Sunday, October 31, 2010

Winding my way thru the woods

Ok, so here's the plan!  Today is going to be busy.  It's already past noon and I've hardly begun my "tasks" for the day.  But somehow the computer keeps calling me back. So, a few words, a few pics and I'm done.  Then on to a few phone calls, a few prayers (for a job interview tomorrow!) and so it goes.

Into the woods thru the boggy areas!

Some of really wet areas along the trail.

Moss and lichens are everywhere in these woods.

Teaberry or American Wintergreen
Chew on the leaves or make tea
and the berries are edible too.
Official name: Gaultheria procumben.
Blue Berries of some a
research project!
Fabulous Fungi!

Learning to photograph fab fungi
from an award winning photographer Rich Lewis!

Getting up close and personal.  

Zooming in.

Gotta get down, way down !

Then there are the high points, Apple Pie Hill at 209 feet above sea level
is the highest point in the Pine Barrens.  The tower adds another 60 feet total.

On really clear days, from the fire tower,
you can see Atlantic City and in perfect weather, some of

Westward home.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Stuff ya just gotta do!

Sure I'd rather be curled up under the covers than.....oh, wait I've said that before...but somethings, they never change!  I'd rather be reading one of the new books that Amazon deposited on the front door mat, but, paperwork is also part of the Camino!

Can't believe it's been ten years already, but one look at that picture and I know it's true!  Funny thing is I think, oh hell I know, I look (and feel) younger now, than that woman staring back at me from my old passport.

First I had to slog around on line to find the correct form.  Now is it Form DS-82 or DS-11 or DS-5505? Then after reading the slightly confusing directions, complete the application to renew my passport.  Of course this is when I discover issues with my computer at home and it won't print the damn thing!  Ah well, so take the old passport to work and fill it out there and finally I've got a printed copy.  Now I need a photo.

The new picture isn't too bad, as passport pictures go.  What I really wish is that I could use one of the pictures from the Camino, maybe even the one from my blog profile.  Or a picture of me from my first MS150 bike tour. In these pictures I am happier than happy, sweaty, tired, but completely alive. If you want to see me, who I really am, what I really look like, that's the way to go.  That frozen moment in front of a white background, that's not me or anyone else for that matter.  I've seen some passports and barely recognized the person.  Ah well, this is just one of those things you've gotta do if you wanna go over there!! Or anyplace I'd really like to be right now!

So this morning, before heading back out to the Pine Barrens for a hike, it's off to the post office to mail away my most treasured piece of bureaucratic paper!  This one means more to me than my drivers license.  That's saying a lot!  Being able to move about, travel, in all it's forms, including driving is the world to me!

I'm off to write the check that accompanies all the papers and the pics, and the pray that it all comes back speedily!

Oh, by the is DS-82!!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reading Readiness!

Since there are still several hundred days  between me and my camino, the time must be filled somehow.  Aside from a passion for travel, I love, LOVE  books. So read away I will.

As a child I was known for taking the bedside lamp under the quilt and curling up...all toasty warm (can you say fire hazard!) to read Little Women, long after I was supposed to be asleep.  I was (and still am) the only person I've ever known who got into serious trouble, as in grounded, for reading classical literature.  I was slogging thru Hugo's Les Mis when I was about 12 years old, rather than doing any of my homework.  So, instead of returning it to the library per my mothers strict instructions, I wrapped it up in plastic bags, and stuffed in the roots of a large tree.  The tree was in the midst of a field I walked thru on my way into school each morning and again in the afternoon.  On my way in, I'd pick up my book, read it at lunch and any spare moment I got.  I'd even stop in the woods briefly, before redepositing the book, and read a few more lines.  This went on for weeks.  I guess my grades improved a bit, the reading addiction, it only got worse.

The following summer, my Mom took us kids up to Vermont as usual for the month of August.  To this day my sense of that summer is of it having been so a dreary and dark, filled with anxiety and tension.  Only much later did it dawn on me, that the Green Mountains of Vermont were lovely.  Only my time spent in Tzarist Russia following Anna Karenina was stressed and dark!  Sheesh!

Lets just say I'm happy to report, having spent my time in literary Gulags (yup read that too in my early teens) I've moved on to much sunnier climes.  At home today, as a result of a truly horrendous headache, I'm also the happy recipient of my latest book order from Amazon!  Today's FedEx delivery brought not one but two new books.  The latest offerings of my Internet snooping are:  Call of the Camino: Myths, Legends and Pilgrim Stories on the Way to Santiago de Compostela by Robert Mullen and Road to Emmaus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life by Jim Forest.  The former was stumbled too via the Camino Forum, the later an offering from Amazon's little computer algorithms: if you like this, others who bought it bought these as well!  Computer dating at its finest.  Amazon, you can fix me up with a book anytime!

Book report at 11!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sunday Hike, Caranza Memorial to Batsto Village

Tales of what happens when a good hike goes bad!  I have the good fortune to have great friends who were willing to start late for a Sunday hike, as we all had things to do in the morning.  The plan was to do a section of the Batona (BAck TO NAture Trail).  I wanted us to do a section that I'd never been on before.

Strange people running from the Jersey Devil!  Oh wait,  no, it's my husband
and my good friend Vivian on a nice wide portion of the Batona trail!

The Batona trail runs for about 50 miles thru the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey.  It's an unusual area, full of unique plant and wildlife, with a few legends thrown in, including the likes of the Jersey Devil.    Most of the area is very flat, having once been ocean floor.  The soil is sandy and so white that at times the trail looks like it's been snowed on. The trail runs thru what are called scrub oaks, scrub pines and acres of wild blueberries.  Occasionally the trail crosses small creeks or rivers, running cool clear, tea colored, cedar water.  The water get's it's color from bog iron and the roots of cedar trees that line the banks.  Get it on white cotton and it will never be the same.

The Batsto River
Things began to go awry when I made the great mistake of not double checking my stats and figures for each section of the trail, and confusing which section we were going to do on Sunday.  So, instead of a 9 to 9.5 mile hike, we wound up doing a 12.5 mile hike.  Ouch!  At least three of us were sporting new boots on top of it!

I guess this is, as they now refer to these things, a teachable moment or a learning experience!  Things not to do when hiking.

A. Be damn certain which section/distance you are about to embark upon!
B.  Even if it is daylight when you leave home...have lighting gear, be it a head lamp, a hand held flashlight, a wind up no battery type, whatever....have a light!
C. If it's a longer than previous hike, you might want to reconsider using new foot gear this time around.
D. Bring food!
C. Make sure someone, not on the hike (!), knows roughly where your going and roughly when you expect to finish.

We did some of things right, and a few not!  We did have more than enough food, each of us, to go around and water for ourselves and Kiva the Airdale terrier and trusty trail companion.  Family members did know where we all were.

That first mistake though, resulted in doing an unexpected 25% longer hike.  Ok, if you are starting early.  But, we'd calculated to be coming in around 5:30pm to maybe 6pm, dusk.  End result was we were in the forest on fairly narrow trails after sundown.   Thank God for Rich having as always the most complete kit out on the trail.  His two head lamps brought us in safely.  With out them, we would have been in serious trouble, calling the rangers to bring us in.  I have several headlamps, but forgot to check that it was in my regular daypack.

Foot wear, well, I haven't heard back from everyone yet (hope they're all still talking to me!) but amazingly, I don't think we have any real blisters amongst us.  I did discover some irritated areas on the backs of my legs and heels this morning.  Things that, if I was doing a goodly distance today (the Camino!), would probably result in full blown blisters.  With a little more care and conditioning though,  looks like the feet will be ok!  The toe socks, they performed quite well.  The neuroma was at times fiercely painful, but then settled down to dull ache.  Ain't no question, I'm going to need to get a cortisone shot some time this week, and have it repeated six months or so down the pike.

When all is said and done it was a terrific hike inspite of the mishaps.  We made it safely to the Ranger station at Batsto village.  We retrieved the cars that'd been shuttled down there earlier in the morning.  As a full moon rose above the cranberry bogs, fully flooded for harvest, I can at least say we got in safely ahead of Mother Leeds 13th child!

The Jersey Devil himself!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Things I'm learning!

Sometimes it's little things you learn.  Like how long it takes to walk 1.7 miles to work.  For me, on Friday of this week, it appears to have taken 35 minutes.  So, if I can do the math that's 20.5 minutes per mile, so about what we thought I was doing...around 3 miles per hour.  Not too fast, but not too shabby either. SO, that would convert to 4.8k per hour.  Of course, that may improve...or it may not.  Be interesting to see, over the next few weeks of getting back into shape and walking to work once a week (to say nothing of other hikes on weekends!) if my speed improves.  Not that walking the Camino is about speed, far from that.  But, moving along a little faster, sometimes, allows you time to take breaks and at the end, to look about and appreciate what is around you.  Another thing I have to check is the exact distance, as I walked what I believe are essentially parallel roads to the main drag (trying to avoid the traffic).  Mayhap the route was a tad longer..or more embarrassingly .. shorter!

I'm also learning to find (read that make!) time for more prayer/meditation.  It's been as simple as finding the rosary beads in the bedding, to finding a website/blog of the Daily Office.  The later is a terrific way to move thru the year in prayer.  I've had a softcover version for years, but it sits on the shelf.  I'd pick it up occasionally, and always have to try and relearn what goes where and when and then what comes next.  Makes for quite the barrier to my willingness/eagerness to pick it up each time.  Then came the revelation, there is an electronic version!  It not only gives me the mornings readings etc, but reappears magically in the evening.   Now too, if I forget, there is no difficulty/guilt to begin again.  It simply arrives again in the morning.  Like a quiet little offering from the greater world out there.   Maybe it's like that Dummies book series, "The Daily Office for Dummies"!   I'd buy that!

So...for anyone interested, try, !

Guess I should also mention for total RC purists ... this particular site is...gasp, Episcopalian!  The only good Catholic one I can find....ain't free.  T'ain't expensive either, but for the moment I'm going for free.  As a former protestant meself, it doesn't faze me in the slightest.   Pax vobiscum.

Multi colored Linguini!  'splains why I get confused!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bits and pieces!

Had simply the best weekend in ages!  It began quietly enough, with an email to a friend, simply inquiring if he'd any plans to go shopping at our favorite local outdoor shop, REI.  They were having a sale, there were coupons involved and beer for afterwards! 

It took me the better part of an hour to work my way across an entire rack of hiking/trekking poles.  Who knew there could be such variety of weights and options in a "simple" walking stick.  I finally decided on the Leki's as I really find the angled/canted grip to be more natural.  The ones I picked are also part of the ultralight series, so they fit right into my plans to keep the weight down for the Camino to say nothing of fitting into my backpack as well.  Amazingly this pair also have shock absorbers built in, something I had on another pair and liked. I had to laugh, as once again, the "ladies" version just didn't fit me!  They assume if your female your tiny and have tiny hands. Oh contrariness no, of course I don't!  My hands easily reach a full octave on a they're way to long for women's hiking poles.

In the meantime, Joe worked his way thru the hiking shoe dept. and left with two pairs tucked under his arm.  Ray...he simply browsed and left with a thirst for wine or beer, which we then took care of at the Redstone across Rt. 70.   It was amazing to be sitting outside at 8:00 on a Friday evening in mid October.

Having enjoyed ourselves so much on Friday evening, we decided to try for something of a repeat, but with a little more on the outside part.  A quick post on Facebook rounded out our group with friends Bill and Gina joining our plans to hike the Cranberry Trail, in Bredan Byrne State Forest.  We decided on a night hike to allow for daytime things already scheduled.  The Cranberry Trail as we take it makes for a six mile hike.  Then it was a quick drive to Mayo's Half Way House for dinner.  While the others ate burgers I opted for the snapper soup (as in snapping turtle, much to Joe's disgust!)  The soup was excellent as always.  I sat during dinner with my foot propped up on the extra chair at our table, hiking boot removed.

My right foot has a neuroma (pinched nerve, getting rubbed by the metatarsal bones)  and certain shoes, if they ain't wide enough, hurt like *#%@)(* !!!!   These boots have been ok in the past but ... since REI was still having their sale and I had a 20% off coupon, burning a hole in my psyche, it was off to REI again on Sunday afternoon.  This time I was the one trying on half a dozen boots.  I came away with a lovely new pair of Keen boots, waterproof and all.  They are much more closely related to the shoe I wore on the last Camino, also Keens.  They have, for my taste, much more flex in them and a much wider toebox.

Injinji Toe Sock!

Sparkling and new....for how long!

     My Newest Foot Gear!   And to think some women would rather a pair of four inch heeled Jimmy Choo's. Look at these two, what's not to love!

In line with my thinking about the neuroma, and trying to keep my tootsies happy, I'm experimenting.  Since I've got time before my next go, I can play around with some of the details.  There are currently "shoeless" shoes for running, called Vibram Five Fingers, and as a result, socks to match!  The socks are supposed to help prevent chaffing, even when wearing regular boots or shoes.  So, I'm thinking anything that would help prevent the toes getting smushed together in the shoe, might help keep the fire in foot from getting started.  Hell, I haven't even put them on yet, so time will tell.  I can only promise to post the results of the first hike wearing my Injinji socks.

Sunday evening was finished off with dinner at El Camino Real (!) ( ) in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia.   Followed up by a YoYo Ma Concert at the Kimmel Center.  A perfect ending.

PS...tomorrow...walking to work!  Not sure if I'm using the hiking boots...but hoofing it...I am!

And here's where my real world colliding  with (sorry four letter language!)...if I can just click my heels together and whisper.."there's no place like a hike, there's no place like a hike" poof...ruby slippers to hiking boots!!  And I'll be on the Camino in no time.  Just gotta watch out for those houses!  Do they have tornado's in Spain?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

And we're walking....

Driving in my car up to my German class this evening, I had the funniest thoughts about practicing things.  I need to practice my German, so I go to a group type lesson on Wednesday evenings, with a quick beer practice afterwards.  I practice my Spanish via podcasts in the car and at my desk.  This all got me to thinking about the physical practice I need to do the be ready to pound out mile after mile, day after day on the Camino.  Did medieval pilgrims have to practice before they set out?  I think not.  I suddenly struck me full force how unnaturally we live today.  A simple thing that we are  meant to do, almost as unconsciously as breathing, requires sometimes month of prep/practice, if the journey is going to be enjoyed, not just a trial by trail.

This trail of thought got me doing a little research and I found an article about diet and "exercise" during the Roman & Medieval times vs today.  According to this particular source, not only do we consume a much higher fat/cholesterol laden diet, but we also perform 94% less physical activity!  And we all wonder why we're so freaking fat these days!   Apparently we also simply eat way more often, thereby increasing our chances of over consuming calories.

And me?  I live in a small town.  There is a small market about 4 blocks from my house.  We've been known to jump in the car to get items for dinner.  I work 1.7 miles from my home (at least for the moment...please God...let them choose to can me next!!).  I'm embarrassed to admit...I drive to work most days.  I have walked on occasion.  Then I've had about half the work force, as they are passing me - dressed to walk - offer me a ride home, cause that's just so far!  I've ridden my bike on a few occasions, although that's hardly worth the effort to get it out for such a short trip.  My point is, I'm normally an exercise junkie.  When not in recovery mode from something like my surgery this summer, I will bike, hike, run, swim, go to the gym.  Essentially, I don't sit around a lot.  But in terms of simple day to day walking...not that much.  Not the kind of "exercise" my predecessors on the Camino would have had.   Not the kind that would simply allow me to do as they would have done - open the front door, step out, turn and walk all the way to Santiago.   And some how...we refer to their time as the "Dark" ages.  Makes you wonder.

So, my next goal?  Simple and small.   To see if I can't get myself ready early enough to walk to work at least one day out of the week.  Perhaps that simple morning walk will also help to connect me more closely to my larger goal in 11 months time.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

From Mt. Rainer to Rain Gear!

Reading so many other blogs and books about the Camino, to say nothing of my own experiences on the Camino Portuguese, I realize it's time to start thinking about my physical preparations.  On the Portuguese route, we had rain.  Lots of rain.  Rain every day.  So I'm painfully aware of how valuable good rain gear is.
Ray looking snazzy in a regular
backpacking poncho.

 Last time, I took along a green backpacking poncho and then my hubby tells me he forgot to bring his.  So, (deep breath here!) I gave him mine, as I had a fairly water repellent jacket with me.  Neither was quite up to the task as it turns out. I'm not sure anything would have been perfect but I know want better this time around.

Altus, which you can see is
pretty long, but more of a raincoat.

During my research on the Camino Forum I like to frequent, I've found several options.  One is called the Altus and it's actually a type of rain coat that has a large gusset in the back to allow for your backpack.   We saw two girls from Germany wearing them and they seemed pretty good at keeping the rain off.  However, they also seemed long, too long for my liking.  They almost looked like they were mobile tents hiking along!   Perhaps it was a matter of fit, I'm not sure.

Another group of Brits, had rain jackets with their packs over top and rain pants too.  The only draw pack is you then need a cover for the pack too  and knowing my ability to overheat...I think the pants would be a bit too much.  They also used gaiters, and I can see a big plus there especially when your on gravel, as it gets into the boots or shoes and hurts like hell!

The last option, the one I'm thinking of going with is something I found reading about long distance hiking here in the US.  Here the long trails don't have villages conveniently dotted along the way.  Often you go for a week on the AT before you come to anything resembling civilization.  As a result, the folks doing this have to be really self reliant.  From what I've seen and heard talking to them, if they endorse's worth a listen.  One of them has come up with something that, for my money, seems to be the best of all of the above.  It's called the Packa, and it fits over your backpack.  It looks at first like nothing more than your typical elastic edged pack cover.  However, there is a rain coat attached that can be pulled out without ever removing the pack from your back, and then zipped, tied and cinched to fit.  This negates the whole problem of getting yourself covered quickly when it rains, digging in the pack to find your gear etc.  It's got a hood and that has a brim to keep the water out of your face and eyes.   I'm attaching a video I found on Youtube.  It's not cheap but then none of the other gear is either, at least not the good stuff.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bring on the mountains!

Continuing on the outward preparations, I wound up hiking for hours last week on Mount Rainier in Washington State. That's a long way from my home in the southern half of New Jersey, both in miles and terrain.  I

We'd flown out to help celebrate my fathers 80th birthday with family and friends.  We flew in from Florida, Washington DC, North Carolina and New Jersey.  Some drove in from Portland Oregon and up and down the Puget Sound.  So betwixt and between us we covered the country rather well.

While we enjoyed getting together, sometimes it can be stressful when you have that many people together in one not so large apartment.  Not that we were all actually staying with Dad.  So off to the mountain on Friday for a day of hiking and just getting back to what really matters.  We drove the 2 plus hours up to Rainier from Olympia, took off up the trail...only to turn right back and run into the lodge for sunscreen.  Now the Seattle area is not noted for it's sunshine, but we lucked into absolute perfection and the sun would have scorched us but good without help from a tube of SPF 30!  Off we went, each at our own pace.

After a quarter hour we fell into two groups.  The I can walk farther and faster and the I don't want to be pushed, rushed or hurried!  Me, I sort of fall in the middle.  I wasn't out to prove anything but I also couldn't/wouldn't walk as slow as my nearly 60 year old husband and my 77 year old uncle.  Nor did I want to run ahead with my 8 and 13 year old nieces, or try to keep up with my Ironman sister-in-law!  So, I did what I usually do in the family, play monkey in the middle, keeper of the the peace.  Half way between the two groups also means I get to walk on my very own and think my own thoughts.  A very nice place to be.

We didn't get all that high up the mountain this particular hike, but the scenery was fantastic and we got to see some terrific wildlife.   There was what we think was a marmot, sunning himself on a rock.  Around the bend we saw a bear in the meadow far below, munching on berries.  It was a perfect vantage point, as we had a terrific outlook with no chance of him coming near us.  That brown lump in the lower left corner...that's the bear!

Just the right distance!
Sunday's hike with two of my sons and their wives was a completely different story.  We left Olympia in full cover of a "marine" layer, aka FOG!  We got up to Mt. Rainier, hoping for their Sunday brunch at the Paradise Inn.  Unfortunately they'd canceled the brunch since they were closing for the season the following day.  They did however have a terrific lunch, so we feasted together, all the while hoping and praying for the weather to clear.

No change on the weather front so we decided to hike up anyway, since we'd driven over two hours.  The girls had never been there before so even if it wasn't perfect it was still new and exciting for them.  We took a different trail than on the previous hike.  Different in more ways than we could begin to imagine.  Hiking in the fog was actually very interesting.  You'd hear other groups further up the slopes but you couldn't always see them.  Then the clouds would lift a bit and you'd see for quite a distance.

We slowly made our way up Dead Horse Creek.  Great name for a hiking trail!  At one point my d-i-l Adrianne, in the lead, turned back waving her hands madly for us all to be quiet.  As we very slowly approached we found a small herd of deer quietly and contentedly munching away on the alpine meadow barely five feet away.  Turns out we didn't need to worry about them bolting, as long as we didn't make any loud noises, they simply continued to chew their way across the landscape, occasionally staring back at us.

So close we could almost touch them.
Right after this encounter, Ray, our oldest Peter, and his wife Jen, decided they'd had enough so they were going back to the Inn.  Patrick and Adrianne and I decided to forge ahead.  For a bit.  Then we started meeting people who'd been further up...all claiming to have made it above the clouds. So on we went.  We made it to the first snow field.  Someone had made a snowman in the middle. Probably waiting for the season to end so he could have the mountain to himself.

Snowman watching hikers go by.

Then we met more people who'd made it above the cloud cover.  They showed us pictures. Off we went.  The trail go narrower and steeper and rockier and higher and thinner.  I finally had to call it quits.  Truth be told, I am really quite the chicken with heights, although I'm always willing to try and test my ability to handle my fear.  This time though, I'd really had enough. We'd already gone on for at least forty minutes beyond the rest of the family and although the sun struggled to clear a way luck.  So now the kids went on yet further while I waited at the trail side.  They were gone for what seemed an interminable time.   Sitting alone by the trail, high on a mountain side can leave the imagination free to roam. Not a good thing.  Just at the point when I was beginning to panic (albeit quietly) they finally returned.  It seemed like it took us forever to make our way down, and I was eternally grateful for the cloud cover, which meant I never really had to face how high or steep the trail was.  The clouds allowed me to come down in a lovely soft white zone, surrounded by quiet little drips from the needles of the pines around us.

It wasn't actually raining, but everything dripped quietly.

Twice more we stumbled onto deer quietly munching and ignoring us.  On the final descent to the Inn, we suddenly meet up with a fox staring back at us from the middle of the trail.  He too, seemed completely unfazed by people, and loped off into the pine trees and scrub as we made our way down to hot cider and cold glares from the family waiting at the bottom.   The three of us agreed though, we'd do it again in a minute.   Over  2,000 feet was a pretty good afternoon hike, at least for us. We'd started around 5,000 ft at least according to Patrick's calculations and so we made it to nearly 7,000!  Next time, I'm bringing my boots!  Talk about ill prepared!!  I thought we'd go for a Sunday stroll!  Not a mountain climb.  So...bring on the Pyrenees!! I think I'm almost ready... mentally at least!

That's Mt. Rainier and in the distance to the left is Mt. St. Helen.
Of course now I've got to repeat this exercise...with a full backpack on!!