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! πŸ˜€

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??? πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

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! πŸ˜€ 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! πŸ˜€ 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! πŸ˜€ 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!! πŸ˜€

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! πŸ˜€ 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! πŸ˜„
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! πŸ˜€

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 πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ 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!

2021 In Search of Fresh Dirt

Good day all!

My last blog post was written in June. I lost all motivation for pleasure writing this year or I was just exhausted or both. I am a teacher at a community college and every waking minute was spent tracking down students, creating virtual content, and just trying to keep my head above water. Hiking is my antidepressant and an antidepressant needs to be taken regularly, like any prescribed medicine. Hiking became sporadic in 2020 and that hit me hard. In addition, I was teaching in front of a computer, not walking around a classroom, so even that little bit of exercise was squashed. 2020 was a shit year…let’s move on. πŸ˜€

This year, even though still living with the pandemic, I hope to explore more of western Maryland. I am also setting a schedule for updating the Girl Gone Hiking Blog. I like to write…not particularly adept at it…but I like it and that is enough. It is enough for any of us, actually. If you like to draw, or sing, or do math, or walk, or do whatever, then please, for all our sake’s, DO IT! If 2020 has shown us anything it is that life is always shorter than expected and reality is crafted by each of us. So, make art, sing loudly, calculate away…and as always, Hike on!

AT – VA: James River VA501 to Long Mtn Wayside VA60

Well…this was a post COVID shutdown shock to my system! πŸ˜€

After driving down for a little over three hours from Frederick, MD, and another two hours placing cars, we hit the trail while the hot afternoon sun beat down on us. The parking lot at VA501 was easy to find and I was happy to exit the hot pavement and enter the just as hot, but at least shady, woods!

Day 1 we hiked in to the Johns Hollow Shelter. Blessed with a fine running stream, I took a good amount of time refreshing myself before cooking dinner. The shelter is in a delightful location with several almost level places to put a tent. Except, of course, for the place I put mine! But I was exhausted and fell asleep quickly.

View from my slanty tentsite

As usual, I awoke a few hours later after darkness had closed in on the forest. Since morning would not wait for certain things, I finally, after debating for at least 20 minutes, had to commit to getting out of my tent.

Okay, okay…I’m up, I’m out…oh, wow, it is really, really dark.

I made my way across to the privy and happened to look up. There was a perfect crescent moon shining down. It was framed by the upper most branches and leaves of several trees…perfectly timed…well done Mother Nature!

Once back in my tent, I could not fall back to sleep and tossed, turned, and created a ton of noise from my sleeping pad which has not become less noisy with wear FYI. Finally getting into a somewhat decent position I started to doze off. It must have been early…like 2 am…a yip, then a yowl, then a whole orchestrated sonata sung by a local coyote group. Beautiful!

The view from the creek

I know you will find this surprising, but I did not wake up refreshed and ready for a 9 mile day.

Day 2 was an up, up, up day. We climbed about 2000 feet up. It was our first climb and we got up while the sun was still low in the sky and breezes were frequent. With proper breaks here and there we made it to the top without any terrible memories burning in my memory. A beautiful view awaited us!

About halfway up the mountain there was a payoff!

We stopped at Salt Log Gap for a sit-down break. I got just two things to say…1. Someone said there was a spring. If that is true it is so far downhill that you’d be nuts to go looking for it. 2. Careful of the stinging nettles, but if you do get swiped try hand sanitizer on it. That worked wonders on the areas where I was attacked!

The second mountain of the day…ugh. Bluff Mountain is no bluff! The trail went up the sunny side of the mountain and it was a hot afternoon sun. Several thousand breaks later we rounded a corner to find the memorial for Ottie Cline Powell, an almost 5-year old boy who wandered away from his school in November 1890, got lost, then died on Bluff Mountain. His remains were found by a hunter in April 1891. This choked me up and I cannot get this kid out of my head even now. Poor, poor baby. 😦

Summit of Bluff Mountain

I was so glad to get to the Punchbowl Shelter. Such a pretty sight with a pond filled with chatty bullfrogs. πŸ™‚ I went about setting up my tent, minding my own business, when the black flies descended. Oh my gawd, this was awful. Like on level with chiggers awful. I got so many bites. 😦 Bug spray didn’t phase those little suckers one bit. I capped off Day 2 with three ibuprofen and a benadryl.

I am loving my new tent…Big Agnus Tiger Wall UL2. The pond is in the background.

We TRIED to get out earlier on day 3 so we were done hiking earlier due to the heat. A group of five…we did try! And maybe we were out a little earlier??? Anyway, the day’s elevation looked decent and I was optimistically promoting a day that would allow our fired up muscles a day to recover somewhat. Hahahaaaaa πŸ˜€

Love this! A boost in the middle of hot exhausting day

The elevation wasn’t bad in comparison, but it still managed to get at me. The heat and humidity was suffocating and I could smell rain. Picking up speed around the Lynchburg Reservoir, yessss! This was good, this was easy!

Rounded a corner…Oh for Christ’s sake. What horse of the Apocalypse are we on now?

A monumental disaster of epic proportions lay before us. A tangle of huge blowdowns over a ravine. Every woman for herself! I decided to crawl under and through it dragging my pack behind me. It worked!

Feeling superior, I temporarily forgot that this was a miserable hike and plodded on down the trail happily the victor. πŸ˜€ There was even an congratulatory creek with rushing cool water about a mile after. Huzzah!

The day got long again and my feet were screaming with every step once we reached the bridge across Brown Mountain Creek near the shelter. I wasn’t the only one having physical turmoil and we were glad to be done for the day.

Brown Mountain Creek

The Brown Mountain Creek area is fabulously wild and gorgeous. In the early 1900s, a community of African American sharecroppers lived here. I looked and found evidence of homes long since abandoned. I am surprised and disappointed that there is no roadside history sign about this community at VA60. I went Googling for information once I got home and found “Brown Mountain Creek – Before the AT”.

I settled in for the night, best sleep on the whole trip under a big old oak tree. I had some quite disturbing lucid dreams about little Ottie. I woke up suddenly during one of those dreams to a lightning bug blinking his light as he passed my tent…a good sign. I got up and looked out ….ohhhhhhh…*sharp inhale*…the lightning bugs! I was mesmerized, and after the dreams I had, a little emotional.

The last day was a short hike out to VA60. Sitting in my tent, early in the morning, while the lightning bugs were still blinking, I wrote:

I am humbled by these mountains. Blisters on my heels burn with every step. Black fly bites have formed hard spherical mounds that itch like the dickens. Stinging nettles brushed my legs with a touch that was anything but gentle. My COVID shutdown body is tired and demoralized. Another day my mountains.”

Now healing, beer in hand, and looking forward to another day…Hike on!

Hiking Haiku Monday

In the spirit of writing bad poetry, I give you my Hiking Haiku…and this may become a regular Monday thing while we are under “stay at home” orders due to COVID-19.Β  I urge you to also write bad poetry and a hoky haiku or two!Β  Hike on!

Step gently into

Trees, Sky, Grass, a winding pathΒ 

Up the hill, come with!

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Rain, rain, come my way…

…I’ll go a’hiking with no one in my way! πŸ™‚

COVID-19 continues, so my hiking strategy of hitting the trails at the most opportune times for solitude goes forward with full force!

I got out this week to a local mountain park while it was raining and foggy.Β  No thunderstorms, so I was extremely pleased to don my wet weather gear and head out.Β  The parking lot was empty save for some super motivated trail runner…well, I don’t how motivated he was, because he was leaving when I pulled up.Β  Could be that he got to the trail, was put off by the rain, and left.Β  Don’t know, don’t care πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€Β  I was going hiking!

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The dim foggy woods elicited magic on this morning.Β  Birdsong penetrated the soft drip-drop of rain with a flute-like symphony of unimaginable clarity and tone.Β  Enraptured, I was drawn into the forest and down the trail.Β  Water cascaded forth from springs and bounded down and across my path. I inhaled deeply and let out a contented sigh.

Hello Fiddle Fern family! I see you too, May apples!Β  Oh, hey there, Dogwood!

The mountains are waking up! No one was on the trail this morning except me and I was glad of it.

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Days like these…enchanting, bewitching, and gratifying!

Hike on!

A Little Walk Here, A Little Walk There

I live in a wonderful place with a lot of close by opportunities to get out for a short walk now and then.Β  I am not pushing my COVID-19 boundaries…rather not get into trouble with the Hoganmeister…Governor Hogan…or get anyone sick or get sick myself.

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Spring awakes

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Social Distancing

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All alone at Chimney Rocks

However, I know how to pick place and time for solitude on the trail.Β  That is one of the benefits to being a regular hiker, I know where the secret places are and/or the times when everyone else stays home.

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Only one in the Gorge at Rocky Gap

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Solo lunch by the Lake

Occasionally, I have taken Sidekick Pauli and she is loving it!Β  She is going to be 13 on May 10, is covered with lumps, and is graying around her muzzle, but she still enjoys a mile or so on a trail. πŸ™‚Β  Especially when wildflowers are beginning to bloom!Β  We took this micro jaunt along the C&O Canal in western Maryland…not a soul in sight.

I am fortunate to have outdoor resources so near to my house.Β  I can get there and back without stopping for gas, to go to the bathroom, or anything else.Β  Added benefit is that I am reconnecting with solo hiking.Β  I definitely miss hiking with my Trail Dames right now, but once this is all over, we will hike again.

In between the outdoor jaunts I am on lock down with almost everyone else.Β  I am a teacher and the show must go on…but it has not been an easy transition to online instruction for me or my college students.Β  I am sure it has been an interesting transition for you as well.

If you are a healthcare worker, a bus driver, a grocery store employee, or any other occupation deemed essential…I salute and thank you.Β  You all are getting all the rest of us though this pandemic and your sacrifice is immeasurable.

Be safe and Hike on responsibly!

A Material Girl in a Virtual World

I am not adapting to quarantine well! Are you?Β  I am luckier than most as I have a stable job of math professor at a community college.Β  Although, this last week, which has lasted about four months, has kicked my butt…physically and emotionally.Β  I teach students who struggle with math.Β  I teach these students in a face to face setting and forcing them into a situation that they are not even remotely prepared for is…well, a gamble.Β  I am dealing with this new virtual reality…but I need my real material world more than ever.

I hope to get out on a lesser trafficked trail this weekend.Β  I want to sit in the forest.Β  I want to smell the moist soil and new shoots of grass pushing up through the mulchy forest floor.Β  I want to touch the moss covered boulders and lean against a huge tree, close my eyes, and just be.Β  I need my material world.Β  Β I need to see and hear and touch and sense all things wild and free.Β  Hike on…but exercise caution.Β  Be well my hiking friends!