Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Spring!

Hope everyone is enjoying the spring weather!  We are finally out of snowstorm season up here in the Whites (at least, in the valleys).  Nevertheless, the girls and I are staying off the high trails for a few more weeks; we want to wait for most of the snow to disappear.  None of us enjoy hiking on deep, soft, melting snow.  Postholing in snowshoes is not our cup of tea.

Thank goodness for the New Hampshire state parks!  We have a lot of trails to explore; not all hikes have to lead up Four Thousand Footers.  Last week, we checked out Bear Brook State Park near Concord, NH.  What a great place!  We had a blast...and we LOVED being able to sit on bare rock and have a snack without worrying about hypothermia.  Winter hiking is fine and dandy, but all three of us are ready for spring.

Catamount Trail, Bear Brook State Park, NH
It'll probably be May before we can start cranking out some real training hikes.  In the meantime, we'll have fun exploring what the southern part of New Hampshire has to offer (which is plenty!).


Monday, March 31, 2014

The girls and I have stayed off the mountains during the past couple of weeks.  We don't have a lot of flexibility as to which days we can hike during the academic year, since both girls are heavily involved with a myriad of extracurricular activities.  Fridays have been our "hiking days" for the 2013-2014 school year...and our March Fridays have been met with snowstorms, sleet, and overall challenging weather.  Therefore, we've kept our hiking to the local streets and hills.  Hopefully, we can get back on the mountain trails next week.

In the meantime, check out Hugh's latest TED Talk.  It's groundbreaking, inspirational, and just plain cool.


Friday, March 14, 2014

One Year Later...(One Last Post-Camino Reflection)

March 13, 2014

Exactly one year ago, Hugh, the girls, and I (and Flo from Switzerland!) were sleeping in an albergue in Valcarlos, Spain.  We had just begun our Camino, even though it felt like we hadn't left New Hampshire.  The snow was plentiful and the temperatures were identical to our normal Northeast winters.  The four of us felt happy, optimistic, and excited to see what the immediate weeks would bring.

What followed were days of bliss.  Yes, I know, roll your eyes if you must -- but I'm serious.  Yes, there were moments of fatigue, and yes, the sun was sometimes too bright (for this NH hiker), and yes, there was that bunion I developed (and still deal with).  But still.  Our time on the Camino was nothing short of magical.

What made the Camino so special?  Probably the same thing that makes every thru-hike amazing, in spite of the tired feet and aching muscles.  We met, spoke, and broke bread with people from all over the world, we saw beautiful countrysides, and we were able to eat everything we wanted without gaining an ounce of fat -- but the main thing, THE special thing, was the simplicity of our routine.  Wake up, hike, find a spot for the evening, clean up, eat, sleep, repeat.

The simplicity -- THAT'S the magic of the Camino.  I haven't yet hiked any other long-distance trail, but I suspect that's the magic of them all.  Hike, eat, sleep, repeat.  Day after day after day.  When one strips away modern day-to-day superfluousness (anything more than the basic needs of food, health, and shelter) and is forced to live moment-to-moment, outside, in all types of weather, one is left with oneself.  Meaning, there's nothing left but your core.  Who you are and what you value becomes abundantly clear after a couple of weeks on the trail.

The girls, being very young, didn't look at the Camino as any kind of back-to-basics experience.  They saw it as an adventure.  A huge, big, marvelous adventure in which they saw many gorgeous landscapes, spoke to many different people, and ate many fabulous meals.  I hope they remember our upcoming JMT hike in the same way they now remember the Camino.


March 14, 2014

I had to stop yesterday's reflection because of mom duties.

I'll conclude this post by listing the following life changes that were a direct result of the Camino.  I suspect these changes are permanent.

No more wasted time.  I don't mean no more staring at clouds or sunsets -- those moments aren't wasted time.  On the contrary, those kinds of moments are what life is all about.  I mean, no more wasted minutes or hours spent trying to impress people I don't care about or appease the insecure.  No more spending time with people who a) discriminate against...well, anyone or b) participate in organizations that discriminate against...well, anyone.

Simplicity rules.  If I don't need it, then I don't own it.

Letting go of my kids while still actively guiding them.  See my previous post regarding VLACS.  Also, though we will continue to hike throughout the years (the girls show no signs of slowing down), the JMT hike might be our last trek for charity.  Both girls want to continue contributing to society, but both want to "give back" in their own, unique ways.  Alex wants to do serious trail work in the Whites, and Sage is interested in a specific local volunteer opportunity.  This is good, this is important.  Each daughter is finding her own way forward, each is discovering how she can make a positive contribution according to her own individual interests.  So, in sum, our hiking adventures will continue after this summer's hike of the JMT, but future charity work may or may not involve our hikes.  It's important the girls begin to find their own ways forward in terms of volunteerism.

Taking better care of my health.  I lost weight on the Camino, and I've kept it off.  Keeping it off has been rather easy, since we now make a huge effort to eat healthy, home-cooked meals almost every day.  We all continue to get a lot of exercise...and I continue to enjoy the taste of red wine (though I don't drink as much now as I did on the Camino!).

Knowing...knowing...that more thru-hikes/extended outdoor excursions are in my future.  Assuming my health remains strong, I will hike long-distance trails throughout my retirement years.  If my health does not allow for thru-hiking, then I'll bike cross-country.  Or, I'll visit all the National Parks.  There will be something I can do, regardless of my health status.  The earth is beautiful, and I want to see as much of it as I can.  I don't mind tenting, so this kind of travel/retirement won't be expensive.  I'm a low maintenance gal.

I'll leave it at that.  Time to move onward.  Ultreia.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Smarts Mountain. March 7, 2014

Lambert Ridge Trail, Ranger Trail.  7.8 miles roundtrip, 2351 feet of elevation gain.

This was a perfect-weather day, and we originally planned on doing Franconia Ridge. The FR trails were, I had heard, sidewalks, the day was to be bluebird, and the sunshine bright.  However, at the kitchen table, twenty minutes before leaving the house, we changed our minds.

Franconia Ridge is gorgeous, but we've done it several times.  Sage and I share the mindset that we'd rather ascend a new-to-us peak than repeat the same thing over and over (except for the 4Ks we've haven't yet completed for our Desserts on the 48 quest).  I looked online while the kids finished their cereal and discovered that the Lambert Ridge Trail was broken out.  The Lambert Ridge Trail goes up Smarts Mountain, a 52 With a View we hadn't yet experienced.  We threw our snowshoes in the car and I texted our new destination to our "safety folks" (people who know of our hiking plans).

Smarts Mountain is near Lyme, NH.  It's the first significant NH mountain northbound Appalachian Trail thru-hikers ascend.  There are several ways up this peak -- we chose the Lambert Ridge Trail, which coincides with the AT and, as I previously mentioned, had already been broken out by other hikers.


The trail goes up at a moderate grade for the first 0.8 mile.  We were happy the path was firm.  My snowshoes rode on my back for the entire ascent.


Reaching the first ledge (at 0.8 miles).



From here to the summit, the path visits multiple viewpoints.  This is one of my favorite 52WAV peak so far -- so many opportunities for gorgeous scenery!




At 1.8 miles, one can see the summit (about 2 miles away).



Don't fall here!



The path was choppy (and firm) on the upper half of the trail.  This didn't bother me...it never does.  These are New Hampshire mountains, and hikers are free to choose how they ascend.  Some folks love to use snowshoes, and others do not.  Those who do not use snowshoes have every right to hike in the winter, though they do make things difficult for themselves once the snow reaches a certain depth.

There are a few (loud) hikers who become furious when they encounter a trail that doesn't look like it's been perfectly groomed...if there are postholes, or anything less than a smooth and obvious snowshoe track, they rail, complain, and insult other hikers online.  I simply don't get that attitude.  Sure, it's nice to have a smooth and firm path in front of you...but I don't expect anyone to hike the way I want them to just so I can have a trail that looks good and is easy for me personally.  These are the mountains...I don't feel I'm entitled to an easy time of it out there.  Yes, postholes can trip you up...but so can rocks, boulders, and roots, and no one expects the trail maintainers to smooth out the trails during the summer.  Again...these are the mountains.  Hike your own hike...and graciously allow others to do the same.


Reaching the intersection with Ranger Trail.


Beginning the last 0.6 miles to the top.




Fire tower (and summit)!


The girls began their trip up the stairs without asking my permission...my kids are old enough and experienced enough for me to trust their judgment, even though those steps were covered with ice.


The wind hit us full force once we were just underneath the enclosed top (which we couldn't get into).  Alex and Sage seemed comfortable, but I was frightened.  There's nothing much to prevent a four story fall onto rocks, the wind was forceful, the ice was everywhere...you get the idea.  I wanted to take a slew of photos since the views up there are 360 degrees, but I was afraid to detach myself from the handrail.  I was barely able to get my camera out of its case and snap a couple of shots from my waist (without looking through the viewfinder).  Here are the two photos I managed to take.


I love the expression on Alex's face.  She's as calm as I am panicked.


Sage was around a bend and up the final flight of stairs, so I couldn't get a picture of her on the tower.

We didn't spend much time up there as I was extremely worried one or all three of us would fall.  We made our way down, then I snapped this shot of the tower itself.


We ate our snack at the nearby tent site, which had a little viewpoint and was sheltered from most of the wind.  Here's Sage, happy about checking off another 52WAV.


This was a lovely hike with amazing views.  The descent was a bit tricky because of the uneven trail and the softening snow...well, it wasn't tricky for the girls, since their relatively light weight kept them on (as opposed to in) the path.  They therefore continued to microspike it.  I, on the other hand, had to don the 'shoes, and life became difficult for a while since the now-smushy track was uneven from the barebooters.  I kept my eyes open and watched my footing -- just as I do in the summer with rocks and roots -- and made it to the car without twisting an ankle or hurting my knees.

There's another snowstorm on the way for later this week, so I'm not sure if we'll hike on Friday.  If we do, then I'll post our next trip report on Monday, March 17.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

An Aside -- Homeschooling, VLACS, and a Quality Education

We have our resupply and zero days worked out for the JMT.  Click here to read the new post on our JMT blog.  :)

***

And now, for something completely different...

This is, primarily, a hiking blog.  I no longer include details about our non-hiking lives out of respect for Alex and Sage.  My girls are growing fast, and they deserve to have their own, private childhoods.  Therefore, information regarding their friends, schedules, and many interests outside of hiking are deliberately left out of my public ramblings.

That being said, I will discuss one thing that relates to them, since it also directly relates to me.

For the past ten years, I have dedicated my life to the education of my children.  I deliberately kept Alex and Sage out of the public and private school systems because I wanted each of my kids to have a personalized education.  Homeschooling has worked well.  The girls are one to two grade levels ahead in every subject, which is normal for homeschooled kids since they habitually receive one-on-one academic attention.  The girls have good friends, they enjoy full lives, and they've never had to dumb themselves down -- or prematurely skip ahead -- in order to conform to a classroom mean.

However.

Now the girls are older.  Now we're facing middle school, and, soon, high school.  I'm not sure I can give my kids everything they academically need for grades 9-12.  At least, not all by myself.  If they're going to learn what they need to know in order to become serious contenders for spots at the nation's best colleges, then we'll need to make a transition.  Yes, that statement means we're a structured, pro-college, pro-intellectual family.  We are not and never have been unschoolers, and we do not and never have homeschooled for religious reasons.  We homeschool so the kids can work at their individual levels and strive for high academic achievement.  So...how can the kids continue their personalized education, but maintain their flexible schedules (they now have extracurriculars in three different states), if we do not continue to homeschool?

Enter VLACS.

Note -- I am not being paid by VLACS.  VLACS has not asked me to mention them or tout them in any way, and neither I nor any of my relatives or friends are employed by VLACS.  I am writing about this organization because I genuinely support the philosophy behind it.

What is VLACS?  It's New Hampshire's Virtual Learning Academy Charter School.  VLACS is a public, online, state- and US Dept of Education-approved middle/high school.  VLACS offers a free (for NH residents) full-time program that includes every college prep course a kid could ask for (AP classes, advanced math and science options, etc.).  One can take any class appropriate to one's ability level, regardless of age.  The schedule is flexible, and one can learn at one's own pace.

I love this.  This institution appears to have all the benefits of a formal educational system (great teachers, challenging courses in a large variety of classes) without any of the negatives (no peer pressure, no bullies, no crowded classrooms or disruptive classmates).

Alex is currently taking one class with VLACS.  Next year, she'll take four.  If all goes well, she'll enroll as a full-time high school student when the time is right.  Ditto for Sage.  They'll have all the advantages of homeschooling AND all the advantages of a good school.  AND they'll be able to continue their current extracurriculars, many of which take place on weekdays during brick-and-mortar school hours.

I think online K-12 education (with plenty of in-person extracurriculars and clubs) is the wave of the future.  Quality, individualized education is key.

So ends my off-topic rambling.  This is an exciting new chapter in our lives, though.  Thanks for listening.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Mt. Crawford (52 WAV). February 23, 2014

JMT planning is underway!  Please don't forget to donate to Feeding America.  The girls and I thank you!!

Davis Path.  5 miles roundtrip, about 2200 feet of elevation gain.

The girls and I tackled something new yesterday -- we ascended Mt. Crawford, an easy-to-moderate (by 4K standards) peak on the 52 With a View list.  I greatly enjoyed this trek.  Though the 4Ks are beautiful, sometimes the girls and I prefer to explore new-to-us territory.

We arrived at the parking lot off Route 302 to find the "Davis Path" sign slightly buried...


The trail begins down this road and to the right...


...just over this bridge.



A slew of snowshoes must have been on this trail the day before.  We had a nice, firm path that easily supported our weight.  We were able to ascend in microspikes without damaging the trail.






Approaching the first viewpoint...


video




Onward...





Only a few tenths of a mile to go...



Summit!


Though the day was warm by winter standards (30 degrees or so), the wind was strong and snow and ice kept blowing in our faces.  The girls tried to stand still for a few summit shots with the Presidentials in the background, but it was difficult...the wind kept pushing snow into their eyes.




After I stopped taking photos, they were able to turn (out of the wind) and admire the view.

video

We descended into the trees a bit and ate whoopie pies before descending most of the trail on our bottoms.


video

End of hike!


What a great day in the mountains!  Life is good.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hermits on the Hancocks (Desserts on the 48). Feb 9, 2014

Woo-hoo!  My leg feels completely back to normal.  Hooray for stretches and recovery exercises!

The girls and I got back into the woods yesterday and ascended a couple of mountains.  It felt wonderful!  I think we can now resume our usual once-a-week hiking routine.

We are currently chasing multiple lists, but in a casual fashion.  During the next six months -- hopefully, before we leave for the John Muir Trail in August -- we should finish, or almost finish, the following lists: 52 With a View (Sage), Trailwrights 72 (Alex), Desserts on the 48 (both girls), and the Terrifying 25 (both girls).  FYI, we made up the last two lists (we enjoy rock scrambling, and we all wanted to do another round of the NH48...this time, with different desserts).  When we come back from California in late August/early September, we'll probably start visiting the New Hampshire peaks we haven't yet seen.  We live in a gorgeous area of the country, and the girls love to get out there, so why not keep exploring.

The hike up the Hancocks was the perfect get-back-into-it venture.  The first part of this trek is 1.8 miles of flatness along the Hancock Notch Trail.  All that flatness gives a recovering body ample time to get warmed up before hitting the steeps.

The entrance to the trail, in the parking lot off Route 112.

The trail was nicely packed from the previous day's foot traffic, so we didn't need to wear our snowshoes.

1.8 miles of flat!

We took a short water break by the first intersection.  Then it was on to 0.7 miles of Cedar Brook Trail.


Crossing a snowed-over stream.

We reached the Hancock Loop Trail, took a few more gulps of water, and walked the 1.1 miles to the beginning of the actual loop.


This part of the trail's grade is easy-to-moderate.  It only gets steep on the actual loop over the peaks.


Sage with frosty hair and eyelashes.

Loop time!  We chose the common North-first approach so we could experience the dangerous joy of butt-sliding down South Hancock.


The trail up North Hancock goes down for a tenth of a mile, then it ascends steeply for six tenths of a mile.  Up to this point, the girls and I had flown through the woods.  When we reached this stretch, however, I had to slow down.  Alex and Sage kept their same pace, which meant they kept going ahead of me, way out of eyesight.  Both of them now hike like fit young athletes, whereas I hike like an aging mom.  There may soon come a time when I ask folks I trust in the hiking community, young adults known for their quick pace and strong (and safe) hiking skills, to allow my girls to go with them from time to time so they can keep hiking to their ability (and not be handicapped by the presence of their mom).




On top of North Hancock...



We're counting this as part of our quest for Desserts on the 48.  Store-bought hermits served as our summit treat.

We're not paid to endorse these hermits.  We simply find them yummy.

The temperature up top was a balmy fifteen degrees (F), but the sun was out and we felt fairly warm.  We therefore lounged for a few minutes and soaked in the view before continuing the 1.4 miles to South Hancock.

Moving along the ridge toward South Hancock.




On South Hancock.


We lounged for a while on this peak, too.  Eventually, we got up and began the crazy-steep 0.5 mile descent back to the loop intersection.


Sage looking at Arrow Slide and North Hancock.
After this photo was taken, we sat and descended via buttsliding.

I don't have photos of our buttsliding descent.  I was concentrating on protecting the girls and not impaling myself on any branches while we zoomed down at approximately 100 miles an hour.  The girls laughed hysterically all the way down the mountain, and we all ended up with frozen rear ends and huge smiles on our faces.

This was my fourth time, Alex's third time, and Sage's second time on the Hancocks.

'Twas an excellent day in the woods.