Where there’s fire, there’s smoke. A *lot* of smoke.

This week it was time for my second backpacking trip, another 2-night 3-day adventure.

Did you miss the first one? It had a regrettable ending, but hey, the photos were great!

Despite knowing that Western Washington would be congested with wildfire smoke during our outing, and that it would worsen each day, we opted to go anyway, knowing that if we waited for the perfect circumstances, we’d miss our window entirely. In only two more weeks, we’ve got to head back to Texas for our usual autumn round of visits.

We were hoping that we’d have cleaner air and better visibility once we got some elevation beneath us in the Mount Adams Wilderness, but as you’ll see below, that was not the case.

Mount Adams is right there. Get yourself about halfway between Portland and Seattle, then head east.

Day 1: Orange path from A to B
Day 2: Pink path from B to a point just west of The Hump, then back up to C
Day 3: Green path from C to A
Total mileage: 28.5

Point A: Killen Creek Trailhead, which we found after winding our way over a ridiculous number of bumpy forest service roads. The road that provided the most direct route was closed for construction, so we had to take a very elaborate detour.

The 12,280-foot peak of Mount Adams is right behind us, I swear.
The trail we were on was at about 6,000 feet, so it should have been imposingly visible.
Damn wildfire smoke.

Oh, there it is!
The air cleared just enough for a shadowy glimpse on our first evening.
The following two days? Not so much.

Campsite #1

Sunrise through the smoke, on Day 2

We filter our drinking and cooking water from clear, running streams.
Remember this for comparison.

This is a rushing river of glacial run-off, and you can see that it’s full of dirt particles and who knows what-all else that makes it murky. We could filter it and drink it if we had to, but… ew.

And after the river, an immense boulder field.
Wow, Mother Nature.

Evidence of death; evidence of new life

A hiking hippie chick showed me that wild blueberries were growing right next to the trail.
I ate about a dozen, and they were the blueberriest blueberries I’ve ever tasted!
Also? I have a feeling that hiking hippie chick could have shown me many other things I’ve never tried.

At the end of Day 2, I needed a rinse.
(OK, what I really needed was a hot bath with lots and lots of soap.)
This was yet another creek full of glacial runoff, but truth be told it was cleaner than I was, so I gave myself a quick splash-n-suds to the most offensive bits, and called it good enough.

And then I hung my clothes up to get some fresh air, convincing myself that the pines loved this chance to feel like Christmas trees.

A tale of two river crossings:
On Day 2, heading south, I crossed slowly, but upright until the very end, when I had to lean forward and brace myself with my hands for a few steps.
On Day 3, heading back northward, I lost my mojo. I knew I had to get across. I also knew that my confidence in my ability to maintain my balance was low.
So I got low.
And Tim — the only person around who could have helped me if I’d gone in the drink — made sure there was evidence. My hero.

We met this guy, trail name “Lost,” on Day 2. He’d been hiking the Pacific Crest Trail northbound since the end of March, from its start at the CA-Mexico border.
And he’d had enough of walking in smoke, which has been horrible for PCT hikers this season, ruining their views and clogging their lungs from northern California, all the way through Oregon and Washington. That’s about 1500 trail miles of misery, y’all.
In fact, parts of the trail have been closed, including the final stretch to the northern terminus.
We encountered many dejected northbound thru-hikers, trudging onward, knowing they will likely not be able to complete their journey the way they’d hoped.
“Lost” — who has also thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and Camino de Santiago — was looking for a way to get off the trail and re-evaluate his options.
We told him we’d be heading back toward civilization the next day, and would happily give him a lift if he wanted to meet us at the trailhead where we’d parked the BFT.
He took us up on the offer, and even beat us to the parking lot the next morning!
And that’s when we learned that he’s also an Army veteran, wounded twice in combat (legs shattered by a suicide bomber; shot in the head) and medically retired after 10 years of service. #Hero
We know he’ll be just fine, and we’ll be following his Instagram just to make sure.

That would have been a perfect place to close… but then I rediscovered this hilarious evidence of my own hiking history.

Come with me back to 1979, for a rainy hike along the C&O canal with my Girl Scout troop in Frostburg, MD. My mom thought to take before and after photos, and look at my face.

The quality of my outdoor gear and attire has definitely changed for the better, but I still make that hopeful “Off we go” face when we set off, and the “Poor, pitiful me” one after a long or stressful venture.

Ah, the 1970’s.
That track suit was pure polyester, the canteen made whatever was in it taste like metal, and let’s not even speculate about my backpack and shoes. I’ve got way better gear now!

Coming up next: We’re relocating to the Olympic Peninsula today, and we hope to squeeze in one more (less smoky) backpacking trip in Olympic National Park before we point our nose back to Texas.


Descriptions of our other two Washington backpacking adventures:

A virgin no longer: Emily’s first backpacking trip

I really didn’t think I’d ever do it.

Day hikes? Yes, please.

But… carrying all that extra stuff on my back and cuh-cuh-cuh-camping out? Overnight? With no shower at the end of a long hiking day? And having to… you know… in the woods?

I don’t think so.

Say hello to our backwoods poop kit.
1. Dig a hole at least 6″ deep. (That’s dirt on the trowel, y’all. Just dirt.)
2. Poop in it.
3. Use TP/wipes as needed.
4. Bury the human waste and biodegradable paper products.
5. Bag any non-biodegradable paper waste and carry it out.
6. Use hand sanitizer.

Backpacking has always been Tim’s thing. He’s been sending himself on long-distance walkabouts almost every year since he retired from the Navy in 2013, starting with a 3-month trip on the Pacific Crest Trail. He’s also done the entire John Muir Trail, parts of the Appalachian Trail, and a Grand Canyon down-n-up, among others.

I’ve always been the support person for these adventures, providing drop-offs and pick-ups at trail heads, mailing supply packages, and taking care of all the other things that need to happen when one’s spouse is temporarily living off the grid.

What made me change my mind? A combination of three things.

  1. Being in Washington for an extended period of time, with access to fantastic trails in both the Cascades and Olympics, during prime hiking season;
  2. Realizing that other than a proper pack for me, we had enough gear & supplies needed to outfit both of us safely; and
  3. Reminding myself yet again that life is short, so maybe I should fix my pony tail, set my squeamies aside, and find out what I’ve been missing.

    This.
    This would be one of the things I’d been missing.

So we bought me a big-girl pack, and we planned our first excursion: 3 days, 2 nights, about 27 trail miles.

Come along with us. The easy way.

Day 1:

We started there at the red pin, Tipsoo Lake, on August 6.
Thought you might like to see a map that shows where we were in relation to someplace you might recognize. Like Seattle.

Day 1 (orange): Parked at Tipsoo Lake (A) and camped for the night at Sheep Lake (B)
Day 2 (pink): Pacific Crest Trail to camp at Basin Lake (C)
Day 3 (green): Basin Lake alllll the way back to our Point A
Mileage by map: 23.4
Mileage by tracking app: 29.1.
Average of the two: 26.2 (Can I count this as my first marathon?)

Our home for the first night: Sheep Lake
Popular place.
We were definitely not alone. Lots of other campers, due to the fairly easy 2-mile hike from a main road.

We arrived mid-afternoon, and refilled our water containers from the stream that feeds the lake.
This is my “dirty bag” for collecting water, which I then filtered into…

This!
Delicious, cold, fresh and safe

That stream made for a good tootsie soak too, but only for a few seconds at a time. Icy!

One-pot dinner, served in…

… multi-use cup.
After a few minutes standing in hot water, that formerly dehydrated chicken breast looked and tasted like… dry chicken.

Home sweet tent.
It’s model name is Hubba Hubba, and we have made all the jokes.

Zipped in and ready for bed, yes, while it was still light out.
That 40-degree rated mummy bag? Nope. I got cold, even wearing jammies, and temps probably hovered around the mid-50’s.
We have since replaced it with a warmer bag.

Let’s start Day 2:

The best part of waking up is not exactly instant coffee in your cup (which is also used to hold your oatmeal, sports drink, rehydrated dinner, etc.), but it’ll do for the short term.

We trekked northward…

… and Mount Rainier watched over us.

That which we worship protects us …

… but we can’t always protect that which we worship.
This was our first evidence of recent forest fires.

Our first view of our home for Night 2: Basin Lake
We arrived at about 2:30 p.m., and had the entire basin to ourselves. There may or may not have been afternoon skinny dipping, and we didn’t even encounter anyone coming in as we climbed out the next morning!

Home sweet tent, this time with the rain fly added for warmth.
I missed seeing the stars through our roof, but I slept far more comfortably than I had the night before.

OK, put your boots & pack back on, and pick up your poles for Day 3:

We found our way through this haunting scenery.
Following the trail was difficult, with fallen trees and ash obscuring the route in places.

Found later on a live, still standing tree: one very old trail marker!

I took this screen cap at what might have been the highest elevation point on our trip.
Based on topographical maps, we probably hit about 6500.

Wanna watch how slowly I hike? Sometimes I cover a whopping 2 miles per hour. Oh, and you can probably tell I didn’t know Tim was taking video. Derp.

We made it back to our RV park by late afternoon for long, hot showers.
Look at my dirty pants!
And herein lies a shopping lesson.
These are boys’ REI brand mountaineering pants, priced at $39.95.
Comparable pants in women’s sizes started at $64.50.
The boys’ version fit me perfectly, and my psychological barrier to purchasing clothing marked XL instead of S was completely obliterated by my excitement over the money I’d saved!

And then we went out for a big, calorie-laden, non-dehydrated dinner, and I ordered a wild boar sandwich for the express purpose of being able to post, “I was so hungry, I ate a boar.”
And that is when karma made its move against my sense of hubris.
The boar attacked within about an hour, and I spent the next 2 days battling and recovering from food poisoning. That sandwich was the one and only item I took in that day that Tim didn’t, so we’re sure it’s the culprit.
Message received.
And no boar for me again, ever. Even pork is gonna be an issue for a while.

The illness was unfortunate, and I wish — really wish — it hadn’t happened, but it did not ruin backpacking for me.
I’m ready for more of this.


Descriptions of our other two Washington backpacking adventures:

Disclaimer: No compensation was received from any brands or entities named above, nor does our mention of them constitute an endorsement. Links are provided for information and convenience only.

3 True Trail Tales from Our Trip to Trail Town USA

1st Tale: Tim & Greg Spend 7 Days Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Tim and Greg: Day 1, Minute 1

Tim and Greg: Day 1, Minute 2
Things got colder, wetter, dirtier, more strenuous, and a whole lot stinkier after that.

This tale gets top billing because it’s the reason we returned to this area (I’ve linked to posts from our 2015 visit below). We wanted a location with easy trail access, that was also within a day’s drive from our next stop, which is just south of Nashville, TN, and from Greg’s hometown, which is Norfolk, VA.

Hello, Damascus, VA, halfway point and trail town extraordinaire!

From VisitDamascus.org: Damascus is traversed by the Appalachian Trail, the Virginia Creeper Trail, the Trans-America National Bicycle Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail, the Crooked Road Musical Heritage Trail, Virginia’s Birding and Wildlife Trail, and lies within a short distance of hundreds of miles of other hiking, horse, and biking trails.

That red line is the Appalachian Trail. The boys hiked sections in this area, between Roan Mountain, TN, near the lower left, and Troutdale, VA, near the upper right.
(map source)

Since I didn’t go (other than accompanying them on a quick 2.5 miles in, then back out to the car after a gear replacement delivery on Day 2), I’ll let Tim finish up the tale with his stats and photos.

  • We hiked 76.7 miles, tracked using Greg’s GPS watch.
  • Our highest point was Mount Rogers at 5,728’.
  • Experienced grassy highlands and dense humid forests.
  • Our longest day was 16.9 miles; our shortest was 6.6 miles.
  • Night-time temps were in the 40’s; day-time probably 60’s.
  • We saw four thru-hikers. All were working hikes known as flip-flops or MOBOs, where they started somewhere in the middle and hiked north to the Maine end, then reset to where they started and hiked to the southern end in Georgia. They had roughly 400 miles of their 2,180+ mile journey remaining.
  • Met a father/son team (both named Tim!) at the summit of Mount Rogers. They’d just completed their 21st “Highest point in a state” hike, and were planning to do all 50.
  • One deer
  • Many wild ponies
  • Several longhorns (not the UT kind, like our younger son)
  • Zero actual bears, but we saw some pretty fresh scat and heard/saw a tree being worked over nearby, in addition to the honey-grabbing evidence below
  • No raccoons (remember this for later)

Random summit view 1

Random summit view 2

Laurel Fork Falls
A couple of thru-hikers said it was in the top two of the best things they’d seen on the entire Appalachian Trail.

What can I say? I have a thing for log cabins.

A freshly dug hole, probably by a bear going after honey in the hive.
Unfortunately the bees don’t show up in the picture, and we did not see Winnie-the-Pooh.

2nd Tale: Emily Does 6 Miles, and Gives Her Boots the Boot

While they were out, I went out too. Gathered my gear, packed water and snacks, and hoped my old boots would see me through one more hike. They did, but it wasn’t comfortable. My next “hike” was into town for a new pair!

My hike on the trail started here, up these steps.
My hike to the trail started on the steps of our RV, which was parked only half a mile away.
Location, location, location!

It ain’t much, but it’s mine.
But then, I’m a day hiker, so I don’t carry a tent, sleeping bag, cooking supplies, or multiple days worth of food.

When I reached this sign at the top, I turned around and hiked the 3 miles back down into Damascus.
Took me about 3 hours, including my 20-minute lunch break.

New boots!
This is my second pair of KEEN hikers; the first pair lasted a good 3-4 years. I like them because they are comfortable from Day 1, and they are nice and wide at the toe, just like my feet. I’ve managed to purchase both pairs during end-of-season clearance sales, taking their cost down to less than $100.00!

3rd Tale: The Half of the Virginia Creeper Trail We Didn’t Do in 2015, but Twice This Time, Because we Foolishly Skipped Booking a Shuttle

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it seemed like a good idea at the time.

Sure, we can ride 17 miles from Damascus to Abingdon for lunch, I thought.

I know we’re not serious cyclists, and that our longest ride together has been only 15 miles, but this is on an old rail bed with only a 5% grade, I thought.

Riding 34 miles can’t be that hard, I thought.

I was wrong.

And 24 hours later, I am still in pain.

In 2015, we took a bike shuttle to White Top Station (1), and rode the trail downhill 17 miles to Damascus (5).
Yesterday, we rode 17 miles from Damascus (5) to Abingdon (8), ate lunch, and then rode all 17 miles back.
I thought it would be maybe a 4-hour outing, but it took 7.
Yeah, ouch.
(Map source)

Don’t let that subtle bowl shape between Abingdon and Damascus fool you. Up is up, and I was one hangry chick by the time we got to Abingdon.
(Map source)

Our reward: scenic wooden trestles, rustic farmland, majestic rivers, lots of cows, and one final, magical, adorable sighting.

There were cows in the woods…

… and cows by the river…

… and cows in my selfie …

… and wow, that cow is reallyreally close! Wait. Close enCOWnter. HAAAAHAHAHAHA!

This part of the Virginia Creeper Trail cuts through quite a bit of private land, so there are several gates along the way.
Tim rode ahead to hold them open for me.
What a prince!

And then, just as I was thinking there was no way I could pedal the last 6 or 7 miles home, because everything hurt, and I’d run out of swear words to describe it, a bit of rustling on my right caught my attention.
It was not one…

… not two…

… but THREE BABY RACCOONS that were tumbling all over each other in the leaves, and making the most adorable pippity-purring noises I’ve ever heard.
I wanted to snuggle them. Bad.
But we didn’t get too close (I zoomed in for these photos), because nature.
Mama raccoon was probably nearby, and we definitely did not want to deal with the likes of her.

Those fuzzy little bandits were my good omen, my powerful talisman, the image that sustained me for the rest of the ride home.

Best. Wildlife sighting. Ever.


Posts from our 2015 visit

 

10 Ways I Stay Fit on the Road

Let’s start this off with what you need to know about me:

I’m not a fitness fanatic or expert, and I don’t have a perfect body. In fact, you could say that my desire is not to stay in shape, but more to stay out of a certain shape category.

The round one.

I fight really hard to keep my waistline narrower than what’s above and below it.

At 48, I’m a curvy size 8, 5’4” tall, and my weight hovers around 145. A few pounds less, and I rejoice. A few pounds more, and I extend my middle finger at my scale — and then spend several weeks counting calories to get back on track. This is what’s normal for me.

See? I’ve got curves.
And on that day, I also had new shoes, and they coordinated with both my outfit and the RV park’s fitness room. Winning!

So that covers Vanity, the first tenet in my holy trinity of fitness motivation. Ready for the other two?

Sanity. Activity that works my body gets me out of the RV and my own head, and just generally makes me feel better about myself, my day, and whatever I need to face during the course of it.

Survival. Exercise is widely known to be effective in reducing the risk of breast cancer recurrence. I’ve had that shit. I don’t want it back.

That said, I exercised regularly before my diagnosis too — hell, I was even a Jazzercise  instructor for almost 7 years — and now it’s more important than ever.

As I wrote in a Facebook comment earlier this year, it’s not a matter of “Look at her. She was fit and healthy, and got cancer anyway, so why exercise?” To be quite blunt, cancer doesn’t care how fit you are. But being fit and healthy at the time of diagnosis makes a tremendously positive difference in how the body handles and recovers from treatment.

Now you know the why. Here comes the how.

I can take 19 steps from one end of The Toad to the other. That means I’d have to walk it 526 times to reach that ever popular daily recommendation of 10,000 steps.

Not. Happening.

Instead, I’ve developed an arsenal of several alternatives that I rotate, not just to combat workout boredom, but also to be able to get some sort of exercise even when the weather’s uncooperative, or when we don’t have much time, or when the roads aren’t safe for walking or biking, or when I’m sore from pushing myself too hard the day before, etc.

In no particular order:

Walking — I hoof it at a pretty good clip, 3.5 to 4 mph, on urban trails and in parks when possible, and on regular ol’ roads when not, but only if there’s a wide shoulder or sidewalk to keep me safe. Yes, I always walk against traffic.

I walked in cities all over the country wearing these eye-catchers — until they literally fell apart.
I miss them.

Hiking — I’m slower at this, usually averaging only 2 mph, but that’s because the terrain is often uphill and tricky, and I’m wrangling poles and a pack too.

One of my favorite hikes for scenery was this one in California’s High Sierra, July of 2016.

Biking — We carry our bicycles on the back of the RV, and we use them for both fitness rides and for local transportation.

Our October 2015 ride along the Virginia Creeper Trail

Dancing — It’s my favorite exercise method of all time. I’ve made use of empty picnic pavilions, rally halls and all-purpose rooms, laundry rooms, a fairgrounds exhibit hall, and a cousin’s garage. Have tunes, will travel! Forget dancing like nobody’s watching, and dance like somebody’s filming.

I danced up a sweat in here.


Here too.

Resistance Tube — It’s a small, nearly weightless alternative to dumbbells, kettlebells and the like, which are just not practical to store in an RV. I use it primarily for arm exercises, but occasionally I throw in a few leg and abdominal reps too.

Yoga — Sometimes I use the Yoga Studio app on my phone; sometimes I just do my own thing. I’ve taken enough classes over the years that I can put together my own 30-minute sequence of poses for strength, flexibility, and/or relaxation.

My set-up is a little cramped in here, but I can get my yoga on anyway.
If the weather’s nice, I take it outside.

The Fit RV — Unlike me, James & Stef are fitness experts, and they focus on workouts geared toward those of us with nomadic lifestyles. Thanks to them, I’ve learned how to turn a picnic table into a home gym! Those videos are here and here.

Photo source: The Fit RV

Fitness Centers — Not the kind that require paid membership, but the kind that are included as amenities at RV parks and hotels (yes, we stay in hotels from time to time), and the ones we are able to use for free when we’re parked on military bases. Nothing like walking into a gym full of young soldiers, sailors or airmen to get this girl to work harder!

Here’s a generic hotel fitness room, and a view of my armpit scar. It’s a visible reminder of the good news that the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes, so I guess I’ll keep it.

Fitness Classes — It’s a little pricey to pay on a per class basis, but sometimes it’s worth it. I’ve been to boot camp classes with a cousin, and I return to my old Jazzercise center any time we pass through Norfolk, VA. I’ve not yet participated in a “yoga in the park” session, but several cities offer them, often in conjunction with their farmers market. It’s on my list!

Healthy Eating — I’ve admitted already that I count calories when I’m feeling tubby. Overall, I try to eat right by focusing our meals around reasonable portion sizes of lean meats, fresh produce, and whole grains, while also trying my best to keep splurges to a minimum. We love to try local treats, and I will happily order a low-calorie entree in order to sample guiltlessly a hometown diner’s famous pie.

In conclusion, living in a tiny, rolling space is no excuse for me to slack off. I can and do #ExerciseEverywhere.


Disclaimer: I’ve received no compensation from any brands, apps, or entities mentioned above. I’m just sharing what I like so that maybe you can benefit too!

Grand Canyon hike: Check! And nobody fell in. Or got pushed.

We timed our adventure well. The weather, sunny with a high of 61 degrees and a light breeze, was perfect. The scenery was spectacular, and changed in color and intensity as the sun shifted throughout the day, and — best of all — crowds were low.  We crossed paths with only about 75 other hikers and a couple dozen mules on this early November Sunday.

Mule train! See 'em coming up the trail?

Mule train! See ’em coming up the trail?

Step aside, human. Step aside.

Step aside, human. Step aside. We gots work to do.

There were other critters on the trail too. This guy wanted food, and took a hopeful taste of Tim's hiking pole, but skittered off looking more than a little disappointed.

There were other critters on the trail too. This guy wanted food, and took a hopeful taste of Tim’s proffered hiking pole, but skittered off looking more than a little disappointed, and like he might have been planning our untimely demise.

I was apprehensive about attempting a hike in which the up comes after the down, and rightfully so. It’s a tough way to end a hike! All the tips we read said to plan twice as much time to ascend as to descend, but at my slow and steady pace, I spent the same amount of time on each.

We started at the South Kaibab Trailhead, hiked down about 2000 feet in elevation over 3 miles to Skeleton Point, and then back up -- which I'm pretty sure was 5,000 feet in elevation over 8 miles. Took us 2 hours each way.

We started at the South Kaibab Trailhead, hiked down about 2000 feet in elevation over 3 miles to Skeleton Point, and then back up — which felt more like 5,000 feet in elevation over 8 miles.
Took us 2 hours each way.

We laughed mighty hard at the "Puking Guy" sign near the start of our descent. On the way back up? Not funny. Not funny at all.

We laughed mighty hard at the “Puking Guy” sign near the start of our descent.
On the way back up? Not funny. Not funny at all.

We always look so happy and clean at the start of a hike. By the time we're finished, we're both filthy, soaking wet, stinky, and I'm crabby as hell because my body doesn't handle depletion well. You've heard of a mean drunk? Well I'm a mean hiker. When I growl, "Stop talking to me," Tim knows that's his cue to put about half a mile between us.

We always look so happy and clean at the start of a hike.
By the time we’re finished, we’re both filthy, soaking wet and stinky, plus I’m crabby as hell because my body doesn’t handle depletion well.
You’ve heard of a mean drunk? Well I’m a mean hiker. When I growl, “Stop talking to me,” Tim knows that’s his cue to put about half a mile between us.

We started out just after 10 a.m., and watched the sun come over the canyon walls on our way down.

We started out just after 10 a.m., and watched the sun come over the canyon walls on our way down.

We looked down at this set of switchbacks, wondering just how much they were gonna hurt on the way back up. Answer: lots. Sore knees, achy hips, trembling legs, and one torn calf muscle (Tim's) are now on the mend.

We looked down at this set of switchbacks, wondering just how much they were gonna hurt on the way back up.
Answer: lots. Sore knees, achy hips, trembling legs, and one torn calf muscle (Tim’s) are now on the mend.

One mile down: Ooooooohhh. Aaaaaaahhhhh.

One mile down: Ooooooohhh. Aaaaaaahhhhh.

Three miles down: time to eat lunch before we turn into skeletons!

Three miles down: time to eat lunch before we turn into skeletons! I bet that’s why they named it that.

Picnic lunch for two, with a view

Picnic lunch for two, with a view

img_1426Glad I did it, but wow, once was enough for me. Tim, meanwhile, got the itch to add a rim-to-rim hike to his bucket list. Guess I’ll serve as the support chick when the time comes, and pick him up when he gets to the other side!