Appalachian Trail Journal; July 9, 2015.

July 9, just north of Wise Shelter

Maggie woke me with a wet nose and an eagerly wagging tail at 5:30 am this morning, and before long we were up and moving. We efficiently cooked and ate our oatmeal and broke camp, and soon began our hike through Elk Garden, over the hill where the cows had been he evening before. During the night they had moved up into a higher area. The watched us lazily as we passed.

The “highlands,” including Grayson Highlands State Park, are breathtaking in their beauty:  Green mountains covered in low grass and shrubs, dotted with evergreen trees now and then, and topped with rock outcroppings big enough for whole families…even groups of families…to climb. The mountains were covered in rhododendron, and, higher up, in grass, blackberry, and blueberry bushes. All the berries were green, much to our disappointment. I was strongly reminded Franconia Ridge in New Hampshire.

The really fun part of today was the wild ponies that inhabit the balds. The first one we saw was an older male that was standing perpendicular to the trail, completely blocking the way through the brushy growth that formed 3-foot walls on each side of the path. This pony was injured, and had a large gash on one hind leg, which he was favoring. Maggie was beside herself with this newly discovered kind of creature. Not wanting to risk a kick, we managed to bushwhack our way around him as he had no intention of moving for us. (The little guy pictured at the right was just a baby, and healthy-looking as could be).

All told, the girls counted 23 ponies today, including quite a few foals. The foals were SO precious. Some were tamer than others, and the girls did pet them a bit, but later we saw a sign asking us not to. The last group we saw was the most wary. One adult watched us as we passed, and that seemed to be his or her job in the herd. When we got a bit too close as the trail turned toward where they were grazing, they moved off, with the one sentry holding back and watching.

So much of today we were out in the sun. I joked that it was a good thing the scenery was so beautiful and the ponies so fun, because the relentless sun and rocky footing were proving pretty uncomfortable. Without the views and ponies, there would be no point.  Despite more than one liberal application of sunblock, some of us were sporting pink and tender skin by the end of the day.

At 11 AM we stopped for lunch at the Thomas Knob shelter after four miles of hiking. Lunch was cheese, crackers, and pepperoni. We (mostly I, as I am the worrier!) are now a tiny bit worried about having enough of the right kind of food for the second half of our hike. Half of the crackers (lunch food) are gone and we’ve broken into the aged Gouda (YUM!). Mostly it’s snacks we’re short on, as the GORP is nearly gone. We underestimated the amount of breakfast we’d want, and have ended up eating snacks to round out our breakfasts enough to feel satisfied when we leave camp. I think if we cook some of the extra dinner food for lunch we should be able to eat some of the lunch food for snacks?


Maya showing how we hang our food to keep it away from bears.

The best parts about this trip so far include those obvious to backpacking – taking exercise in the mountain air and being surrounded by ferns, moss, trees, rocks, mountains, deer, and ponies. On a more personal note, Maggie has been an excellent hiking dog. And I’ve really had fun with our family together. We have laughed a LOT.

I have missed  conversation with Scott as the usual hiking order is Maya with Maggie (Maya has been so caring and responsible for her!), Scott, Azaria, and then me.  We all get up and go to bed at the same time so there’s no adult conversation to be had. Still, we’re doing great. Tonight is hump night…after tonight, 4 nights down and 3 to go. Hiking days are half done and we’re at about 34 miles, I think.

Appalachian Trail Journal; July 8, 2015

July 8, Camp just south of Elk Garden

Aside: Scott and I figured out today that this is our twelfth backpacking trip together if you count all the one-nighters: 1.) Silver Peak, near Portal, AZ, 1994. 2.) Dolly Sods, WV, 1996. 3.) New Hampshire, 1996 or 1997 near Franconia Notch. 4.) Yosemite National Park, CA, 1998. 5.) Canyonlands National Park, UT, 1998. 6.) Somewhere in Texas, Feb 1999. 7.)Weminuche Wilderness, CO, 1999. 8.) Oregon, 2002. 9.) White Mountains, NH, 2009. 10.) White Mountains, NH, 2013. 11.) Joyce Kilmer Wilderness, 2014.

Breakfast today was eggs and bacon. Rehydrated powdered eggs and a package of bacon bits seem gourmet on the Trail. We packed up from Lost Mountain Shelter and started hiking north, passing more hikers in the first 30 minutes of today than we did in the previous 1 1/2 days!

Today started with a lot of uphill hiking, and it felt like we were trudging along. Scott’s and my packs are nearly equally weighted, but he is carrying more actual gear than I as the pack I am carrying a very old Dana Designs daypack that Scott bought soon after college. It weighs pounds more than his lightweight pack. My pack, however, has a hipbelt and his homemade minimalist one doesn’t, so I can comfortably carry a larger percentage of my body-weight comfortably. The girls both have new Osprey packs, and both are carrying a good amount, but perhaps a better weight for their body sizes.

So far on this trek, we have hardly seemed to leave civilization, and that is one reason we chose this section for our first long family hike. Should we need to make an exit, there are multiple points of egress. This morning, after one mile of hiking, we crossed Highway 58 again. Soon after we found ourselves in a cow pasture right by another road. We passed day hikers here and there, including a group of 20-something guys at Buzzard Rock blasting “Ramblin’ Man” from their Bluetooth speaker. We started hearing the music at least 5 minutes away from the top. Buzzard Rock is supposed to have a beautiful view, but it was foggy this morning, which is just as well as I would not have wanted to stay there for long with the music blaring. They must have been debating among themselves whether they should be playing music so loud as I heard one of them protest, “But this is the soundtrack of life!” They were overly polite to us in a way that suggested sheepishness at their behavior, and bid us a good day as we quickly departed the scene. Note: Contrary to their belief, I would not consider “Ramblin’ Man” to be the soundtrack of my life.

Today was a wet day, but not terribly so. It just misted all day, as if we were walking in the clouds, which I guess we probably were. The wind would gust and drops of water off the treetops would make us think it was raining, but as soon as the wind died down the dripping would subside.

Indian Pipe

Indian Pipe – not found on the bald, but in the most forest today.

Today’s hike included a couple of balds, which are deforested mountaintops found in North Carolina and Virginia. Most have grasses and shrubs growing on them, and are often grazed as a method of maintaining them. I remember learning about balds in college from Dr. Peter Weigl, my Ecology professor in college. He took our class on an overnight trip to Roan Mountain and we discussed the ecology and origins of the balds. At the time, and perhaps still now, there is some debate about how they came to exist. Dr. Weigl’s theory is that they opened up during pre-history, and were maintained by large herbivores. They make a striking, breathtaking landscape. Many of the shrubs we saw on the balds today were blackberry and blueberry bushes. Alas, no berries were ripe yet; rather, they hung, hard and small and green, from the branches as we passed.

We are camped now just south of Elk Garden. We hiked out to where we hada good view of Elk Garden before retreating back into the woods to camp. It was 5 PM when we arrived here, and we’d passed a nice site near water. We hope that Elk Garden, a large bald with cows grazing now and a great view, would be a spectacular way to start our day tomorrow. We almost camped a couple of miles back, as Maya’s feet hurt and she’d had a run-in with a field of stinging nettle as she made her way to off trail to answer the call of nature. When everyone learned it was just 3:00, we all wanted to press on. So press on we did.

Wildlife sightings today included several deer, two junco nests, and we heard a screech owl. Maggie has been a great hiker and it’s entertaining to have a dog along. You just wonder what, if anything, she thinks about this serious diversion from her usual days napping on the sofa. Maya keeps pushing for finding a convenience store. We are not out of any supplies, but she is very interested in finding gas station snacks nonetheless. She might just be earning herself the trail name “7-Eleven.”

Now, all is quiet. We’ve read 3 chapters of Alice in Wonderland together, and it’s time for sleep.

Appalachian Trail Journal; July 6-7, 2015

July 7, Lunchtime. Saunders Shelter (~8 miles north of Damascus)

Yesterday we parked our car in Damascus, Virgina across the street from Mt. Roger’s Outfitters. A brief conversation with the shopkeeper informed us of where to put the car and how to get in touch with him when we were ready to be picked up in a week. It was all so very casual – no registering our car, no letting them know how long it would be there. Just park and go. And go we did, leaving our car about about 4 PM.

The AT went right through Damascus, past bed and breakfasts clearly designed for the weary thru-hiker, past hostels of a similar nature, past ice cream shops that surely are a welcome treat after days on the Trail. The AT joined with the Virginia Creeper Trail, followed the highway, and then soon cut left, up some wooden stairs, and into the woods. At this point, the hike through the woods was exactly what I would expect from a North Carolina/Virginia trail in the mountains. Ferns, mountain laurel, a mixture of hardwoods and evergreens, galax, roots, and rocks.

After a couple of hours, we took a break for dinner wiht plans to continue hiking to find a campsite after we ate. We had added water to our dehydrated mixture of peas and potatoes before we started hiking, and they had been soaking since. This, our first meal made from Harmony House dehydrated vegetables we had bought a huge box of from REI, took a while to cook through even after soaking for two hours. We were pleasantly surprised at how tasty itwas, but were a little disappointed at the volume. Maya’s (13) tummy was not feeling great, and she chose not to eat.  Scott, Azaria (10) and I were able to easily polish off the pot without feeling stuffed. We were heartened that we’d likely be eating yummy food during our trip if this was representative of dinners to come, but a little worried that we might be left unsatisfied after a full day’s hike.

We stopped to camp about 4 miles north of Damascus, finding a well-worn campsite just off the trail as it got dark. We were also closer to a stream that I felt it was good to camp, but a well-worn campsite is better than spreading out impact, it was getting late, and there were not a lot of flat options.

Tuesday morning Maggie the dog let us know it was time to get up, and when we started hiking we were very surprised to see how close to Highway 58 we had camped – it was less than a quarter mile up the trail.

At this point (I am writing at lunch on Tuesday), we’ve been surprised how few other hikers we’ve seen. The only folks we saw in our first eight miles of hiking were at Highway 58, where there was a parking area for the Virginia Creeper trail. Looking at how beautiful that trail is and watching the bicyclers out riding, I made a mental note to come back for a bike-riding adventure someday. We saw more bikers as the AT followed the Virginia Creeper trail, but then the Trail took off left and paralleled the Creeper Trail and the river as it climbed. Eventually, we veered off to the north.

Lunch, Day 2Just before stopping for lunch we started a series of switchbacks, and did not make it quite to the top of the mountain before finding a path to Saunders Shelter and choosing to stop here for lunch. The path to the shelter was really beautiful – all ferns, moss, and tall trees.  As I write, we’re enjoying a lunch of crackers, cheese, tuna salad, dried mango, and summer sausage. Maggie enjoyed cleaning out the last licks of tuna salad from the foil pack for us, and we appreciated not having to carry a trash with stinky tuna remnants! So far, everyone is holding up well, and in good spirits!

July 7, evening, Lost Mountain Shelter

We hiked 12 miles today! Now, my reasoning for planning a week-long trip with no distance goal was that we’d not feel compelled to hike far at all on any given day. While thru-hikers often log 25-mile days, they are not usually hiking as a family with an energetic yet still young 10-year-old.  Maya really wanted to have an end goal in mind for the day, so we picked this shelter and suddenly it became our goal, and turned out to be doable.

I hope that at least one day we find ourselves in a place where we might just relax and have a shorter hike. I envision finding a beautiful glade or spring and deciding to spend the afternoon there. Knowing myself (and I think Maya is much the same way), I do like to have goals and the idea of just hanging out is not one that seems to really makes sense. We’ll see if we can get into vacation mode enough to make that happen.

Scott and I managed to both have less than pleasant encounters with wasps today, during which the wasps had the last say. Actually, they had the only say during the encounters as they simply flew up, stung us, and flew away. I did have choice words and expressions I’ll not record here after my little friend flew off, but he was not around to hear them by that point. Maya and Maggie were in front, leading the way, and apparently also agitating the wasp nests they passed as they hiked. Scott got stung hiking past a log that housed a nest, and then warned Azaria and me to hike quickly past it as we were behind him. Later, I was in the rear and never saw it coming, or going. Nailed me behind the ear.

We saw six other hikers on the trail today…or maybe eight? I lost count. Two looked like day hikers. Several backpackers are sharing the Lost Mountain Shelter area with us, along with numerous wood thrushes singing us to sleep. The Lost Mountain shelter is really a beautiful setting, and the hike that approaches the shelter is flat, filled with hardwoods and rhododendron.

London (Day 1 Part 2; Day 2)

I think that perhaps when we are very tired, we are drawn to what we consider to be more restorative. Thus, after hours on an airplane, and many more hours since quality sleep, I was drawn to gardens. Each time I tried to direct myself toward a museum or some other edifice of marble, concrete, or stone…I found my internal compass reoriented me toward green. Too tired to fight instinct, I obliged! I spent most of the afternoon in St. James Park, which is just east of Buckingham Palace, and in Hyde Park, originally created as a hunting ground for his majesty King Henry VIII.

StJamesParkCollageSt. James Park

Hyde Park CollageHyde Park

After a good night’s sleep, I went to Kew Royal Botanic Gardens on Monday. I arrived just before the gates opened at 10 AM, and spent about 4 hours touring the area. I visited glass houses from Victorian times, King George III’s Kew Palace, and a beautiful water lily house.

Kew Gardens Collage

Monday night I traveled to Guildford for the working part of my trip at University of Surrey.

England: Food Edition Part 2

Think of England and food, and what comes to mind? Fish and chips? Boiled vegetables? Tea and scones? All these were certainly available, but I don’t think I had any of them. The food was quite satisfactory, if a little on the expensive side.

IMG_1526I saw quite a few of these coffee machines in England. I did not try them as they reminded me of Sheetz, but maybe they are better here!

IMG_1572 IMG_1573Sandwiches are very popular in the UK. Any coffee shop, cafe, grocery, or stand has a wide display of sandwiches packaged as “take-aways.” Of particular popularity seem to be sandwiches in baguettes – these were advertised prominently! Since wheat is not my friend, I can only guess that they must be good.

IMG_1519Nandos is a chain restaurant in the UK that serves marinated chicken (Puri-Puri, they call it) and sides. The seasoning was nice…I am not a huge chicken fan, but can see why it’s so popular if you do like chicken.

IMG_1527I never brought myself to try mushy peas, but my colleagues and I stopped by a place called “Bills” in Guildford for lunch, and I had the creamy pea and mint soup. It was delicious!

IMG_1529 This kale salad with quinoa was my second course at Bills. Tasty, and provided much-longed-for vegetables.

IMG_1525Dinner in London Wednesday night was at EV, a Turkish restaurant near Waterloo. This vegetable stew of aubergine, corgettes, carrots, tomato was vaguely reminiscent of ratatouille. Very tasty, and the restaurant had a really cool industrial but refined vibe. It was located under the train tracks. That really was not as unpleasant as it sounds.

IMG_1550IMG_1551This was the main (only) offender of my trip – in a hurry in Kings Cross Station to catch my train to York, I needed something quick. These pasties looked so good, and warm, and crispy that I threw wheat caution to the wind and got one filled with veggies. YUM! Regrettably, I paid for it for the rest of the day!

IMG_1568A vegan and gluten-free restaurant in York called El Piano beckoned on Saturday. The morning had been cold and misty, and soup sounded perfect. This Thai-inspired sweet potato soup was the best thing I’d eaten since arriving in the UK. The bread and cornbread were pretty decent, for not having wheat in them.

IMG_1569El Piano’s menu also feature several different kinds of fritters.  I chose the “tinas” and the felafels. The tinas were really, really good little fried bits of vegetable heaven. The felafels were not the best I’ve had. They were the first I’ve had with whole chickpeas inside.

IMG_1571For brunch Sunday in York, I opted for an omlette filled with mushrooms and aubergines. And the ever-present British potatoes.

There are things I wish I’d tried in the UK, but did not. I do wish I’d had fish and chips and a cider at a pub, but I can’t imagine the fish and chips could beat what I had a couple of years ago fresh off a boat in Gloucester, MA. I also wish I’d had some curry – it is supposedly excellent there.

And, if I did not have to avoid certain things, the pastries all looked amazing – scones, croissants, filled pastries, “biscuits.” Very tempting. It was nice to find lots of fresh vegetables and the same focus, at least in many places on sourcing locally and using natural ingredients.

England: Food Edition Part 1

My first purchased meal was lunch in England. It was 57F out and misting, and I was cold and hungry, having eated just airplane food (not much of that!) and trail mix since my dinner of sushi before leaving Raleigh Saturday night.
(For those of you who know I prefer to eat vegetarian, that is still true, but figuring out how to do that while traveling and also avoiding wheat and dairy is  pretty impossible. I choose feeling OK over eating vegetarian.)

Check out the verbage on the napkin. I just love how wordy it is. A tag line that is three lines long. Jeesh.

During my first, jet-lagged (or really just sleep-deprived day) I ate the above soup and trail mix. I was ready for breakfast Monday morning.

IMG_1504Note: Blurry pictures happen when you feel a little like a dork for photographing your food so you do it quickly.

A word about the coffee:  when the restauranteur delivered my coffee, I took one look and thought, “Oh shoot…I told him black. Clearly this has milk in it.” I took a sip to confirm, and it was so rich that I was convinced. As time went on and the froth on top dissipated, I realized that it was actually black, but so rich that it had me fooled. I think the coffee that came with the meal was actually an Americano (espresso and hot water). It was delicious.

Two poached eggs, Canadian bacon, sausuage, roasted to-mah-toes, mushrooms, and baked beans. Apparently, this is pretty standard ingredients for the Full English Breakfast, as the same order at Heart and Soul, a little restaurant near my accommodations at the University of Surrey, was much the same (although not quite as tasty):

This time, I watched the server make me an Americano and charge just £1. The same coffee drink in America will set you back at least $2.50, and even filter coffee in America costs more than this.

My other meals so far:

Dinner at the same little restaurant near my accommodation at University of Surrey. They were out of everything except burgers, but luckily did have a veggie burger. The chips were great; the burger was OK.

Dinner at Olivios, an Italian place in Guildford. And who says that English food is boring? The to-mah-toes were so fresh, and the dressing was delicious. The salmon was poached…not my favorite style, but maybe it was really good for poached salmon. I just kind of thought it tasted like canned tuna? It was really pretty, though.

I wish I had taken a picture of my lunch, which was at a nicer restaurant on campus called Lakeside. Hospitality is a really big thing to study here (is anyone surprised) and the students from Hospitality Mangement School run this restaurant. My dish was sea bass over mashed potatoes, green beans, and a creamed spinach, with a starter of beetroot mousse and something else I forgot right after I ordered it, served in a cocktail glass on a long stem. It was quite beautiful, and very very good. I felt too dorkish in that place to photograph it.

On another food note, with a little bit of extra time and curiosity, I walked to the grocery store just 1/2 mile from where I am staying on University of Surrey campus. I just wondered how different things would be from a US supermarket. Lots of things I expected…large shelf real estate for biscuits (i.e. cookies) and tea, things like scotch eggs, lots of beer and cider. Here are a few things of note:

Eggs are not refrigerated. This makes total sense. I wonder if Brits put them in the fridge when they get home with them?

This is just something I don’t understand. I see this on menus as well. I am not sure I even want to know what they taste like. Surely not like the canned LeSeur peas of my childhood? I will be fine if I die not knowing.

I just thought this was funny because when one of my daughters was younger (honestly can’t remember who it was), she could not keep from calling popsicles “Lollilpops.” Apparently others do the same!

And that’s a wrap for now…more to come! Have yet to visit a pub, or have a cider…

London (Day 1 Part I)


This is what it looks like at 3:30 AM local time south of Greenland over the Atlantic Ocean. This was the shortest night ever! It was great fun to finally see land about 7 or 7:30 local time: Ireland! I could see the cliffs on the western coast clearly. It felt surreal to know that I was looking at Ireland…this southern girl from Lee County, NC who had never been overseas.

Small biographical aside: twenty-one years ago, on my 21st birthday, I had my first plane ride and my first trip west of the Mississippi. Now, almost exactly 21 years later, I am making my first overseas plane ride and my first trip to a foreign country (if you don’t count the Toronto band trip and high school, and you really shouldn’t). Both trips were solo…and I remember feeling pretty similar feelings that time, looking down at Arizona, which felt like a foreign country to my 21-year-old eyes.

The other feature, aside from the cliffs, which stood out to me about Ireland were the incredible number of windmills (see the photo below – top right corner). I know these things are massive, but was still suprised to be able to see the blades moving from 39,000 feet. Ireland has a beautiful countryside, yet they are clearly full on with renewable energy. Oh, America. Let’s get a move on!

Heathrow seemed like any other big airport, and the Tube seemed like any other subway in a major city, but emerging from the tube, I had my camera poised and ready to capture my first real glimpse of London:

Not what was I was expecting. When they said it was the “Green Park” subway stop, they weren’t kidding. Little did I know that this picture and view held much portent for my day.

First stop: Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. Buckingham Palace was just a short walk across Green Park from the Tube Station. Thousands of people. The gilded palace gates were pretty over the top; the flag holders that looks like giant ship masts were pretty cool, the flowers were very nice. I was not really sure what to expect or where to be looking for the changing of the guard (and could not see much or get very close due to the crowds). Often in these situations, I clue in by hearing others’ conversations. Despite being in London, everyone I walked past or near was speaking German or French.

Eventually, we heard band music, and a troop of Bobbies (is that even what they are called?) marched in playing instruments. They came down the flag-flanked “mall” and marched around half the circle in front of the palace, and into the gates where they disappeared from view. About ten minutes later, music again. Now, from a road in a different direction, another troup marched in, playing instruments, and disappeared into the gates. Everyone kept standing around, but I finally gave up being able to see more and departed.

I walked off, schelpping all my luggage for the week on my back, with a list of things I was planning to see: Traflagar Square, the British Museum, the Sherlock Holmes Museum, Hyde Park, Notting Hill before checking into the hostel at around 8 PM.
My next entry will tell what really happened the rest of the day. Best laid plans, and all that…