“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”

 

scan0010 copy 2When I thought about reflecting on this past year, I thought I would be thinking and contemplating about what an epic year this was.

I thought it’d be about all the lovely crazy adventures. How even though I’m terrified of planes, and I’ve only just begun to wean myself from needing some sort of anxiety easing medication to step on plane and stop myself from praying to all that is holy that my plane is not going to crash in a fireball — that I jumped out of a plane and went skydiving, twice. How I finally quit smoking. How my amazing co-workers forced me to meet my horse-riding crush idol while they streamed it live. (Thanks, Horse Network). How because of my niece, my heart grows. How I see the world differently because of her. How I want the world to be better. How I want to be better for her.

How my epic Mexico trip taught me – not having a phone for 10 days (yes, I know how privileged that makes me for that even being an “issue”. And how fucked up that is even a thing worth writing about) gave me the space to slow down, check out, and just do whatever I felt like whenever my body told me to. I didn’t try to capture the moment, I didn’t have anything to distract me. I took long walks. I danced my heart out. I read for hours. I started the winter solstice at sunrise doing 100 sun salutations on the beach. How I went parasailing. And with a crazy partner in crime, learned that with enough tequila you can convince your boat operator to let you parasail, upside down and drop from a crazy height. Even though said adventure was ill-advised and cost me my iPhone I’d do it all again.

I thought I’d be talking about all the wonderful moments of this year. And how I’m starting a new amazing chapter with a new job come January 2nd. (Woohoo!) But that is not what I’m going to write about.

I’m writing about Josie. I would not be the person I am today if I had not met him. If I had not dated him. If I had not lived with him. Even after all the stupid shit, we did to each other, like you do when you fall in love in your 20s, we were friends. But that is what I’m thinking about, because, while I was in Mexico, he passed away. That’s the first time I’ve written those words. And it still doesn’t feel real.

It shouldn’t be this hard. We had drifted apart the past few of years. We got busy. We lived in different time zones. All the usual life things where phone calls get less frequent happened. Sure we’d catch up a couple times a year but he wasn’t in my life daily. So I find myself surprised by how sad I feel. But in so many ways he still was in my life and will continue to be.

Every time I sing full force in the car or the shower – and for those few souls who have heard me sing, know that it isn’t in tune or pretty. But he taught me to sing like no one is listening. To dance like no one is watching. And to not care if you sound like a drowned cat while some scratches on a chalkboard.

I met him while working my first political campaign. And like all great loves, especially when you are young and still learning who you are, who you want to be and becoming an adult, it was all-encompassing in a way that I don’t know if it could happen today. It was before I knew what it really meant to love someone you were not related to. Before I knew how you could physically feel your heart grow. Before, I knew that color-coded checklists, calendars and a detailed plan for your entire life – doesn’t necessarily make you happy.

We had so many adventures. And we were so ridiculous and crazy, in best and worst possible ways.

We took road trips. Things went wrong. And the best things happened when they did.

My car over-heated and broke down on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere Idaho. Miles and miles from the nearest town. And that town had 35 full-time residents. The concert in Boise did not happen. But when we finally made it to town, we met the most amazing people. At the local bar (which also served as the post-office & grocery-store) a man fixed my car, free of charge. We enjoyed amazing music and stories at that bar. We slept out under stars, next to a waterfall, that ran into a hotspring. We drove to Oregon and camped out on the beach next to the ocean. And the next morning, everything was soaking wet from the morning mist, we said fuck it and went for a very icy skinny dip.

He introduced me to Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, Neal Cassady, to poetry. That good port is worth having port glasses for. That the best way to watch the Big Lebowski is with White Russians. And those White Russians are even better if you made the Kahlua.

He taught me it is always better to climb the tree – even if it means you get stuck in it.

That having a map is over-rated. That going down an unmarked road leads to the best sunsets.

That just because I don’t want children doesn’t make me any less of a woman.

That blueberries picked on the side of the road is better than any dessert bought in a store.

Being right doesn’t always make you happy.

That String Cheese Incident is waaaayyyy better than Phish. (I know Vermonters you are going to want to kill me but let’s leave that for another day). And Widespread Panic puts on a better live show on the weekday than the weekend.

That rice and zucchini is the best dinner ever. That homemade peanut butter with honey on toast cures all woes.

That mid-night campus discgolf is worth staying up for.

He taught me that being honest isn’t always the less painful route but is always the right one. That just because you love someone doesn’t mean you want to or should build a life with them.

That you can be happy for someone even if it makes you sad at the same time.

That being sad doesn’t make me weak. That someone else doing something for me or helping me does not mean I can’t do it myself.

I was with Josie when I was transitioning from a young woman to an adult. Maybe I would have learned many of these lessons even if I didn’t learn them with him. But it wouldn’t have been as over the top, ridiculous, inappropriate or fun. There are so many things that I am today because of who I became during those years. I will be forever thankful.

Thank you, Joe, for coming to an endless amount of campaign fundraisers even if that was not your cup of tea. To making protest signs.

For making my favorite soup when you knew I would have a bad day.

Thank you for always having a second blanket on the bed because I was going to hog the first all to myself.

When I was working insane campaign hours, thank you for bringing food to the office. And stopping by after your shift and doing voter ID entry so I could come home faster. For doing my laundry with yours so I could get an extra hour of sleep in the final weeks of the campaign.

Thank you for buying me a mixer even after I ranted about how I’d kill any man who bought me a kitchen appliance because I needed to bake at 3 am.

Thank you for the best pair of shoes I’ll ever own. The same pair of Chacos that I wear nearly every day in the summer.

Thank you for buying back the camera I pawned to make rent.

Thank you for teaching me to not just listen to music but to feel it.

Thank you for all the road trips with no destination.

Thank you that even if you hated a candidate I worked for, you never voted against them. And gladly shook their hand.

Thank you, that even after we broke up (for good this time) you still drove 2 hours (and 2 hours back) to pick my sister up from the airport – with a ridiculous sign waiting for her at the in-gate.

Thank you for introducing me to your amazing family – especially for one of the best Christmas of my life.

For when, years after I moved from MT and I was hurting from a breakup, for sending me a memory foam and body pillow to help me sleep, and loads of books and the best-mixed CD ever. For still continuing to send me books.

For when I moved to NYC, inviting me to your cousin’s wedding. And when I moved to Vermont, you came to visit for my birthday party. There isn’t a place I lived, since my childhood home, that I don’t have a memory of you.

Thank you for accepting me as I am and not try and make me “better”. And teaching me that even the parts of me that are messed up are amazing. That it is ok when I’m stressed I will bake at 3 am. Or empty the kitchen cabinets and clean out the fridge – even if I have a mid-term at 8 am. That it might not be healthy or the way to handle it. But thank you for not trying to have me do it in anything other way than at my own pace. And, however, I showed up that day that you were along for the ride.

He didn’t try and define me as the punk or hippie or sporty or crunchy or over-hyper or the over-achiever or the college-girl who, given the right night, would challenge almost anyone to outdrink whiskey shots. Because I was all of those things.

Even to this day, he could call me on my shit like no other. Because he knew me. He’d call me out for running. When I was spiraling in my todo lists. Remind me that I needed to do as much for myself as I do for others. I knew I was serious about someone when I called him to tell him about it.

I thank him for being part of my life. Whenever “our” song comes on my playlist I sing it with a full heart, a light heart and a thankful heart that our paths crossed.

The world seems so much quieter and less vibrant knowing he is not in it.

Thank you for all those years ago for being my Jack.

The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

Peace, love, and happiness to you always Josie.

 

 

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Whiteface: A 46er at Last!

IMG_20160725_130752It’s official. I’m a ADK46er! Woohoo. Ok, not quite official, I have some paperwork to fill out but I’ve completed the hikes so can wear my ADK46 gear with pride. It took me 2 years, 11 months and 1 day, or 1066 days – but who’s counting, right?

I’ll be doing a wrap-up of my journey on becoming a solo 46er in the near(ish) future but for now I’ll just write about the final hike. It feels pretty amazing to have completed, and yes I did them all solo. And no I didn’t die, even if I’m pretty sure my mom thought I might.

I saved Whiteface for my final hike. It was my grandfather’s final and it also meant some fam could drive the toll road and join me to celebrate (a.k.a. bring me champagne).

There are basically two trails to the top of Whiteface (not counting the driving toll road). The Wilmington Trail is by far the more popular, and many hikers combo with Esther. I had already checked that off a couple of years back as a single summit hike and dipping my toe for my first herd-path hike, so I decided to take the path less traveled approaching via Connery Pond. Whenever, I have the option I always prefer the less popular routes, particular for more trafficked peaks. And Whiteface can be a tourist destination for sure. Which I was reminded by those at the summit talking on their phone – on speaker. Yeah. Let’s add that one to the etiquette list.

Originally, I planned to hike the day before, but my cousin pointed out that it was Iron Man weekend in Lake Placid and was sure to be a mad house, not to mention that hotels would be sparse. Boy was he right, everything was booked up. Monday it is!

This is probably the smallest and least assuming trailhead I have every parked at with room for only a handful of cars. It’s on private property – as is the first section of the trail. Thank you to the property owners!

The trail skirts the shore of Connery Pond on an old road, before bearing away and reaching a gate at .4 miles. You’re now entering what used to be an old salvage timber road in the aftermath of the 1950 hurricane. Great spot to jog in – pretty easy for the next several miles to come – enjoy it and keep that speed up.

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At 1.4 you get a very slight incline and gentle decline to a junction at 2.5 mi to Whiteface Landing (left for Whiteface Landing and right for Whiteface summit). I highly recommend checking it out on the way back down.

The trail climbs gently to a the bank of Whiteface Brook at 3.1 miles and reaches a lean-to above the bank of the brook at 3.6. You’ll hit some re-routes to avoid crossing the brook, a few muddy sections, and some more worn areas. But for the ADKs it is a walk in the park and the most maintained trail I’ve seen in ages. 

IMG_0583My trail book said to turn left at the lean-to but it is clearly (and easily followed) marked straight. From here you start “climbing”. But by the end of the day you’ll yearn for this section. On a humid day you’ll get your first sweat in. At 4.5 miles the trail climbs above the bank and pulls away from the brook. I found it a great spot for a snack and to fuel up for the last 1.6 miles. The fun is just about to begin.

IMG_0585From here the grades continue to increase and footing gets rougher with various boulder climbs. Be careful to pay attention to the trail. In one section, in the evergreen, I lost the trail.

There is a large boulder that you need to climb up. If you follow the beaten path (like I did) to the right it’ll eventually peter out. Don’t try to bushwack it – turn around and you’ll pick it back up. The key is when you see the boulder just climb up it – even if the beaten path goes around.

It  gets steeper, and steeper, and steeper yet, with rougher and rougher footing. There is a short breather when you reach a nice view on rock chute at 5.6 miles. I remember thinking where the hell is this damn viewing ledge. Knowing the last .5 miles would be even steeper and challenging.

Here’s where I met rain. Did I mention the forecast wasn’t looking great? Oh joy. Nothing like a steep rock chute freshly wet from the rain. But on the plus side, I was in the woods for the rain, and barely got wet, it actually cooled me down a bit.

Reaching the timberline at 5.8, the trail in now marked with yellow paint blazes and climbs over various boulders and ledges. Pay close attention and take your time following the paint blazes. I lost them about half-way in and made my own way up, where others had as well. It was doable but a couple of leaps from slippery ledge to ledge, that would be better to have avoided. I found it easy to follow on the way back down. Just keep a close eye on the yellow blazes not the beaten path from previous hikers.

I took nearly no pictures during challenging section – something about focusing on the actual hike part and hauling my winded ass up the mountain.  It is tough but by no means in the top 10 for difficulty in the ADK46.  But here are a couple from another website. But yeah my pictures don’t capture much from 4.5 miles in until the summit.

The last .6 miles is the hardest, steepest and most work fo the day. And really most your work is only in the last mile or so. Not much elevation gain in the first 4.5+miles – and you have to make up for it at some point, right? By my estimation there is about 2200 feet in elevation gain in the last 1.5 miles. #worthit

On the plus side you’ll fly down on the way back once you’re past the steep section and you can just run out. I literally didn’t see a single person until I reached the summit. Just the way I like it. And couldn’t be more perfect for my final hike – just me and the trail.

At the summit there weren’t any hikers. Just some tourist doing yoga poses, below the summit, looking very confused seeing me hike up. One girl asked if I hiked all the way up. I was hungry and tired and resisted being snarky but rather stopped and chatted for a bit about the ADKs, 46 and that this was my final hike. They were very congratulatory and nice.

0725161358Upon getting to the top of the summit there wasn’t much of a view left. We were basically in the clouds, but I had some decent views on the open climb up. But only snapped one picture.. On the observation deck my mom, sister and niece greeted me with an epic sign, lunch and best of all champagne. Thanks, you’re the best:)

The weather turned nasty so we headed inside to relax, eat, drink and celebrate. Also having ice to refill in my water reservoir was such a treat. Not to mention fresh lunch, dessert and did I mention the champagne? (only a glass for me, since  you aren’t done until you hike back down). P.S. you DO have to hike down. Getting a ride back via the toll road doesn’t count in my book or by the official designation of the 46ers and they’ll make you redo it. #JustSayin

0725161403_HDROn the way back down the weather lightened up (no rain), and the clouds even lifted. Of course right after I left the summit. Damn you ADK Gods, but it was a quick hike down. I spent some time soaking it in at Whiteface Landing, thinking of my completion, my grandfather and the like. I’ll hold my family story and the significance  for my final journey post, but it was a great moment of solitude.

I then ran jogged the rest of the way out and even with the hour break at the top and about 30 min or so at Whiteface Landing completed in 9 hours. I couldn’t quite believe the hike was already over with hours and hours of daylight to spare. Woohoo!

IMG_20160725_192326Even better I had a comfy hotel room waiting for me (thanks, mom), with an adjoining room for my mom and sister. We had a great celebratory dinner and opened some gifts from family. Thanks to my Uncle Rich (46er #1087 / 1974) for the rockin’ ADK46 sweat shirt! He was the first in our family to become a 46er — even if I did do them slightly faster:)

My sister and I then “hit the town” for some drinks. And by hit the town I mean we went down to the hotel bar and had two drinks around the outside fire pit. I know, big partiers.

I have no doubt I’ll continue to hike these mountains for many, many years to come, though there are some that I’ll leave as a one-time experiences (ahem Couchsachraga). Until next time… Stay tuned for my wrap-up post of my journey on becoming a solo 46er in the near(ish) future. 

#46 done and none on deck!

Whiteface – completed 7/25/2016, total distance 12.2 miles, elevation 4867′, order of height 5, elevation change 3232′, hike time 9 hrs

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The Runner-Up: Allen Mountain

AllenI’ve been putting Allen off, so much so, that it is my 45th climb. Nothing like saving it for the near end. But with so much history for my family Whiteface was destined to be my final peak. I’ve heard horror stories of Allen’s difficulty, length, mud and red-slime. It was one hike I was not looking forward to.

This is considered the most difficult peak of the Adirondack 46 simply because it is such a long hike over confusing forest and logging roads to get to just the base of the peak to start climbing. — EveryTrail

The longest 46’er, complete with long, boring trails, six River crossings, a slide filled with slippery red slime and four gorgeous viewpoints. 19.5 miles, RT. Expect this hike to take anywhere from 12 to 15 hours. — High Peaks MeetUp

But really I didn’t find it that bad. Sure it isn’t a walk in the park – but compared to Redfield and Cliff I found it much easier. And I didn’t find the trail difficult to follow in the least. Perhaps, a different time of year the turns would be harder to pick-up on or I’m just used to the herd paths by now. Continue reading

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To Cliff and Redfield with love

Dearest Cliff,

Cliff and RedfieldYour reputation does not disappoint. You namestake was appropriately chosen though, I still prefer Saddleback Cliffs. It is really your mud-filled cliffs that makes them a doozy. Yes, thank you for layering the slippery mud right in my foothold. Not to worry the bruised knee will be just fine in a few days time. But for all I’ve heard, I found you much more amenable than I had expected. But the mud! Really, knee deep mud. Is that necessary? I thought my gaiters would be good protection. Nope, not when it repeatedly goes above the gaiter line. And did you enjoy when I used the logs to cross one of your many mud ponds, only to discover the true slippery nature of mud and bite it, right into said mud pond. No worries, I was already covered in mud, so what’s a little bit more.

Cliff and RedfieldDear Redfield,

You were perhaps one of the more challenging climbs I’ve had. An endurance test. The combination of bedrock, boulders and elevation change wiped me out. It was already a long day but I blame you for how my body felt the next day. I earned every sweat drenched step. But following the tributary with its cascades, waterfalls, and flumes was downright beautiful. Luckily, I always carry a headlamp, since I underestimated our time together and was hiking out in the dark. Perhaps I’ll come visit again, but don’t hold your breathe for anything in the near future.

With love, Gretchen

All kidding aside. This was a long hike. I’m sure there are many that have and could do it quicker. But Redfield in particular, was the perfect storm on the type of trail I’m slow at. Reaching the parking lot at 11pm, is never my ideal, but as I’ve said many times before, I’m not the fasest hiker, and while I usually finish before the trail estimates, this hike was a beast for me.

Cliff and RedfieldStarting at the Upper Works parking lot it starts out easy as pie on a flat road and for the next 1.6 miles has some easy climbs and descents with easy-moderate footing. Don’t miss the large meadow just before the Calamity Brook bridge crosing at 1.6. The trail then gets rougher, where you get your first taste of mud, and the what feels like never ending rocks and boulders. No biggie in daylight – but in the dark with my headlamp this felt never ending on the way out. Not to mention, my feet were screaming at me. Continue reading

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The best laid plans

731210_originalNo matter how carefully you plan life can throw you a curve. That’s why I’m writing on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon and not on the summit of Redfield or Cliff.

I thought I had it all worked out. Unlike most of my hikes, I even rented a little motel to stay closer to the Upper Works Trail head the night before, to hit the trail early, get some extra rest and have all the daylight I needed. Yep. Plans did not go accordingly.

Started off strong. Headed down last night to my cheap inexpensive motel, enjoyed a nice dinner relaxing with a book. Slept hard with dreams of the hike to come.

13502021_10153722123321732_4694035759569825356_nAlarm went off at 4:01am. Sure, I was tired and felt a little off but who doesn’t at 4am, right? And things basically went awry from there – coffee machine didn’t work, forgot my cooler so had to go back for it, and then went to the wrong trailhead. That was an easy fix that I realized quickly and really only cost me 15 minutes, since it was just another couple miles down the road.

I thought. I still have this. I’m hitting the trail a couple of hours before my usual. I got this. Right? Wrong.

I should back up. Earlier in the week I had, what I thought was a ‘fabulous’ experience of food poisoning. Nothing like spending the night on your bathroom floor, blankets and all, because you can’t even keep water down. No. Chinese food will not be on my dining menu for a while.

But after a day of rest, I felt great both Thursday and Friday. And made it to the ADKs no problem or concern. Then today, about 90 minutes in, I was just dragging. And then pretty soon a headache, and then yup, starting throwing up. Nothing like running to the edge of some rocks and hope that no one is coming up or down the trail. Luckily, I made it off the trail for anyone else that might be coming on that day.

I gave it another 15 minutes. And when it happened again. I called it. I thought of pushing forward. And a year ago I may have done that. But after hiking 42 of the high peaks I’ve learned a couple of things. Continue reading

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Sky’s the Limit: Gray and Skylight

Gray & Skylight

With only six mountains left to finish off my ADK46 there aren’t many “easy” or “short” hikes left. I started the first hike of my last season with a ~20+ mile hike up Mt. Skylight and Gray Peak. The reports of the view a top Skylight did not disappoint!

Per usual, with my first hike of the season I didn’t sleep well the night before. Thinking and rethinking did I forget something. And the usual jitters of excitement. I sure could have used a more restful night for the long day ahead.

Like clock-work I woke up at 4:30am and was out the door by 5am for my first breakfast before hitting the road. I was perfectly on time to make the first ferry and shave some drive time. But alas I don’t have my routine down yet and forget to bring cash since the ferry doesn’t take the dependable debit card. There’s 20 min lost. Oh well  – if that’s the worst mistake of the day I’ll be in good order.

As expected there was a backlog at the entry to the parking lot at the ADK Loj. With no attendant yet, folks were filling out their parking slips and fee at the booth rather than parking and going back. Please, please hikers – grab your envelope, park and go back. It would keep things moving much more quickly.

My first freak out of the day was when I put my pack on and it felt waaayyy too light. After unpacking, checking and rechecking that I had everything, I’m going to say the past few months of cross-fit class have paid off with some extra strength. I’ll take it! Especially, since I’m an obsessive water packer. It was a humid day and I’d need it! Continue reading

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