Dirty, Stinking Tree High-Fiver

I’ve never considered myself to be a tree hugger. A tree climber? Yes. A tree hugger? Nope. It’s funny how the older you get (I’m getting comfortable with the old-er label), the more you value life. So  I’ve become something of a tree high-fiver… They are friends who I couldn’t imagine living without, you know, since we really couldn’t. The best part (other than the oxygen) is that they never tell me when I stink!

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My simple story goes something like this:

Wow. That’s a beautiful mountain. It really stinks that people are dumping their trash out there.

Wow. That’s an amazing beach. It really stinks that people are destroying it with their four wheelers/condos/beer bottles.

Wow. Those sea turtles are beautiful creatures. It’s a shame that people are killing them by being careless.

I’ve learned that when we truly love something, we would do anything to protect it. It’s how parents – most, anyhow – feel about their children. It’s why I eat my key lime pie extra slow – I want it to last as long as possible. It’s the same reason we have fan clubs, PTA, health insurance, and charities. We want to preserve what we love so that we can continue to enjoy it & share it with others.

Call me a crazy tree hugger all you want, but I’d rather see a sea turtle looking like this:

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Than like this:

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Just in case you’re wondering, that’s the string from a balloon hanging out of the mouth of a Kemp Ridley. What goes up must come down. Balloons that come down over the ocean look like jelly fish to sea turtles. Turtles love jelly fish. Remember that when you are having a planned balloon release (it kills me that people still do this).

See. That’s the kicker. Did you KNOW that balloons kill sea turtles? I don’t know too many people who do. I didn’t, not until I visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida.
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I don’t know too many people who, when faced with the knowledge that their actions are endangering an entire species, would continue to plow on. But most people don’t know. I believe most people care & would be willing to change. I believe that we have to do what we can to protect this blue marble for future generations. I believe that children are the future – teach them well and let them lead the way. Ahem. Sorry, I got carried away.

Education is key to preserving our environment – the mountains, beaches, lakes, creeks, all of it – and the plants and animals that live there. So, I signed us (me & the mister) up for a Leave No Trace trainer course.

To be honest, I don’t think Mr. Dirty had any idea what I signed him up for, but like a good man, he did what his wife said to do 😉 If you are like Mr. Dirty and have no idea what LNT is, let me explain. Leave No Trace (LNT) is an outdoor ethic meant to preserve our wild spaces & wildlife. There are 7 principles:

– plan & prepare
– travel & camp on durable surfaces
– dispose of waste properly
– leave what you find
– minimize campfire impacts
– respect wildlife
– be considerate of other visitors

Simple, right? It’s so easy to protect what we love, but we have to be educated on how to do it. It’s the same reason the Dirty Duo took infant CPR before bringing home the Dirty Boy who had respiratory issues as a baby(He’ll kill me for this, but he ate poop! Not real poop, that meconium prepoop babies do in utero. Anyhow, it jacked him up – what do you expect from POOP?). We have to learn how to help.

Our class was held in Shenandoah National Park. We were blessed to be a part of a phenomenal group of outdoor enthusiasts; all of us learning at the feet of the BEST LNT master educators in the country. I was in awe of the knowledge & experience these two shared with us.

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Our instructors – Hal Hallett & Alex Lampros

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LNT Trainers Course, 2014, Shenandoah NP

Fear Not! I will share more on the LNT principles… one principle at a time (it’s less overwhelming that way & way more fun!).

– Mrs. Dirty: a dirty, stinking tree high-fiver

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Athletically Challenged?

I’ve never been one to play organized sports. When I was in the third grade, I played softball… sort of. By “played softball”, I mean I hung out in the outfield with my glove on my head and dandelions in my hands. When it was my turn to bat, I rarely actually hit the ball. In my defense, it wasn’t long after my foray into organized sports that I got my first pair of glasses. It’s hard to hit a ball – even one as large as a softball – when you can’t see it!
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Little Me

Because of my lack of success, I never truly considered myself athletic. I highly doubt anyone else did, either. I was gangly & awkward. I was never picked first in PE class, but I don’t think I was picked last. Maybe second to last? As a matter of fact, I know that I failed PE in high school at least once. I hated “dressing out” since there was this one girl (who shall remain nameless… for now) who always made fun of my legs. They were bony little bowed legs, and she teased me mercilessly from about the fourth grade until graduation. She made me hate PE.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that I am not necessarily athletically challenged!! I’m pretty decent in rock climbing gym & dying to transition those skills to the outdoors, improving significantly at mountain biking (not quite ready for anything too extreme but better than someone who doesn’t try), I run when I want to, and I rock at backpacking.

Somewhere around Tray Mountain, I realized that backpacking counts. It’s not a traditional sport because it’s not competing (unless you are trying to break a record or something… which I’m not). It’s really only walking, but it’s slightly more challenging when you add the altitude gains and pack weight.
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Mrs. Dirty being “athletic”

I spent almost 40 years believing I was athletically challenged. At 41, I learned an important lesson. A lesson that I hope to teach to as many kids as I can. Today, I will start spreading the word: labels suck.

You know you’ve heard it – or maybe even said it, “She’s the ______ one.” We add the labels to kids. The pretty one, the smart one, the athletic one, the mature one, the funny one. Guess what? You can be ALL of them at once! You can be pretty, smart, athletic, mature, and funny. Don’t settle for less. Don’t let your kids settle for less.

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I was blessed to hike with this smart, athletic group.

– Mrs. Dirty, a formerly athletically challenged kid.

Magic Beans

Jack, of Beanstalk fame, was sent to bed without supper by his furious mother when he brought home magic beans. According to the story, the beans grew into a beanstalk – a virtual staircase to “a land high in the sky”. Jack would climb the beanstalk and be rewarded with riches: a bag of coins, a goose that laid golden eggs, and a golden harp that played all by itself.

Remember this story? Good. Now, we can discuss the real magic beans!

One day, the Dirty Boy brought home magic beans. Don’t roll you eyes at me! He really did!! He was given magic beans by his cross country coach before a big match. They really do exist!

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Yeah, yeah. The good folks at Jelly Belly call these Sports Beans, but they don’t know. They actually call these jelly beans when we all know they should be called crack beans:
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I swear. They put a little crack in each bean. That’s why you (I’m assuming you are an addict like I am) can’t just eat one!

In that same way, they put a little bit of magic in each of those Sports Beans. No, I’m not joking. I couldn’t be more serious.

Imagine, if you will:

When the sun came peeking through the canopy, you packed all of your gear and hit the trail. It was a beautiful morning of easy hiking so you were able to breeze through three or four miles with only a protein bar for breakfast.
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At the bottom of the trail, you come to a clearing (called a Gap) where you can refill your water and have a little break. Life is good.

Break’s over.

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Yup, the rest of the day is ALL UP HILL. You decide the break can last a little bit longer. Long enough to eat a tortilla with peanut butter (a hiker staple) for lunch. Then, you are off.

Dang. Who put a stinking mountain on this mountain?! Ten steps. Break. Five steps. Break. What in the world were you thinking when you thought you could do this?!

It’s time for… Magic Beans. You pop a few and – whether it’s all in your head or not, and let’s face it, it’s ALL in your head – you have enough energy to conquer another mile or two.

Seriously. It really works that way. Just like Jack. You are transported to a land high in the sky where you are rewarded with a cool breeze and a beautiful mountain view.

According to the packaging, these Magic Beans are “scientifically formulated to maximize sports performance.” What good stuff did the wizards in the Jelly Belly labs put in these itty bitty beans? Carbohydrates for fuel, electrolytes for fluid balance, vitamins B1, B2 & B3 to help burn carbs and fat, and vitamin c to protect muscles and cells against oxidative damage. By the way, all that smart sounding stuff comes from the package 😉

Those geniuses did some clinical trials that they say prove these improve performance. I did some trail trials that prove they are magic.

Get them. Try them. Love them. You will thank me.

(For the record: I was NOT compensated for this by Jelly Belly. I bought these magic beans with my own non-milk producing cow from a man at Academy Sports.)

Mountain of Youth

Growing up in Florida, I learned in elementary school about how Ponce de Leon explored the Sunshine State in search of the Fountain of Youth. If you watch any daytime television (I’m partial to General Hospital, personally), you will see that – nearly five hundred years later – we are still obsessed with looking, acting, and feeling younger.

Can I get an amen from all of my ladies who use wrinkle creme? How about you guys who use “Just for Men” grey coverage? We fight to hold onto what we’ve got, and some of us don’t have much left (I’m talking to you, Mr. Comb Over).

Over the last two weeks, I was blessed to have met some pretty amazing people who seem to have found Ponce de Leon’ s Fountain of Youth… Only, it’s not a fountain. It’s a MOUNTAIN.

For every 20 something hiker who I met on the trail, I met at least three hikers who were over the age of 50. The older generation brought it to the trail every day, and I never once heard them complain! No matter what the trail or the weather threw at them, they were smiling & having a great time.

I was in awe of these people. Literally.

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(The Motley Crew from Virginia rocked the trail every day!)

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(This is Carol with her grandson, Daniel. I was in awe of  Carol’ s drive and with Daniel’s dedication to Carol.)

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(This is Marvin – trail name Ohio. He is 73 years old. When Mr. Dirty & I were taking a break because we were exhausted, he came strolling up the mountain like it was nothing! He said he walks seven days a week to “fight back the forces of darkness.”)

There is one photo missing. We met a Benton Makaye Trail Maintainer at the Siler Bald Shelter. He was 76 and had multiple bypass surgeries. And. He. Still. Backpacks.

Seriously. Apparently, there is something magical in the mountain air that keeps hikers young. Bottom line? I want to be like them when I grow up!

Want to stay young longer? Start hiking now! It’s never too late to start.

Fear Not!

I’ve learned a lot about fear this week:
– Fear can be debilitating.
– Fear can be motivating.
– Fear can be grounded in self-doubt.
– Fear can be grounded in knowledge & wisdom.
– Fear is universal… Everyone knows fear.

On my first morning out of Neels Gap on my solo adventure, I hit the trail at 6am. The sun was still struggling to climb the mountains, and a heavy fog clung to the ground in front of me. It made the trail look like it wound through a fairytale wood.
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Feeling a bit giddy with nervous apprehension, I pretended I was a young (told you it was pretend, right?) maiden out to conquer the beast at the top of the mountain.

Then I rounded a foggy bend in the trail to see two black rolls curled up in the middle of the trail. From a distance & with my over active imagination running wild, it looked like two smallish bears sleeping on the trail. I was paralyzed with fear! Seriously. Where there is a baby bear, there is mama bear.

I was cursing myself for thinking I could do this alone. Mister Dirty would surely know what to do. Should I call him & ask? No, he would think I couldn’t do this. So, I mustered all the courage I could find (reminding myself that Neal had just called me brave the day before) and tiptoed quietly up the trail to find this:
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An abandoned backpack!

Yes, I felt stupid for being afraid; however, I also felt courageous for going forward when I was scared. I later learned that other hikers were scared here because they thought it was a dead body!

A few days later, I was passing a scout group when the leader warned me about two copperheads on either side of the trail. “When the trail levels out and you see a downed tree that’s been cut for you to pass through,” he said. “They will be right there.”

For the next five miles – every time I passed a downed tree in a relatively level spot – I lifted my trekking poles in the air and prayed to not get bitten.

When I made it to my campsite, I laughed at how afraid I had been. My hiking buddy (Break Time, who I met on the trail) confessed that he had also been freaked out at the idea of walking through a virtual pit of vipers… Which made me feel less girly.

When I finally crossed the border into North Carolina, I was traveling with a motley crew of hikers. Legs of Steel found a really awesome campsite on the ridge line at Bly Gap. He swore it would have a great sunset, then he continued north to the next shelter. Break Time & I were the only ones planning to stop at Bly Gap, so we set up our hammocks & settled in for the night.
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(Twisted Oak at Bly Gap)

Little did we know, there was a storm brewing. Did I mention that I am terrified of lightning?? As soon as I had turned in, the sky went very dark, and gale force winds started blowing. Then came the rain. And the thunder. And the lightning. The normally-adequate stakes on my rain fly surrendered to the sheer strength of the storm.

We made a belated decision to move our camp to the site in the valley just below the ridge line. In the middle of the storm, we packed it all up and ran – praying the entire way. It turned out to be a wise decision: the storm didn’t die down until about 5am.

I’ve always been terrified of lightning. Because I am, I did research prior to my trip. Here’s the kicker: I knew setting up camp on that ridge line was dangerous. My fear when the storm blew in was grounded in the knowledge that it was as dangerous as the two copperheads.

Through it all – from the almost bears to the copperheads to the lightning – I knew I would be okay. Why? Because I am more valuable than many sparrows.

Getting Old….er?

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Two years ago this week, Mr. Dirty returned from a six month deployment to Afghanistan. I try not to be one of “those wives” – the poor me, look how hard we have it military wives. But I’ll be honest with you, that deployment was brutal. We experienced several deaths, emergency room visits, Dirty Diva’s high school graduation – you name it; it happened. When he came home (fit and trim with bad 80’s hair), we needed to refresh & refill our spirits…
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So, we flew to Washington State to visit the not-so-dirty in laws. What better place is there to relax than with family. We were spoiled – with food, love & attention. While we were there, we tried to hike as much as possible in the Olympics.

There are very few places on Earth that rivals the beauty of the Olympic Mountains. I could wax poetic about the sheer awesomeness, but I would rather show you these pictures:

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See what I mean? Amazing. The most spectacular of these hikes was the Copper Creek Trail.
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Clear mountain streams, abundant flora and fauna…. excruciating knee pain.
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Yup. Knee pain. It sucks the life out of a hiker like nothing else. Through research – yes, I self-diagnosed… don’t judge me – I’ve discovered a possible cause. I believe (only believe because I am not a doctor) that my problem is with my illiotibial band. This God awful pain is on the outside of my left knee and occurs mostly on down hills.
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Down hill used to be fun. I started using hiking poles to take some of the stress off my knees. I’ve decreased my pack weight. I’ve even changed my shoes!! (Suprisingly, certain shoes cause more pain. I can hike pain free in Teva sandals, but Keen shoes make me want to gnaw off my own leg).

Finally, I broke down and went to see the doctor. Aren’t you proud? You should be! You have no idea what a giant step that was for me. (I. Don’t. Like. Doctors.) I’m not a good patient. I admit that without hesitation. Want to know what the doctor said?

He looked me square in the face (and without a smirk or anything!) and said, “You’re getting old.”

Apparently, the look on my face was enough to frighten him just a little because he added, “…er. Older. I mean, it’s not like you are still twenty.”
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(That’s me at twenty. The one on the left.)

You would think that would be enough, but you would be wrong. Apparently, it was also important to let me know that when we get old-er, our bodies start to hurt in new ways.

Thanks, Doc.

Why I Hike

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Borrowed from Pinterest

Pinterest is an addiction. With a click of the little red icon, you can find anything that can be found on the web… in picture form. Like what you see? Then you can follow the link, repin the pin, or *like* the picture. Need a recipe for crockpot beef stroganoff? It’s there. Need to know how to make a cool sprinkler for your kids out of pvc pipe? Yup, there too.

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Borrowed from Pinterest

Looking for a new hiking trail? Bam!! It will literally suck you in for hours. The ladies know this. Dirty Diva got a new phone for Christmas. The first app she downloaded? Pinterest.

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Borrowed from Pinterest

Last week I was down with a sinus infection for a few days. I spent three days on the couch in my pajamas perusing Pinterest. It was wasted time. I could have accomplished so much, but I couldn’t  pry my sick pj clad bottom off the oh so comfy couch. So I dove head first into the world of Pinterest – this wasn’t my first foray into the underworld of pins, just the only one of which I wish to speak.

What does Pinterest have to do with hiking? Not much really, at least not until you venture into the “Outdoor” board or do a search – which I frequently do – for hiking or backpacking. Try it. I’ll wait here while you see what you can find. It’s an amazing word, this Pinterest.

Back? So last week when I was permanently attached to the couch with Pinterest at my finger tips, I stumbled upon this:

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Borrowed from Pinterest

It wasn’t new to me; I had actually pinned it months before, but I had never really thought about it. When I originally pinned it, I just thought it was cute and funny. The last five miles of our AT section hike was completely motivated by the cheeseburgers we would eat at the NOC… so, yeah, hike for cheeseburgers!!

But I’ve been thinking… which is dangerous, I know. Why do I hike? I could get a cheeseburger without hiking. I can get dry clothes from the laundry room. So why do I hike? If you aren’t a backpacker, you will have a hard time understanding how strapping a 20-30 pound pack on your back to trudge up and down trails in the mountains – while wearing the same clothes for days at a time through rain, cold, and heat, sleeping on the ground in the dark with no electricity or running water – could possibly be relaxing. It totally is.

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Borrowed from Pinterest

Hiking has become an essential part of who we, the Dirty Duo, are. We need it. Life gets hectic and jumbled, and we begin to lose site of what is truly important – Faith, family, an  friends.

A good friend once told me that he’d spent too much of his time making a life that he forgot to actually enjoy his life. Are we defined by how much money we make or by the lives that we touch? When we start to lose focus, we head outside.

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Borrowed from Pinterest

The trail is a stress-free zone. No bills, no ringing phones (even if you have your cell with you, you probably won’t have service), no leaky roof, no emails to return, or errands to run. It’s you and the trees, the breeze, the birds, the snakes (yup, even them), and that heavenly scent that no candle company has ever quite captured.

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Borrowed from Pinterest

When we are home, we tend to get wrapped up in our own “stuff”. Right now, I’m working on this blog post (having just returned from a mall trip with the Dirty Boy & the Dirty Friend) and Mr. Dirty is doing his winter thing… watching football while reading gear reviews. It’s not always a pretty life. That’s the beauty of the trail. We ditch the gadgets and spend time together…

Why do you hike?