Life Lessons

18 06 2015

On Monday afternoon, I posted a link to this article, which proceeded to ignite my Facebook wall in a debate about the American work week and whether or not it’s realistic to follow your dreams and do what you love, when doing what you love is something “non-traditional” or “blue collar.”


My last “non-traditional” job- somedays, particularly this time of year, I really miss it.

I didn’t mean to ruffle any feathers, and the response was totally unexpected. The piece was a feel-good article that resonated with me because of recent conversations with my wonderful boyfriend Bill. Who, by the way HAS followed his dreams, is doing what he loves, and is not confined by the bounds of a 40-hour work week. Oh, and did I mention that his work has taken him to 70 countries and all 50 states (some many times) before he’s 40?

sword swallow

(it helps when you have a really unique skill)

Now, neither of us are making the big bucks, but we make enough. Heck, we could probably survive on less. We’re making changes in our lives so that we can have more/do more, without actually making more money. It’s pretty simple actually. Make some cut backs where you can. Do I really need that $4 latte? No, my french press and frother do just fine. Oh, and that $3 bottle of Kombucha? No sir, let’s make our own! (Experiment in progress, will let you know how it turns out). Leave a room? Turn off the lights. And making dinner at home is MUCH more cost effective than eating out! Sure, it takes some time, but if you plan ahead, it isn’t so bad! And, if you don’t sit in front of the boob tube, you might actually find out you enjoy cooking!

making pizza

I get it, kids complicate things and so do loans, among other things. But I guess what it comes down to for me, is that article reminded me of some life lessons that I’ve recently started to take to heart, which I feel compelled to share.

The first is that we don’t need as much stuff as we think we do. I’ve recently downsized my closet and donated a bunch of other stuff, that at this point, I couldn’t even tell you what it was, because you know what? I don’t miss it. And, if there was something I actually needed, I could go across the street the the thrift shop where I could likely find the thing I was looking for at a quarter the price. (The horror! Buying something used?!! 😉 )

donated clothes

Life isn’t about stuff. I’m sure you read that article that says happy people spend money one experiences not things. I totally agree. The money we spent on our recent trip to the Smokies was way better than a shiny piece of jewelry or a new jacket. And better yet? It probably definitely cost less! People are always worried about maintaining the lifestyle they have, which often includes far too many material possessions than one can keep track of. And for what? So you can have the nicer car than your neighbor? That will really make a difference when you’re on your death bed.

smoky mountains

The second lesson is that life is short. We only have so much time on this earth, and we live in a pretty amazing place. I don’t want to leave this world without going on some incredible adventures, seeing some amazing places, and above all doing what makes me happy. Sure, I’m lucky that I have a darn good job that I like, with benefits and all that jazz. I can take vacations and slowly chip away at my bucket list.

But, I want to do more, see more. (I’ve totally got my eye on an Around the World trip after meeting Jennifer a few months ago in Chicago.) And just to clarify- it’s not all about being on permanent vacation- there is work to be done everywhere, things that are worthwhile and meaningful.

I don’t have the answer, and at this point, I’m just rambling.

What I do know is that time is a resource we can’t get back, so we must spend it wisely.


Always Read the Directions

9 06 2015

Before I dive in to my recap from day four, I have to share this article that my cousin sent me and this update that I found. Basically, while I sat and typed my Day 3 post on Sunday night, a teenage boy who was camping on the SAME TRAIL that Bill and I were on (Hazel Creek) was attacked by a bear, while sleeping in his hammock! (Insert jaw dropped emoticon here.) Um, SCARY! It could have just as easily been us who were attacked, I’m thanking my lucky stars and praying for a speedy recovery for him!

Day 4: Hazel Creek/Forney Creek Loop

Planned Itinerary: 12.5 miles along the Lakeshore trail to the Forney Creek trail, where we should “spend the bulk” of our day at campsite 70. (How to spend most of the day at a site that is 12.5 miles away is beyond me…)

Hazel Creek/Forney Creek Map

We woke up after a restless night, thankful we had not had an encounter with a wild animal. As we packed up camp, we planned our attack for catching up. Bill’s foot was feeling better and my body was less achy than it had been, so we were going to do our best to make it to site 70, which by my estimate, was probably about 16.5 miles away, and where we were scheduled to spend the night. I got out the map and read the narrative for the last part today’s journey, and I read ahead for tomorrow, our hike out. As I compared the map to the narrative, “Day five is only 5.5 miles…” I realized that I had made a big mistake. Five and a half miles from site 70 would NOT put us back at Clingman’s. It would put us at site 68, where, had I read the narrative more carefully, I would have told the ranger that we were spending 5 nights on the trail, not 4! Oh, and we would have packed food for a 5 night, 6 day trip rather than a 4 night, 5 day trip. Oh crap. 

We were fairly confident that we’d have enough food if we needed to stay for the 5th night, but we decided to try our best to stick to our original plan. Yeah, the plan that had us doing a 5 night hike for experienced hikers in 4 nights.

I have this problem of not reading recipes to the end before starting the recipe…Apparently, for me, that carries over into hiking as well…

The reality of being barely halfway back and only having a day and a half to do it was certainly motivation for us to finish packing up camp quickly and get on the trail.

The last four miles to get to site 76 felt long, but not painful. Today we decided that we’d stop more frequently for shorter amounts of time, rather than pushing on until we were pretty beat, taking a longer break, and then rebooting for the next part. So, we stopped at site 76, put our packs up in the bear rigs, and went down to the water for a quick snack and to refill our water. The water was cool and refreshing, and as soon as we stuck our feet in, a few fish started swimming near us. Off to our left was a small fishing boat, where two women were fishing. I presumed it was a mother-daughter pair, which I just thought was pretty cool. Fishing is not just a man’s sport!

Bill and I snacked on some GORP (trail mix) and joked about how we had no idea where we were right now, other than on the shores of Fontana Lake. What state were we in? We hadn’t a clue. (We were in North Carolina.) It didn’t matter. We were just taking in the beautiful lake in front of us, enjoying out time together outdoors. Soon the silence broke when one of the women said “Look! Snake!” Sure enough, about halfway between us and them was a snake slithering on the surface of the water. It disappeared into the marsh, so we decided (and so did the women) that it was time to go. We walked back to our packs and started hiking again.

dragon fly

Bill made a friend 😉

We came to a fork shortly after leaving camp, and we followed the path that was closest to the water. It didn’t last long, and quickly dead ended into the lake. The water was crystal clear, and the massive lake was just sprawled out in front of us, calling our names to come and swim. It was hot out, and the cool water would feel so refreshing…So, I did what any hiker would do and jumped (more like waded) in! This was the swimming hole tour after all! I dipped my head under and floated around for a few minutes before I started getting a little chilly and got out. As I put my pack back on, Bill noticed that I had a rash on my lower back. It didn’t itch, so we were pretty sure it was heat rash that had been aggravated by my pack sitting on my back. Hopefully it wouldn’t get worse!

We continued on our journey, rejuvenated by our little dip, and eventually made it to the next site, 98, where a wooden bridge crossed over a rushing stream. We laid out Bill’s poncho and did legs up a wall for some recovery while we munched on a granola bar.

feet up the wall


As we packed up, I spotted what I believed was an inchworm. I had never seen one in real life, so of course I took a video. They’re such neat creatures!

At this point, I figured we had at least 6 miles to get to the next site, and about 4 more after that if we were to make it to site 70. Yikes. It was already early afternoon at this point. We decided to get to site 74 and then evaluate when we arrived.

It was a hot afternoon, and we were both keeping up on our hydration, so somewhere on the way Bill ran out. Of course it happened to be on one of the driest sections of the trail, so when we happened upon a trickling of water a little off the trail, Bill gingerly climbed up to the source to fill up one of our liter bottles. We figured that we would soon enough come across more (we did) where we could fill up all the way.

Shortly after filling our packs, we were chatting about how tired we were and how we couldn’t imaging running right now, when off to our right about 25 yards or so, down by a stream, we saw a flash of movement and realized that we had startled two wild hogs. They ran lightning fast away from us, but judging by the curve in the trail ahead, they had just ran towards where we would be walking shortly. Bill started his barking again, and I was talking loudly. As we approached a blind turn, we heard another rustle and I saw one of the hogs barely 15 feet in front of us. I promptly turned around and started to run. Its amazing what a little adrenaline will do! I didn’t go very far, just enough to get out of the immediate area. Bill was right behind me, and we stopped to evaluate the situation. The boars had run back down the mountain, away from where we needed to walk, so we decided to continue on our journey on high alert. Bill barked (now and then, he asked me to clarify that he wasn’t barking non stop like a crazy man), I talked. That’s pretty much how it went for the majority of the next 30 minutes.

Finally, we made it to site 74. By this point it was close to 6. We sat down on the bridge and did legs up the wall again and talked about our options for the evening: We could stop and spend the night here, leaving us still 4 miles behind schedule, or we could go another 3 miles to get to site 71, leaving us only a little over a mile behind schedule. Knowing that the big river crossings would happen tomorrow, and if they were bad and we needed to reroute, adding on even more mileage, we figured it was in our best interest to continue on to site 71. As we walked on the outskirts of the camp, we noticed a few others who had set up camp for the night. We briefly asked these two college kids where they had come from, and I’m pretty sure they said they drove there. I was confused until I saw the sign indicating the trailhead was only a short hike away. It didn’t hit me until later that night, but had things been terrible, that probably would have been our out.

I was so glad that we decided to keep moving on. Maybe it was because we knew we only had 3 miles to go, but those three miles were some of the best on the trail (to us). The terrain was not challenging, so we plowed through those three miles in about an hour and 15 minutes. I don’t think that was a good gauge for our overall pace, but that’s what we can do when we’re motivated!

Camp 71 was huge, and we had the whole thing to ourselves. We made camp in plenty of time to eat before the sun set. We even were proactive and gathered fuel for our stove for tomorrow’s breakfast, just in case of rain.


We went to bed that night exhausted but proud that we had covered so much ground and were nearly caught up. Tomorrow, we hike out!

Out There

8 06 2015

Night 2/Day 3: Hazel Creek/Forney Creek Loop.

Planned itinerary: “an easy 12.3-mile cruise east on the Lakeshore Trail.”

Hazel Creek/Forney Creek Map

We woke up in the middle of the night to the pitter patter of rain on the tent. This was our first experience using the tent in rain, so we clicked on a light to make sure we weren’t getting any rain inside. There was a small pool starting to form on Bill’s side of the tent, so we looked around for other signs of leaks.  As I was searching, I noticed some clips on the four corners of the tent, which attached to a loop on the “bath tub”. Oh, we should have attached those earlier, as it helped lift up the sides of the bath tub to prevent water from entering the tent. Duh. Our lack of experience showed a bit, but we were lucky. Thankfully there were no other wet spots, and we could get back to sleep mostly confident that our tent would keep us dry through the night.

I had a bit of difficulty falling back to sleep. Not because of the rain, but because my whole body ached from our hike so far. I could not believe we still had 3 more days to go. And long ones at that!


This snail was on the outside of the tent when we woke up!

By morning, the rain had stopped, so we got up and started our morning chores. Bill pulled down the bear bag and searched for any dry fuel he could find for making breakfast, while I packed up our sleeping kits. We enjoyed some hot oatmeal with dried strawberries and bananas with a cup of vanilla chai on the side. We were fueled and ready to go, looking forward to our “easy cruise.” I put on my Vivos again; just the thought of putting on my Lunas made my feet hurt. I knew we didn’t have a lot of river crossings today, so these would probably do just fine.

We initially left camp by turning right, which took us along the shores of Fontana lake, where the water was crystal clear and we could see hundreds of trout swimming around. I’m not a fisherman, but I’m pretty sure I could have caught something there. We  also spotted a small snake and heard what I’m presuming was the call of an elk, or some other large mammal. We quickly realized that we had gone the wrong way out of camp, because the trail ended. Whoops. We backtracked to the sign that had directed us to the campsite, and realized that we needed to go in the opposite direction. At that crossroads, we saw our first real hiker since we left the AT. There was a man stopped at the sign, who had been backpacking with a few others who were on the other side of the bridge at that point. He told us that they had come from campsite 81, pointing in that direction. That’s the direction we needed to go, so we got to it!


We were barely 25 yards into the real hike, when Bill got a sharp pain in his foot. We stopped, he adjusted his shoes a little, but I could tell he was in pain. He was limping along, and we were moving at a snail’s pace. This was not good. It’s a good thing today was going to be easy. Easy? Yeah. Right. The “gentle roller coaster” was, to us, more challenging than the sharp downhills and stream crossings we had completed on day one. And we need to do this for 12.3 miles? Just great.

It took us several hours to get to site 81, which I guessed was about 4 miles from where we had spent the night. We were ready for a break, so we stopped there for lunch, to bathe, and to wash our clothes. It was a beautiful day, probably nearing 80, and we hadn’t seen any other hikers on the trail so we figured it was as good a spot as any to strip down and freshen up!

After lunch, we were refreshed and ready to tackle the next 8 miles of our journey. Bill’s pain came and went (he’s a tough one, so I couldn’t really tell when he was really hurting or not), and my feet started to hurt again. All this walking in barefoot shoes with little training was catching up to me.

We crossed paths with a couple on the trail- only our second set of hikers since we’d left the AT- smiling and saying hello, but not stopping to chat, since we knew we had a ways to go before the day was done. Time was ticking by, and these miles just felt SO LONG. How come we hadn’t passed the next campsite yet?

Bill and I started talking about a plan B for the night: we could stop at site 77, camp there for the night, and then play catch up the next day. I was a little hesitant to stray from our itinerary (after all, that’s what we told the ranger), but by the time we reached site 77, I knew we needed to stop. We were exhausted and it was late in the afternoon. If we rested here for a little and then kept up this pace for the last 4 miles, we’d probably roll in to camp as sun was setting, which is not what we wanted to do. We figured it was in our best interest to take a “short” day (8 miles), recover, and hit the trail hard the next day.

The campsite was empty, with the exception of two XL cotton tee shirts sitting in the fire ring- signs that someone had been here recently. Other than that evidence of humanity, this camp really felt like we were in the wilderness. We were certainly OUT THERE, and it felt both freeing and scary at the same time.

Since we were in camp fairly early and it had been dry all day, we gathered up plenty of firewood and made a real fire! Camp fires may be my favorite part of camping. They just make the whole experience feel real.


We sat by the fire and ate some Backpacker’s Pantry Veggies in Peanut Sauce, which I found to be quite tasty, but quite messy. As I opened the peanut butter packets inside (which were Peanut Butter and Co, by the way!) I had a mini freak out in my head wondering if bears like peanut butter as much as dogs do. I don’t know the answer to that, nor do I want to find out! So I made sure to be as neat as possible, but still ended up with stickiness and peanut butter on my hands. Multiple trips to the stream to wash off were necessary!

campfire site 77

We wrapped up dinner, and just relaxed by the fire before heading to the tent for bed.

It was dusk at this point, and off in the distance we heard an owl, and then some other bird that squawked for so long that we questioned whether it actually was a real bird. We weren’t as beat up as we had been the first two nights, so we actually were awake when it finally got dark out. We were just taking in the vastness of the forest around us when we heard a loud rustle not far from our tent. Both of us stiffened up. What was that?

Bill can make this incredibly realistic barking sound, so he barked a few times and then we sat and waited. He barked some more, and you could hear it echo a little in the distance. Dear God I hope this is just in our heads because we are way the heck out here…

We shined the light out into the distance and saw the last few sparks from our camp fire surrounded by darkness. We turned off the light and sat in stillness, looking out into the night. When our eyes had adjusted back, we saw a little flash of light off to the left, and then again off to the right, and then out front of the tent. There were fireflies! They certainly weren’t the thing that had made the rustle we had both heard, but they lightened the mood a little.

Bill barked again, cutting the stillness, still on high alert. I convinced myself that he had scared whatever it was away, and let myself fall asleep. Hopefully we’d be left alone for the night.