of the ways you would have done this differently.  What HE needed for me to do was what mattered most and you can't know how that felt unless you've walked in those shoes.  The good news is that when two people have loved each other as long as we have, eventually, the tide turns again and although taste and eating are still quite an issue for Bill, he is now saying, “how can I help you/us get back to the way we were eating before I got sick?”  And I am very grateful to say we have done just that.  Just moving back to eating at home as opposed to mostly restaurant dining has made a huge difference and I already have lost a good deal of the few pounds I had gained.  And needless to say, I feel much better.  But again, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

If anyone is still reading after this lengthy update, I appreciate it.  I am reading your blogs faithfully and even though I don’t always comment, please know that I am interested in your lives and think about you a lot.

Approaching a new year always brings new goals, new adventures and new things to write about.  2015 is a huge year for me, yet I think it will bring some new challenges.  Aging parents with increasing health problems are becoming an issue for us and I expect there to be changes in that area likely requiring more of our time.  2015 also brings a significant birthday for me.  As Bill continues to recover, we hope to resume our travels, yet the things we’ve learned through his illness and recovery about life, love and relationships compel us to become ever more involved in what is happening around us here at home.

Please tell me what is happening in your life!

Exciting things as well as challenges!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Journey Is Half The Fun!

Riverboat Inn and Suites - Madison, Indiana
September 24, 2014

My favorite way to travel solo is to know that someone is meeting me at my destination.  I love being alone and am totally comfortable traveling alone, but I also thoroughly enjoy the gift of friendship and am happy when exploring new places with someone whose company just makes a good experience better!

Bill and I lived in Kentucky for six years during the early 80’s, so I know that state well, but Indiana was a completely different story and I was excited to drive through it on my way to meet Pam (Nomadic Newfies) at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and eager to spend my travel nights in places that would be cool to explore. 

My way of determining how to get where I’m going is to choose my route and then scan the immediate area around the halfway point for somewhere interesting to spend the night.  I prefer not to travel more than 300 miles so I have time after arrival AND the following morning to check out the place I’ve spent the night.  If nothing catches my attention as a viable place to spend the night, I will usually change my route! 

As soon as a tentative overnight stop is determined, I quickly look for lodging options.  I am comfortable and I am not afraid, but I am smart!  If nothing shows up on a local website or, I proceed cautiously.  Truthfully, I’ve never had a bad experience when staying alone in a new place.  I traveled so much during the later part of my career, it just became very comfortable.  I am grateful for that.  The only thing that Bill asks of me to make HIM comfortable is that I know where I am staying and have a confirmed reservation for that night before I leave home!  So far, this system has not let us down! 

As you well know, I don’t do interstates unless absolutely necessary!  One of my other quirks is that I love finding America’s highways and following them from beginning to end.  U.S.Highway 421 is one of those highways.  It runs 941 miles from Fort Fisher, North Carolina to Michigan City, Indiana.  I’ve traveled much of the NC, Tennessee and eastern KY portions, but once I saw that it ended in Indiana just east of where Pam and I were to meet, I built my journey around being able to travel US 421 from Frankfort, KY to its ending point.  Once that idea was settled, it became quickly apparent that Madison, Indiana would be my overnight stop.  Sitting on the banks of the Ohio River with a fabulously restored historic district and quick access to Indiana’s most visited State Park (Clifty Falls), spending a night here was a no-brainer!

 U.S. Highway 421 - Fort Fisher, NC to Michigan City, IN
One look at the lodging section of their tourism website had me settled on The Riverboat Inn and Suites for my destination.  I’d arrive in time to explore the town in the afternoon and evening with time to make a quick hike to Clifty Falls the following morning before heading north on Highway 421 to Michigan City.  It didn’t quite work out that way, but travel requires flexibility and in the end, the town of Madison captured my attention and took all my free time which just simply means a return to Clifty Falls will be in order.

The weather on my travel day could not have been more perfect.  Plans to meet a friend from college in central Kentucky did not work out so I motored my way through the familiar horse country of the Bluegrass state and picked up Highway 421 just north of Frankfort.  It was a gorgeous drive with little traffic that started out winding and curvy, but soon settled into a pleasant easy drive that eventually descended steeply to the banks of the Ohio River where I crossed and spotted my hotel in the distance. 

The Riverboat Inn and Suites is an old hotel which was purchased by a new owner and restored into a comfortable respite with huge porches overlooking the river complete with rocking chairs, firepits, picnic tables, etc.  It isn’t sure whether it’s a motel or an inn, but it made no difference to me!  I loved it!  In fact, I loved it so much, I parked myself on the porch and there I stayed quickly determining that I could forego the hike to Clifty Falls and spend the following morning exploring the historic district.  The city has built a fantastic riverwalk that runs the length of the city and that I could access from the hotel.  After resting and watching the almost constant traffic on the river, I took a long walk on the riverwalk only to return and spend the rest of the evening by one of those firepits watching the river change and the barges roll by.  What a peaceful evening it was.

View from the rocking chair outside my room!

 Sunset stroll along the Riverwalk

Up early the next morning, I made my way to the Visitor Center where I picked up a copy of the historic district walking tour and a walking tour of the Stained Glass Windows in the churches that I’d seen on their website.  I decided to do the Stained Glass Windows tour in its entirety and see what I could see of the historic district at the same time.  I walked for two hours in total fascination. Check out the link to the Stained Glass Windows.  My pictures just didn't do well at all.  

Madison is an amazing little town out in the middle of nowhere with a unique history that has capitalized on it perfectly.  I was enchanted and truly hope I can return another time.  I just didn’t get enough of Madison, Indiana and to my way of thinking, leaving somewhere wanting to return is the way is ought to be!

 Early morning view from my room!
 Cozy covered porches - the open door was to my room!

 Madison, IN
 Downtown Historic District

 Downtown Historic District
But leave I had to as I still had 265 miles of Highway 421 to drive and some fun places to see along the way.   After climbing the hill out of Madison, heading away from the Ohio River, the road flattened out and the driving was easy all the way into Michigan City.  As silly as it seems, I got quite a thrill from seeing the signpost indicating the end of Highway 421 knowing I’d been driving on it for two days!

 After reaching the end of Highway 421, I turned east and drove just a few miles. I was eager to find the cottage Pam and I would call “home” for the next four days  and get settled in. 

NEXT UP:  The Journey Home Can Be Just As Exciting!

Monday, October 20, 2014

At Home In Indiana Dunes

Sunrise From Our Cottage Deck - Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
First Morning - September 25, 2014

It had been almost one year since I had been able to enjoy a solo road trip.  Long time readers know how much I love traveling to new places, visiting friends and creating new adventures.  I’ve always been that way and am so grateful to have a spouse who travels with me when he can and encourages me to go on when he can’t.   After all, he is still working by choice so no whining is allowed when I choose to go without him!!  LOL!   But I obviously haven’t been able to travel solo or otherwise for the past year while he has been ill.

I can’t remember who had the idea first, but Pam (Nomadic Newfies) and I had discussed some future hiking trips when she was last here in April.  Her work schedule has stabilized with the hiring of someone new and the upcoming months will allow her more blocks of time for travel!  She mentioned some dates for a mid-way between us meet up that I couldn’t do, but we quickly found an alternate that would allow us four full days if I could agree to travel a bit further so she could drive to our destination after working that day.  Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was three hours from her home in Wisconsin and eight from mine in Tennessee.  No problem, I said and we quickly moved forward.

With an adventure scheduled, we went into research mode for things we could do and between the two of us, we found a cottage on the shore of Lake Michigan that looked great.  I couldn’t make a decision as to whether I wanted to make the eight hour trip in one day or break it up with a visit to some quaint little Indiana community.   Bill finally made it for me by saying he’d rather I split it up than do it all in one day.   Yes, I know eight hours doesn’t seem all that daunting, but remember you are looking at the queen of the backroads.  I don’t do interstates (BOORRING……) unless absolutely necessary so an eight hour trip for me can easily become ten or eleven hours.  I’ll write about my discoveries getting to and from Indiana Dunes in separate posts, but for the remainder of this one, enjoy my ramblings about our days there.  It was fabulous!

Pam has written several posts detailing many of the things we did and I will link to those.  She writes in a fun way and is a far better photographer than I.  You’ll enjoy reading about our exploits!

We were very compatible and found a wide variety of things to do.  We also did some things separately.  That meant a great deal to me that our friendship had passed the test where it was ok to say, “no I don’t want to do that – you go ahead.” And that was perfectly acceptable. 

 View from our dining room table!

We were there to see Indiana Dunes and the surrounding area, to hike and to get to know each other better.  I think we accomplished all three goals!

There are no words..........LOL!

Our cottage, which we rented through was excellent, but not perfect.  Its location, directly on the shore of Lake Michigan, more than made up for any shortfall.  Indiana Dunes' unique location on the southern tip of Lake Michigan provided us the amazing opportunity of seeing both the sunrise and the sunset plus a view of the Chicago skyline off in the distance to the west. 

 Our house was just to the left.  This was our beach access stairway!

What was my favorite part of the trip?  Hard to say, but I think it would be the wide variety of things we found to do.  We hiked (of course!), visited some cool little villages, walked on the beach, enjoyed some local community parks and gardens, took in some museums, indulged my fascination with trains and train stations, walked the dunes, learned a lot of local history and along the way, became really good friends!  And yes, there were some cupcakes consumed!

 We made new friends! Chesterton's most famous son.
(Orville Redenbacher in case you don't recognize him)

Here is the link to Pam's first post.  If interested, just keep reading her subsequent posts and you'll have a really good snapshot of what our trip was like.  She captured it beautifully!  If you don't read her blog regularly, I highly recommend it.  She takes beautiful pictures and has a great love for the outdoors!

It was a wonderful trip.   Planning for the next one is well underway!

 Sunset at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore
September, 2014

Next Up: The Journey is Half the Fun!
(Hopefully on Thursday)

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Rock House

The Rock House - GSMNP
October 6, 2014

There is so much hidden treasure in these mountains I call home.  I had the opportunity to discover one of those last week during a hike with my good friends Gene and Judi! 

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, there are 900 miles of “official” trails.  Many of those trails are along old roadbeds which once led to homesteads, businesses and entire communities which ceased to exist once the land was designated for national park use.  Remnants from this earlier life are easily found along the trails, but to find some really special ones, you have to dig deeply and discover the hundreds of miles of paths, roadbeds, animal trails, etc. that are no longer “official,” meaning no longer maintained.  These special places are not found on current maps, so to go there, one needs to become acquainted with someone who knows how to get there. That might be a Park Ranger, it might be a Hiking Club leader, it might be a descendant of someone who once lived here or it might just be someone who knows one of the above!

I’ve heard about The Rock House since shortly after I began considering myself a serious hiker, but had no idea how to get to it and didn’t know anyone who did.  I’d heard rumors and a couple of years ago a friend and I tried to find it, but didn’t succeed.  I now know what we did wrong!  Several months ago, Gene and Judi heard of a local hiking club that were going to The Rock House on one of their excursions, so they signed up to go.  And we’d been trying to find a time to get me there ever since!  I am happy to say that has finally happened.  It isn’t an incredibly long hike (six miles round trip) or a difficult hike, but it is on mostly unmaintained trail and at certain times of year, has a creek crossing that can turn you around just short of your goal!

Seeing The Rock House was everything I’d imagined it would be.  I’ve seen lots of old chimneys, foundations, cabins, relics, rusted out automobiles, etc., but never anything quite like this.  It was much larger than I had assumed and just incredible to come upon this structure out in the backcountry. 

   Kitchen Implements on Mantle - The Rock House, GSMNP
October 6, 2014

Oddly enough, no one is 100% sure exactly what The Rock House actually was.  There is much speculation and if you have any interest, this link explains much better than I could.  Truthfully, I’m not certain it matters all that much to me exactly what it was.  What mattered to me was how well preserved the structure was and how obvious it was that people had made their home there.  Not to mention the fact that I’d finally seen something I’d anticipated for years and it more than lived up to expectations.

Inside The Rock House - GSMNP
October 6, 2014

Unfortunately, we stayed at The Rock House a little too long and failed to notice the storm clouds building in the sky or the distant rumble of thunder.  We got thoroughly drenched on our return trip, but thankfully, are well-prepared hikers and had everything we needed to stay safe.  It was worth it!!

Next goal is to visit the two sites in the National Park where there have been plane crashes and see the pieces that remain many years later!   Again, you’ll not find these locations on any map.  Someone who knows what they are doing has to take you there.  Doesn’t that sound like an adventure?

What was your most recent discovery that you had to depend on someone else to help you find?