Today celebrates the birthday of the Appalachian Trail. When I saw the below post on Facebook, I remembered … the Appalachian Trail is the same age as my mama! No wonder she has always felt drawn to it. She turned 81 exactly 1 month ago. And today we celebrate the same AT Birthday.
“Happy Birthday to the Appalachian Trail! Completed on August 14, 1937, the A.T. is a 2,180-mile long footpath that traverses the Appalachian Mountains from Georgia to Maine. Conceived in 1921 and built by private citizens over the next 15 years, the entire Appalachian National Scenic Trail has been conquered by over 17,500 thru-hikers. “ – US Dept of the Interior
I love that our country sets aside and protects wild places for future generations to enjoy. Unlike most National Parks which celebrate one specific historic or natural place, the Appalachian Trail is constantly changing. It is a living footpath—with new trail being added every year. Land continues to be acquired to move more miles of official path off of roadways and into the woods. As I have explained in other posts, the trail must be re-routed occasionally because of fallen trees or flooded out walkways. And with better practices for erosion control, volunteer trail workers add switchbacks and run-off ditches.
In my family (as I wrote HERE), my mom has enjoyed spending time backpacking with her children and her grandchildren. She still day-hikes but is no longer able to carry the weight needed for overnight trips on the Appalachian Trail. But I look forward to the day I can pass on her legacy to her great-grandchildren. I will certainly tell them stories of “Grandma Bubblewrap” each year as we celebrate both her birthday and the AT birthday!
It’s the AT Birthday today! May we be celebrating (and using) this woodland footpath for centuries to come!
Find more info about the Appalachian Trail HERE on my blog or HERE on the official website.
Find ideas for a Woodland birthday party including the above cake HERE.)
What’s YOUR favorite way to celebrate a birthday? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.
What’s your favorite dinosaur? Class in school? Comfort food recipe? Where and when were your favorite adventures? Who’s the best band? Professor? Relative? We grow up being asked to pick favorites in most areas of life. Most often our lists change over time. But there are usually a few items that stay near the top, cherished for a lifetime.
With my love of wandering and my quest for “Big Epics” (read more about Big Epics HERE), it seems appropriate that I share the locations of my 7 favorite adventures with you. These are places I return to over and over—in person or in my dreams. (This list of places I have visited at least twice came together quickly, but it is presented in chronological order of when I first traveled to each location. There would have been days of dithering and second guessing if I had to actually rank my choices!)
Mammoth Cave National Park, KY – I love the coolness and the quiet of being deep underground. (I know, I know…many folks HATE being in a cave. Humor me!) As one of the longest cave systems in the world, there are a wide variety of tours at Mammoth Cave. I’ve been on most of them over the years. My favorite was going on the “Wild Cave Tour” when I was 16. “Exploring” the cave by headlamp and crawling through holes and narrow canyons was my first taste of big adventure. Even better was taking my young adult kids to the park for them to go on the same tour decades later. On my bucket list with this site is returning to go on the newly re-opened boat tour at the lower levels of the cave! (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE )
Killington Ski Resort VT – I was in middle school when we first went to Killington for Spring Break. It was a drivable distance from Ohio to this large ski area, which allowed my family to vacation here year after year. Trips became sporadic as my sisters and I grew up, went to college, and started our own families. Occasionally, we 3 generations gathered to enjoy the same runs. This place tops the list of favorite adventures for most of our family members. There is a possibility that we might manage to return in 2020 for a week of skiing with FOUR generations! You will certainly read about it if we pull that off. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE )
Mayan Ruins in Yucatan, Mexico – I first spent a summer in the Yucatan when I was in high school. There is amazing scope for imagination here—remnants of a great civilization, daydreams of actually experiencing that culture, and adventure stories of archeologists rediscovering the ruins and eventually deciphering the language carved in stone. We returned as a family in 2002, when our youngest daughter was just a baby. Someday I would love to explore the Mayan ruins found in Guatamala and Belize. (More info about the famous ruins at Chicheen Itza HERE. The less crowded sites are even more magical to visit…)
Hadrian’s Wall across N Yorkshire, England – I admit it, I’m a history geek. Which made this site a stunning adventure. Imagine—a wall built millennia ago by the Romans is not just still standing…but you can actually WALK on it! The wall was not particularly effective at keeping the barbarian outsiders of northern England out of the civilized settlements. But it remains an amazing monument to a long-gone civilization’s determination and organization. I have visited small areas of Hadrian’s Wall twice—with a different daughter each time. I dream of walking the length of the wall with youngest daughter someday. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE.)
Banff National Parque, Alberta, Canada – I love mountains of any size and shape. But my very favorite mountains (so far) are the Canadian Rockies. Steep mountains with snow caps surrounding brilliant turquoise blue glacial lakes—stunning! We spent time here during our nine months of wandering in an RV. And we returned on our road trip a few months ago when we visited a dear friend who now lives in this beautiful location. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE. The first photo is at iconic Lake Louise. The recent photo is at Lake Minnewanka.)
Chaco Culture National Historic Site, NM – Scattered across the high desert of New Mexico are ruins of another great civilization. Chaco Canyon receives few visitors because it is in the middle of nowhere and is only accessible by 20 miles of dirt roads. Because of the low volume of guests, people are allowed to wander unaccompanied through the ruins. This is another location with great scope for imagination as we walk through doorways and peek through windows to see the same scenery enjoyed by the Ancient Puebloans (Anasazi) 600 years ago. Because we lived nearby for three years, we had the privilege of seeing this site in different seasons, changing light, and varied weather. (More info about this Favorite Adventure HERE.)
The Appalachian Trail (GA to ME) – As I have described elsewhere on this blog, since I was a teen I have dreamed of taking extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail. To me, this is the very definition of a “Big Epic.” Youngest Daughter and I have completed over 500 miles of the 2200 mile-long path through the woods and up and down the mountains of the Eastern USA. We plan another trip for later this fall. I don’t know if we will ever complete the entire trail—but we are having fun along the way! (More info about this Favorite Adventure—at the official site HERE and our reasons for heading to the woods HERE.)
BONUS: WHALE WATCHING (There are many places to do this. We enjoyed Kenai Fjords National Park, AK – Walking to (and tasting!) ancient glaciers. Taking a boat tour along the mountainous coast and seeing amazing wildlife, including WHALES. Exploring the history of the region. What’s not to love about visiting this park? Someday I dream of returning to Alaska to revisit my Favorite Adventures in that wild land. And I would be happy to go on Whale Watch Tours in other locations as well. (More info about this National Park HERE )
I would LOVE to hear about YOUR Favorite Adventures. Please leave me a comment below…
(If you are new and haven’t yet met our Tiny-Mes, read their introduction HERE.)
The Tiny-Mes apparently don’t like dreary, gray Ohio winters. (Hmmm…just like us!) They disappeared not long after we finished our fall backpacking trip. Winter doesn’t want to let go around here, but the Tiny-Mes showed up recently, just in time to help plan our next adventures. (I asked where they had been. All they said was “someplace sunny!” They won’t say if it was snowy sun or sunning on a beach. Either way, we are glad to see them again!)
At the first hint of spring, we start dreaming and planning. So many possibilities! So many directions we could go! So many people we could reconnect with! All of us love to study maps…
This year it looks like we will make an Epic Road Trip to son’s graduation in Montana. The Tiny-Mes had to get passports—we are headed into Canada to explore the mountains! Plus there will be a summer Appalachian Trail (AT) adventure in Vermont with a friend or two. And possibly, another fall trip to TN to fill in a section of the AT that we missed last year.
Now that we have a general plan, it is time to get out the guide books, the maps, and the computer. I’m sure I’ve told you before (HERE and HERE) how much I love making detailed plans and itineraries! As always, I have to cut out about half of what we dream of doing. Hubby encourages our wanderings…but wants us back home sometimes! HA!
Next, it’s time to pull out all our gear from the storage closet. We check to see that everything is clean and in good repair. We figure out what needs replaced or what we hope to upgrade. The Tiny-Mes decided try out a hammock this year. They say it will be the perfect piece of gear for a road trip.
We can’t wait to get back to the Great Outdoors! We love wandering and exploring new places. And we look forward to sharing more stories with you. May can’t come soon enough…
The Tiny-Mes urge you to consider sponsoring my upcoming training to become a Forest Therapy Guide. YOU could win the drawing on May 7th to have your own personalized Tiny-Me join us on our summer backpacking trip! Wouldn’t it be fun to vicariously adventure with us? Find out how to support me HERE. Get the details about the drawing HERE (scroll down to $57 level).
Hi, my name is Jill, and I discriminate against boring views. I’m addicted to changing scenery and epic locations. Do you also belong to this group for recovering Nature-snobs?
I long for the beauty of walking in the mountains. I’m homesick for the brilliant blue skies and the mysterious fog-bound trees found along the Appalachian Trail. At least give me a beach with crashing waves! I hate the flat farm fields and always overcast skies that have surrounded me in Central Ohio. Such a Nature-snob!
It helps that we recently moved to a small town in a hilly county northeast of Columbus. As I explore local parks and wander trails in nearby forests, I am challenged to change my snooty attitude. There truly IS beauty all around me when I look for it!
“Finding beauty here or there; Finding beauty anywhere!”
The beginning of a new year means it is time to organize the thousands of photos on my computer. This year I found interesting similarities in the views I have captured as I explore Nature-places both “here” in Ohio and “there” on the AT. Take a look… (In the following sets of photographs, the first one is along the AT; the second photo is close to our new home.)
Enjoying early morning light streaming thru the trees:
Noticing farmland shrouded in fog; waiting for the rising sun to bring crisp, clear views of the hills:
Walking along a stream, listening to it burbling and gurgling along its merry way:
Stopping to wonder at the roar of rushing, cascading water falling over boulders:
Looking for small pleasures and tiny bits of beauty:
Reflecting on the beauty of seasonal changes:
Taking time to notice the colors of sunset over nightly shelter:
I’m working hard to stop being a Nature-Snob by “finding beauty anywhere.” What have YOU discovered near you? I would love to see your favorite nature places. Please leave a photo in the comments!
Have you noticed how you feel better in your daily life after spending time outdoors? As we immerse ourselves in the natural world, we become more whole physically, mentally, and emotionally. Plus, the better we know the world around us, the more we enjoy spending time outside. Continue reading to learn about the three different levels of connecting with Nature…
A – Have an ADVENTURE in Nature
“Nature” refers to the outdoors, the natural world, the places not made by humans. Everyone has an emotional response when they hear that word. For some of us, it is a place of comfort or adventure or pleasure. For others, it is a place that is dangerous or boring, a place to avoid. At this level, Nature is something separate from the adventurers, something to be explored or enjoyed in and of itself.
We enjoy extended backpacking trips on the Appalachian Trail
So exciting to see wild ponies up close and personal!
B—Use Nature as a BACKDROP for Therapy
There is growing interest in adding nature to traditional counseling or psychotherapy practices. In this case, the natural world is seen as a beneficial alternate setting for client/therapist interactions. There are variations in how this is applied, with names such as Ecopsychotherapy, Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, and Nature Therapy. Although these activities are set outdoors, the focus is on the therapy itself as it is directed by the specialist. There is acknowledgement of the ways Nature lowers stress but this is merely seen as complementary to the traditional health practices. A few individuals participate in specialized programs that push them to their physical limits to more quickly and radically change their emotional and behavioral choices.
Daughter is proud of the survival skills she has learned–including building a fire
Being in the mountains is a good place to practice meditation and self-calming skills
C—Make a Deep CONNECTION with Nature
There is growing research focused on the therapeutic value of connecting directly with Nature, not merely pursuing beneficial activities in an outdoor setting. Scientists are learning that Nature itself can fill the role of “therapist.” Most of us aren’t comfortable interacting at this level on our own. We aren’t sure what to do or how to build these relationships with the natural world. It can be helpful to have a “Forest Therapy Guide” facilitate a personal connection to our environment by using all of our senses to immerse ourselves in Nature.
Close your eyes and focus on what you feel and hear and smell in the woods
Taste wild fruit; Feel the ferns when making and wearing a “crown”
Stay tuned! I’ve been accepted into the Forest Therapy Guide training and certification program. In the coming weeks, I will share more about the specific health benefits of immersing oneself in Nature. I can’t wait to tell you more about why this is my “dream job” and how you can help me start this practice in my online and local communities!
It’s a new year. Sometimes that brings a longing to become a new-you. It can be a long process to radically change who you are. But if you head to the woods, you could quickly gain a radically different name! Perhaps this post will give you some ideas…
In a previous post (which you can read HERE), I explained the significance of “Trail Names.” I told the story of how we got our names as “Story Seeker” and “Andowen.” Now I want to share some of the names we remember from other hikers we met on the Appalachian Trail.
Trail names often have entertaining history behind them. Usually, they give insight into a hiker’s personal journey. Tales are often told when sitting around a campfire in the woods or at a table in town. “How did you get your name?” is a good way to get the stories flowing…
Campfires…heart of conversations and gatherings
Trail names are given (or chosen) for many reasons. Perhaps the hiker is similar to a character from movies: Elle (from Legally Blonde), Long John Silver (complete with swirling cape and sword!), Gandalf or Frodo (from Lord of the Rings). Sometimes the trail name is a related to the hiker’s real name: Comet (Hailey) and Sunrise (Dawn). Physical characteristics are often commemorated: Big Foot, Long Legs, Tiny, Bean Pole. Trail clothing can also affect names: Blue Bandana, Green Knight. Favorite foods might also become a trail name: Honey Sticks and Java. Most common is probably hiking style or mishaps which occur in the early days of the hiker’s adventure: Jack Rabbit, Strider, Stumbles, Wrong Way, Muddy.
Here are a few of our favorite Trail Names and the stories behind them:
BEETLE started hiking with her daughter who was named Spider for how quickly she climbed steep sections of trail. Mom struggled in those same sections, legs and arms and hiking poles flying every which way. Daughter said she looked like a beetle…and the name stuck!
BLAZE headed to the trail without map or guidebooks. He found his way by following the white blazes that mark the Appalachian Trail. In addition, he carried no stove and made fires each evening and morning to heat water and cook his food.
IRON HEART has a striking story of transformation. His life was in chaos and he was in terrible shape when he had a massive heart attack. He died and was revived multiple times on the way to the hospital and in the operating room. As he recovered, he made radical changes in his lifestyle. Eventually, he decided that he wanted to take on an epic adventure, and he headed to the Appalachian Trail. He didn’t finish the first year, but went back again this year and hopes to finish the entire trail by next season. He has an Iron Heart—in the physical implants that saved his life and in the determination that has changed his life.
OLD SCHOOL is a dentist who headed to the trail during a time of transition. He hadn’t hiked for years but still had his old gear. It worked fine decades before and he saw no reason to waste money upgrading everything. Younger hikers were bemused at the metal frame visible around his pack and at his old-school stove. Thus a name was given…
(photo from an ebay listing)
PROMETHEUS… We thought this might have been because he liked to light a campfire most evenings. Wrong! Early in his thru-hike the alcohol stove he was using blew up and lit the picnic table at the shelter on fire. He was the hiker who brought fire to the people… HA!
So, if you are longing for a change this year, what “trail name” would fit you on your journey? I would love to hear your ideas in the comments!
My daughter, Andowen, spends much of her time as a Warrior. At first glance, folks might think she is just a quirky teen. If they bother to spend time talking with her, they discover this is more than childish costume play. Here are some of the reasons that each one of us should be like her and choose to become a Warrior (Man or Woman) this year.
We have always had a big box of dress-ups around our house. Some of our kids rarely used them, others spent years wearing costumes. As a mid-teen, Andowen still loves imagination play accompanied by appropriate outfits and accessories. We figured out a few years ago that spending time in costume helps Andowen lower crippling anxiety levels. As she explains, “when I’m in my own world, I choose the rules, I always know how to respond, and no one picks on me.” Even when she and I take long backpacking trips (which also lessens anxiety), she still wants time most days to retreat into her imagination. The woods are a fabulous setting to make her pretend worlds feel more real!
Recently, she and I had a deeper discussion about what she gains by becoming a Warrior Woman. She described how acting as a particular character helps her practice the positive traits they have. In many ways, those imaginary humans, elves, and time-jumpers have become her mentors for how to handle real-life. Andowen described the following characteristics of a true Hero-Warrior:
A Warrior Woman must be STRONG, physically and mentally. It is good to be physically fit. But when you aren’t, it is even more important to become strong in your thinking and decision-making. Don’t let anything stop you from becoming who you want to be! Andowen spends time making weapons out of sticks and string, then becoming an “expert” by using them in imaginary battle and hunting scenarios. She practices being focused, ignoring any outside distractions.
To become a true LEADER, it is not enough for a Warrior Woman to be brave or to step out in front of her companions. She must also know how to encourage others. She finds ways to bring out their best in both actions and attitudes. She leads by example.
Andowen is learning how to be SMART as a Warrior Woman. This includes knowledge—learning the wood-lore and skills needed for survival. But it goes beyond facts. Being truly smart means knowing how to choose your battles. As she says, “you must know when to do what, and what to do when!” Because Andowen sometimes struggles with navigating human culture and relationships, it helps her to practice being an elf. Because this lessens her anxiety, she better remembers expected behavior and responses!
As always, becoming the expert at something takes PERSEVERANCE. Andowen has learned this on long distance hiking adventures—never give up on a bad day. She also practices this trait when making “weapons.” Sometimes she creates the look she envisions. Other times she has to try over and over until she gets it “just right.” At home she uses cardboard, duct tape, wood, and cut-up clothes. (As seen in this year’s Halloween costume when she dressed up as Link from her favorite video game.) While on the AT, Andowen practiced how to safely use a pocket knife to smooth and shape sticks into desired “weapons.”
A real Warrior Woman moves through her world with CONFIDENCE. She knows what she needs to do and knows she has the skills capable of fulfilling her responsibilities. She faces new situations with courage. She builds on her strengths and past successes, knowing she can conquer any challenges that come against her. (Andowen was quite excited to meet a thru-hiker who was carrying a “real” sword! She claims owning a similar one would give her even more confidence…..)
Apparently an effective Warrior Woman is never surprised. She KEEPS CALM and thinks clearly no matter what she encounters. She studies each character she meets to determine if it might become an ally or if it is an enemy to be vanquished. In addition to regularly dressing up as a Warrior character, Andowen sometimes uses her creativity to experience life as other imaginary creatures. She decided it is awkward having a huge weighty horn on one’s head as a unicorn! Haha!
At the start of this New Year, as we set intentions and make resolutions for positive change, perhaps more of us need to consider how we would benefit from becoming Warrior (Men and Women)! Let’s listen to my quirky, costumed teen…and choose to pursue becoming better people.
Here’s to the WARRIORS—may we see them, may we raise them, may we be them!
The presents are opened; the food is eaten; the relatives have gone home. The Christmas holidays are over. But the very best gifts of Christmas don’t have to be packed away until next year. We can enjoy them all year long—especially by spending time outdoors!
May HOPE, LOVE, JOY and PEACE be yours, all the year through!
Some families and churches celebrate Advent in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Each week an additional candle is lit on the wreath, reminding us to focus on the true gifts offered to us: Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. Even for folks who follow other religions (or no religion at all), each one of us longs to experience these qualities in our personal lives. Daughter and I have discovered that being in Nature gets us away from the hectic schedules and to-do lists of daily living. Time in the woods brings us these simple gifts:
HOPE: Anything feels possible when we head outdoors for adventure. Even when the trail is difficult and we have a bad day, we comfort ourselves that tomorrow will bring new beauty and fresh challenges. Out here there are always reminders that nothing is so dark that light cannot shine into the shadows…
LOVE: Being outdoors helps us experience different facets of this gift. We better love the earth itself when we spend time in Nature. For us personally, our love for the Creator God grows when we experience the beauty around us. We deepen our connections with others as we overcome challenges together. (Yes, even when we want to kill each other…we are still building relationship! Haha!)
JOY: We are often reminded of this verse while we are hiking on the Appalachian Trail: “Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice; (Let the sea roar and all that fills it); Let the field exult and everything in it; Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy!” (Psalm 96:11-12) One particular morning, we were in awe to find this tree, singing for joy with arms raised toward the sunlight!
PEACE: Even science affirms that we need time in the woods to lower stress and counter the noisy, hectic world in which we live. It is never completely silent in the woods, but the sounds of birds singing, insects buzzing, wind blowing, and water flowing are calming, soothing noises. Sometimes we talk or sing while we hike together, other times we savor the peace that surrounds us when we walk in Nature.
As we put away the decorations of the Christmas season and look toward the beginning of a New Year, let’s make more time to get outdoors. Let’s celebrate the real gifts of Christmas all year long.
(I would love to hear which gift you want more of in the coming year. Please share your plans for spending time in Nature in the coming year by commenting on this post!)
When backpackers meet another hiker on the trail, they commonly stop for a few moments to chat. Rather than ask “Where are you from?” or “Where do you work?” conversation tends to be hiking specific. “How long are you out here?” Or, “How far are you heading?” If coming from different directions on the trail, the hikers often exchange info about upcoming obstacles, how well the water source is flowing, or what wonderful restaurant is in the next town. They also exchange names. But these are not names you would overhear in your local coffee shop!
Long distance hikers use “Trail Names.” This allows a level of privacy or even protection when meeting strangers. Eventually, if hikers run into each other again and again at evening stopping places, they may share contact information to catch up with each other in an upcoming town or to keep in touch post hike. Sometimes they reach a point of sharing “real names.” It’s funny, though, that there are a few hikers I text with occasionally off-trail, but still have no clue what they are called in real life!
There is some controversy about whether a trail name must be given by others or whether it can be personally chosen. In the long run, however, the origin really doesn’t matter. Once the hiker starts using the name, it becomes their identity on-trail.
Finding the perfect name for characters she imagines is very important to my daughter. She gets very upset if a name doesn’t match her ideas of what is proper or right. Because of this, we decided to choose our own names before starting our first long-distance hiking adventure. She chose “Andowen,” an elven name from a Lord of the Rings role playing game she enjoys. She felt the name perfectly fit what we were doing because, of course, “Elves belong in the woods, Mom!”
It took me longer to choose my name. For years, I used “Mama Duck” on-line because when my kids were little I was like a mama duck with a line of ducklings following behind. I thought about using “colorfulheart,” my current online name. Neither of those quite fit my imagined role while hiking. Finally, I decided on “Story Seeker.” Wherever I go, I look for stories—ones I make up about what I see and do, and ones I hear from others. Time in the woods gives great scope for discovering new stories to share with friends like YOU! (This Native American story-teller figurine was given to me years ago by a friend who recognized my role as story-collector and story-teller…)
This explains how we got our names. In a future post I will tell stories of the trail names of other hikers we have met on our adventures.
The Appalachian Trail offers relatively few overlooks with stunning mountain views. Much of the time, the hiker follows the trail through the “Green Tunnel,” surrounded by woods. Occasionally, the trail wanders through pastures or over grassy “balds.” Wherever that simple path goes, however, the hiker is surrounded by splendor.
When I’m backpacking on the Appalachian Trail, I often think of this traditional Navajo blessing: “In beauty I walk, With beauty before me I walk, With beauty behind me I walk, With beauty above me I walk, With beauty around me I walk, It has become beautiful again.”
Whether we are enjoying a brilliant panoramic mountain view or savoring small details along the way, hiking on the Appalachian Trail IS walking in beauty!