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.

Four out of Four Butts Kicked at Cohutta Mountain

Back in October, the School Schedule Gods gifted us with a glorious and much needed Fall Break. It didn’t come a minute too soon and was very much appreciated. Too often school breaks do not coincide with an empty space on Mr. Dirty’s work calendar; however, on this particular weekend, the planet’s were aligned and a little fun was in order!!

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Mr. Dirty has done quite a bit of reading on the hiking trails buried deep in the Cohutta Mountain Wilderness  of North Georgia (at over 40,000 acres, the Cohutta Mountain Wilderness is the largest wilderness east of the Mississippi) and was eager to explore the area. This area is literally laced with trails – 13 trails for 87 miles of butt-kicking hikes – we had plenty of options. After looking over maps and our schedule, Mr. Dirty chose the 15.5 mile Cohutta Mountain Loop Trail.
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The Cohutta Mountain Loop Trail is comprised of three trails: Hickory Ridge Trail, Jacks River Trail, and Rough Ridge Trail. If you want specifics on how many miles we spent on each trail, I’m sure Mr. Dirty has them available. On most of the websites I have seen, all three trails are described as “moderately difficult to strenuous.” Yup. I think that’s what they say when what they really want to say is, “it’s a real butt kicker.” (I think I have a new rating system: 4 out of 4 butts kicked on this trail).

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On Friday evening, we made it in to Ellijay where we ate overly hyped barbeque and stayed in the skeeviest hotel room in the state of Georgia. Literally. We used duct tape to cover the hole that was once a peep hole in the door. It was the weekend of the Apple Festival so we were fortunate to have the room, even if we were too freaked out to take a shower in that bathroom!!

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Saturday dawned bright and crisp… it was unbelievably cold! The parking lot at the trailhead was completely full, thanks to the pop-up camper that took up three parking spaces, camp chairs taking up a space, and the trailer full of ATVs in another. Apparently, we were in someone’s private campground rather than a US Forest Service parking lot (snarky sarcasm)! As we were passing the “campground” for the trail, the happy campers let us know that they weren’t your average campers…. they were bear hunters! Not only were they bear hunters, but they were bear hunters who left an angry, injured bear in the woods that they had yet to find. Awesome. I suddenly became worried that the “Aue de Waffle House” scent I was sporting could double as bear bait. I’m almost positive a southern black bear could tear up some “Smothered, Covered, Diced, and Capped” hashbrowns. Positive.

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Fortunately, we were never attacked by an angry, hashbrown-craving bear. I’m sure that soothes your troubled minds 😉 Unfortunately, the attack came in a much smaller, much angrier package: yellow jackets!

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I don’t know what it is about the Dirties, but those stinking things love us!! (This past summer, the mister and I wound up with over 20 stings a piece when he disturbed a nest. Thanks, Hon!). This time, it was the boy and me running for our lives. Who knew you could run with a 25 pound pack down the side of a mountain?!

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There are several opportunities *read: you gotta do it* to cross the Jacks River – which I am sure is frigid on a nice summer day. Our river crossings were pretty stinking cold! Dirty Boy, being Dirty Boy, had a minor mishap that involved a gigantic bolder, his foot, and water. Needless to say, we took an extra long break on the opposite shore.

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And THAT is when the most curious thing happened!! Out of absolutely no where (ok, somewhere on the trail) came a virtual stampede of riders on horseback! Literally, at least a dozen horses and three dogs came  beebopping along the trail. It was the most unexpected, bizarre thing I’ve seen on the trail in quite some time. (Unfortunately, these horses did significant damage to the trail in the way of collapsing the trail for several yards in some places).
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On our second day, Mr. Dirty took Dirty Boy and Hiking Ninja to the waterfalls. By their account and the pictures they brought back, it was stunning.

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I stayed in camp to read the biography of Alison Arngrim, otherwise known as Nellie Olson. It was riveting! Truly. You should read it.
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ANYHOW. After they returned from the falls, we started out in an attempt to make it to the campsite at Crooked Dogwood Gap. It. Was. All. Up. Hill. Yeah. Remember I said it was a real butt kicker?!  We hiked until dark and still didn’t find the elusive campsite! Seeing as we were all hammocking – with the exception of the Dirty Boy who was in an OR bug bivy, we set up camp on the side of the trail in the middle of nowhere. We were THAT desperate for rest.
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As I set up my hammock in a growth of briars and poison ivy, all I could think about was snakes. I didn’t see any, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t there. I was positive they were hanging out with the Waffle House bear just waiting to eat me. I think I did a decent job of keeping my fears well hidden – even when I had to go deeper into the dark woods to poop. I just knew I was going to get jumped!

As I’m sure you’ve surmised, mainly because I’m able to write this today, neither bear nor snake had me for dinner while I was pooping or sleeping in my taffeta  cocoon. Surprisingly, I had the best night of my life…. which could be due to exhaustion. In the morning, we hiked about a quarter of a mile (during which I saw an honest to God rattlesnake. Good thing that was AFTER I slept) only to find THE campsite. And it was glorious. Huge water supply, private poop corner, lots of poison-ivy-free trees. We found it when it was too late to enjoy it. But we still found it!!

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The hike out was long and arduous. We rested, we hiked, we rested some more. It was amazing to see the difference in the fall colors over just a few days. Simply gorgeous.
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Four out of four butts were kicked, but four out of four butts had a great time!!

Getting Dirty in the Florida Keys

Last night, we left Georgia bound for a place that makes me soul feel at rest. The Florida Keys. I grew up in Florida so I’m no stranger to fabulous beaches. I spent a year living within walking distance of Kalathas Beach in Crete, Greece.

Kalathas Beach, Crete, Greece

I I feel alive & reinvigorated on a crisp mountain morning, but I feel a sense of being at home when I’m on a beach.

Caluso Beach, Bahia Honda State Park

Caluso Beach, Bahia Honda State Park

The Florida Keys are different from any other beach or coastal community I have ever been to. Almost everyone has heard that time practically stands still in the Keys. Stress? Not in Monroe County. It could all be one huge, glorious act;however, I’ve never seen anyone who lives here act stressed. They seem to be the happiest, easy going folks EVER. And why wouldn’t they be?!

Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda State Park

This is our second trip to the Keys. We stay Bahia Honda State Park – where we sleep in tents. Our first trip, we stayed in the Bayside campground…. no electricity…. in July. Never again. It was hotter than Hades!

Last August, I reserved our site in the Sandspur campground. Electricity!! You will never appreciate the luxury of a simple fan to circulate air in your tent  until you’ve spent a week in Florida without it!  (I’m actually writing this on my fully charged Kindle Fire on my inflated queen size air mattress with a lovely man-made breeze blowing in my hair. It’s a beautiful thing.) Morning report: excellent sleeping. Bonus points!!

My morning view

I don’t think what we are doing is true camping. This? This is glamping! It’s way too comfortable to be true camping. We even have a table cloth on our table!!

Key Largo Sunrise

Key Largo Sunrise

Anyhow, we left Saturday evening and drove (with Frodo & the Hiking Ninja in our car and the Dirty Diva & her boyfriend following in her car) through the night to get here Sunday morning. We were blessed with a stunning sunrise over Key Largo. It was a lovely welcome “home.”

Our only stressful part of the drive – other than the I95 parking lot through Jacksonville – was my new bike rack. For Mother’s Day, Mr. Dirty and the kids bought me a Yakima Doubledown Ace 4 bike rack for my Subaru, George. It’s one incredible bike rack!! The problem? It rode so low that it appeared to be falling off the car. Initially, Mr. Dirty thought I had incorrectly installed it. A perusal on the internet (what did I ever do without a smart phone?!) and a YouTube video later, and we learned that I did it right. It wasn’t until I found a Subaru forum (yes, they have those…. they have an internet forum to talk about just about anything you could dream of) that I learned you needed a Class II hitch to transport any more than two bikes. I have a Class I. Guess who will be getting a new hitch for their car??

When most people think about the Keys, they think about Key West. With over 660,000 people arriving via cruise ships per year and Jimmy Buffett ‘s Margaritaville, it’s understandable. We spend just a few hours in Key West, and that’s plenty.  There is so much more to do! On a previous trip, we took an eco-kayak tour & snorkled the Looe Key Reef. This year? We’re going to have all sorts of fun!!

(Now that we’re home & the fun is over, I can fill you in on all of the awesomeness that we found in the Keys!)

Pigeon Key
Pigeon Key is located at the mid-point of the 7 Mile Bridge. During the building of the Overseas Highway, Pigeon Key was a camp for the construction crew. Later, it housed the bridge tender and his family. Now, the island is home to a museum that pays tribute to Henry Flagler’s Overseas Highway and the families who sacrificed for the OH. I know, I know… who wants to go to a stinking museum on vacation?! Who cares about the museum?! Not me. But the island (and getting there) is amazing! We rode our bikes across the Old 7 Mile Bridge; it’s only 2 miles to Pigeon Key.

Old 7 Mile Bridge
Old 7 Mile Bridge
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Osprey

The tide was out as we rode the Old 7 so we saw loggerheads and needlefish swimming in the shallows. There is a gorgeous osprey who lives on the bridge; he looked so regal looking over his kingdom.

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Dock at Pigeon Key

On the gulf side of Pigeon Key is a boat dock and small beach where we enjoyed fine cuisine (pb&j from my backpack) and snorkeling. Snorkeling under the dock was pretty awesome. We swam with tons of fish – most notably toothy baracudas and colorfully quilted parrot fish.

Kayaking at Curry Hammock State ParkCurry Hammock State Park is located on Marathon Key (I believe) and has kayak rentals at a reasonable rate ($21 per 2 hours for double kayaks).  CHSP has a small “trail” that you can kayak which takes you through a mangrove (these are trees & not to be confused with the mango which is yummy when ripe) tunnel. Having only skirted the mangroves on our last trip, we were rather excited to go through the tunnel! We were warned the mosquitoes were bad through there there but only the sweet one (Hiking Ninja) from our crew had problems with being tasty. It was pretty surreal paddling through the tunnel:  we weren’t that far from civilization, but it felt like another planet.

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Kayaking the Mangrove Tunnel

Kayaking the Mangrove Tunnel

After the tunnel, we found a small beach that was a breading ground for horseshoe crabs and a sand bar that was teeming with life. It was amazing!
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Turtle Hospital on Marathon – This is the Dirty Diva’s favorite part of the trip. She loves turtles – especially sea turtles.
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The Turtle Hospital takes sick and injured turtles in from all over the US. On our first visit in 2011, we were able to observe a loggerhead by the name of George having tumors surgically removed. On this visit, we were reintroduced to George as Georgette.

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Georgette

Apparently, turtles don’t advertise their gender until they’re adolescents. Ahem. The hospital does amazing things for these turtles & is a highlight of our trip!

Islamorada’s Third Thursday Art Walk – On the third Thursday of every month, the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District sponsors the Third Thursday Art Walk. Local artists & musicians come out for the evening to show off their best work… which was incredible. The best part was meeting the local artists and hearing their stories (I loved talking to the retired teacher who left New York & loves that they know his name in the post office!).

Food? We did quite a bit of eating in camp (thanks to the Winn Dixie on Big Pine Key); however, our restaurant experiences were quite incredible… as always. I am not a seafood eater, but I tried the conch fritters in Key West.

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Conch Fritters on Duval Street

They were really… chewy. We enjoyed the Island Grill in Islamorada and Mangrove Mama’s  on Sugar Loaf Key (although the Island Grill was far superior to the more expensive Mangrove Mamas). Our top rated & most highly recommended eating? The No Name Pub on No Name Key.
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Always awesome. Always fun. Always delicious. The place is covered in dollar bills, one of which advertises for The Dirty Duo… just saying.
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There is so much more adventure to be found in the Florida Keys. We need more time! I’ve tried to convince Mr. Dirty to relocate, but I haven’t had much success. I think he’s scared of a little hurricane 😉

 

Five Fabulously Filthy Finds…. aka a few of Mrs. Dirty’s favorite things

Every now and then, we get lucky. I don’t mean moderately lucky, like when the red light changes and you don’t have to stop. I mean totally lucky, as in the red light being the one thing that keeps you from being in the path of a speeding auto that would definitely put a dent in your head. Maybe lucky isn’t the word… maybe it’s blessed.

I’ve been blessed many times times in my life: Jesus, meeting & marrying Mr. Dirty, the Dirty Offspring, Dirty Nana & Papa, the Dirty Siblings, and the Filthy Friends. I don’t generally speak of material items as blessings, but they totally are. I’ve been blessed with George – my favorite Subaru – and Sweet Melissa, my Scott mountain bike.

Lately, I’ve been doing quite a bit of research (read: compulsively reading)  in preparation for my upcoming hike. I’ve been lucky, or blessed, to have found some awesome products for backpacking.  These are things that I know will ease the “trail torture.” Yes, backpacking is hard work…. but it’s supposed to be fun! Right?? You’ve GOT to check these out. (FYI: not compensated or bribed in any way…just enjoying some cool stuff)

1. Merrell Proterra Vim Sport

I have went back and forth on what shoes I want to wear on my section hike this summer. I thought that I had settled on my Merrell barefoot runners. I was so  certain these were the shoes that I would wear that I wrote an entire blog post about them!!. Are they? Nope. This spring, Merrell introduced the Proterra minimalist hiking shoes for men and the Proterra Vim for women. I finally broke down and bought a pair…

Merrell Proterra Vim Sports

Merrell Proterra Vim Sports

The Proterras aren’t true barefoot shoes, but they are minimalist hikers. Difference? A barefoot shoe has a zero drop (meaning zero difference between the toe and the heel) whereas the Proterras have a 4mm drop (4mm of padding in the heel… not technical definition, but maybe easier to understand).

I’ve been wearing these pretty regularly – shopping, work, Dirty Boy’s soccer games – and they are pretty comfy for regular wear. The weather had been pretty crappy & kept us off the trails for the last few weeks. Finally, spring is here!! We took Dirty Boy and Hiking Ninja to the state park to get some hiking in… not much was accomplished after Mr. Dirty gracefully twisted his ankle and landed on his back. Ouch!

For the three and a half miles that we did get to hike, I was so pleased with the shoes. They provided more lateral stability than my pace gloves and weighed less than my Keen Targhees. I was reminded during a chilly stream crossing – when I missed the rock where my foot was supposed to go – that these are not waterproof hikers. Was it a problem? Nope. They dried out rather fast, and my feet were comfortable for all of the hike.

I went back to the state park on my own – Mr. Dirty was at work, the Dirty Boy was at the beach with Hiking Ninja, and the Dirty Girl was sleeping in – for an 8 mile hike. The Proterra’s were fabulous! No hot spots, lots of lateral support when going through the rocky part of the trail, dried quickly after stream crossings, close to the ground so that I could still feel the connectedness that I love.

Best part?? Mr. Dirty says this makes me prissy (me? Really??), but I love that they match my backpack 🙂

2. Osprey Aura (65 liter)

When you are carrying your house on your back, you want to be as comfortable as possible. An ill-fitting pack can make or break an entire trip. Any good turtle worth his weight in sea salt would tell you that it is important that your “home” move with you without being an encumbering nuisance. It needs to be a part of you…. enter: Osprey Aura.

Backpacking with the Aura at Enchanted Rock in 2008

Backpacking with the Aura at Enchanted Rock in 2008

This isn’t a new pack for me. Rather, it’s like a really good friend whose been hanging around awhile. I bought my Aura in 2008 and love her. I’ve loaded her up with about 35 pounds for backpacking trips (I no longer carry that weight) and hiked without complaints. Most of the time I feel unencumbered by the weight of the pack and can move, bend, jump, and dance (yes, dance) as naturally as without the pack. I’ve used many different packs, but this is the only one that actually feels like it is an extension of myself.

Right now, she is loaded with 26 pounds for the AT section hike. I’m comfortable with the weight – after 35 pounds, 26 feels like nothing! The weight rides on the hips, the straps are adjusted, and the hiker is ready to hike!

3. Smartwool

I grew up in North Florida; it was rare that we had a need for wool. While Mr. Dirty can cite the strengths and weaknesses of wool, I could speak to the benefits of cotton, lycra, and spandex. Don’t look at me like like that! Of course there are benefits of lycra and spandex!! It’s even better when it’s neon flavored, of course.

Neon Spandex makes you smile!

Neon Spandex makes you smile!

Anyhow!! Wool. We were talking about wool. Being a  Southern girl, I never had much need for wool. It was hot& itchy. No, thank you. Recently, Mr. Dirty turned me on to Smartwool. I don’t know how they did it (and the how really isn’t all that important, is it??), but this wool isn’t itchy.  I know it has something to do with the sheep… maybe they gave them allergy pills? Kept them well hydrated? De-bugged them?? I don’t know, but I like it!

Smart sheep make Smartwool!

Smart sheep make Smartwool!

In the interest of making this a somewhat thorough post – instead of the side tracked mess it can so quickly become – I googled it (not really. I went to the Smartwool website. I just like the word googled). Smartwool comes from merino sheep who live & work in the southern hemisphere. In the winter, these sheep need wool to keep them warm; however, they need something to keep them from scorching in the summer. Since neon lycra and spandex have yet to make it to the sheep world, their little bodies have adapted the wool to create one that keeps them warm in the winter & cool in the summer. The geniuses – they call themselves geeks – at Smartwool have created some kind of fancy blend that combines the wool with a synthetic; therefore, it doesn’t itch. Who knew we would get a science lesson today? Not me. I teach English.

After having Smartwool thrust upon me by my loving spouse, I started digging into it’s benefits, other than the itch factor: warms in winter, cools in summer, doesn’t retain odors. The odor thing did it for me. You know how after a big hiking trip you have to wash certain clothing items multiple times just to remove the stench? You don’t have that problem with Smartwool!

I’ve tested it by wearing the same pair of socks for three days. I know, I know. “That’s gross & unsanitary!” At least I didn’t test the Smartwool thong yet!! Yes, they have a thong. No, I haven’t gotten over the mental image of wool in the final frontier in order to try it. I shudder at the thought!! Anyhow. After three days, my feet still smelled like laundry soap! My poor Comrade-in-Arms (hereafter known as CIA) was subjected to me constantly sniffing my feet to see if they smelled. She, of course, thought it was hilarious when the kids asked to smell. Middle school kids…. you gotta love them. Maybe there is a reason I teach sixth grade instead of college. How many college professors sniff their socks??

Merrell Proterra Vim Sports with Smartwool socks

Merrell Proterra Vim Sports with Smartwool socks

If all Smartwool made was socks, I would be okay with it, because their socks are amazing…especially the super smart PhD minis. But the Lord sent his many blessings down to all of us in the form of a full Smartwool clothing line (remember the thong… it really exists… just not in my wardrobe). What IS in my wardrobe? I have the midweight long underwear tops & bottoms, in teal of course (these are not your daddy’s long John’s!), two short sleeve crews (of course one is pink), and more socks than I can count (remember, I teach English – not Math).

What would I add to my wardrobe if Smartwool weren’t so darn expensive? The PhD HyFi vest and the Cortina skirt. One day, I will make them mine! In all honesty, Smartwool is not cheap; however, there are some places where you can can find products at a reasonable rate: REI-Outlet, 6PM.com, Sierra Trading Post.

4. My Monkey Ball

Dirty Papa at Old People Camp

Dirty Papa at Old People Camp

According to most of the old folks at Old People Camp (love you guys!), this is technically called a monkey’s fist. Hiking Ninja doesn’t like calling it a monkey’s fist, because it reminds her of animal cruelty… like a rabbit’s foot for luck. I guess a monkey’s ball is less cruel? I love that girl. She’s awesome.

So, anyhow!! As you all know, I was having a few problems (understatement of the year!) with the hanging of the bear bag. Robsdak from BCUSA took pity on me and made me a monkey ball… in hot pink! It is much easier to toss the monkey ball over a branch than my toiletry kit. Duh, right? The heft of the monkey ball makes it easier to toss – like throwing a tiny baseball with a tail. The beauty – other than being hot pink – is that I can use it to keep Mr. Dirty in line (just kidding, Honey Bear…. LOL! I don’t really call him Honey Bear… Who does that?).

Monkey Ball courtesy of Robsdak via "BCUSA"

Monkey Ball courtesy of Robsdak via “BCUSA”

I was showing off my new monkey ball to my Sunday School teacher (doesn’t everyone do that at church?), and he was impressed with the quality of workmanship. I knew it was a beauty and well made, but having never made one before, I was unaware of how to tell a good monkey ball from a bad monkey ball. Mine? It’s one of the good ones… and it’s pink, hot pink! Now I really sound girly!

This past weekend, we met our hiking partners – Hinky DiDi & Ninja Lumberjack – at Old People Camp. While we were there, we practiced using the monkey ball to hoist the bear bag. We practiced and practiced and practiced. I know some of our crazy relatives thought we had lost our minds, but we eventually mastered it.

Mr. Dirty, aka Honey Bear - NOT! - trying to reach our bear bag

Mr. Dirty, aka Honey Bear – NOT! – trying to reach our bear bag

Monkey Ball & Bear Bag

Monkey Ball & Bear Bag

There was only one close call, but we learned our lesson. From now on, we will stand further away when pulling the string that is attached to a monkey ball which is dangling precariously over our heads! I felt sure that I was going to clock Hinky DiDi, and she thought I was trying to bean my own brains out. Luckily, no one was hurt, and we live to laugh another day.

Hiking Ninja & Dirty Boy being photo bombed by Mr. Dirty

Hiking Ninja & Dirty Boy being photo bombed by Mr. Dirty

Ninja Lumberjack & Hinky DiDi

Ninja Lumberjack & Hinky DiDi

5. Skirt Sports

I’ve never really been a girlie girl. I never liked wearing skirts and dresses. I refuse to wear heels unless it’s a formal occasion (more out of self preservation). No pink. No frills. No fake nails.

I don’t know what happened to me. All of a sudden, I have a pink striped mountain bike, pink helmet, pink pistol, pink rifle, pink range bag – complete with pink hearing protection & pink targets, pink monkey ball, pink iPod, and pink camouflage pants for the gun range! Who is this person, and why does it look like a Pepto commercial?!

Combat Barbie??

Combat Barbie??

Where did all the pink come from??

Where did all the pink come from??

Looking back, I remember distinctly reading an article during Breast Cancer Awareness month about the power of pink. (Mr. Dirty lost a beloved aunt to breast cancer. It’s a terrible disease.) The article talked about the hidden strength of women and about how they never give up. I think that article has something to do with all my new pink pretties. That combined with an arrogant young soldier at the gun range who said he was shocked that a “little lady” like me didn’t have a pink pistol, then proceeded to attempt to teach me to shoot. I don’t think he liked it much when I shot better than him nor when I offered advice on how to correct his stance.

But I digress… this is supposed to be about Skirt Sports!

I’ve recently started hiking in skirts, because the breeze is amazing! The added benefit of peeling in the woods is pretty awesome, too. If you knew me – and I mean really knew me – you would know how odd this is. My sweet friend, Susie, was shocked to read that I hike in skirts. In all the years that we’ve known each other, I’ve never worn them. Susie is a girlie girl… skirts, heels, pearls. The whole nine yards. Of course, this skirt thing would happen AFTER she moved away. Guess she’s going to have to come back to believe it….

While looking for the perfect hiking skirt, I stumbled upon Skirt Sports. The company was started by a runner, Nicole DeBoom, because she wanted to look more feminine while competing in triathlons. Just because you are enjoying a male dominated past time doesn’t mean you have to look like a boy! When Muddy Buddy & I participate in mud runs, we always wear our sequined skirts. Even dirty girls like to sparkle!!

Eeesh! I’m chasing rabbit’s again. Skirt Sport makes a hiking skirt, appropriately named Adventure Girl skirt. This skirt is what Title Nine (the company, not the law… look them both up, you’ll be glad you did) calls a Skirt With Benefits. Some people call them skorts. When I think of a skort, I see the back split like shorts with a Skirt front. Right? I like the “skirt with benefits” idea, though. After all, it’s the benefits that I’m interested in.

The Adventure Girl is made of this new fabric called S’cafe. It’s an odor resistant (you know how I love odor resistant!) fabric made from recycled coffee beans that also offers UV protection. If you get hot & sweaty, you can squeeze the sweat from the skirt like a French press & have a latte! Kidding, don’t try that unless your name is Bear Grylls.

The skirt has five pockets – three on the skirt and two on the compression shorties underneath. I’ve hiked 8 miles with my phone in the shorties pocket without really worrying about it falling out. Of course, the terrain was pretty flat. I also carry my pink Benchmade folding pocketknife in a shorties pocket.  One of the pockets is made for your iPod and has a headphone port for the cord (pretty standard feature for Skirt Sports). Check this out!

Skirt Sports has a full line of athletic clothing. I also have the Happy Girl, which I love for its longer length and pink shorties! These skirts give you the freedom to DO without feeling exposed or like a boy. I like that the compression shorts which are built into the skirt have these tiny air holes in the fabric (think lycra cheese cloth) which increases the air flow. It’s like tiny air conditioners for your booty!

By the way, like Smartwool, Skirt Sports can be pricey. You can find them at a decent price through 6pm.com, Sierra Trading Post, and Amazon.com

So there you have it. Five fabulously filthy finds. It would be nice to say, “tell them Mrs. Dirty sent you.” But who am I kidding, they wouldn’t have a clue who you were talking about!!!