Impromptu Hike

Martin Luther King Day.  It’s the only non-major holiday that I have off from work.  Because my spouse wasn’t quite as lucky, I figured I’d go spend the day in Albany and visit my grandmother.  After a nice visit, I made my way slowly back to the Berkshires, riding the back roads of Richmond and West Stockbridge and Lenox, enjoying the quiet and the blanket of snow on the ground.  I had plans to stop at the grocery store and pick up a few items, but suddenly I found myself pulling into the parking lot at Kennedy Park.  I looked down at my running shoes — you know the kind, 90% mesh and little traction — and wondered if I was smart to be heading off on the obviously-icy trail.  But the woods were calling me, and I couldn’t say no.  I pulled my hiking poles out of the trunk and set off on the lesser-used trails that were tramped down only by cross-country skis and a few boots.  Ten minutes in, the boot tracks ended, and I was crunching through the snow, my feet soaked and cold. 

I had the place mostly to myself, and I wound my way through the woods for a half hour, my face numb with cold, my lungs thankful for the fresh air.  After twenty minutes, my feet stopped noticing the cold and the wet, and they kept carrying me through the snow.  The only sounds were the crunch of my footsteps, the birds chirping overhead, the stream trickling alongthe trail.  It was beautiful, and rejuvenating.  I had just been complaining about how nature-deprived I felt, and this was certainly the cure I needed. 

I decended one of the main trails back to the parking lot, and while my running shoes did quite a lot of sliding, I stayed upright.  By the time I got back to the car, my feet were completely soaked, along with the bottoms of my too-long cargo pants.  My face was totally numb, and as I sat in my car blasting the heat to warm up my feet, my skin ached.  But I still felt great.  And my only real regret was that I didn’t have any kind of camera on me during my hike.  I usually have my point-and-shoot somewhere, but I hadn’t bothered to bring it with me that day. 

I’m hoping to get out for another winter hike this weekend.  This time with my boots and some warm socks, and my camera.  And the Yaktrax I purchased promptly after leaving the park.

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Out with the old, in with the new

2012 was a pretty good year.  I got to travel quite a bit, and two of my big vacations were centered around hiking — my spring trip to the Blue Ridge mountains, and my fall trip to Acadia National Park.  But other than cramming a ton of great hiking into those two trips, I didn’t get to do a lot of everyday hikes, or weekend hikes.  The weather wasn’t always cooperative, and I spent a good deal of the spring and summer prepping my house for sale.  And then it was suddenly winter.

Not that the winter stops me, necessarily.  I’m already planning a New Year’s Day hike through the snow.  Being in the woods is so peaceful at any time, but with the snow, everything is more quiet and still.  I remember going on a hike last year through Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary after a big snow, and it was magical.  So relaxing and refreshing, and the cold was exhilarating.  And with the frigid temps here in the Berkshires, I’m sure tomorrow’s hike will be pretty darn refreshing as well.

Lots of areas have planned First Day hikes, and you can find them at americasstateparks.org.  Is anyone planning to get out?  If so, have fun!

I’m hoping to do a lot more hiking and blogging in 2013.  I’m working on compiling a list of new hikes and new places to explore so that when I have a free day or evening, I can just pick one from the list, lace up my boots, and head right out.  Let’s just hope we get a nice, early spring.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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Cardboardhiker’s Gift Guide

So, there are a few more days left of Hanukkah, and Christmas and Kwanzaa are right around the corner. Are you still looking for gifts, or unsure about what to get for that nature-lover in your life? There have been a ton of gift guides out this year for outdoor gear, green gear, and everything in between. But here are a few of my ideas for things that your loved ones might like.

Tarma Designs

Tarma has a great collection of hand-crafted and earth-friendly unisex jewelry with emphasis on hiking, yoga, meditation, running, and other sports. My better half got me two Appalachian Trail pendants a few years back, and I love them. I wear them all the time, and the cords never fray. And made from recycled stainless steel, they’re a bit better for our planet. As an added bonus, the prices can’t be beat.

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WeWood

Another company I love is WeWood.  They make incredible watches out of 100% natural wood, and they’ve partnered with American Forests, so for every watch sold, a tree is planted.  You won’t find any toxic chemicals or materials used in the production of these watches, and they’re just cool as heck.  I ordered one a few weeks ago, and I love it.  I know it won’t be my last.  Excellent prices, too, considering the craftsmanship.

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Patagonia

Did you know that Patagonia uses recycled material for many of their items?  I didn’t until a few weeks ago.  So not only is their gear top-notch, but they also work hard to protect the environment.  They have something called the Common Threads Initiative which encourages people to try and reduce their environmental footprint by following the mantra Reduce, Repair, Reuse, Recycle.  If you check out any of their gear, like their Re-Tool Snap-T pullovers, you’ll see what percentage has been created using recycled materials.  Who wouldn’t love a new fleece pullover or jacket for layering during those winter hikes?

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REI

Everyone knows that REI is a great store.  They’ve been helpful to me on many occasions, mostly recently during my trip to the mountains of North Carolina, where I realized I’d definitely need some bear spray.  They have great gear of their own, and they carry the top brands.  Plus they’re doing their part to help create sustainable business practices, which I always appreciate.  I personally love their gadgets, and the ones that are made from recycled materials are even better.  I’ve had my eye on their eCycle lunch containers, not just for my long hikes, but for work, too.  Made from 100% recycled material, and BPA-free.

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To-Go Ware

In keeping with the eco-friendly gadgets, I highly recommend To-Go Ware bamboo utensils.  They’re a fantastic alternative to disposable utensils, and they’re better than carrying around heavy metal forks and knives.  Great for camping, lunch during a long hike, or even at work.  Plus the carrying cases are made from recycled plastic.  To-Go Ware has some other items, like food containers and bags, but their utensils are the way to go.  You can get the carrying cases in a variety of colors, and they’re available through their website, at places like REI, or even at Whole Foods.

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Ranger Doug

Ever see those gorgeous reproductions of old WPA National Park posters?  Those are courtesy of Ranger Doug, aka Doug Leen.  His work to reproduce these fabulous pieces of history is nothing short of amazing.  If you have someone on your list who loves a particular national park, browse through the website and see if you can nab a print.  I grabbed a postcard of the Acadia National Park poster a few months back while I was visiting the park, and I love it.  I plan to get a few of the large prints to hang in my house.  Or you can always pick up some of the window stickers as stocking stuffers.

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National Park Foundation

I love national parks.  You get me anything having to do with parks, and I’m a happy camper (lame pun).  I would love it if you could get gear with the National Park Service logo all over it, but I realize they don’t make that stuff easily accessible because they don’t want people passing themselves off as members of the NPS.  But if you can’t have a shirt with that fantastic logo on it, you can get stuff from the National Park Foundation, which is the next best thing.  They work hard to help keep the parks running financially, and they sell a ton of great gear.  Shirts, hats, bags, and even some Christmas items (for those of you who celebrate).

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Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Who doesn’t love the AT, huh?  I hike sections of it every year, and chances are that even if your hiking-loving friends and family haven’t actually stepped foot on the AT, they probably have dreams and aspirations of one day setting off from Springer Mountain.  Even if they aren’t fans of the AT, you can probably find a hiking-themed gift for them on the Conservancy website.  They have TONS of shirts, hats, guides, etc., and even Christmas ornaments.  A hiking Santa?  Yeah, I’d take one of those.

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So, there you have it — Cardboardhiker’s guide to some cool gifts for your nature-loving friends and family this holiday season.  Hope you all get out for some winter hiking, and that you enjoy the holidays and the coming new year.

 

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Fall Hiking

I love hiking in the fall.  The colors on the trees are beautiful, and the smell is just amazing.  I love the sound of leaves crunching beneath my hiking boots and the nip in the air.  No bugs, no sweating.  It’s perfect. 

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The only thing I hate is when the fall is so rainy that I can’t get out and hike as much as I’d like.  The weather has been so dreary and awful in the Berkshires the past few weeks, and now it’s almost too late to enjoy all those brilliant colors.  Not completely, though.  I’ve been out for a few trail runs, and last evening I went out despite the clouds and got in a quick hike at one of my favorite haunts, Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary in Lenox, Mass.  The colors were somewhat muted, but the trail was absolutely flooded with leaves, and I like it that way.  I startled a beaver, and he splashed his tail at me, causing me to nearly drop my camera.  I brought the point-and-shoot along, though 99% of my photos were way too dark or blurry to post.  I love to document my hiking adventures with photos, but last night was more about the experience.  The leaves, the cold air, the smell of fall.  I hope I can get out a few more times before the season is over.

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I’ll be visiting Acadia National Park in a few weeks.  The leaves will all be gone by then (on the trees, anyway), but the hiking will be wonderful.  Hopefully I’ll have some good photos and stories to share with you all when I return.

Until then, enjoy the fall!  Drink some hot cider, eat some pumpkin pie, and take time to get outdoors and smell the leaves.

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Unused Cardboard

This cardboard hiker hasn’t been out in the great wild in ages.  Well, it certainly feels that way.  About two months ago, my better half and I decided to put our house on the market and look for a new home with a bit more land and space.  It’s unbelievable how much work goes into prepping your house for sale.  The small repairs you put off, the painting, the deep cleaning, the painting, the staging.  The painting.  Did I mention that one already?  Every moment not devoted to the day job was spent readying the house for sale, and packing up all our belongings.  I only managed to get out into nature a couple of times during that period.

So, now that the house is listed, I’m itching to get back out there and hit the trails.  Of course, this week has had iffy weather in the evenings, and this weekend is going to be wicked hot (and we all know that cardboard gets pretty wimpy in such high humidity).  But I’m hoping to sneak in a quick hike before the week is out.  I need it for my sanity, and I need it for my blog.  I’ve been too exhausted to even recount old hikes and share old photos.  But now I’m back, and I’m ready for those trails.

No more cardboard moving boxes.  Only cardboard hiking.

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The Life of a Cardboard Hiker

National Trails Day was this past weekend.  I had high hopes of getting out for a hike, despite being in the middle of home repairs and renovations that need my attention on the weekends.  But the weather forecast looked gloomy all week, and sure enough it rained on NTD.  Most hardcore hikers would brave the weather and get their hike in.  But not me.  My name is Cardboard Hiker for a reason.

There are three things you need to know about your neighborhood cardboard hiker:

1.  Cardboard is a very vulnerable material.  It doesn’t hold up well in high humidity, and if it’s raining, forget it!  Just the slightest bit of rain totally ruins cardboard.  Better to stay in where it’s dry on those days.

2.  Cardboard is pretty weak.  Even the corrugated kind tears easily.  Bends, folds.  Reinforcement is always needed.  Sturdy boots and trekking poles are key.  And even then, the slightest mishap could result in damage.

3.  Cardboard really wants to be something stronger.  More adaptable to inclement weather.  It wants to be (vegan) leather.  Cement.  Something with more muscle.  But cardboard is cardboard, and even this adventure-loving cardboard has its limits.

I’ve never been a fan of rain.  I hate even running from my car into my house in the rain.  But I once got caught hiking for three miles in a torrential downpour, and that really did me in.

A couple years after we moved to the Berkshires, we decided to give the AT a try.  After all, 90 miles of the trail goes right through the Berkshires, and there are several access points.  We checked the weather and saw that rain wasn’t supposed to come in until 2:00 in the afternoon.  After looking in our AT books, we decided to do a 7-mile roundtrip hike to a shelter and back.  We set off early enough so that we’d be back to the car before the rain started.  Just before noon, and about three miles into our hike, we stopped for a sandwich and took note of the darkening skies.  Hm.  We decided to turn back, and about ten feet into our return trek, the skies opened.  Now, this wasn’t just a rain shower.  It wasn’t even heavy rain.  It was a deluge.  Within ten minutes, the trail was under several inches of water.  Both of us were wearing jeans.  New hiking boots that hadn’t been waterproofed yet.  And we didn’t have any ponchos or anything.  And I couldn’t see with all the rain on my glasses, so I had to take them off.  But of course I can’t see without them.  As we slogged along, moving as fast as we could in soaked jeans and water above our ankles, I cursed hiking.  I vowed to never step foot on a trail ever again.  It was the most miserable hour of my life, getting back to that car.

But I didn’t die.  The casualties?  Two cell phones, two pairs of hiking boots, our car seats (which were wet for days after that).  And my ego.  I thought I was so outdoorsy.  But any outdoorsy person would have known better than to trust weather in the Berkshires, or weather forecasts that are hardly ever right.  They would have known not to wear jeans.  They would have gone prepared with rain gear.  I was completely unprepared, and a total hiking novice.  And an idiot.  But I learned from the experience, and I got over it, and I got right back out there on the trails.  Next time, I was prepared.

Still, though, that experience soured me for hiking in less-than-desirable weather.  And that’s why I spent my NTD inside, working on my house.

And why my trail name is Cardboard Hiker.  Now you know.

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Those Carolina Mountains

This past March, I made my second trip to the mountains of Western North Carolina.  Having fallen in love with the area the year before during a trip to Asheville, I knew that I had to return and stay for a longer period of time to explore some more of what the region offers.  The weather was absolutely lovely for the entire week, only shifting to rain on our final day in the mountains.  The six days allowed us to get in three good hikes while also taking some time to soak up the local color in Asheville.  I just love everything about that area — the music, the people, the food, the hiking.  If you haven’t been, you’re missing out.

During our first trip to NC, we had only one day of nice weather.  And with that single day of sunshine, we choose to drive to Fontana Lake in the Nantahala Forest and hike the trail to Nell’s cabin.  And yes, I mean that cabin.  The film “Nell,” which starred Jodie Foster and Liam Neeson, was filmed in a remote location on Fontana Lake, accompanying scenes being shot in nearby Robbinsville.  After the filming was complete, the cabin still stood on the edge of the lake, a piece of Hollywood history for those who wanted to hike the old Forest Service road in to the remote area.  But the Forest Service soon realized that the cabin — not constructed to be structurally sound — was a bit of a hazard for those not careful or up to no good.  So they tore it down, and today, all that remains is a small bit of foundation stone that was part of the cabin support.  Still, the whole trail has significance, as many scenes were filmed along the trail, and at the lake.  Those very familiar with the movie will recognize those areas, and as soon as you step out of the woods into that Fontana Lake cove, the view is unmistakeable — even those who’ve only seen the film once or twice will remember the red clay and the blue water.  Being a film buff, this trail was too cool for me.

And so, even though there are literally hundreds of trails we wanted to explore when we returned to NC this spring, I insisted upon going back and doing the Nell’s Cabin trail all over again.

Last year, on our way back to the car, we found a large bear pawprint, fresh in the mud.  It hadn’t been there on our hike in, so we knew the bear was in the area.  It spooked us enough that we decided to get some bear spray this time around.  Of course, in Massachusetts, you can’t have bear spray without a permit.  So we headed straight to REI as soon as we landed in Asheville, and picked up two cans.  Easy.  Thankfully we didn’t need to use the spray; a bunch of retired guys on ATVs roared up the trail about a half mile in, and that probably scared away anything that may have been around.

The rest of the trail was great — plenty of sunshine (maybe a little too much — it was a scorcher that day, summer having arrived quite early in the south), blue skies, and complete isolation (after we got rid of the guys on ATVs).

Below are some comparison shots from our trip and the film.  The water level was still low in March because they drain the lake to make room for the spring run-off, but it was lovely nonetheless.

The second hike we wanted to do was a six-mile trail in DuPont State Forest that takes you up along three sets of waterfalls.  This area is also a former film location, the falls and surrounding forest having been used in the recent hit “The Hunger Games.”  Seeing as we were actually in Asheville for the opening weekend of the film, we anticipated a lot of fellow travelers on the trail.  But as luck would have it, once we started the more steep ascent to High Falls and beyond, most people had already bailed.  It was another hot day with abundant sunshine, and even though the trail was pretty steep and dry in spots (which made for a traction issue for my trail-runners-clad hiking partner), the views of the falls were spectacular.  Triple Falls, pictured below, has some great opportunities for climbing out on the flatrock to experience the falls up close.

High Falls is a little trickier, so we stuck to the main trail and took photos from the lookout, and from the covered bridge above the falls.

After leaving High Falls, it’s another mile and a half to reach Bridal Veil Falls.  But again, it was worth the gravel road travel in direct sunlight once you decend into the forest and see the falls in front of you.  A family was just leaving the area and suggested we climb the rock face on the side of the falls, and slip around behind the top of them for a cool experience.  After taking a few shots of areas used in the film, we started up the rock face.  A few spots were slightly wet, and the moss underneath was so slick that even with good hiking boots, it was rough going.  After we reached the top, we decided that taking off our shoes and trying to slide along the wet moss to get behind the falls just wasn’t in the cards for us.  So we snapped some more pics, enjoyed the sound of the rushing water, and decended.

After two great hikes, we spent some time enjoying Asheville and the surrounding areas.  Our last planned hike was for Hot Springs, which is one of the most popular trail towns on the AT.  We fell in love with its charm the previous year, and walked the entire section of the AT that goes right through the center of town, but didn’t get a chance to do anything more.  We figured this year we’d start off from Hot Springs and head north for a rewarding 7-mile hike.  And we planned to take in the views from Max Patch, which is considered the “crown jewel” of the AT.  But the weather forecast was calling for storms in the afternoon, and I was feeling under the weather, so we opted to drive to Max Patch and ascend from the parking lot there, and then head down into Hot Springs to enjoy the town.  Even though it was hazy and storm clouds were rolling in, Max Patch was fantastic.  The views are breathtaking, and I can understand why many thru-hikers love getting to this spot after a long trek up from Hot Springs.  It’s definitely rewarding.

The drive down from Max Patch to Hot Springs is no joke.  The roads are dirt, and very narrow.  But it’s great to see old homesteads and really experience the rural South.  So different from the rural areas in the Berkshires.  The Smokies and Blue Ridge mountains are really incredible, and such a departure from the Berkshire, Taconic, Adirondack, and Green Mountains that I grew up with.  And the way of life is a bit different, too.  I’m just in awe every time I visit, and I can’t wait to go back again soon and explore even more of what Western North Carolina has to offer.

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Photo Foraging

I love mushrooms.  Not to eat, mind you.  Even though I’m vegan and eat mostly fruits and veggies, I really don’t care for mushrooms of any variety.  When I’m hiking, though, I’m always on the lookout for fungi.  I’m not sure what it is about them, but I love to photograph them.  I like seeing all the different formations, and the colors — though in my neck of the woods, colorful mushrooms aren’t easy to come by.  In my ten years of hiking here, I can only recall one instance where I found a really spectacular display of color, and that was found on the trail at Stevens Glen.  That doesn’t stop me from photographing them, though.

I usually make an anual trip to Acadia National Park to do some hiking, and while the trip usually doesn’t result in any spectacular mushrooms, it definitely did in September of 2010.  For some reason, conditions were just right, and the entire park was covered with huge, gorgeous, colorful mushrooms.  The Gorham Mountain Trail had lovely displays, including a set that was floating in the water collecting on rock slabs.  And while we were driving around the park, we kept stopping the car and jumping out to snap more photos.  I haven’t seen any so wonderful since, but I always keep my eyes peeled.

As with my other Acadia photos, I lost any and all shots when my computer gave its last breath.  I have back-up discs somewhere, but for now, I’m sharing Laura Marshall’s photos from Acadia so you can see exactly how awesome these mushrooms were.

Anyone else out there into photographing mushrooms?  Or just hunting and identifying?

 

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Broken Cardboard

Injuries aren’t fun for anyone.  I hate them.  And I’m a horrible patient, especially when I’m anxious to be out on the trails after work and on the weekends.  But I’ve got a bum knee right now, so I’m forcing myself to take it easy this week in the hopes that it’ll be mended in time for a weekend hike.  Of course, after four days of pain, there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight.  Ice, ibuprofen, elevation, rest.  Repeat.

As much as I hate “taking it easy,” I also know that the many times I’ve ignored an injury and pushed through a hike, I’ve only made matters worse.  Increasing healing time isn’t something I’m keen on doing right now, especially as I’m in the midst of readying my house to put on the market, and it’s just the beginning of spring/summer.  So I’ll go easy on myself for now.  In the meantime, while I recover, I’ll be posting some photos and stories from older hikes.  Up next, one of my favorite activities while hiking: searching for crazy mushrooms.

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Trail of the Ledges: Take 2

Saturday was the perfect spring day in the Berkshires — a pleasantly-cool morning with abundant sunshine and no clouds to be found.  We knew that it would be the ideal day for a good hike, and knowing that the recent rains would bump up the volume of trail-side cascades, we opted to give Trail of the Ledges another try at Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.  After all, the previous time we attempted the trail, we ran out of daylight and never got up to see the better falls on the Overbrook Trail.  We strapped on our hiking boots, grabbed the cameras, and set out early before the sanctuary filled with bird-watchers and other hikers.

Another couple came along right behind us, and together we tried to decide if the trail was safe enough to climb — all that rain was wonderful for the streams, but it also made the entire trail a cascade.  Seriously.  But we decided to brave the wet, mossy rocks and take advantage of such a gorgeous day, and I’m glad that we did.  Only a few steep spots were an issue with the added water running down, but we took it slow, enjoying the vibrant green all around us, and stopping for photos of trillium and mushrooms.  The views from the fire tower were lovely, and we enjoyed trying to catch some of the many butterflies on film.

I was particularly looking forward to the trip down the Overbrook Trail because I knew the cascades and falls would be roaring.  And they certainly were.

It made for such a lovely hike back to the nature center, listening to the rushing water and the birds singing.  It was an absolutely perfect day for that hike, and it was the highlight of my weekend.  Did anyone else get out and hit some trails?

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