Seems like everyone these days is urging us to get outside, disconnect from our electronics, and connect with the non-human world. But what if we LIKE our indoor, multi-media, virtual world? Here are 5 ways to avoid the risk of nature connection. (On the other hand, if you want to access the enjoyment and the health benefits of time in nature, just do the opposite of these suggestions!)
(Learn more ways to connect with nature HERE. Read about how nature connection helps my daughter manager her anxiety HERE. Consider ways to be an advocate for others HERE. )
It’s all well and good to have (tiny) hiking pals who are remarkable similar to each of us. They love being in the woods, they crave adventure, they enjoy meeting new people, and they thrive on trying new things. But…sometimes similarities can cause problems. Tiny A and Tiny S are also outspoken, persistent, and strong-willed, just like us. (Some might even say sassy, stubborn and rebellious!) On this trip, they occasionally got bored with hiking day after day and wanted to go off on their own to explore new possibilities.
The first sign of trouble was when we reached the Eastern Continental Divide along the Appalachian Trail on the top of a mountain in SW Virginia. Tiny A has always wanted to learn Spanish and insisted she was going to take a boat down the streams and rivers, cross the Gulf of Mexico, and head for the Yucatan. Tiny S wanted to spend time at the beach and decided to follow the waterways until she reached the Atlantic Ocean. We told them it would be too difficult to build a boat up on a mountaintop. They gave in but sulked the rest of the day…
A few weeks later, Tiny A and Tiny S decided to prove us wrong. They found a lovely stream and jumped aboard a leaf-boat while Story Seeker was getting water. I caught them just in time, before they were swept away from shore into the swirling current.
At one point, the Tiny-Mes decided they wanted a break from a forest filled with tree after tree, all looking the same. They were tired of the drought and resulting severe lack of drinking water. They were grumpy about the noise and the dangerous footing caused by so many dead leaves on the ground. Tiny A and Tiny S found an area of luxurious leafy plants, sat down and refused to move unless we promised to take them to a jungle. Sorry, Tiny-Mes! Perhaps that’s a trip for another year!
Eventually, the Tiny-Mes tried a new tactic—appealing to our interests outside of backpacking. Knowing how much Story Seeker finds peace when walking through deep caves, Tiny A and Tiny S found some caverns to explore among the tree roots along the Appalachian Trail. We had to remind them that size differences prohibited us from joining them for their hours of spelunking. (They supposedly found wondrous stalactites and stalagmites…but we will all just have to take their word for it! Maybe next time they will take a camera with them!)
Tiny A watched Andowen making fantasy weapons out of wood. One afternoon when we got to camp, we discovered Tiny A taking sword-play lessons from a local elf. She claimed that when she got as good as Andowen, they could get off trail and spend time at a Renaissance Fair. Andowen loved that idea…but I meanly insisted we had to finish our current adventure before going somewhere else.
Next, Tiny A and Tiny S tried to convince Andowen to join them on a fishing expedition. They had forgotten that she had no proper gear to catch a fish, so she was able to avoid getting caught in that particular fantasy. She has wondered if we could bring some hooks and fishing line on our next trip. Tiny A is certain it would be an excellent alternate use for Andowen’s sturdy staff!
We thought we had finally convinced the Tiny-Mes that this trip was all about backpacking. They seemed to regain pleasure in our trek. But one day, the Tiny-Mes disappeared again. After some backtracking, we found them in a rocky area. They were enjoying some climbing and rappelling. When we asked them why they ran off without telling us, they reminded us that unlike them, we are both afraid of heights. True! We had absolutely no interest in joining them for that type of adventure!
Eventually, the Tiny-Mes quit arguing and disappearing on a search for new adventures. They claimed they would stay with us and hike without complaints. After I bribed them with the promise of publicity, they agreed to let us know next time they found an exciting distraction. That’s why I took these photos and am publishing their exploits on my blog!
Every hiker faces challenges during a long-distance backpacking trip. It’s much easier to get by with a little help from some friends. In some cases, we have to help the Tiny-Mes. In other cases, the Tiny-Mes help us!
Non-hikers can’t imagine going potty in the woods. Tiny size means it’s really no challenge at all. After all, Tiny-Mes aren’t much bigger than caterpillars and no one hears caterpillars stressing about where to do their business. Tinies have no worries about someone seeing them. (If anything, Tiny A and Tiny S have to be careful no one steps on them!)
Peeing in the woods is not really a problem for any size hiker. When it’s time for pooping, human hikers hope to be near a shelter. It’s much easier to sit in an outhouse than to dig a hole and squat in the woods. If needed, however, the Tiny-Mes help choose an out-of-the-way spot for our smelly business. Don’t forget to pack out the wipes!
On the other hand, rainy days would be hazardous for our tiny hiking pals. When the trail turns into a river of rain flowing downhill on the easiest path, we merely get our feet wet. Tiny A and Tiny S would be swept away by the run-off. Fortunately, the few rain storms we experienced on this trip were at night. As the rain drummed on the metal roof, we curled up in our cozy sleeping bags to read while the Tiny-Mes watched the storm from the front of the shelter.
The Appalachian Trail is not a level, smooth walking path in the woods. It has steep ascents and descents as it makes its way over every possible mountain. The footing can be treacherous for humans and for Tiny-Mes. Fallen leaves hide rocks and holes and get slippery when wet. Roots seem to jump up and grab boots or unexpectedly slide feet out from under hikers. Jumbled rocks are either exhausting to climb over or twist and tilt to dump hikers. “Watch out!” cry the hikers in the lead.
Luckily for Tiny-Mes, they are so lightweight they don’t have to worry about foot and leg injuries. (Those stiff Lego extremities come in handy sometimes!) Tiny A and Tiny S know, however, that if we get hurt, their adventure on the AT is also over. So they remind me (Story Seeker) to take my preventative medicine—joint meds, nightly tea for joint comfort, and “Vitamin I” (Ibuprofen against inflammation). They also help both Andowen and me wrap our feet—with cloth tape or duct tape to prevent blisters and with K-Tape to support joints and prevent rolled ankles, sore knees, and inflamed Achilles tendonitis.
It’s always good to have friendly helpers when faced with challenges—big or small!
Tiny S and Tiny A decided to share the details of a typical day of backpacking with their hikers on the Appalachian Trail.
7:00 am — Story Seeker wakes up Andowen for the first time. Andowen goes back to sleep while Story Seeker gets the food bags out of the tree and heats water for breakfast.
7:15 am — Story Seeker wakes up Andowen again. The bribe of ready breakfast gets Andowen out of her cozy sleeping bag! (Hot Carnation Instant Breakfast with powdered milk plus cereal for Andowen; peanut butter crackers and hot tea for Story Seeker)
After breakfast, Andowen and Story Seeker change to their hiking clothes and pack all gear into their backpacks. Water bottles are filled and snacks are chosen for the day. Maps are studied and the first meeting point is chosen. (Andowen is faster so usually hikes ahead, waiting at pre-determined places for Story Seeker to catch up.)
9:00 am — The Tiny Mes climb into the pocket at the top of Story Seeker’s pack. Another day’s hike begins. The Tiny Mes help look for white blazes on tree trunks and rocks–proof everyone is still on the right trail!
Throughout the day, the hikers eat a snack each hour to keep up their energy: nuts, dried fruit, candy, cheese crackers. Occasionally they stop to enjoy a view, but water and snacks are consumed while walking.
12:00 noon — the Tiny Mes are restless and demand a break. While they explore, Story Seeker and Andowen eat lunch (a protein bar) and rest for a few minutes. Soon it is time to walk again (before muscles stiffen up!) When the seating is comfortable enough or the scenery is especially beautiful, they take off their boots, get out journals or the camera, and fully relax for awhile longer.
After lunch, the day’s hiking continues. Story Seeker and Andowen prefer to hike 8-10 miles a day, less than many hikers but just right for them.
4:00 pm — typical time to get to camp for the evening. Frequently, everyone sleeps in a 3 walled shelter. Sometimes, to hit their desired daily miles, Story Seeker and Andowen pitch their tent between shelters. Air mattresses and sleeping bags are spread out, headlamps and journals are set beside beds, and dinner is pulled out of food bags. Dry camp clothes are put on and sweaty hiking clothes are hung to air out.
Once everything is organized, it’s time to get water. “Dirty” water bags are filled at a nearby spring or creek then carried back to camp. (4.5 – 5 ltrs are needed each day for breakfast, hiking, and dinner.) Story Seeker filters water while Andowen cooks supper.
5:00 pm — hot food is ready. Other hikers start coming into the camp area as they finish their own daily mileage.
The evening is relaxed. Hikers chat, write in journals, read on kindle or phone. Some nights they play cards (if a deck is found in the shelter) or make a campfire. The Tiny Mes look at the map with their hikers to decide how early they need to get up for the next day’s hiking.
8:00 pm — “Hiker Midnight!” After a long day of hiking, everyone is ready for bed. Goodnight, John-boy! Goodnight, Moon! Goodnight, Tiny Mes!
This backpacking trip we have seen amazing variety in the fungi found along the Appalachian Trail. Every imaginable color, shape, and type is represented.
When we noticed this one, Daughter made an interesting observation: what if they aren’t really fungi but are the Corals of the Forest? Or perhaps, scientists have it wrong, and the colorful collections in the oceans should be called Fungi of the Sea…
Sometimes the “Coral” are standing tall and proud, in plain sight beside the trail.
Other times, they are shyly hidden under leaves or in the crevices of tree trunks.
Here are some of the most interesting we have found so far. What do you think they should be called–Coral or Fungi?
These look like budding plants…but they are slimy.
This tree wears a skirt full of ruffles!
This one must be related to jellyfish…it’s translucent!
According to Mario, this is a mushroom. But perhaps that is just another type of “Coral”?
We still aren’t sure what classification these things should be given. We found Sponge Bob’s pet snail the other day. If his Pineapple appears in these woods, we will all know that these should properly be called the CORAL of the FOREST!
UPDATE: by the time we finishe’d our hike, we found two more connections to the sea: suckers from octopus tentacles, and another jellyfish wanna-be.
Oh sure, some reptiles found along the trail are harmless. It might be startling to almost step on slow-moving, bright orange eft, but it probably won’t hurt you.
Seeing a huge snake in the trail is another matter. First, it makes one’s heart stop! Then there are mind-racing decisions to be made: what kind of snake is this? Is it poisonous? Will it be aggressive? What should I do? EEEEK! (We saw a number of harmless black snakes and racing-striped garter snakes crossing the trail this spring. Other hikers found rattlesnakes in the path.)
But the scariest critter of all? Be very, very careful if you head for the resupply town of Glasgow, VA. There is a giant dinosaur in a field in the middle of town!
Fortunately, I hike with a elven warrior. She usually carries her (stick and string) bow. But she’s had plenty of practice fighting with her staff. Whew!
(Check out a news story about the Dino April Fool’s prank HERE.)
There is a story frequently told among AT hikers. It explains how to identify the type of hiker (day hiker, section hiker, long distance/thru hiker) using the simple M&M test: When three M&Ms are scattered along the trail, what does the hiker do? The day hiker walks right past the candy, never noticing it. The short section hiker stops and picks up the candy. Following “Leave No Trace” principles, this hiker puts the M&Ms in her trash sack to carry out of the woods. The long distance hiker, always starving, throws off her pack, grabs the M&Ms and pops them into her mouth. Then that long distance hikers scrambles to find any other candies that might have been dropped!
(Are you wondering which type of hikers we are? If we drop our own candy or trail mix, we pick it up and eat it. After all, we need every calorie we can get! But no, we don’t eat trash candy left by others. Perhaps that is the difference between long-distance section hikers and thru-hikers?!)
(Thanks to daughter Nettie for taking the photos and daughter Andowen for being the model.)
Those dreaded words intrude on every family vacation: are we theeeerrre yet? But this whine is not limited to cross-country car trips. Nor is it limited to kids. Some days these seemingly innocent words sneak into a hiker’s brain, then play on repeat.
The day starts off brilliantly: blue sky, strong legs, happy thoughts. The trail goes up (and up and up), but there are glorious views and sun-dappled forest glades to enjoy along the way. Every hiking day should be like this one!
Eventually, the clouds descend, the misty drizzle begins, and the murmurs sneak in. (Shhh! are we there yet? Hmmm?) Surprise! Even the trail betrays the hiker: getting steeper, and steeper, and steeper! No fair! We are carrying heavy packs…not bounding along like mountain goats!
Ahhh! The trail finally relents and heads back down. Surely things will be better now! We should get to the shelter soon (won’t we?) But…the trail is unrelenting. It goes down, down, down…steeper and steeper. Blergh! Hurting knees, aching ankles, fiery feet. This is not the plan…
ARE WE THEEEERRRE YET? When will we get there? Will this day never end? I’m hungry! I’m thirsty! (please stop soon…)
(PS: I know these faces scratched into the painted blazes on the trail are graffiti…but they made us smile on a very long hiking day!)
Too many wanna-be hikers are unfamiliar with the true dangers of backpacking. They imagine injuries or encounters with bears. They worry about stranger-danger or about getting lost in the woods. They eventually purchase a pack and fill it with everything needed to walk in the woods for weeks at a time. It seems so simple while still at home: find a pocket or place for everything, then bring order to the chaos of the piles of supplies.
They are quite proud of how neatly everything is finally stowed in that oh-so-innocent bag.
But then…that newbie hiker gets to camp, tired and weary after a long day of hiking. The backpack is dropped into the tent, or onto the floor of the shelter…and…BOOM! The pack explodes! Belongings are thrown everywhere…
Oh sure…some folks try to explain away the dangers. They claim organization and patience are all that are needed to maintain order. And sometimes their pack plays along. For a few days, belongings are neatly stowed and retrieved by the complacent hiker.
Even with the best of intentions and keeping meticulous habits, the day comes…the trekker is excited to catch up to friends and hurries to grab dinner ingredients…or is cold and just wants to quickly change to dry camp clothes. Then, suddenly…WHAM! The pack explodes! Belongings are thrown everywhere…
This dangerous situation can occur anywhere: in a tent, in a shelter, in a hostel. Explosions occur in the woods…and happen while in town.
Please protect yourself and your hiking companions. Anytime you touch your pack, do so gently. Patiently lift out each bag and stuff-sack. Avoid the dangers of a pack explosion…
Everyone knows this condition is common before a newbie hiker’s first multi-day backpacking trip. No one is surprised to hear that the hiker is feeling anxious in the weeks leading up to D(eparture)-Day. Friends and family are happy to contribute to the Pre-hike Jitters: pointing out dangers, asking how the hiker will deal with emergencies, hoping no one gets lost, wishing them “Good Luck” as if no amount of preparation will alleviate the need for luck to survive the walk in the woods.
But experienced hikers know this condition is not confined to the early days of adventuring. Symptoms seem to creep, slowly overtaking even the long-time hiker. It starts so innocently: making lists, then compulsively checking them over and over.
Next comes spreading out gear and dreaming of new items that would make the trip “safer” or would be more “comfortable.” (Beware gear envy which is a very expensive, highly contagious disease among hikers! But that’s another topic for another day…)
Checking the weather forecast makes sense. But then the ATweather site becomes a fixation, and the hiker clicks on location after location, needing to be assured there won’t be storms or cold snaps. (And what about hurricanes?? They are not just an imaginary danger…read about that HERE!)
Soon that ace-hiker is grinding teeth all night long, worrying even while sleep. Owww!
And stress-caused bubbles and blisters may erupt on hands or face. Sigh…
Even the family dog is infected…worrying about the full pack with portends extended separation.
DON’T WORRY! Pre-hike Jitters are absolutely NORMAL! There is only one sure-fired cure. Get out there and start the adventure. It’s miraculous how stepping into the woods with pack on back turns jitters into excitement. Let the adventures begin!