Labor Day at the Lake

Silly me forgot to block this day out for Office Hour appointments. Two in the morning and one late afternoon. I figured I would salvage my Labor Day with a hike around Lake Habeeb at Rocky Gap State Park in Maryland. Good call, if I do say so myself!

After hiking around half of the lake, I stopped under the shade of an oak tree near the shore. I stretched out my big red poncho, threw my shoes carelessly over into the grass, and leaned back to look up at the sky. Temperature in the upper seventies, blue skies, puffy clouds, a few yellow leaves littered the ground around me, and frequent breezes that kept the water splashing onto the bank.

As I sat there, two Jay’s started a heated discussion, accompanied by a chorus from the crickets. A family of kayakers floated past, father and small child closer to the bank; Mom chasing a dinosaur float toy that the wind was pushing just out of her reach. After several minutes she was successful in corralling Dino and all was well! In the background, like white noise, I could hear the joyous racket of children at the beach. Ahhh, the end of summer. It was absolute bliss!

In the woods, a variety of fungi lined the path. I felt beckoned to consider that I needed to let some things “die” to make room for new growth. Still thinking on that…

The breeze picked up…was that a chill? When did that dark cloud get here? Guess it was time to move on around the rest of the lake…and pick up my own pace! Hike on!

Cacapon State Park – Ziler Loop Trail

Quick summary – A good workout and wear long pants!

We have had some delicious weather here on the east coast courtesy of the the wildfires out west. The morning I set out to meet friends at Cacapon State Park it was cool and unexpectedly pleasant for July. We met up at the Batt picnic area for an easy access to the trail. We were in luck with a port-a-potty nearby, as well! 😀

A ranger pulled up as we were organizing our packs and stopped to chat with us about the trail. He also gave us a fresh trail map (appreciated) and let us know that Cacapon now offers “glamping” up on the ridge. Good to know!

We set off in the glorious early morning fresh air! Oh, it was nice to be in the woods in the early morning! Birds greeting the day, chipmunks scrambling through dry leaves, and my feet heading uphill. Uphill for a mile and a half! It was a steep climb, with a few opportunities to stop and chat. I noticed a nice rocky area one could stop and take a sit down break…we didn’t partake, but I was thinking ahead to a possible Trail Dame hike. That rest area would come in handy for the Dames!

A good place for a break!
Finally a view!

On we go, up, up, up! Once on the ridge the walking was easy, but the trail is incredibly overgrown with grass and ferns. The grass is thin enough to see the trail for a few feet before it disappears into wild growth. We took it slow and lucky me, hiking in the front, got to scope out the brush for any lurking snakes and catch those wispy cobwebs that seem to appear out of thin air! I carried out my task and we escaped any snakes that may have been hiding out. 😀

Junction with Ziler Trail

At the junction of the Ziler trail and the Ziler Loop trail, we saw a handmade sign for a view…so we explored it. And nothing. We went left, then right, and backtracked. No view in sight. Maybe a winter view? Or maybe the trail was overgrown and we didn’t see it? I don’t know, but the blazes were not in sight, so I was done! Back on the trail!

There is a shelter along the ridge which surprised us all. It was time for second breakfast, so we all decided that this was a blessed intervention in our hike through the jungle. 😀 😀 😀 The shelter sits along what looks like a fire road. I am now curious to find out where it goes. That would be easy hiking for some of the newbie hikers in Trail Dames!

Snack time over and back on the trail we plodded through more high grass. Eventually the high grass gave way to rocks and dirt. The trail now wound steeply down the mountain. It was rocky, with an abundance of those pesky loose pebbles, making the descent a bit tricky. The trail signs were hilariously spot on. 😀

Once down the mountain, the terrain calmed down. Thank goodness…I stretched my neck and rolled my shoulders…ahhh that felt good! Along the last stretch of the loop, we passed the cabin area, saw some pretty impressive rock features, and got to walk on some “Wobbly Bridges” (seriously, they were called Wobbly Bridge #1, #2, etc 😀 ). As we neared the parking area, one of my hiking pals said, “yep, it’s time to get my trail legs back!” Amen to that! 😀 Hike On!

Savage River State Forest – Red Trail

I woke this morning too early and ready to call it a day after feeding the fur kids. The sun’s rays came in the window, warming my back, prompting me to decide that after several days of dark, cool, rainy days I was ready for blue skies and a dose of Vitamin D. I wasn’t super eager to hike alone as I still feel the western Maryland trails are much wilder than the trails closer to Frederick (or the Appalachian Trail), especially the ones in the state forests. I sat, thoughtful, over a second cup of coffee. Should I just go to the lake?

Answer was a definitive no. I was ready for an adventure, a new place, and I was not disappointed!

I chose to head to the Savage River State Forest after reading some trusty reviews on AllTrails. A plus was that the trail head was not too far away. Thirty minutes! Just a friendly piece of advice here…do not drive all the way up to the Savage River Lodge as trusty Alltrails says to do. I found “no parking” signs everywhere up by the lodge, so, I backtracked down to the public parking area by the bridge. Room for probably eight cars in this lot…maybe more if everyone didn’t drive a big-ass truck. 😀 At least I wasn’t pulling off into a sketchy spot on the side of the road with thigh-high grass!

Parking Lot

The trail was not hard to locate as it crosses to the side of the lot. Passed the “Bear Aware” sign, which, by the way, always makes me second guess myself when I am hiking alone…especially in the Spring and in the morning! Actually, my thought process is something like “Sh**, should I stop now and come back with friends?…how likely is it that I will see a bear? F***, what if it is a momma bear and cubs??? Yeah, I should turn around…” F*** it, I took a breath and marched on…dang bears always run first. The meadow crossing was a wet one with early morning dew heavy on each blade of grass. Each step I took was a carefully planned movement and I succeeded in leaving the meadow with almost dry shoes. 🙂 The trail dipped into a Hemlock forest hugging the river. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!! The River wasn’t very big, more like a glorified creek, but it was beautiful. The birds were lively, filling up the morning with their songs. And the colors! Oh my…quite the sensory explosion! The sky was indeed blue, and wildflowers bright yellow, the grass and leaves a vibrant green, and the water was crystal clear as it cascaded away.

The trail had a few erosion issues by the river which could’ve been a real pain in the butt if it had been any wetter this morning. Steep ups had steps that had slid out of place. Thankful I had my po…OH for the love of God…

Can you see me…?
Can you see me now? Holy crap, startled the bejeezus out of me.

After passing that little friend, there were no more thoughts about turning around and going home. I had no intention of having to pass him again! Anyway, what I was saying was I was thankful I had my poles because the ups and downs with the erosion was a tricky affair! Whew…please let there be no more snake surprises!

The snakes stayed away. I did get snorted at by an impatient deer, but that didn’t bother me (too much). By the time I had reached the summit of Mt. Aetna (no view) I had let go of the fear that I was going to spook a rattle snake or a bear. 😀 This is a gorgeous area! Passed a few nice camping spots, so, when I got home I looked up camping in this area…the website doesn’t say you can’t, but the Mt. Aetna area is privately owned, which would mean a big NO. But, I can’t figure out if the camp sites I found are on private land or public state forest land. I would love to backpack in and camp here!

The route taken had some lovely trail with long stints in the Hemlocks…which are always delightful! Not much sun under the Hemlocks (Vitamin D remains deficient 🙂 ). In addition, it was still pretty cool with temps hovering in the lower 50s, but all my worries evaporated with each step…thank you, Mother Nature! Hike on!

We’ll Meet in the Middle (cross that Ole PA line)

I now live close enough to Pittsburgh to meet up with my nephew, Izzy, for get togethers! and so that is just what I did! He started driving my way and I started driving his…we met in the middle at Ohiopyle State Park!

Ohiopyle is about seven miles off of Route 40 West in Pennsylvania. One could build an entire vacation around this park…go camping, rafting, hiking, biking on the GAP trail that runs from Cumberland, Maryland to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, see lots of waterfalls, and even visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater! OH…and I didn’t even mention the cute town with many fun shops!

Izzy and I met up to hike and journal. It was a great day for that with warm, but not hot temperatures, a steady breeze, and sunshine! First things first…bathrooms! Yes, they were open in the Visitor Center! Score for us!

We snapped a really bad pic at the Visitor Center (which was immediately deleted from my phone once I became aware of just how bad it was) then headed to the north end of town to pick up the GAP Trail. We took a much better pic along the way. 😀 We had a small goal…walk down the GAP Trail, skirt down the west side of the river on the Gorge Trail, stop for food and journaling at Cucumber Falls, then return to the cars along the Meadow Run trail. If time we were going to also check out the natural water slides. Maybe 4-ish miles. Lots of time to lollygag the day away!

Thank goodness because lollygag we did! There were so many wildflowers blooming along the Gorge Trail that we were literally stopping every few minutes to take it all in! I have never seen such a wide variety of wildflowers. Gorgeous! Thank you, Mother Earth! Well done!

When we finally made it around to Cucumber Falls we were ready to sit, eat, and journal. A nice couple of rocks awaited us away from the mob collected up near the falls. Damp sandy soil surrounded our rocks. Putting my rain poncho on the ground in front of me, I kicked off my shoes and got comfy. I brought out my journal, my colored pencils, and let myself drift off into…that place. That place we all go when we stare up into the trees or up into the night sky or waves crashing onto a beach…yes, that place.

Izzy and I talked about ancestors and ancestral healing…yeah, we were in it to win it today let me tell you! 😀 We shared weird dreams we had experienced, thoughts on all kinds of topics that I don’t really talk much about to anyone else! 😀 😀 😀 When he pulled out his little tarot cards…I was like “Yeah, pass them over”. 😀

There is always someone in the family that you click with on a different level than everyone else in your family. Izzy is that person for me. He says whatever is on his mind, holds no judgement whatsoever, and is able to converse on anything that comes up. Oh, and he has a Master’s in Geology and was able to school me on all the cool limestone formations along our hike.

Here is to family! Here is to vaccinations that allow me to see family again! Here is to family who live relatively close! Here is to family who will come hike with me!

Grab someone you haven’t hung out with since pre-COVID and Hike On!

Saturday Stroll at Little Orleans

A stunning morning for a walk down along the Potomac River near Little Orleans, Maryland. This was a chilly morning and I almost talked myself out of a walk before I even finished my cup of coffee. Then I saw a friend’s post about how excited they were to be headed out to see the bluebells…well, that encouraged me to get up and get out!

My route around the horn this morning…about 5 miles.

This is a nice 5-mile loop…well, it’s not exactly a loop. That shape requires a more descriptive name…..hmmm, how about Pelican Bill loop? or Butterfly Catcher loop? 🙂

I pulled into the Western Maryland Rail Trail lot across from the Little Orleans camp store at about 8:30 am. Not a soul around except folks in the campground. Nice! I started down the smooth paved rail trail towards the canal. It was surprising that no bikes were out this morning. Oh well, better for me! The rail trail curved to the right and through a small tunnel before ending, rather abruptly, at the beginning of an old trestle that spanned the river. Okay…how do I get down to the canal??? Backtracked to the road crossing, which was the most likely suspect, and looked downhill. A PATC sign greeted me…so I went that way. 😀

That was a good guess and after a small, but muddy, stream crossing I was on the canal path! Lovely stretch of the canal!

I am not a huge fan of walking for a long time on the canal path as it is hard on my feet. Today, was no exception in that regard, BUT there was enough Springtime popping action around me that I was distracted by the absolute beauty of it all!

The redbuds were every where! You can see one in the pic from the little tunnel above. I passed many along my route. They really lit up the forest!

Oh, and then the big hit…Bluebells! I wait for them every spring, calculating when and where to go to see them. They seemed to be at peak bloom! I was over the moon to see them in bunches lining the canal and carpeting the river bank! One of my favorites!

A Bluebell jamboree!

Skirting around the horn of this hike, I passed the 15-Mile Creek Campground. This is a decent sized campground and right on the river. Spring and Fall are probably the best time for camping here. I imagine the bugs in the summer would be pretty unbearable! But hey, if you like the summer river life, go for it! 🙂 There is a boat ramp and with the towpath and rail trail it gives everyone something to enjoy!

I headed down the canal towards the old Indigo train tunnel. As I approached the opening a rush of cool air gave me the chills. I had momentary vision of a scene from one of the Harry Potter movies when Harry’s cousin, Dudley, is attacked by the Dementors in a tunnel near their house. 😀 😀 Okay, maybe not quite that dramatic! 😀 The tunnel is closed off, but it is still a neat side trip to look through the bars towards the light at the end of the tunnel!

And without any discussion on this…I am closing out this post with a cheesy t-shirt slogan…”The light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train!” 😀 Hike on!

Neighborhood Greenspace Jackpot

I must have won some kind of karma lottery because I have hit the jackpot of all neighborhoods! This little neighborhood gave me all the feels when I first drove into it with its mid-mod ranch and split levels. Brady bunch much? Literally, I was in love! I gazed out my car window at the azaleas, mountain laurel, and TREES with such longing that I knew this was it for me.

I have started to explore the neighborhood on foot now that I have depleted my savings by buying a livable ranch fixer built in 1962. And let me tell you…every neighborhood deserves greenspace like this. Every single person deserves to be able to walk out their door and into the woods.

We started the walk right behind my house and followed a well worn path up to the old water tower. Then we cut down to Sunset Drive, hung a right, and walked to the dead end, where the pavement ends and the adventure begins! Interestingly, this trail is on AllTrails…I guess you would have to park at either Bishop Walsh School or maybe Allegany High School to access the trail. Allegany HS is pretty new and was built on the grounds of the old Sacred Heart Hospital. This neighborhood was where many of the doctors that worked at the hospital lived back in the day. I believe the old hospital closed in 2009.

Looking back at the gate we passed through at the end of Sunset.

Moving on past the gate, we followed a dirt road to the very end of the Haystack Mountain ridge. This took us up to the western side of The Narrows, a deep gorge in Cumberland through which old highway 40, the train tracks, and Will’s Creek traverses.

Looking towards Corriganville, Maryland and Pennsylvania
Looking towards “Lover’s Leap” across the Cumberland Narrows

This is a lovely neighborhood! It is sad that at the moment I am tied to my computer by work and cannot take this walk every day! But the end of the semester is near!! Hike On!

Walking among Hemlocks at New Germany SP

Being a newly minted homeowner in western Maryland has had me hopping the last few weeks. Painting, cleaning, get the boiler serviced, have the roof checked, then the chimney…and by the way, how about a washing machine break down? Oh, does anyone have availability to refinish wood floors BEFORE October???

Left it all behind today! Headed west on I-68 to New Germany State Park, which is now only 30 minutes away from me!!! This park is in Garrett County, Maryland and is a beautiful oasis of Hemlock trees. Cathedral – like actually!

Enter the magical forest, follow whatever path calls to you…they are all leading to ultimate zen! 😀

Stopping at the ranger station first, I was disappointed to find it closed. Dang pandemic. The last time I was here it was for a Trail Dame campout…and Ranger McDreamy was on shift that afternoon. Maybe I was hoping he was going to be here to greet me??? 😀 😀 😀

Sadly, no such luck. I continued down to the Savage Forest kiosk and picked up every single map and brochure for later reading as I eat a pizza that I am absolutely getting after this hike! Shoved them into the compartment on the driver’s side door then pushed on to the park proper and found an empty parking lot next to the Hemlock Trail. Perfect, Let’s go!

The Hemlock Trail is roughly a mile of beautiful forest. I followed it down to the Turnpike Trail…I can only guess the history of this trail is that it was a road…but I couldn’t find any info to support that from my trusty research assistant, Google, not to be confused with my hiking gal pal, Google. ANYWAY…it was easy to walk and pleasant as it runs just to the left of a lively brook that bubbled away as I made my way towards the Dynamite Shack Loop!

I cannot think, write, or say the word dynamite without thinking of JJ Walker saying DY-NO-MIIITTTEEE! 😀 That was a great show!

Little forest streams are so full of magic!
Fancy meeting you here! It seems you have lost your head!

The Dynamite Shack Loop started with Hemlocks, but included a very sunny long climb as it pulled away from the creek. I am not even going to try to pretend I am in shape at this moment in time…it sucked!!! I took a few breathers and enjoyed the blue sky and a few spring flowers. Once at the top there was a little extra credit loop that went a little further uphill. I cannot believe I took it! I was worried there might be a view I might miss! (update: there wasn’t)

Back on the main trail, it was now down, down, down, but gently and back into the Hemlocks. Ahhhhh, just as I visualized sitting down for lunch I turn a corner and there was a bench! What???!!! When does that ever happen?

I took that bench!

After a lunch of Peanut Butter & Jelly plus leftover blue tortilla chips, I packed up my wandering thoughts and headed downhill once again, now on the Dog Leg Loop…omg, these trail names! 😀 I could have cut over to the easier Turnpike Trail, but no, didn’t do it. This is go big or go home time! I stayed on the Dog Leg until it merged with the Acorn Loop (fyi, I saw no Acorns). That trail eventually merged with the Turnpike Trail, which took me to the Lake and the end of my hike.

I still had to walk down the road to my car, but it wasn’t too bad in terms of traffic. The day was still just as gorgeous as could be as I walked up towards the Lakehouse. Several folks were out fishing, a few rangers were clearing out the garden, and a family sat on the beach soaking up the sun. *happy sigh*

No Ranger McDreamy, I guess I will have to eat my disappointment. Now, where did I put the number for the pizza place? Hey Google… Hike On!

Back on the Trail with the Dames!

Being the organizer of Trail Dames isn’t all fun and games! 😀 During the pandemic, I needed to reduce the number of Dames per hike to 5 (6 tops if we had two hike leaders attending). This was not always supported by all Dames and I heard my fair share of complaints! However, most of the Dames were supportive of the measures taken to ensure the safety of all.

The Dames are picking back up now that vaccinations are increasing! Starting in May, we will increase to 8 Dames per hike, then by the time the hot days roll around, depending on health metrics, we may go back to allowing 10 per hike (our usual). And…shameless plug…if you are a woman OR know a woman in Maryland who wants to get outdoors and hike with a bunch of supportive women, then go to https://traildames.com/Maryland.html to find out more!

Last weekend I led the Dames on a hike around the lake at Rocky Gap State Park. It started rather briskly with temperatures in the freezing range. Of course, our hike started on the shady side of the lake and I quickly made the choice to don my gloves as the cool breeze was turning my fingers into icy pops!

The trail looked like it had been mushy, mucky mud the day before. It was frozen hard for us and we were thankful as our feet stayed dry. The walking was tricky through all the frozen potholes, though! No mind, we were distracted by morning song of the Red-wing Blackbird and the perfect reflection on the lake of a flock of honking geese coming in for a landing. We spotted a Killdeer and Osprey as we continued our path around the lake.

It was turning out to be a beautiful early spring day! Blue skies that make one stop and gaze at the sky, sun rays that warm ever so gently, and the company of a wonderful group of women!

We took a sit down break at the Canyon Overlook. This spot is back among the evergreens. *inhale* Ahhhh…the smell of a coniferous forest! The rocks were still cold, the air was fresh, and my peanut butter and jelly sandwich tasted fantastic! Once we sit down in the forest to eat, it feels like a field trip to me. Like a second grade adventure…and I love that!! 😀

Walking around lakes are deceiving! It always looks shorter than it really is…so many little coves to walk around. The sun was with us on the northwest side of the lake. Evidence of spring was starting to show … little tiny sprouts of green, a small yellow flower hiding in last fall’s leaves, and spring peepers! A welcome sound in these parts!!

Queen V was along for this adventure, which means there is going to be some kind of shenanigan! This time was no different and she had the Dames pose with a Turtle Crossing sign. Completely appropriate for this group of trail crawlers! 😀 So, so glad to be back on the trail with these women!! Hike on!

Trail Dames of Maryland!

COVID’s Unintentional Realignment

Over the last year, I went through the stages of COVID like many folks I know (and maybe you too). It started with disbelief at the situation before us, then anger that life had been taken out of our control. After the anger subsided, I began to bargain with life…like okay, I won’t hike at the popular spots, but I am still going to hike…then just plain old acceptance that hiking in the Frederick area was a disaster of overcrowding by weekend hikers trying to escape. And acceptance that life had changed.

Two teachers in a small house. My classroom was a bedroom upstairs. My partner’s classroom downstairs in the Dining room. Outside our window, the Dairy Maid employees smoked and cursed and played loud music. Semi trucks barreled down our street shaking the house, their roar obscuring my voice as I attempted to explain College Algebra to students over Zoom. In the beginning, I could laugh it off. It was an adventure in teaching! After a year of the same it wore on me. It also wore on my ability to remain positive. I stopped talking. My partner took up the slack, but I was okay with silence.

We started to take long drives to escape. Normally, we would head to Virginia…Shenandoah National Park specifically. Now we couldn’t … the crowds were insane. So we took I-68 into western Maryland one weekend. That turned into two, and then three, then I lost count. We started talking about buying a house to get away from Frederick. Then one weekend in November, we drove through a beautiful neighborhood, grabbed each other’s hand, and jumped.

I have been living here in western Maryland for less than two weeks, but this is such a good place and will be an amazing place once I make it mine! Now that my animals are more comfortable in the house I have started to venture out to explore! It has been a beautiful week in the mid-Atlantic with mild temperatures and sunny skies. So, before March decides to throw a snowstorm at me…

I took a nice walk along the C&O Canal this week. I started at Spring Gap and walked west toward Cumberland. Interesting history through here and I look forward to learning more about the canal in this area. There are the remains of a Pump House on this stretch which, back in the day, would maintain the level of the water in the canal.

The pump house of yesteryear
Pump house today

I also found a few signs of spring, but I had to look really hard!! A few budlets on what I really, really hope is a rasberry bush and some on a small tree, as well. Oh! and I heard a Spring Peeper!!!

Canal House

Today, I headed over to the lake at Rocky Gap State Park. A needed diversion after priming the walls in my dining room (thank goodness I do not paint for a living). I walked along an old road, then around part of the lake. I had no big ambitions, but wanted to be in nature for at least an hour. It was gorgeous!

The old road
Tree spirit can’t be held back! 😄
Lake Habeeb

Post-COVID is bringing a new normal to my life. I look out my back window and see mountains! I would have never imagined one year ago that this is where I would be … but I am ever so glad for the unintentional consequences of COVID! Onward to new adventures – Hike on!

Another Try with Trail Runners

Trail runners…I keep wanting them to work for me. So far, all of my attempts at wearing trail runners have ended up in falling down, blisters at the ankle, and plantar fasciitis flare-ups. To be fair, I have a lot of boot drama as well, but have found that Salomon Quest hiking boots to be a win for my feet.

So, why try again? For one, I would like to find a nice alternative to hot waterproof boots in the summer months. In addition, trail runners are lighter than hiking boots.

When backpacking, my camp shoes are an old pair of Altra Superiors and they are perfect comfy shoes for after hiking all day and they double as nice stream crossing shoes since they dry quickly. I did not intend for the Superiors to be reserved for camp only…originally purchasing them to be used for regular hiking. However, one 5-mile loop at Sugarloaf Mountain had my plantar fasciitis flaring up like nobody’s business! Trail runner dream squashed! 😀

The old Superiors, though, have enough positive features that I recently started looking at Altra’s again. I found a new Altra design that looked promising, the Olympus 4. These were not carried in my local REI store, so I ordered online…didn’t fit…returned and reordered…didn’t fit…returned and reordered 😀 😀 😀 ding, ding, ding…a winner at size 9.5 ( 1 full size larger than my boot size). I wore them around town a few times. Felt great!

Yesterday I took them out for a trail test. I headed down to a local trail at Monocacy National Battlefield Worthington Farm. This trail has a good hill with rocks, a steeper decline, and some muddy areas down by the Monocacy river. A good intro trail for a test.

The Olympus 4 did a good job! My skinny ankles stayed put, my heels were cushioned nicely when walking over rocks, and in general, it was a successful first run! Even better than the shoes, I was given a show by three cool birds, a Carolina Wren, Belted Kingfisher, and a Yellow Bellied Sapsucker! And to cap off my hike, the moo cows came trotting across the field to say hi!

I do love cows!

The next trail I take the Altras out on will be longer, steeper, and rockier. I am not sold yet…but I am optimistic that I may have found a trail runner contender! Hike on!