Friday, December 31, 2010

More big trees

On my holiday out West, I encountered a few more big trees to add to my list of favorites:

7. Torrey Pines are the rarest native pine trees and grow on the hillsides above the Pacific Ocean north of San Diego.  Torrey Pines State Reserve, California.
I'm a treehugger.
8. Fremont cottonwoods along the San Pedro River in Arizona.
These massive trees are a bit much to get your arms around.
9.  Saguaro cactus tower above the landscape of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona.
Despite being a bit spiny, but this one hugs me back with massive arms.

What a way to end 2010!  Happy New Year Everyone!  And a special thank you to my folks for a fantastic trip!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Hike in Arizona

Today is Christmas Eve and I am in Sierra Vista, Arizona with my parents visiting my Grandpa and Grandma.  And lucky for me, whenever I visit my parents, we always hike.  And they have a flair for picking some really beautiful trails, today's hike being no exception.

We left my Grandparents in town because they had things to do, and we headed for the mountains.  From town, it was only a 15 minute drive to the trailhead at Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains.  What a contrast from the cactus and scrub desert of the valley!  The canyon is lush forest with a clear creek running through.  We passed ruins of cabins built at the turn of the century, and an enormous, sprawling tree even more ancient- it had been dated to 1760!
Arizona sycamore from 1760
 Then, leaving the creek, the trail switchbacked up the side of the mountain, and eventually opened up at a viewpoint where we could see the town spreading across the valley below in one direction, and high cliffs rising up in the other. 
What a lunch spot
My parents at the spring

After taking a much needed break for lunch, we convinced Mom to continue on for a bit longer, and good thing we did!  We passed by a spring filled with water striders (how could Arizona be so GREEN?!), and then descended to the stream again, which cascaded over boulders, beneath trees still holding onto the last of their orange and red leaves (how could it still be late fall here?!).

The trail kept climbing up the canyon, and my parents decided to head back.  I continued on up the trail by myself.  I stopping to chat with a couple who were just coming down after doing a loop up to the top of the mountain, and hearing their description of the views, I longed to continue on.  The couple was also carrying a huge bag of trash that they'd picked up on their hike.  Apparently, many people come across the boarder here from Mexico, and leave behind things from their journey as they cross these rugged mountains. 

I continued along up the trail, picking up the pace and getting into the flow of the hike, crisscrossing the stream several times, basking in the warm glow of the sun as it shown down through the golden leaves.  Finally, I turned around too, since I'd told my parents I'd only be half and hour behind them.  But I told myself that some day I'd return to climb up to the top, when I could plan ahead for a longer hike.  The timing worked out almost perfectly,  and I caught up with my folks again at the last half mile of the hike.

I was astonished at the lushness of the forest here in Arizona, and love hiking in mountains with peaks over 8000 feet!  When I hike in the North Georgia mountains, I usually feel content and find the unique beauty of the Appalachinan mountains.  But being out West, these steep and dramatic mountains remind me that there are landscapes out here that can stir my soul even more, and that there are ecosystems full of plants and birds and bugs that are fascinating and unfamiliar.  It makes me long to leave my home and venture out to more unknown mountains. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Decisions (Part 2)

After deciding to delay my hike this year, that little nagging voice in my head started questioning, "What if you don't hike until next year, or the year after?  What if you end up unhappy, working nonstop for the rest of your life trudging along the strait and narrow path, never having followed your dreams?"  It didn't feel like I was making a decision I'd regret, but I kept thinking of my past tendencies to avoid change, and wondered if I was making the decision for the wrong reasons.

To clear my mind, I headed up to Amicalola Falls State Park.  Even though Springer Mountain is the official start of the Appalachian Trail, for me, the AT begins behind the Visitor's Center at the arch marking the start of the Approach Trail.  I'd hiked there countless times, but as I bounded along up the trail, I realized I'd never hiked here solo.  Words are inadequate to describe to you the freedom I felt and the clarity I gained hiking at this special place.  I was totally unencumbered, despite carrying my full pack (yippee!).  I was soaring, despite the steepness of the trail (ha!).  Even though this part of the park is normally busy, I was there so early that I was totally alone climbing up the Approach Trail from the visitor's center all along the stream and up the falls.  It was absolutely magical, with ice formations along the falls, the smell of the winter air, the stillness.  I was free to go my very own long-legged pace, and realized I usually don't allow myself to just fly. 

Empty trail, icy Amicalola Falls.

And it was such a relief to just hike for the pure pleasure of it.  Not to be in training mode, not to be thinking of my gear or technique or what I'd read about backpacking on a listserv or the internet, not to be scouting a hike.  All my thoughts just fell away.  I was just there, taking it all in, feeling the trail beneath my feet.  I relished my freedom, skipping when I felt like it, twirling in happiness.  It was a clear day, and there were plenty of winter views through the trees.  I passed by familiar trees, and my favorite spot where all the pink lady slipper orchids bloom in the spring.  I thought about them, lying there dormant, waiting for a different season.

I had planned on stopping for lunch at the Hike Inn, but when I arrived there, the place was teeming with people, and the warmth felt oppressive, so I escaped down the trail to eat by myself out under the sky on a cold log.  Hiking along, mile after mile, hour after hour in solitude, I thought about the times I'd hiked this Approach Trail in early spring when it was crowded with thru hikers.  How I'd cut short a backpacking trip then because I didn't enjoy having so many people around, and instead headed over to quieter mountain.  I realized that it might suit me to delay my trip to avoid the bulk of the thru hikers.

It also was totally clear to me that I wasn't making the decision out of fear of change.  I was choosing one path that brought me excitement and joy.  I still feel committed to my long-distance hike, but I want to do it when the time feels right to me.  And in the meantime, I will keep hiking.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Decisions (Part 1)

I had been planning on starting down the trail for a long-distance hike in the spring and moving all my stuff into my parent's basement this winter.  I'd begun to pack.  I was down to one can of beans in the pantry.  I was counting down the number of trapeze classes I'd have left.

But this last month I started feeling really uneasy about the timing.  I didn't feel ready.  The excited, happy butterflies that I'd felt at the thought of starting down the trail had turned into gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I was still clear that I wanted to do the trail, but I wanted extra time.

Then, over the span of just two days, things happened which allowed me to change my course.  My roommate told me she hadn't found anyone to take over my lease, and offered that I could stay a few more months.  At work, I discovered a very cool (AND statistically significant) result that had me bursting with excitement about my research.  And my boss found some money to extend my position.

I thought about all the times in my life when I've left things unfinished before moving on, and the other times I've stayed put way too long because I thought it was the responsible thing I "should" do.  Then I pushed my thoughts aside and went with my gut instinct: I decided to stay on here, and delay the start of my long hike.

I've noticed this past week that my life has been energized following this decision, and I've been feeling overwhelmed with appreciation of everyone in my life, and for my good fortune to have options in life.  This feels like the right decision for me, and I really hope I don't regret this decision.