Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hiking Every Saturday

So now I am hiking every Saturday with the LLS Hike For Discovery Team Charlotte. It's great fun to introduce people to new hiking venues. We started small at McDowell Park for an hour and have worked our way up to Crowders Mountain State Park for 3+ hours. There's a range of abilities and goals and it is challenging to meet everyone's needs - not sure I always accomplish that. But at least we get outside! The group's goal is to raise $20,000 and currently we are nearly halfway at $10,000.

How is this fitting with my original adventure for the Smokies? Well, the best training for hiking is...hiking! In addition to running 5-6 miles three times a week and thinking about going to the gym (I just can't seem to like it), hiking every Saturday is whipping me into shape. I carry a pretty heavy daypack that includes a gigantic first aid kit plus about 4 liters of water. (Each person at the Grand Canyon is required to carry a gallon of water so we are working towards that). I have also scouted out one or more options at each of our venues, so I'm getting in some extra miles. Feels good!

We had to cancel one Saturday because of severe thunderstorm forecasts and I was bored all day long. So the next day, Sunday, Jim and I drove up to Boone NC and did a five-mile loop on the Boone Fork Trail off the Blue Ridge Parkway and then took our son out to dinner. Felt much better after getting outside for an afternoon! I highly recommend the Boone Fork Trail, a moderate to strenuous trail, lots of water, hopping back and forth across creeks.

On this trail I tested my new weekend backpack, an Osprey Aura 50 I have a size medium and it fits beautifully, feels GREAT. It weighs 3 pounds alone and I loaded it to about 15 pounds. It is ventilated, has space to hang a hydration bladder, has pouches on the hip belt. This coming weekend I'm going to load it to 25 pounds and see how it goes. Stay tuned!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

An Opportunity Falls In My Lap

Every day in the summer, fall and early winter of 2007 I think a little bit more about this grand idea and formulate plans. I pore over maps and books about the Park and if you showed me a list of trail names both real and fake, I think I could pick out the fake ones right away. I even have a puzzle of the topo map of the Park! You'd think it would be easy, but it took days...

In mid-December 2007 I saw a short posting on the Bergs site, something like "Looking for a Hike Leader" and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Hike For Discovery program. This is a program where kind-hearted people volunteer to raise funds for LLS and in exchange they get a trip to a fabulous venue for a hike of their dreams, like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. I had looked at the national website before and saw that there was no program offered in North Carolina. But now...the brief posting made me curious so I picked up the phone.

After a conversation with the staff member I felt as though the job description had my name written all over it: a hike leader to plan and lead hikers in training for a Grand Canyon experience. The hike leader teaches topics about gear, safety, etc. and chooses hike venues for every Saturday, increasing in length and trail difficulty. Then at the Grand Canyon I turn my novice hikers over to the experts and I hike merrily along as a participant myself. Hey! I can do THAT! And what great training for my Smokies adventure! Over 3 or 4 days coming up to Christmas I was offered and accepted the job. The weekend after New Year's I found myself flying to the San Francisco Bay area amid high winds and rain for hike leader training. The training weekend was terrific, with great instructors and amazing fellow hike leaders, one of the best adult training sessions I have ever been involved in - no whiners in the bunch. Or was it me this time?

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Blogs Are A Challenge Too

I have hiked many miles and many places over the years. I have hiked close to home and far away, including Yosemite National Park, Denali National Park and even the Alps in Switzerland. Each location is awesome and unique. I love "checking off" new places but I also love revisiting familiar places in the different seasons. Recently I hiked at South Mountain State Park here in North Carolina after a snowfall and ours were the first footprints everywhere we went. It took all day because we constantly stopped to take pictures. What a memorable day! Creating a blog is a new challenge and harder than I thought it would be. It's one thing to write in a journal that no one else will see, but putting it out there in front of everyone calls for a different voice, no privacy, lots of editing. I guess I will never be a great writer! But I'll keep working at it and hopefully this will be worthwhile reading. Once I begin my hiking adventures there will be more to talk about. Many thanks to my daughter Megan and her friend Sallie for helping me get this website going! I hope I can be an example of life ACAG (after children are grown).

Sunday, March 9, 2008


My adventures at GSMNP over the years have consisted of camping/dayhiking with husband and kids for as long as the kids would stand it. Probably our longest dayhike was on the AT from Newfound Gap to Charlie's Bunion with the rest of the crowds. I remember our oldest daughter continually trying to get cell phone reception to buy concert tickets for what...Backstreet Boys, I think. Our son liked to run ahead out of sight and then greet us from atop a boulder or something as we came around a bend. Unfortunately, I think we took our youngest child too far too young and consequently she greatly dislikes hiking.

We liked camping at Smokemont and Deep Creek. One of my goals is to use all the front-country campgrounds during my year-long adventure. A few years ago Jim and I camped at Deep Creek and dayhiked from Fontana Dam up to Shuckstack Tower and back. I seriously questioned my hiking abilities at the end of that day! I was not in very good shape.

The concept of hiking all the trails in the Park had already taken hold, but at that point I figured I would chip away at the map for the next gazillion years, the rest of my life. Weekends away from the kids were infrequent since we didn't have any family in the Charlotte area. A couple of times a year my mom would come down and "guard the house" while we took off. Seems we always headed toward the mountains, and more often than not to the Smokies in the Deep Creek area near Bryson City. Sometimes we camped, most times we rented cabins, and dreamed about what it would be like to own a place there. Jim and I were also busy camping and hiking with our kids in their Scout activities, as our son was in Boy Scouts and both girls were in Girl Scouts, so we got in some outdoor adventures that way and our calendar stayed full.

I began looking around for other hiking outlets and in 2006 I found the Carolina Berg Wanderers based in the Charlotte area --a group of experienced and knowledgeable outdoor enthusiasts who like to take new people to new places! I hiked with them a few times, increasingly longer trips, and learned about what equipment is worth having, what pace I like to walk at (medium, not a jackrabbit but not a tortoise), and the fact that I always like to have my own copy of the trail map. I decided that 15-mile hikes were okay.

Now I needed to know if I liked doing this...alone. Surely I would not find camping/hiking companions for every single hiking opportunity in a year's time, so if I was not comfortable going it alone then I should set a different goal.

I found a Wednesday hike in the Smokies listed on the Carolina Mountain Club (Asheville) website, contacted the hike leader, Danny Bernstein, and Danny said, sure, come on with us. I planned a trip that consisted of a night of camping at a Park campground, the 9-10 mile hike with CMC, a second night camping, and a 7-8 mile hike alone before driving back to Charlotte, all in the middle of a week in September. The verdict is in...I can do this alone! I actually enjoyed camping alone, minimal food prep (my goal was not camp cooking), reading my book, sleeping cosily in my little tent. The fact that the weather was cooperative helped, I'm sure. The campground was mostly deserted, but I was at a site directly behind the ranger's station and felt perfectly comfortable.

The hike with CMC was delightful. We went from Newfound Gap on the AT to Dry Sluice Gap to Kephart Prong back down to Newfound Gap Road. I was the youngest hiker (!) and had to concentrate to keep up with the pros and soak up all their information on flora and fauna and history. A great day! Danny is the author of "Hiking the Carolina Mountains" and had a lot to share as I work out the details of my project. My second night camping I slept soundly, and the next morning I woke up, packed up and set off to hike the Bradley Fork to Smokemont Loop. Thanks to Danny's instructions, I found the Smokemont Baptist Church and the Bradley Cemetery on this hike. Hiking alone took a little getting used to, and I didn't dawdle, and I don't think I would do more than 10 miles alone, but I am convinced that it should not stop my plans. I will hike with others whenever possible but in order to maximize my driving from Charlotte I will do some solo hiking.