Friday, April 5, 2013

Week One in the Great Smoky Mountains

I'm participating in back to back Road Scholar hiking programs in Smoky Mountain National Park. At least I thought I was. Come to find out the first program at the Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville, NC, actually consisted of hikes on the AT in Nantahala National Forest.

There were 17 participants and two leaders. Each morning after breakfast we made a bag lunch and set off in two vans to hike a section. The hikes were planned to be in and out which was a bit of a disappointment. Since there were two vans it was possible to hike the same distance and cover more trail mileage but unfortunately this is not how the trip operated. Monday we hiked from Deep Gap to Standing Indian Mountain where there were fabulous views. We ate our lunch on the summit and returned to the vans. We stopped at Standing Indian Shelter.

On Tuesday we hiked about 2.6 miles from Rock Gap to a side trail that led down to Standing Indian Campground. We found a spot for lunch and then walked back out. On this hike we stopped at Rock Gap Shelter. It was empty on the way in but on the way out we were joined by a number of thru hikers who were planning to spend the night. A shuttle service operates from Rock Gap to the town of Franklin, NC, where many go to shower and re-supply before entering the Smoky Mountains. The hikers we met were planning to visit Franklin the next day. The shelter is quite close to the road.

You can see our fearless leader, Jack, in red, standing in the shelter.

On Wednesday, in order to give group members alternatives, The vans traveled to both ends of the section. From the north, it was a two mile hike to Siler Bald, from the south, four miles. This gave hikers the choice of a four mile round trip, an eight mile round trip or a six mile point to point hike. I was delighted and chose the six miler. As we took the two mile steeper walk in, we arrived on Siler Bald much earlier than the other group. The views were magnificent and we enjoyed our lunch up there.

On the way out I took the opportunity to visit Siler Bald Shelter, located quite a way downhill on a loop parallel to the AT. I joined the group taking the four miles back down at the trail junction.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Adventures on Tri-Met

I've been to Portland, OR, numerous times.  My son, daughter-in-law and three adorable grandchildren live here and I try to see them for six or seven days four times a year.  And I've been a big fan of the transit system. I always take public transit from the airport when I arrive and frequently take it back to the airport when I'm ready to depart. I use it to visit yarn stores and to get downtown for Sunday UU services and children's theater. It's cheap (Honored, Portland's euphemism for senior, Citizens travel for $1.00) and the service is frequent. I have an app for my iPhone that plans out my trips and tells me how soon the bus will arrive at my stop. What more could one ask for?

This trip Tri-Met has not quite lived up to my effusive praise. Coming in from the airport I must change from the light rail to the #71 bus to end up within two blocks of my destination. It's never been an issue in the past. This time I stood at the transfer point with more than 20 other people for over 30 minutes. While the sun was out when my plane landed, by the time I reached the NE 60th Ave. overpass it was drizzling. Finally a bus pulled up. It was not full but it had a sign in front saying, "Drop Off Only."  Some people did get off and the bus pulled away leaving all of us standing in the rain. I called Tri-Met from my cell phone only to be told that the bus was running late.  This, of course, was not news. We'd all been standing there for more than half an hour by this time. Apparently when Tri-Met busses run late the dispatcher orders the driver to leave prospective passengers standing at the stop so the bus can make up for lost time. In other words, the bus will be on time but the passengers won't. I don't understand this but it appears to be standard practice. Ultimately another bus came along although by then we were all pretty wet.

Thursday after walking the twins to school, I took transit to Twisted, a yarn shop in NE Portland. My PDX Bus app got me there with no difficulty. As I was meeting a friend she dropped me off relatively close to home and I enjoyed the rare sunny February weather and walked home. Today I headed back to the same yarn shop. After dropping the twins off, I headed to the bus stop. As I approached the intersection I could see the bus at the stop on the other side of the street. The light was against me but I scurried across to catch it before it pulled away. Traffic kindly stopped for me. The bus driver chastised me for rushing across telling me it wasn't a safe thing to do. I told him it was  because I was from the east coast where we have s faster pace. He was not convinced. I got to the yarn store in good time and enjoyed the morning having coffee and working on my current project. It's a very pleasant space as you can see.

At 11:30 I realized I should start back if I was to be home before pick-up time at school. I checked the PDX Bus app and it didn't seem to want me to go home the way I came. I was puzzled by this and reluctant to follow the app's directions because it wanted me to take the #77 along NE Broadway and then change to the dreaded #71 which had given me so much trouble on Wednesday. No matter how I tried I could not get the app to allow me to retrace the morning route. Ultimately I acquiesced and took the #77. I confirmed with the driver that I could transfer to the #71 at NE 58th and Halsey. I got off the bus and the app reported that the #71 was due in one minute. And it did turn up quite promptly. As I boarded I asked the driver if I was headed in the right direction for SE52nd and Division and he said no, it was in the other direction. My heart sank. That's not what the app showed but I was not certain myself. Then he corrected himself and said it was the right bus. As soon as we arrived at the NE 60th Ave overpass I was on familiar territory. I made it home just in time to watch the napping baby while my daughter-in-law went to fetch the twins. As I exited the bus (the driver announced the Division stop for my benefit) I told him he had me frightened for a minute there. He told me he had frightened himself when he realized he had the route reversed in his mind. So, all's well that ends well but I now now that the Portland bus service is not quite as wonderful as I have touted it to be.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Women's Wilderness Weekend

This weekend my friend Maryann and I went to Rhode Island for the winter version of Women's Wilderness Weekend.  The event is held three times per year.  I had attended once before in October of 2011 and loved it.  In the intervening time I have had a conflict each time it was held.  It was great to finally participate again.

The event is held at the W. Alton Jones Campus of The University of Rhode Island. It's situated on 2,300 acres of forest, lakes and fields.  The accommodations are in heated cabins with bunk beds and hot showers.  Each cabin sleeps about 24 persons but usually only the bottom bunks are used.  There is a large center for meetings with a dining room, sitting areas, fireplace and classrooms.  Meals, served buffet style are healthy and delicious.

Here I am standing in front of the meeting center, posing with the moose.

There were lots of organized activities including ecology hikes, dream workshops, tai chi, massages, yoga, tarot card reading. A knitting workshop was listed but ended up cancelled.  I chose to spend that scheduled time knitting by the fire which blazed all weekend.

It was very cold, never going above freezing but the cabins were cozy and the main building very comfortable, even hot with the fire going. I haven't experienced real winter in five years.  I'm pleased to report that my clothing and gear which had not been used for years was more than adequate to the occasion.

I participated in two hikes on the property.  We looked for animal prints, checked out the lake and the bubbling spring.  In the lake was a large beaver lodge.

Shortly after the hike leader told us beavers rarely come out during the winter, not actually hibernating, but slowing their heart rates down we came across this:

Since it had snowed over night, a beaver had clearly come out of the lodge to have a bit of breakfast.  The chips were fresh and on top of the snow.  This tree will soon be dead if the beavers continue snacking.

Bubbling Spring Pond was mostly frozen although we were able to spot some bubbles off to one side.  Everything was just slightly snow covered which made for beautiful scenery.

Animal tracking was really interesting.  We saw signs of foxes, coyotes, squirrels and mice.  Here is an example of fox prints on a snow covered log:

Saturday evening I had a tarot card reading.  It's not something that I have a lot of faith in but this was really interesting and the reader answered some questions and validated some thinking I've been having.

I can't say enough about this group of women, the weekend program and the setting.  The price is very reasonable and there is so much fun to be had.  The next weekend is May 3rd through 5th.  I can't wait to go back.  I'm planning to encourage friends to join me.  Hope to see you there too.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Skipping Sunny FL

As our time in sunny FL was coming to a close last April, DH and I decided we were not going to spend a fifth winter as snow birds.  The weather in Crystal River is pleasant and the company, at The Islands and at Nature Coast UU, is good.  We enjoyed being outdoors, biking and walking.  We liked the townhouse we rented as it is larger and better equipped than our place in NJ.  The washer and dryer in the unit were particularly appreciated.  I will never like walking my laundry two buildings over even though there is rarely a wait for a machine and the laundry room is kept spotless by our super, Romeo.

What we missed in Florida was culture, particularly our easy access to Manhattan.  Since coming north, we've visited numerous museums, seen countless independent films, enjoyed first class chamber music.  We also missed our families.  Being in NJ all year allows us to have the company of our NY/NJ children and grandchildren.  For the first time in many years we celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas at our house.  It was wonderful.  It's also a treat to meet Jackie in Manhattan for a meal and a visit from time to time.

So far the winter has been extremely mild.  I heard on the radio the other day that December and January have averaged 5 degrees above normal.  We're expecting a cold snap in the next few days and the temperature is forecast to stay below freezing for an extended time. We'll have to see how we fare. Inside we are warmer than we ever were in Florida.  Our apartment is kept at a steady 72 to 74 degrees.  At night I have to open the window to bring the temperature down to one suitable for sleeping.  In Florida the unit was difficult to heat with uninsulated windows.  DH was almost always cold until April.  If we turned the heat up to the comfort range, the electric bill took our breath away.

I'm really appreciating my knitting friends as well.  There are scheduled knit group meetings three times a week at various venues and ad hoc get together opportunities at Lisa's yarn shop, All about Ewe.  I missed her grand opening last February and I've been busy making up for lost time.  Her shop has a comfortable seating area, a welcoming atmosphere and absolutely lovely yarn. 

I'm currently working on two knitting projects.  One is a cable sweater for DH.  It's a challenging pattern and I've suffered a few set backs but I'm soldiering on.  I've finished the front and am most of the way through the sleeves.  It would be nice to finish it before the winter is over.  My other project is very long term, a shawl I started November 29, 2011.  It's the kind of project that requires intense concentration, precludes conversation and is knit in fingering weight yarn.  I enjoy it when I'm working on it, but don't often find the solitary time.  In the meantime, I've completed lots of small projects: fingerless mitts, cowls, sweaters for the OR grands, hats (one for Molly and one for me), a washcloth for Orion and four baby bears (three pictured below, fourth given to charity).  Photos of the other finished items are available on my ravelry page.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

It's Been a Long Time

When last we heard from the intrepid travelers, they were heading home from sunny FL.

It was an uneventful trip until we arrived in Columbia, MD, for a long anticipated visit with our friends, John and Kathy.  We were enjoying a lovely dinner and the chance to catch up with each other when my phone rang.  It was Chuck calling to tell me he had just learned that Josh had been found dead in his apartment in Colorado.  It was a shock.  If we had to be away from home when learning such awful news, we couldn't have been in a better place than with John and Kathy.  We have been friends for more than 25 years and are familiar with each others children and their histories.  It was so helpful to be with supportive, understanding people as we started to process the information.

It's been difficult for me to blog since that time.  There were memorial service details to work out, an autopsy report to digest and lots of thoughts and feelings to process.  Fortunately our children and my DIL, Sara, swung into action and did the hard work of planning a lovely service that was attended by more than 200 people. We're progressing through a year without him, marking how we miss him at various holidays and his birthday.  He and I had been somewhat estranged and I didn't hear from him often.  I do find myself thinking about him now and wishing he were still here, out there in the west, far away but with the possibility of contact.

Shelter on the AT in Vermont

Aside from lots of knitting, the one accomplishment I'm very proud of is my backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont.  There is a 21 mile section between Bennington, VT and Arlington/Wardsboro Road that has no road crossings.  It must be hiked as a backpack.  I've been thinking and scheming about it for years now.  Since I'm now approaching 70, I figured it's now or never.  I knew I could never do it with my old backpacking gear so I did some research and purchased new, ultralight equipment.  I did a trial run overnight in NJ and when that was a success I watched the weather report for a four day stretch of good weather in Vermont.  I drove up on my own, left the car at the trailhead near Bennington and set off into the woods.  I was out for four days and three nights.  There were times that I felt physically challenged but I soldiered on.  I never felt alone.  There were many southbound hikers to meet during the day and there were plenty of people at the various shelters each night.  At the end of the hike my sister picked me up at the northern trailhead and we spent the afternoon, evening and next morning in Manchester, VT.  I hope to make more trips like this in the spring.

I'm hoping to blog regularly again.  I have lots of knitting projects to show you and lots of things going on in my life.  Let's see how it goes.