Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Cherohala Skyway

On Sunday, I took a scenic drive with my family on the Cherohala Skyway which connects Robbinsville, NC to Tellico Plains, TN. The Cherohala takes it name from combining the names of the Cherokee National Forest of TN (which surrounds the Great Smokey Mountains) and the Nantahala National Forest of NC. (Nantahala is the Cherokee word meaning “Land of the Midday Sun” and while walking under its shady canopy of thick trees, it’s not hard to understand how the Cherokee named it.)

Having driven along both the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah’s Skyline Drive, I was doubtful that this drive along the Cherohala could be that spectacular. I was wrong! The entire drive allowed open views of the mountain ranges on at least one side. In a few places the view opens on both sides so that you are driving along the spine of the mountain ridge, surrounded by other endless ranges.

On the North Carolina end of the parkway is the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. It is an old growth sanctuary. Some of the largest trees east of the Mississippi River thrive here. It was so shady and beautiful. Ferns, mushrooms, and mosses grew everywhere. I took the short 2 mile hike through the trees. I went alone since it seemed everyone in my family was recovering from illness. I felt very guilty having everyone wait on me, but I had to see these trees! I said that I would only go ¾ mile to the beginning of the large tree groves. But I was totally sucked in and did the whole two miles. It was so beautiful that I wanted to see what was around the next bend in the trail. I wanted to see if the next big tree was even bigger than the last. There were a couple of trees that were large enough to remind me of the California Redwoods. I actually ran the whole trail so that my family wouldn’t have to wait too long on me. I stopped only to take pictures. I can’t believe that I actually ran it! I’m a hiker, but I’m no runner…or so I thought.

Joyce Kilmer, whose name is memorialized in the forest wrote these words in a poem:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of Robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

Near the parkway’s terminus on the Tennessee side, a side road leads to the very large and pretty Bald River Falls. The falls tumbled about 100ft. into a deep pool before rushing down the river over cascades and rapids that numerous kayakers and canoeists were running. I also saw several trout fisherman along the river. This was quite a popular place! Just take a look at the pictures and you can see why!

View from the Cherohala.

Trail running through the Memorial Forest. It's definitely "Nantahala" here.

Large trunk of a Poplar.

Little ol' me standing between some big ol' trees.

Bald River Falls.

These are my new Merrell hiking boots that I bought with the R.E.I. gift card that my friends chipped in to buy me as a going away gift. If it weren't for them, I'd be wearing my old boots with worn tread. Thanks guys!

After trying out my new boots on their first hike of many more to come, I rest my boots at the bottom of the falls.

This was a great drive with many hiking, camping, kayaking, fishing opportunites along the way. If you ever get to take the drive, just beware of the crazy motorcylists along the road. There were many that seemed to think they owned the road...despite the fact that we had the larger vehicle!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Free at last!

So I have survived another school year. YAY! This was a tough class for me and I’m glad it’s finally over, though I have to admit there are a few (very few) students I will miss. We did our little graduation ceremony yesterday and I still have our song stuck in my head, This Land is Your Land, This Land is my Land. Some of my non-teacher friends laughed at this since they said it was totally a song I would pick out. Ha ha. I thought it was a good song to introduce the kids to the beauty and love of our scenic country…from California to the New York Islands, from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters…

I still have two more kid-free post planning days and after that, it’s all going to be about my summer journey. Looks like I’m leaving my Georgia home on June 3rd for my home in Utah. There is so much to think about! I have to make arrangements to pay my bills that will be due while I’m away. I need to double-check my To-Pack List and then actually begin packing these items. I have to make my rounds to see my friends and family before heading off into the sunset. I’d also like to give my bedroom and a nice clean up, too, so that I will come home to a nice and tidy room in a couple of months. I have to buy gifts for the four important birthdays and Father’s Day that I will miss while I’m away. Not to mention the triple checking of my finances (both what I will have in Utah and Georgia when I return). I should be feeling a little overwhelmed, but I am so ready to do this and I just feel that everything will fall into place as should. (Hope I’m not jinxing myself!)

I have said this before, but I am feeling so alive right now. I am so thankful for my life. I’m counting my blessings. I’m smiling brighter than before. I’m unleashing the free spirit that I work so hard to keep tame most of the time.

I’m staring at framed photos on my wall right now of the scenery and adventure that I experienced on my latter trips out west. I can’t wait to see what this summer will hold. It’s such a rush that I wish I could take all of you along with me to experience it and feel what I am feeling. After all, this land was made for you and me!

Now I just need to detox my brain of that damn song! ;)

Monday, May 22, 2006

Wet and Wild Weekend

This weekend was a relaxing one for me. I have felt very on-edge lately due to my up-coming trip, the end of the school year, and other issues on my mind (all good things, though.) Some chillin' was definitely in order and that's just what I did!

My friend W's hubby is into jet-ski rides and there was a big ride going on this weekend at Lake Lanier.They invited me to come along and we had a blast! People from as far away as Michigan came to ride so it was very cool to meet so many people. My favorite was the "Sick Tricks" competition. Why is it always so exciting to see people crash?

I think I would have gone for a ride myself if I had a life jacket that fit me around. (well, that and if Lake Lanier didn't totally freak me out!) Instead, I enjoyed watching the entertainment and having a few (quite a few) drinks along the shore. Luckily, I didn't get a sunburn.

That night a huge buffet was catered with everything from shrimp to Milkyway cake. Too bad that I'm not into sweets because everything looked so good!

After stuffing ourselves silly, we boarded one of the two house boats for a party. One of these boats was super nice with a hot tub on the top deck. It is amazing how these house boats really are houses! I personally don't think I'd ever want to spend an extremely long period of time on one, but for a party...they rock! We stayed on board until a horrendous thunderstorm brewed up suddenly. Let's just say that I truly appreciated the effects of the alcohol. It kept my mind off the fact that my shelter from the bright strikes of lightning was a tent held up by metal poles along the lakeshore.

On Sunday, I went to the Renaissance Festival. That's always a good time. But really that's about all I can say about that.

After returning from the festival and a little nap, I headed out for the pool. I sat along the pool side watching the kids play and thinking all the while, Just when the hell are they going to go inside? It's a school night, for God's sake! But honestly, it wasn't the teacher in me secretly scolding them for not getting a good night's sleep for school. It was actually the dork in me wanting the pool all to myself.

By my side, I had a bag full of new snorkling gear I had gotten for Christmas. Gear that I had yet to try out. Postponing the Bahamas trip and Florida Keys trip for a summer out west had elimated my chances of really trying it out any time soon. I cannot stand to have something new in my grasp only to set it aside for later use.

Finally those darn kids left and I had the pool all to myself, except for the friend that was accompanying me in my swim. I adjusted my mask. I practiced breathing through my snorkel, hoping that yummy taste of new plastic would soon fade away. Then I slipped on my neoprene booties and fins. It's always hard for me to adjust to using fins after a while because my entire body always floats and it's difficult for me to keep my legs and feet just below the surface of the water. I was finally getting the hang of it again and moving along quickly through the water and causing less splash than my first attempts when I happened to look up and see a mother and daughter standing by the pool curiously watching. My face flushes with embarrassment, not from the child's curious stares (because I think she thought I was a mermaid) but from the expression on the mother's face which said, Do you really think there are fishes and coral in the pool? She was chatting away on her cell phone, too. I can only imagine what she was saying!


I'm more determined now than ever to discover some secret passage (drain) or amazing aquatic life (frog)or sunken treasure ( fallen leaves) in my little slice of the Carribbean Sea (pool) no matter who's watching. If you give me a crazy enough look, I might just tell your kid that "Yes, Virginia, I am a mermaid!"

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Weep Not For The Memories...

My mind took a trip down Memory Lane. Strangely enough the trip I took through my memories lead me to another trip I had taken with two of my friends in real life nearly five years ago. This trip was not my most exotic or most adventurous, but it will remain one of most cherished trips I’ll probably take in all my life. It was a girls’ trip taken with my friends Red and S.

My friend Red and I have this common, though bizarre, thread of a thrill-seeking love of spooky things. (This is before my ghostly experience at Chickamauga Battlefield when I was transformed into the wuss I am now.) During this time, I was brave and ready to investigate ghostly phenomenon. Red and I both knew that Gettysburg, Pa. is one of the most haunted places in this country. And the history buff in me loves visiting that place anyway and I know a LOT of the town’s Civil War history and the reported haunted places. Red and I discussed how cool it would be to be at Gettysburg on the anniversary of the battle (July 1-3, 1863). It seemed like the perfect time for something paranormal to happen. Before the end of our conversation, Red and I had planned a trip to Gettysburg during the anniversay of the battle.

Tuesday night has been girls’ night for me and my girlfriends since 1994. (This tradition still continues, by the way.) The Tuesday after Red and I had planned a Gettysburg ghost hunting camp out and shared it with the rest of the girls, our dear friend S. was jumping onboard with us. And then there were three! However, there was no convincing our other gal, La-la to join us. Camping is just too icky for her!

I have said this before...I cannot plan a direct trip to one destination. There are too many other things I feel I must see along the way. I am one to want to get the most out of a trip...and of course, drag everyone else along with me!

Bright and early on June 30, 2001, Red, S., and I hopped into my car and headed north to Pennsylvania. Through South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and finally, Pennsylvania we drove laughing, chatting, and singing many bad 80s songs. When I say that we listened to MANY bad 80’s songs, I do really mean MANY! We arrived at Gettysburg just past 3:00 p.m., just as we had planned, set up the tent, and hit the town.

I have to mention that S packed enough junk for a month! She wasn’t exactly the camping type either, but she sure was a trooper! As long as she could fill her air mattress up every night, the girl was happy. With mention of that blasted mattress, she decided to fill it up with the extremely loud air pump powered by my car’s cigarette lighter and always at nighttime. Surely the neighbors in tents surrounding us did not appreciate this noise at 10:00 pm.! So each night, we would drive away from the campground so she could re-inflate her mattress. That, of course, left the problem of carrying a full-size mattress back to camp. We rolled the windows down so that we could stick out our arms to hold the mattress on top of the car as we drove, laughing hysterically at the few people who were still awake watching us curiously as we passed by. S would laugh so hard that she would throw Red into fits of laughter and I would try to suppress my hysterics whispering “shhhhh” to remind them of our neighbors in tents. Since we had poisoned our brains with so many ‘80s songs, I would sometimes sing that song by Til Tuesday that says “Hush, hush…Keep it down now…Voices carry.” That would, of course, make the fits of laughter louder.

We had so much fun in Gettysburg and did so much exploring and investigating. We toured the battlefield, took ghost tours to learn more of the creepy places (that we would, of course, go back to later without the crowd), ate good food, and met many people. I could go into detail about the things we did, but instead, I will just sum up the funny things. So many hilarious events happened on this trip that we decided to write all the things down. Some things about Gettysburg that I will always remember are becoming addicted to Fierce Grape Gatorade and going to Wal-Mart every day to buy more, the ghostly event that happened one night on the battlefield at the Devil’s Den, eating at the Lincoln Diner everyday, and our Washington, DC daytrip from there, and these crazy boys we met at the supposedly haunted Sach’s Covered Bridge who kept asking us to go into the haunted woods with them. Our response, to the request? A very sarcastic, “Yeah, right. Because you need girls to protect you?” Granted, these dudes were a far cry from a genius IQ. One of the guys, noticing my southern accent, asked where I was from. “Guess,” I told him. He answered with a very sharp, “Some state in the south?” Again, I asked him to guess which one. His response was, “Kansas?” I stared at him blankly and replied, “Yeah, because Kansas is in the south and not in the midwest.” Not catching the sarcasm and thinking he was a great guesser, he smiled brightly. Looking back, maybe they did need three girls to lead them through the haunted woods, not for protection, but maybe just so they could find their way back?

We took a tour bus from Gettysburg to DC the following day. S. and I had already been, but Red had not and we really wanted her to see some of the sights. The things I will remember about our day in DC…Park Ranger Aaron outside of the Korean War Memorial that talked directly to my chest, the rude New Yorker who refused to compromise her reclined seat position on the bus, thus crushing Red’s knees, barely missing seeing the President at the Lincoln Memorial, and the bird that pooped a HUGE load on S’s shoulder as we were enjoying lunch on the lawn of the Mall in front of the Smithsonian.

After leaving Gettysburg, three days later, we traveled to upstate New York to the small town of Trumansburg where some of Red’s family lives. It was only 10 miles to Ithaca so we took a “Road Trip” there a couple of times to check it out. (Though, strangely enough, most of the movie was actually filmed here in Georgia) We camped at Taughannock Falls while staying in New York. Our most memorable day would have to have been the day trip to Niagara Falls. I’ll always remember how ridiculous we looked in our “souvenir ponchos” when we took the Maid of the Mist boat ride at the base of the falls. (They were more affectionately referred to as our “souvenir trash bags” since that was more or less what they looked like!) I’ll always remember how funny S, in particular, looked. With her baseball cap on and the poncho over her head she looked like a blue duck. We drove over to the Canadian side of the falls and spent some time there as well. After stopping in downtown Buffalo and a side trip to Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario, we headed back to Trumansburg. For kicks, we did some dirty Mad Libs to pass the time as we drove along the boring interstate. I’ll never think of Scooby Doo the same way again! S., who was the calmest, quietest, sweetest of the three of us came up with some of the funniest adjectives and she really impressed us with those nouns…DIRTY! Haha.

We left New York after three days, but the adventure was not over yet. Next,we drove into Philadelphia. First off, I loved the history of the city. We did the whole touristy thing there checking out Independence Hall, Betsy Ross House, Ben Franklin’s house site, and of course checked out the Liberty Bell. I touched it. I touched its crack and I have to admit that the goofy side of me was quite disappointed that I couldn’t find a souvenir tee shirt that said so! That would have been cool…The Liberty Bell: I touched its crack! I enjoyed all the history, beautiful old buildings, and of course a genuine Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich, but I have to say that the city that is dubbed as the City of Brotherly Love should truly reconsider dropping its claim that it’s “The city that loves you back.”
In the welcome center, I inquired about purchasing a map of the whole city. The woman behind the counter snapped at me to “Just take one of these maps of downtown.” I explained to her that I wished to have a map of the whole city. She insisted this was all I needed. This would have been true if we had been staying downtown, which we were not. We were staying out toward one of the airports on Roosevelt Blvd. Then this lady talks me like I am an idiot and says, “Why would you need a map of the entire city? Don’t you know this is like the fourth largest city in the entire United States?” I stood there calmly but with my blood quickly rising to the surface. Oh no she did not just say that to me! Don’t mess with me when it comes to trivial geography! In a calm, yet stern, voice I replied, “Actually Philly is number 5 in the ranking of largest cities and with you being the information center you should know that!” She had the nerve to ask as I was storming out, “So you don’t want the map, then?” Ugh! S was laughing hysterically at me. So much for loving me back, right?

Because of this woman who upset me terribly, I used the small, un-detailed city map in my atlas. And I drove us to New Jersey across the toll bridge…twice…before finding our way to where we thought we should be going. Finally, I stopped at a gas station in a BAD neighborhood (against the protests of Red and S) and marched up to a cop’s car and asked him for directions. He, unlike the welcome center bitch, was sweet and helpful. Though he did tell me that I was in one of the worst neighborhoods in Philly and shouldn’t be walking across parking lots alone. Yikes. We crashed hard in our first hotel beds of the trip and if felt soooo good!

The next morning we drove back over into New Jersey…intentionally, this time. We spent the day in Atlantic City and drove homeward bound via the long coastal route. S was very disappointed that we didn’t visit Lucy the Elephant while in Atlantic City. Red and I were just happy to walk along the boardwalk down by the sea (singing the song, of course) and eating foot-long hotdogs.

We drove through Delaware just so we could say we went through there. (Remember the scene in Wayne’s World where Wayne and Garth are doing a commercial for different states and they pretend to be cowboys for Texas and when they get to Delaware they just stand there bored stiff and say… “Hi…I’m…in…Delaware.”?) Well, that sums it up best. Yeah…we…went…to…Delaware.

Next was Maryland, where we took an off-the-main-route side trip to a town called St. Michaels along the Chesapeake Bay. There was a cool little octagonal shaped cottage-like lighthouse there. That place made me hungry for seafood so we continued south towards Virginia Beach, Virginia. I could almost taste shrimp and fresh crab legs! I was willing to face any obstacle to satisfy this desire to stuff my face full of seafood. However, for a few moments there I was afraid that my need would go unfilled as my two friends weren’t necessarily as willing to face obstacles as I. That obstacle was the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. I knew Red was terrified of bridges, especially those over water so I didn’t really say anything about having to cross this 10 mile bridge over and under (yes, it also goes underwater in tunnel form for a stretch) the choppy Chesapeake Bay. I know! I know! Bad Outdoorsy Girl for not telling her! S didn’t have a problem with the length of the bridge, but being a girl who will take something she has already bought back to the store to save $1 (no exaggeration here) she didn’t want to pay the toll. But there we were in line to cross, so we had to pay and we had to cross. I’m so glad we did. Red didn’t pass out and felt proud of herself for crossing and S agreed that the sunset we saw setting over the bay as we crossed was worth the $10 toll and I say that the seafood waiting on the other side was worth the crossing!

We packed in so much on this trip and it was awesome. I have so many fond memories and funny stories from those 9 nine days. I began making a scrapbook of the trip shortly after we made it home. I was almost halfway finished and then stopped. I haven’t touched it since.

A month after this trip, S, my very best friend in the world suddenly passed away at the age of 26. She had a clot move into her brain. I was devastated. As I held her hand as she lay in the hospital bed, I knew she was gone, but I still felt she could hear me. I told her again how much her friendship meant to me. (Luckily I told her this while she was alive and well, too) I promised her that she would always be a part of my life.

But, for a while, I lied. I stuffed the scrapbook out of sight. I removed her pictures from view. One month later, on September 11, 2001, the United States received its greatest moment of panic, fear, pain, and uncertainty. I felt nothing as I watched the Twin Towers crumble down on my TV screen. Some people freaked out this could be the end of the world. The words to R.E.M.’s song played through my head.
It’s the end of the world as we know it
And I feel fine

I was the walking dead anyway. That shock slowly wore off and became unbearable pain. I blocked S out of my mind so completely that I forgot the sound of her laughter and the sound of her voice.

You can force your waking mind to block something out, but you have no control over dreams. Mine evolved into nightmares. In one of my eerie dreams, I could hear the song that I mentioned, “Voices Carry”, playing and I could hear S’s laughter echoing through the darkness. I knew I was in our tent on the camping trip but I couldn’t find her. Just when I got close enough to her, there would be silence. Then I would hear her laughing on the other side of the tent. It was an exhausting dream.

Two years passed before I was able to come to terms with this loss and celebrate her life with the memories that I have of her from our 12 year friendship. Three more years have passed since then. I feel at peace with her now, 5 years later, though I still miss her deeply. Sometimes on Tuesday nights I still notice her empty chair. But most times I can feel her there. And I’m happy to report that I can now listen to “Voices Carry” and all the other wonderful ‘80s songs we listened to on the trip with a smile on my face. I’m really glad because I surely do love that song, “Bette Davis Eyes”!

I think it’s time for me to finish that scrapbook now.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Ready to go!

Wow! It's been a while since my last post! Who missed me?

Dry your tears...I'm back!

Do you ever have emotions stir inside of your mind and heart and sense that something huge is about to happen, but you cannot put your finger on the reason behind the feelings? I'm feeling like this right now.I can feel the excitement of the approaching summer. I don't know how to describe this feeling that is growing inside of me. I have this feeling that I am on the verge of something spectacular happening.

Going away for the summer to Utah and other realms of the Wild West is certainly the cause for my bliss. I have spent a summer there before, and it was the absolute best summer I ever had, but I feel like this time it's going to be different and even more exciting and fun, but I can't put my finger on the reason. I have this strong urge to do all the daring, adventurous, and fun things that I can possibly do. I feel unstoppable. Fearless. I feel very much alive today.

I have my list of things to pack written down. I think that I've picked out a departure day (June 3rd)and my benefits card from the airline that Best Friend works for just came in the mail today. I have been budgeting and re-budgeting my money. Everything is falling into place. I feel so ready to go.

I have 7 more days left with the kids at school and then 2 teacher work days. I can then declare having survived another year with children who seem to become less respectful, more wild, and worse behaved each passing year. To say the last month or so has been rough is the understatement of the year. After this summer, I know I will come back refreshed and ready to take on a new school year.

I have missed my "family" and "home" in Utah very much and I can't wait to be back. I can't wait to see the Wasatch Mountains as my backgroup, the sunset over Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, the vibrancy and contrast of lush green and rugged rock in the Uintahs, to touch the red rocks of Moab, and to again take long walks with Best Friend and Goofball in the park and then settle down in the nice, humidity-free evening air on the front porch with Best Friend's Grandma and chatting until well after dark.

Ahhhhh. Yeah, I think I am ready.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mystery solved?

So I think I discovered what the unknown animal is in the pic that I posted last night. Someone suggested that it was a Black Ground Squirrel. I have seen many ground squirrels out west (especially in Colorado) and they were MUCH smaller than what I remember this cute fella being. I was not standing right next to him but I would imagine that when he stood up on his hind legs, he would've come up to just below my knee. Plus he was near water and his fur was wet. (You can see the water beaded up on his coat in the picture.)Squirrels don't swim (that I am aware of.)

So what lives near the water?

Could it be...
A muskrat? Nope. They're too ugly.
A beaver? No way. Seen them many times before and this is NOT a beaver.
An otter? Nah. His fur was thicker and not as sleek.

So I think...
It must be a mink!

I checked out my theory via the wonderful, educational on-line encyclopedia. Yep, minks do indeed swim. Yep, they have the dark, chocolate colored coat. And the size of my critter and the mink match up.

Here's a side-by-side comparison...

Here's my critter.

And this is a mink.

What do you think?
Is this a mink?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Hoping to see this again over the summer...

If someone were to ask me of the places I have visited which were my favorite states, Wyoming would be one of my answers. Wyoming? Yes, Wyoming! Pictures are worth a thousand words, so I'll let them explain away...

Outdoorsy Girl in front of Yellowstone Falls

Grand Teton Range and the beautiful Snake River. (Could have been named something nicer, in my opinion)

Wildflowers in the meadows at Grand Teton.

View of a glacier on one of my hikes.

Jenny Lake, so clear, so beautiful, so colorful.

Gorgeous scenery on one of my hikes through Cascade Canyon.

Also saw this cute little guy on my hike through Cascade Canyon. Is this a mink? What the hell is this animal? Whatever he is, he surely is cute!

View from Cascade Canyon. I LOVED the way the clouds shrouded the mountain peaks and then floated away in cottony wisps.

A thermal pool at Yellowstone. I never knew just how colorful water could be until I hiked through Geyser Basin and along the Firehole River.

Home on the range...Buffalo grazing just after sunrise with the Tetons kissed with aspenglow.

Of course, I did write a few lines about this amazing place, too. (As if you couldn't see that coming! haha)

The Song of Wyoming

The howl of the wolf
Buffalo roaming
Grizzly Bear wandering
This is Wyoming

Yellowstone River falls
Carving canyon and foaming
Still, blue Jenny Lake
This is Wyoming

Teton Range of granite
Through still waters the moose is combing
Snow glistens on sun-kissed peaks
This is Wyoming

Skies of the bluest hue
Wildflowers in meadows grace
Geysers spew in fiery fury
Wyoming is this place

Riding along the range
The cowboy shades his face
To peer across the open plain
Wyoming is this place

Taking in all its beauty
Can make your heart race
Beautiful, peaceful, entrancing
Wyoming is this place

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bear Magic, Without the Proof

I realized a couple of years ago that I am a bear magnet. I run into them in the wild. Some people think that’s really scary, but I think it’s cool. I defend the bear’s reputation. The bear is painted as a blood-thirsty man-killer, but I think that they are the “good guys” and won’t attack you unless first provoked or extremely hungry. Besides, they prefer to eat berries anyway! I know there is potential danger with them as well as with any wild animals, but I don’t ever approach them. I give them space. I respect them and therefore, I’m not the least bit afraid of them. I love bears.

My first bear sighting (other than the zoo) was about 10 years or so ago. It was from my car near Helen, Ga. and the bear was walking along the roadside. I don’t think that I can really count that as a true bear encounter, but it was still very cool.

My first true encounter occurred in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. A mother bear and her three cubs crossed the hiking trail just ahead of me. It was surprising because this was one of the more popular trails and there were several hikers on the trail. I just didn’t expect this large, black bear to dart across the trail in this peopled area with three furry cubs trailing quickly behind her. Bears, especially Black Bears, are shy and try to avoid people. But there she was with her family, only feet away from me.

A couple of people on the trail that saw her freaked out and ran off frantically. I was frantically digging around in my pack for my camera and zoom lens. By the time I was ready, the bear family was out of good-shot range. It was one of those cases that you can see with your eyes, but not really with the camera. They had crossed the stream alongside the trail and made their way into this clearing in the woods where there were taller grasses. Mama Bear was pawing away at the ground, foraging for food while the cubs scrambled across a downed log and playfully chased one another. The bears hardly paid me any attention. Mama looked my way occasionally and then right back to her grazing and foraging. It was amazing to watch. I was so into watching them that I hadn’t even noticed the 3 other people who had now joined the viewing. It was a great show even if all I have to show of that experience is a few pictures of trees and grass with an out-of-focus, vaguely bear-shaped figure (hard to tell for sure since trees are partially obscuring it) in the pictures.

My second encounter took place in Wyoming at Grand Teton National Park.
Best Friend and I hiked around Jenny Lake to Hidden Cascade and up to Inspiration Point and back. Then we hiked around the moose ponds through wildflower meadows and along the range until we reached car again.

Jenny Lake is a gorgeous glacial lake of most vibrant blue-green yet holding water so clear that I could see the stones on its floor. Everything reflected in this giant mirror…trees, clouds, the mountains. The first of our hike took us along the shoreline of this amazing lake. We started out early, just after daybreak, in hopes of viewing wildlife and having a deserted trail. Both our wishes were met as just the two of us walked along the trail in silence listening to the earth wake up around us. We had rounded a corner when something donned in light brown fur stirred precariously close to us in the wood by the lake and began to scurry away. Then it was silent… Golden brown fur, rounded ears, hump on its neck…We just had a run-in with a young Grizzly! I’ll never forget how Best Friend stepped behind me, her hand on my shoulder as if telling Mr. Bear, “Eat her, not me!” I couldn’t help but laugh. (Later, she rationalized her actions by saying it was because she had never seen a bear in the wild before and she knew that I had.) That bear was quick! We stood around for a few moments before moving forward, hoping to see him again. No luck. Disappointed, I put my camera back into my pack. I was not happy about another lost bear shot. On the other hand, Best Friend was ecstatic with her first bear encounter and told everyone she met on the trail later that day that she saw a bear. She told me she hoped we saw another one.

So about two weeks later, while day-tripping and hiking through Yellowstone, we found ourselves camping right back in the same place at Grand Teton and planning to hike the same trail early in the morning. I tell Best Friend that I think we’re going to see one. She says that she thinks so, too. Encounter Number Three happened in almost the exact same place we had the Grizzly encounter.

We had just blindly rounded a bend in the trail and came literally face-to-face with a Black Bear with two cubs sitting right in the middle of the trail. The bear startled us and we startled her. The babies ran off in the woods toward the lake and climbed a tree. We were only 15 or 20 feet away from her. In fact, we came too close to the bear. She growled at us and looked mighty agitated. She looked across the trail toward higher grounds and then back toward the direction her cubs ran off. We backed away from her slowly. I am fidgeting around again for my camera. As the bear growled, Best Friend shook her head and said, “No!” Despite our dangerous proximity to the bear, I laugh at Best Friend's attempt to talk to the bear. The bear decides to run off toward her cubs. Then I began to yell, “No!” And then, “No! Come back!...Please?” Dammit! No picture again!

I returned to Georgia after weeks of fun and adventure with tons of photos of waterfalls, desert landscapes, tall mountains, and all kinds of animals…minus bears. It took me a while to readjust to my less-open, highly vegetated, extremely tree-ish environment here and when I did, I realized that I had missed my Blue Ridge Mountains terribly. I filled my hydration pack full of cold water and placed it in my backpack and drove up to my mountains. Oh how green they were! And so full of streams! I had to stop and hike at one of my favorite trails near Helen. It’s only 5 miles long and fairly easy. But it travels along Dodd Creek and Dukes Creek the entire time, passing by numerous cool waterfalls and rapids. I had not been hiking for very long when something caught my attention off the trail to my right. I recognized that black furry shape in an instant. I was so excited. Encounter Number Four was happening! I reached into my pack searching for the camera that I had forgotten to put in it. Noooooooo! Then she slipped away into the forest ferns and hemlocks.

I called Best Friend after I left the trail.

“You see more bears than anyone I know!” she said.

“Yeah, but you’d never know it by the photos would you?” I sarcastically retorted.

“No, but at least you get to see them! I had never seen one until you were with me and we saw them twice! You’re a bear magnet!”

With restored hope, I replied, “Yeah. I think bears must like me. I think I have Bear Magic.”

One of my other friends claims to have Target Magic because every time she goes shopping at Target she gets front row parking. Every time. I have seen this. So if she can have Target Magic, then I can have Bear Magic! (Even if I have no photographic proof!)

But I’m bound to see another bear. And the next time the magic kicks in, I’ll have a camera in hand!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A By-Myself Vacation

“Girl, are you crazy?”

“Don’t you know that it’s dangerous to travel alone?”

“I would never travel anywhere by myself!”

“Aren’t you afraid something will happen to you?”


These were all questions and comments I received from family and friends when I have mentioned traveling somewhere alone. And these were my answers, in order, to these questions…



“That’s you, not me!”


“Because I want to and because I can.”

Traveling alone has never been a big deal to me. I feel that I shouldn’t give up going somewhere and doing something I really want just because there is no one else that can or wants to come along with me.

Until last summer, my alone trips consisted of day hikes in the Georgia mountains or four hour drives to Savannah so that I could eat fresh seafood, lay on the beach for a couple of hours, drive to my favorite scenic spots, then eat again at my favorite restaurant on River Street and drive back home. I had never driven any long distances alone until July 2005, when my friend in Columbus, Ohio invited me to visit her over the Fourth of July week.

It’s not a long drive (to me). It takes only about 9 hours, but of course, anyone that knows me very well, knew that I couldn’t just drive there directly, but must get my side trips in! I had two main side destinations to hit, Big South Fork Recreation Area (on the Tennessee/Kentucky border) and Red River Gorge in Kentucky. I planned to hit Big South Fork and Cumberland Falls on the way up and the Red River Gorge on my way back home.

I mapped out my hiking trails in BSF and decided how long I wanted to spend there so that I would still have time to drive by Cumberland Falls and make it to my friend’s house in Columbus by a decent hour.

Everything worked out as planned. I had to leave very early in the morning to do it but Tom Petty, Bush, Radiohead, and some cheesy 80’s music kept me company all the way to BSF. It was the beautiful outdoor hiker’s haven that I had hoped for. The Big South Fork River was beautiful. There were tall cliffs. There were waterfalls. There was enough greenery to clothe the entire Sahara Desert.

I learned something there, though. Loneliness is not being home alone watching TV. Loneliness is not wishing you had someone to talk when no one else is around. Loneliness is not a dateless night. Loneliness is the absence of all human generated noise, knowing that you are the only human around for miles, and an overactive mind due to the combination of these two things. I have been in pretty deep wilderness before, but never alone. It was so quiet that my own footsteps seemed loud. It was eerie at first, but I soon become comfortable and happy to have this all to myself. I took care to appreciate everything I saw.

My second stop a few miles down the road, Cumberland Falls, was anything but loneliness. People were everywhere, rafting beneath the falls, gawking at the falls from overlooks, walking trails, and having picnics. Some have nicknamed the falls “The Niagara of the South”. Well, I find it a far cry from Niagara Falls, but what I did find very interesting is that this is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where you can take in a moonbow. On a clear full moon night, an arc of white light is reflected in the mist at base of the falls. That would be pretty cool to see I think. However, I had to hit the road. Maybe I can be lucky enough to see the moonbow another time.

On a side note, I have to say that I have some really sweet friends, too. Four of my male friends plus my dad called to check on me before I made it to Cincinnati! Who the hell needs a boyfriend?

I made it to my friend’s house well before dark and we had time to drive to the nearby town of Granville, Oh for a nice fireworks show. My friend showed me around the Columbus area and I stayed with her for a couple of days.

On my trip home I stopped at the Red River Gorge in Kentucky as planned. I had hoped to have time to check out this via-ferrata trail in the gorge. (It’s a rock climbing trail with metal bars in the rock that you basically follow.) I didn’t have time to check it out, but that’s okay since I plan to try out the new in Ogden, UT this summer. I did have time to try out many of the hiking trails, though. The Red River Gorge is a unique place in that it has more natural bridges and stone arches than any other place except Utah. But of course they are gray and not red like Utah’s. I found myself lost in solitude much like I did at Big South Fork, though I did actually come across people on occasion. It was a nice spot full of great photographic opportunities. I would really like to come back when the fall leaves change. I saw some postcards of the area in the autumn and they were beautiful.

That trip was totally fun to me. I have the feeling that if I had waited to find someone else who would’ve liked to have joined me, I’d have never had the chance to see the things I did. I’m glad that am fine with by-myself vacations!

Though I did notice that this post is rather dry and lacking the typical humor I add in my other trip tales. I guess funny things don’t happen when you’re alone….Though I did somehow twist my knee while climbing down a section of steep trail and had to walk like an invalid for two miles back to my car. No wait…that wasn’t funny either, just painful.

Big South Fork River, Tennessee

I tried posting another pic from here of a waterfall I hiked to but it wasn't cooperating!

Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

Story of the moonbow

Fireworks in Granville, Ohio

Red River Gorge, Ky
Look at the people on the rocks! I tried to figure out how they got out there, but couldn't. I was mad about not finding the trail because I wanted to do it, too!

Base of one of the many natural bridges in the Red River Gorge.

Not only are the by-myself vacation posts unhumorous but I can't post any pics with me in them. I know that is very disappointing for all, as well! ;)

Monday, May 01, 2006

Rocky Dreams

Rocky Dreams

His songs filled my mind with beautiful visions
The verses of wild beauty helped me form the decision
Before I had only visited in my dreams as I slept
Time had come to compare reality to the expectations I felt
I had read all the guide books and studied the maps
I pictured in my head mountains in snowcaps
With a plane ticket in my pocket, I knew I had to go
I had to stand in the place I knew I would love so
But nothing could have prepared me for that first glance
When I saw the mountains and the clouds around them dance
It seemed I already stood here on this familiar ground
As I stared out at the Rockies soaring all around
It was what I dreamed, yet even more
As I soaked in all these feelings to my very being’s core
I walked along lakes of the purest glacial blue
My toes felt the frosty touch of morning’s early dew
I lay beneath an Aspen grove swaying in the wind
And listened to clear waters meander through the river bend
I took it all in; I savored every taste
I breathed in every moment; time I did not waste
My senses were filled so that I perfectly etched
It all in my mind so that I could easily fetch
A true memory now that can be vividly redeemed
So when I close my eyes at night I know it’s more than a dream
I know this passion is real and that’s enough for now
But one day I’ll go back and find a way to stay somehow

These words have a story behind them and I wrote them from experience. I don't imagine that they make much sense to anyone else but I thought I'd post it anyway!