Alone time, About time!

Don’t get me the wrong way, I love being a volunteer organizer and a hike leader for the Maryland Trail Dames.  As part of that commitment, I spend hours scouring maps, reading about trails, researching everything from water sources to nearest hospitals.  In addition, I recruit and train new hike leaders for our group.  I throw myself into it and occasionally forget that I also need to hike for me!

Today was my day.  I had a few hours so I headed to Catoctin Mountain Park near Thurmont, Maryland.  This being an impromptu sojourn, I threw a box of saltines, tub of hummus, and a bag of skittles in my bag and called it lunch.  I also doused myself with bug spray.  Ticks, bugs, just steer clear, okay?

Due to limited time, I decided to start at the visitor center, then hike to the falls and back, about 3.2 rolling miles.  The woods welcomed me with shady coolness, spongy moist trail, and a lively bubbling brook. Ahhh yeah, this was gonna be awesome!

Deep breath, yes, that mulchy goodness smell! This is where it’s at.  I love all you Dames, but this is the bomb! No prepping, no checking, no being a leader.  Just me and the trail…and JEEEEEEEEZUSSSS, WTF IS THAT?

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This is NOT what you want to see when you are alone in the forest…ha…haha…*gulp*

*furtive look around to make sure the guilty party is not lurking around*

I continued on, trying to un-see what I saw, just as you are trying to do right now.  But you keep looking back at it don’t you?…DON’T YOU???  I mean, you just don’t see that everyday.  Thankfully.

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The rest of the hike was beautiful.  Birdsong filled the air… possibly extra happy to be alive today. 😀 Oh, and I got to the falls before anyone else was there! I had them to myself for a whole 10 minutes before the throng of dogs, kids, moms, dads, young loves, and tourists got there.

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I sat down and broke open my crackers and hummus, by myself, in the woods.  So good.  Hike on!

 

 

Breaking Out of the February Funk!

Even though February is the shortest month, it certainly seems to last forever. As I wait for the daffodils to arrive, however, a gift arrived! A gift only Mother Nature could give to us winter weary Marylanders.  (seriously, our winter has been incredibly mild except for that outburst of sheer crazy a few weeks ago, so I don’t really know why it feels like we need to rush on to Spring …but it does!!)  Anyway, a gift! A weekend that tempted us with delightfully spring like weather.  The birds were singing, the ice was melting, rivers flooding, and I ran for the hills.

I jumped the gun a bit and headed out on Friday when the weather only hinted at warmth that would not come until Saturday.  The smell of fresh mud permeated my nostrils as soon as Sidekick Pauli and I exited the car at Worthington Farm, part of Monocacy National Battlefield.  However, heading up Brooks Hill we found snow and ice.  Not enough for traction devices on my boots, but enough to require picking our way along at a snail’s pace until we got about half way up the hill.  Then the trail was dry!

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View of Baker Valley from Brooks Hill

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Bottom of the Hill…Again with the snow!

Of course, we again encountered the tricky stuff on the way down, but the day was just gorgeous.  You know when the breezes are not quite as chilling and almost feel warm?  That is how it was!  We would be chilly, then rounding a bend in the trail meet with a warmish puff of air.  Very exciting!  After coming down Brooks Hill, we rounded Ford’s Loop by the Monocacy river.  Super gooey, suck your boots off muddy!  The river had just recently receded into its proper banks and left debris and mud on the trail.  A sure sign of Spring!!!

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Sidekick Pauli surveying the flood plain

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Still high water! Sidekick Pauli was not pleased…this is where her beach usually is!

So that was fun.  Saturday came the real delight though! 65 degrees!!!!!! Wazooo!  Oh my gawd, let’s all go hiking!!!  I had errands in the morning, so I set off for Cunningham Falls State Park at about 2:30 pm.  Parking my car at the Catoctin Furnace on the east side of route 15, Sidekick Pauli and I followed the Catoctin Furnace Trail through the woods and over the pedestrian bridge to pick up the Catoctin Trail up to Bob’s Hill overlook.

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Glad I didn’t have to cross Little Hunting Creek today!

This is not a long hike, but a steep one!  After crossing the pedestrian bridge follow the creek to the Catoctin Trail.  It is a right turn up the hill and steep right from the get go!  The trail was slushy, but not terribly difficult to maneuver.  The trail gives hikers nice breaks between the steep sections, leveling out for awhile where one can meander along as if no effort was needed at all to climb to such a height.  Then, of course, just as you get comfortable, the trail heads back up again!

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This was the perfect place to hike on this Spring preview day!  I only saw a handful of other hikers (and I bet Shenandoah NP was packed!)

But was I done with this weekend???? NOOOOOOOO! Even though it rained off and on come Sunday, I was not going to stay inside.  Okay, well, I was…but then as I came out of Joanne’s Fabrics down on 40, I glanced at the mountains. Their summits were so beautifully draped in fog that I could not resist!  I turned down 40 headed for Gambrill State Park hoping to walk through the woods with the mist swirling about me.

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CCC Memorial in Gambrill State Park

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I was ecstatic, just magical.

What an absolute wonderful gift this weekend has been. Almost March! Hike on!

A Round Trip Ticket from Catoctin Furnace to Bob’s Hill Overlook

This has been an amazing Autumn day.  It started with bright sun and temps in the sixties…a perfect day to climb Bob’s Hill in Cunningham Falls State Park.  This was my first time up to Bob’s Hill, although I am familiar with the area having climbed to Cat Rock, Chimney Rocks, and other high points in the Catoctin range.

Filling the bladder with water and tucking a couple of sandwiches, in addition to some cheese for Sidekick Pauli, into the pack, I realized it would not be so easy to slip out of the house with only one dog in tow!  Little Caesar helped me placate the other canines with a plan that had us walking all three dogs around the block, then quickly leading two, who were not going, back into the house, while Sidekick Pauli got into the back of the car! It worked!

If you are headed to Bob’s Hill, then I would suggest parking at Catoctin Furnace.  It is free to park at the furnace, and it is a pretty interesting site to look around.  The Ironmaster’s house, which is in ruins, is well worth a look see.

The Ironmaster's house ruins

The Ironmaster’s house ruins

Head up the short hill from the parking lot to pick up the trail that will lead to the Manor area of Cunningham Falls State Park.  This is a short trail, about 1/4 mile, but has some interesting features such at the Bowstring Arch bridge.  This beautiful, historic bridge takes you across Little Hunting Creek as you head toward the elevated bridge crossing Route 15 (pretty much a super highway!).

There are several hiking trails in the Cunningham Falls SP/Catoctin Mountain Park area. A great map of the trails is provided by the National Park Service.

Once across Route 15, Sidekick Pauli and I took a little break at the creek.  The sun was breaking through golden leaves making the water sparkle as it spilled over the rocks.  Sidekick Pauli couldn’t resist stepping into the cool stream as she bent to take a drink.  After trying the water in several spots, finding them all absolutely delightful, she turned to me with a big smile on her face!  Ready to go, Papa? Oh yes, ready to go!

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We walked along the creek looking for the blue blazes that mark the Catoctin Trail.  We found it without too much difficulty and headed to the right and up the hill.  I was surprised and pleased to find that I did not need to stop to catch my breath on the way up to Bob’s Hill overlook.  A few times I stopped briefly to take in the fall splendor and listen to the wind as it roared up from the valley.  The wind was ferocious at times, pushing the trees aside allowing me a glimpse of crystal blue sky.  Ahhhhh!

All the way up to the overlook we were alone! It was wonderful!

We checked out the overlook to the right first.  Then we backtracked and headed to the overlook on the other side.  I don’t know which I liked better!  We sat down to eat our snack at the second overlook.

It was one of those moments that you want to stay in forever.  The gusting wind caused several leaves to let loose and fly.  The sunlight made the color of the leaves sparkle as they were carried by the wind off the mountain and down into the hollow.  I felt all at once like I was part of the mountain.  I let the wind push against me and instead of turning away from it, I looked up into it, feeling it make my eyes tear up and sting my cheeks.  I took a deep breath as it blew, the freshness of it filling me up.  I did a sideways glance to check on Pauli and found she too had her nose turned up to greet the wind!  It was just one of those moments.

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Leaving the overlook several minutes later we continued toward Cat Rock.  I had no plans to visit Cat Rock today, but I wasn’t ready to turn around and head back to the car yet.  Plus, we were now on the ridge which was easy walking!

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Easy walking means I was able to just let my thoughts wander.  I thought about life, work, hiking, dogs, cats, … then something popped into my head that made me pause.  A woman said to me the other day that she wasn’t a strong hiker because she was so slow.  It bothered me.  It bothered me because strong is not the same as fast.  I consider myself a strong hiker, but I hike at a steady 2 mph pace in the mountains.  I have been hiking for a long time, have confidence in my abilities, and know when I should challenge myself and when I should turn back.  But I am not fast.

I thought about this because I was thinking this hike up Bob’s Hill is a moderate hike.  I think anyone could do it.  When I say anyone could do it, I mean, anyone could do it in a time that is right for them.

I want to yell passionately at that woman to stop berating herself.  I wanted to tell her, “If you run out of breath…stop and breathe! Look around the woods; enjoy the moment!  Take your time and love that you are on the mountain! This is your life!”

Hike on!!!!