I can smell summer from here!

I am in the last week of my semester, both at my own community college where I teach math, and at my grad school where I am working on  second masters (for promotion…and the learning…).  Four days, peeps, FOUR DAYS!

I am ready for a break and am patiently crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s until Friday when I can officially close out this semester. It’s soooooo close I can barely stand it! 

My days have been filled with math, math, math, along with brief intermissions by the great outdoors.  No time for a big post today. Just want to share some pics of recent hiking adventures! 

Ahhh summer, I see you coming and I am all set…hike on!

C&O Canal near Shepherdstown, WV

Me (BoobOnARock) & BearSpray at Bob’s Hill overlook

Leading a TD Hike – Crossing Burnside Bridge at Antietam National Battlefield

Me (BoobOnARock) &Sidekick Pauli at Monocacy National Battlefield

Lunch spot at Sky Meadows SP

Leading a TD Hike on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland (between Pogo campground and Wolfsville road)

AT – VA Gravel Springs Gap to Compton Gap

Did you opt outside for Black Friday?  I headed down to Shenandoah National Park to complete a section of AT with my friend Lola and her daughter.

Slipping out of my house sans Sidekick Pauli always takes a bit of logistical brilliance…so boots and pack were stowed in the car the night before.  I absolutely avoided looking directly at her as I grabbed a grocery bag of food and headed out the door!  No worries for the dog…she will go out with me on Saturday somewhere. 🙂

The ranger at the north entrance reminded me the gate would close at 5 pm.  No problem, I will be long gone by then! You know unless tragedy occurs, which it won’t, but if it does, hmmm…nope, no tragedy today, period.  I made my sacrifice to the Trail Gods on Wednesday.

What timing!  I pulled into Compton Gap glancing into my rearview…and there was Lola right behind.  Excellent!  And it was now 50 degrees out.  Yay! Weather cooperating. We left my car at Compton Gap, then drove down to our starting point at Gravel Springs Gap in Lola’s minivan.

Now the passenger, I took the opportunity to scan the woods for wildlife (okay, bears) without having to watch the road.  I was pretty happy searching the woods until Lola and daughter saw a bobcat right off the road and I missed it! Ergh! The bobcat disappeared before I could see it.  Life lesson here…don’t go looking so far beyond that you miss what is right in front of you!

Took about 10-15 minutes to reach Gravel Springs Gap and I think the weather had chilled a bit.  However, I warmed up quickly as I headed up South Marshall Mountain, but not enough to shed a layer just yet.  I was just starting to look for a place to break when a great overlook presented itself.  Just off the trail, no extra effort required, thankfully!

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BoobOnARock atop South Marshall Mountain feelin’ like a boss! 😀

Next up…North Marshall Mountain.  The climb up went quickly and again, we were rewarded with an amazing view back to South Marshall.  I love it when I can look back at where I have hiked as it is such a feeling of accomplishment!

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Looking back at South Marshall Mountain from the overlook on North Marshall. Better than getting a ribbon!

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Coming down North Marshall

The first two climbs of the day had not been as difficult as I had anticipated.  The mist hovered and dipped down as we crossed over both South and North Marshall.  The scent of late fall hung in the air and recent wind storms had littered the path with deep piles of leaves. *crunch, crunch, crunch*  I felt like a kid again kicking in the leaves that came up past the top of my boots. I was brought sharply back to the present when I slipped a little on a rock beneath the leaves!  The humility…let me NOT be the sacrifice to the Trail Gods today, thanks. 🙂  —the gate closes at 5 pm— haha!

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Descending to Jenkins Gap. When the kid is caught just staring up into the sky, you know the hike is a win. I found myself doing the same many times. Beautiful day!

Reaching Jenkins Gap, it was time for the final climb up to Compton’s Peak , whew!  I stopped a few times to catch my breath!  Do mountains ever really get easier?  I am familiar with this stretch of AT though.  Once we passed the campsite on the left, I knew we were almost to the cut off to the view.  This is a view you have to work for…and even though the trail post says 0.2 miles, it feels like more.  Not a difficult walk down, just rocky, and when you are at the end of your hike, well…tempting to just pass it altogether.  But don’t, worth the extra walk!

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This pic I took of Lola on Compton Peak encapsulates the feeling of the entire hike.

We had the whole park to ourselves for most of the hike, or so it seemed.  Descending to my car at Compton Gap, we now shared the trail with many others who had decided to take a hike on Black Friday.  Welcome, and good-bye! Hike On!

AT – VA Ashby Gap to Manassas Gap

Connecting dots.  I started this section last year around the same time, then fell trying to dodge a cicada killer bee.  Cracked my knee, hobbled back to my car, and promised myself I would be back!  Luckily, this time around I had some hiking pals with me, so no out and back silliness!

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Look at the size of this tree that came down! Wow!

We met at the 725 trail head at Manassas Gap, then shuttled back to Ashby Gap to begin our trek.  After crossing Route 50, we came face to face with a young deer.  Go back in the woods, Bambi! Route 50 is a split highway with high speed traffic…no place for a deer!

The first mile or so, after meeting up with Bambi, was climbing.  Worth it! We came out in the high meadows of Sky Meadows State Park which were in full bloom.  Lovely!

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The High Meadow

We cruised along through Sky Meadows, taking our first sit down break at the intersection of the North Ridge trail.  And then, guess what???  An older Virginia gentleman, who had come up the North Ridge trail, recited a poem for us.  Always something interesting happening along the AT.  Haha! So cool! Definitely made my day! 🙂 I inserted a link to a video of his performance. 🙂

Poem on the Appalachian Trail

This hike had two memorable pieces for me and that was one of them.  The other was the visit to Dick’s Dome shelter,  a geodesic dome.  It looked like an Icosahedron to me…yep, math girl here! I was delighted by the equilateral triangles and just being in the dome. 🙂 🙂

IF I could somehow manage to spend a sabbatical researching mathematics along the AT…well, I’d be all set! Hike on!

 

In the Meadows High and Low

Sky Meadows is such a lovely state park in Virginia.  This park was a choice I made without a lot of thinking about it.  The weather was forecasted to turn cooler and I was in need of a walk alone…well, with Sidekick Pauli, but without other humans.  A total introvert retreat!

I parked away from the main parking lot.  Partly because I really didn’t want to see a lot of people yet, but partly because I needed to put my boots on, get my pack together, then get Pauli.  A bit easier without being in a tight parking lot.  So, I pulled right towards the picnic area just after paying my entrance fee at the gate.  No one was in this little lot yet!

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I hadn’t parked here before and found it to be a great spot with easy access to the Hadow Trail.  We took this trail around the lower meadow.  What a glorious morning! The wildflowers were thick along each side of the trail and throughout the woods.  Goldenrod, thistle, and other beauties whose names elude me waved gently in the breeze making the background of blue skies pop as if I were looking at them through polarized lenses.  And the scent of Autumn wafted by occasionally making me burst with happiness!  The change in seasons is coming!

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When the Hadow Trail intersected with the Boston Mill Road, we turned left to pick up the South Ridge Trail.  Well, I could tell it was still summer as the sun rose higher in the sky and we did the same.  Whew, broke a sweat!  Sidekick Pauli needed two water breaks before we made the ridgeline by taking the North Ridge Trail up the final ascent to the AT.

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Once on the ridge it was just bliss.  The breezes picked up and even felt slightly chilly! We left the AT to swing around through the upper meadow to the Paris overlook.  I didn’t want to come down the mountain.  It was so lovely looking down on the surrounding countryside with my feet propped up and mind wandering.  Sidekick Pauli took up residence under the picnic table, coming out only for cheese.

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It was here, my bliss bubble started to spring a leak.  This was September 11.  I had intermittently thought about that day on my way up the mountain.  Here at the top, my mind finally settled on those memories.  I didn’t lose anyone that day, thankfully.  But the day was awful and scary.  My son was 7 years old, so in a rare unification between his dad and me, we decided no media was the best media.  He knew what had happened before I picked him up from school, but as a 7 year old, he only knew so much.  He was scared too.  We lived in Bethesda, Maryland at the time, and the planes flew very low over the house all day.  My son would panic if we went upstairs because he was afraid the planes would fly into our house.  So unless we needed the bathroom, we stayed downstairs.  One of my sisters lived in New York, and of course, no way to know…but we figured she was fine…I mean, we reasoned, what would she be doing near the WTC anyway?  Another sister, who was a foreign service officer, was doing language training in Arlington.  She hitched her way back into Maryland, along with thousands of others.

It is a day I will never forget. The internet has made way too many images from that day too easily accessible.  I cannot un-see some of those images.  I can’t imagine the horror that first responders encountered.  I don’t want to even think about it.  So many people, in a flash, gone.

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I once heard that one should not mourn the dead, but instead mourn the living.  Wait, that may have come from a Harry Potter book…no matter.

A rather big wind, that blew my pack off the table, brought me out of my dark trip down memory lane.  I packed up and we hiked down the mountain.  I felt sad and I felt happy, a strange way to be.  But as long as I am gifted with this life I intend on living.  Hike on.

Beat the Heat at Little Bennett Regional Park

Can Mother Nature cool her jets?  Everyday brings a new level of heat disgust!  My last hike was two weeks ago and we were chased back to our cars by a thunderstorm.  Since then it has just been oppressive.  I know it’s summer, yada, yada, yada…keep your logic to yourself!

I needed to get out, but also needed motivation.  This is where being a hike leader with Trail Dames is so, so, personally satisfying.  I scheduled an early morning hike at Little Bennett Regional Park in Maryland.  And six other crazy women signed up…so at 6:20 AM I pulled into the Hyattstown Mill trail head parking lot in Hyattstown just across the street from the fire department.  It was already a steamy 80 degrees, but otherwise a gorgeous morning that had surprised me with an amazing sunrise on the way down from Frederick.

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From the Hyattstown Mill Trail Head Parking…with a colorful filter. 🙂 Cute little town.

As soon as everyone arrived, some still trying to wake up, we started down the road to pick up the trail.  The trail used to be the old Hyattstown Road that went from Hyattstown to Clarksburg and it still resembles a road.  Wide and paved with gravel it was an easy walk to the cut off for the Bennett Ridge trail.

There was a 10k going on in the park this morning.  As such we navigated past water stations, yellow tape marking off trails, and eventually the runners.  They had their work cut out for them on this muggy morning!

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Along the old Hyattstown Road

We followed the Bennett Ridge trail to the campground (pitstop), then backtracked to Beaver Valley.  We headed downhill and encountered a bubble of runners from the 10k coming up.  Oh! They looked a little whipped, but were in good spirits as they scuttled up the hill.

 

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A 10k runner in beautiful Little Bennett

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Another runner in the 10k. How can I not love this park? So lovely!

Beaver Valley winds around to the Western Piedmont trail, which we took back in the direction of Hyattstown.  This is also part of the old road, so we were on flat, wide terrain again for a while.  As we approached the section of trail where Pine Grove trail comes in, runners were exclaiming that they were getting stung.  We slowly walked forward.  I watched the next runner carefully, trying to spot the bees.  Runner yelled, another win for the bees.  I saw the bees and following their track I spotted the hive.

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Look closely above runner’s head…the HIVE! Yep, this guy also got stung. It was just easy pickins for the bees.

Holy moly! A huge hornet operation just above the heads of the poor defenseless runners!  I looked around and decided this was a time when it was perfectly okay to go off trail.  I led the women who chose to follow off, up, and around the nest…no stings.  Hooray!

A few women had decided to take their chances and stay on trail…sucked for them, stung!

The final piece of adventure for this trail was wading across Little Bennett.  I chose the deepest part, because, well, it was hot, and I mean seriously, if I’m taking the time to put on water shoes, then dang it, it better be worth it!! And it was! The water came up to the bottom of my shorts and felt so cold and ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

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A good cool off!

Long before the daily heat advisory went into effect, we were back at the cars and ready to head home for showers.

I looked forward to coffee and chilling out in the AC… Hike on!

 

 

An Hour in Hautia

Yay! It’s visit Logan day! I rolled into Terre Haute at 9:00 am, right on schedule.  Rang the bell at the house…no answer. Rang again…still no answer. Sent text and made myself comfortable at the table set up on the porch.  My son isn’t a morning person particularly,  but he texted back in about 10 minutes. 

“Working on life, be with you shortly”

Eye roll and slight grin, I went back to searching for somewhere we could take a walk. Fowler Park looked like it might be nice and was not far away.

In a relatively short time we were headed south on US41 towards Fowler Park.

Entering the park,  I headed around the lake to the parking lot nearest to the Pioneer Village.  Two fawns watched us curiously as we got out of the car, then bounded further back into the woods, leaving us to explore.  

The Pioneer Village is so cool! I would have loved it if there had been a living history exhibit today!

This park has a great campground, as well.  I made a note since it would be a great overnight spot when I visit my son. Very clean facilities and the campsites are beautifully situated along the lake. 

We walked around the lake, and noticed a few trails headed into the woods.  I am staying out of the woods until the chigger bites and poison ivy I picked up last weekend have completely healed! 

Taking the asphalt trails for now! Hike On!

First Solo Backpack – Adventure Hiking Trial, oops, I mean Trail!

The Adventure Hiking Trail provided me with some unique challenges during my first solo backpack this weekend.  I couldn’t anticipate all of what was in front of me, but I did research the trail as extensively as possible.  It is a 22 mile loop around O’Bannon Woods State Park.  A big shout to Ron White of the Ohio Valley Backpackers for the heads up on the trail head parking, recommendations for water caches, and some other general stuff!  The Hoosier Hiker Council website was a great resource as well with links to a few good maps of the trail.

I had never hiked a trail where I had to cache water and was a little nervous that my cache would disappear before I got to it!  Didn’t happen, my water was waiting for me!

This trail is in southern Indiana, which has a Karst topography.  This topography includes highly soluble rocks such as limestone.  There are many underground drainage opportunities, in addition to caves and sinkholes (of which I saw several).  The water just doesn’t hang around on top, so all the creek beds are dry.  Oh you might find a small pool here and there, but not nearly enough to keep one hydrated.  Thus the water cache.

Friday night I checked into the Forest Office, then stashed water at two trail crossings, the crossing on Cold Friday Road and the one on Old Forest Road.  Driving down Cold Friday Road was an adventure unto itself! Gravel, rutted in spots, and with one place where the road fords the creek (must happen only in a big storm because it was just a low bridge when I went over).  As I placed my gallon of water, with my name and date of pickup labeled clearly, a rumble of thunder sent a chill up my spine.  Okay, good enough, behind a tree…now for cache number two!  Old Forest Road was a regular paved road. What a relief!  I pulled off the road, thunder and clouds rolling, threw my gallon up in the woods and ran for it!  I swear, I love and I hate thunderstorms and it all depends on where I am when they hit.

Anyway, water cached successfully so I headed back to Corydon, Indiana where I had a room at the historic Kintner House Inn.  No hiker trash hotel for me!  The woman who owns place is super accommodating and I recommend it to anyone coming to this part of the country.

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The Joe Zimmerman Room at the Kintner House Inn.

They made me a special early breakfast so I could get to the trail early.  It was a decent day for the middle of summer, mid-80s, low humidity, and no storms!  My car parked at the 462/Old Forest Road lot (space for maybe 3 creatively parked vehicles), I did a last minute check of gear, then headed in a counter-clockwise (west) direction headed for the Ohio River Shelter.

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Test #1: Do you like spiders?  Or rather do you like spider webs…in your face, in your hair, draping from your nose and your cheeks to your ears and your chin to your chest?  I looked like a freaking drum major marching down the trail raising first one hiking pole and then the other in  quick succession in order to catch as many of the webs as possible before they hit my face once again.  Every once in a while, I’d get lulled in a false sense of security, then WHOP, right in the face, spider on my eyeglasses, ugh.  After about the billionth spider web, I gave up.  I just started to plow right through them, with my lips tightly pressed together.  NOTE TO SELF: Buy a hat with a brim and put mosquito netting over it.

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My hiking poles were used as weapons of mass destruction. Sorry to the Spider Subdivision.

Test #2: Do you like wet feet?  My feet were wet from dew in about 30 minutes of starting my hike and they didn’t dry out all day.

Test #3 Do you like to bushwhack?  Because if you don’t, then stay off the trails in southern Indiana in the summer.  All those winter pictures of the Adventure Trail that I found online…yeah, totally get it now.  In general, I backpack at an average pace of 2 mph.  It took me 5 hours to go 5.5 miles!!! Holy moly! When I reached the Iron Bridge, I sat down to have lunch just shaking my head.  Was the rest of the trail going to be like this?  Bushwhacking takes a lot out of you!  On the positive side, the trail is extremely well marked!  After I would fight through another bunch of overgrown grasses, briars, and young tulip poplars I was immediately rewarded with a trail marking.  The emotional gratification of that trail marking cannot be overstated here!

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A lesser bushwhack that greeted me just after starting the trail.

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A more substantial bushwhack…do you see a trail…THAT’S BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ONE (or so you think)!  This was on day 2 between Homestead and Indian Creek Shelters.

The trail improved after the Iron Bridge, so I was able to make faster forward progress, which put my head back in the right place.  I followed a nice wide fire road from the Iron Bridge up to the Horseman’s campground.  This was a planned water stop for me.  While at the campground, I also took the opportunity to wash the spider webs out of my bandannas and clean my glasses which had so many webs crisscrossing them it was hard to see! Felt like a new woman!

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The rest of the trail to the Ohio River Shelter was lovely.  Well marked, well maintained. I reached my destination at 3:30pm.  Shortly, afterwards, two guys came in from the other direction and we had a fun conversation about what we each had experienced thus far.  They were out for a long day hike.  In fact, I had just passed their water cache, which they had put in a tote bag, and chained to a tree…omg!  I told them, “I was wondering about that bag and thought, wow, there must be something pretty special in that bag.  I might have just found a use for my pocket knife…”  They were good guys!  Terrible, I can’t remember their names now…I’ll just call them the Evansville crew.

The Evansville crew gave me some good info on the trail ahead.  There is more bushwhacking and the last two miles (their first two miles) was like my first 5.5.  They also said, “There will be a place where you literally can’t see which way to go.  Go straight ahead. It won’t look like it, but go straight ahead” I gave them my map and they pointed approximately where they thought that place was located. God, I felt like I was in Hunger Games.

The Ohio River Shelter is a popular spot.  I was visited by a bunch of trail riders, a fellow backpacker from Indianapolis who I continued to leapfrog with all weekend, and a nice family who were taking their kids on their first campout.  I tented, Adorable Family got the shelter, and I was totally okay with that!  The shelters along the Adventure Trail are nice, but too closed in for my liking.  They seem dark and dank.  I preferred my tent.

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Please don’t let that horse poo by my tent!!!

It was a beautiful first night out, with a bright moon shining down on me.

The next morning I was up and on the trail before anyone in the Adorable Family was stirring.  It was going to be very hot today and I was hoping I could finish hiking at about 2 pm.  First stop was Cold Friday Road to get my first water cache.  Yay! There it was, waiting for me!  I filled up my 3-liter bladder and 1.5 liter bottle, then drank what was left.

While I was there, my Indianapolis buddy came by.  This is when I found out he had not cached water.  He had a filter and thought he would be able to get water on the trail….oh, buddy.  He started up the next hill and I followed after smashing the now empty gallon jug and attaching to my pack.  I caught up with him again, sitting on a slab of limestone in the middle of an almost dry creek.  He had found a small pool at which to filter water.  Thank goodness!  I continued on up to the Homestead Shelter for a lunch break.

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Homestead Shelter, great tent sites here! Also, a little history behind this site…original chimney!

Indianapolis buddy passed me while I was munching away.  However, it wasn’t long before I caught up to him again.  Honestly, I was kinda worried about him.  He definitely was not drinking enough water, but I didn’t have any extra to offer him, but would have given him some if he had asked.  The bushwhacking had come back full force today and it was freaking hot, like 95 degrees.

We hiked together then until we reached the Indian Creek Shelter, my stopping point.  I know my limits…and heat is one of them.  The bushwhacking was a trial for me and for Indianapolis buddy.

Ohhh…I forgot Test #4!

Test #4 Do you like climbing over blowdowns?  If so, then you would love this trail!  I lost count at 50.

It was nice to have to someone to share the bushwhacking and blow down hopping experiences with, for sure.  I mean, here I am, in the middle of bushes that are taller than me, and I have to decide what to do when I don’t immediately see a blaze.  It’s unnerving.  I had to backtrack at one point to regroup and think it through.  God, and it was so hot! I was so glad to stop hiking that day! Poor Indianapolis had to hike out…5 miles and less than a liter of water.

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Very little tent area at Indian Creek Shelter, but I managed!

I took a look inside the shelter, immediately saw spiders.  I sat down at the picnic table, immediately had a teeny little tick crawling up my leg.  What is this place?????!!!!!  Ummm…I think I’ll tent again.  When I rolled up my tent the next morning, ants everywhere…I knocked off as many as I could…the rest have met with an unfortunate demise within the folds of Big Agnus.

Officially ready to end my first solo backpack, I headed down the trail immediately meeting my first blow down of the day.  Despite the blow downs, this section from Indian Creek Shelter to Old Forest Road is definitely the prettiest section I hiked.

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Gorgeous morning view!

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Last Bushwhack!

There was more bushwhacking, and it took a while to get to the road, but it wasn’t as bad as day 1 or 2.  I had my last water cache at the road.  However, when I exited the woods the weather had taken a turn.  Thunderstorm was on the way!  The wind picked up and I left my cache and took off down the road to my car (1.5 miles away).  Walking as fast as I could, I watched the clouds blacken and start swirling around.  Thunderstorms in Indiana, oh god, yeah, great, a fitting end.

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Angry clouds!!!

Test #5 Do you like hiking in Thunderstorms?  Me either.  After I passed a field of cows, I started looking for houses.  The sky was seriously black now and really scary.  I pulled in to a house and knocked on the door.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to Carol K. for going out of her way and giving me a ride back to my car.  Whew! That was a close one!

This trail tested me and I rose to the occasion, but I am paying an itchy price.  Chiggers, poison ivy, ticks…and despite my using copious amounts of bug spray, my waistline is covered with red welts where I plucked off one little bugger (could have been a tick, could have been a chigger).

So while I dab on another layer of Calamine and pop another Benadryl…Hike On!