Monday, December 31, 2012

A Long Year Gone By

It's been a long year...year and a half actually.  In May of 2011 we bought a new "old" house.  We had grown tired of subdivision life with limited parking, homeowner associations and neighbors being so close.  We had been looking for a piece of property to purchase but found that any kind of acreage was located too far out in the boonies to make it feasible for commuting to work.  When a piece of property came available very close to where we were living we decided it had to be investigated.  1.5 acres with a 1957 cinderblock house with a poorly constructed addition on the main house.  The property also had a huge detached workshop which had David salivating. There was a contract on the house that had just fallen through.  We made an offer and on May 27, 2011 we became the proud owners of a fixer upper.  That was also the day that our hiking came to a halt as all of our free time was now spent trying to get the house in a  liveable condition so that we could sell the subdivision house.  In November of 2011 we sold our subdivision house and had to do a quick move into our fixer upper that was really still just a shell of a house. 

The holidays came and went.  In January 2012 David turned 50 and we were moving along having a wonderful time at our "Compound" as we had named our new property.  The first week of February David went to having his first colonoscopy now that he was 50.  After the procedure they took us into a room for the doctor to meet with us where we learned that he had a large tumor in his sigmoid colon.  That news was followed by surgery the last week of February and the news that the tumor was much more advanced than first expected.  The last week of March brought the first round of chemotherapy.  Three days of chemo every two weeks for 24 weeks.  It was tough!  For David it was hard to feel so physically ill and weak all the time.  For me it was hard to see him feeling so poorly and knowing that there was nothing I could do to make it better.  But we got through it and continued to work on our Compound.  David managed to make all of our kitchen cabinets while receiving chemo.  He is truly amazing!!  He received his final chemo treatment the last week of September. 

Here we are at the holidays again.  The main portion of our house remodel is completed.  David is feeling like his old self again. I'm so happy to put 2012 behind us and so proud of everything that we have accomplished.  I remain a bit apprehensive about our future with cancer.  David will be having another colonoscopy and CT scan in January and I pray for good news. 

We are ready to start doing some hiking again and have taken a couple of shorter hikes recently.  It is so peaceful in the woods and really helps my mind to relax and breathe.  We've adopted a dog, P.P.,  and he hikes with us. 

At the beginning of this New Year I feel so fortunate for my husband, our family and friends.  I have a new outlook on what's important in life and of just how fragile life can be.  I'm looking forward to spending more time in the woods with the man I love!

Happy New Year

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nighttime Fears

Since we have started hiking our ultimate goal is to hike the Applachian Trial. In January we took our first overnight hike deep into the woods of Torreya State Park. We have discussed and researched at length (well David has researched) bear safety while hiking in the woods. We have bear pepper spray as a personal safety item. We have stuff sacks and line to hang our food high in a tree away from our tents to deter bears from mistaking us for a burrito while we lie in our bags at night. But during our first overnighter I began to have a bigger fear - Coyotes.

As you may have read in my January blog, I spent a very restless night on the first overnighter being a human ice cube. It was sometime in the early morning that I first heard the coyotes. I was sleeping and suddenly heard a very loud sound in the distance. Now it wasn't your typical coyote howl. It was like a large pack of animals all yipping at the same time and it sounded very eery and dangerous. I didn't know what it was but we determined that it was most likely coyotes. In my frozen state all I could ask David was if I should be afraid and he said no. I was too cold to argue.

The first weekend in February we went on an overnight trip to a park in Alabama called Open Pond. It was a campground but was very empty with only 4 other campers in the entire park. We were the only campers in the primitive area. Having wisened up and purchased a 20 degree sleeping bag since the last overnighter I was sleeping warmly when suddenly I was awakened by the same eery, dangerous, yipping sound I had heard at Torreya. Coyotes! Now that I was warmer and my neurons were firing better I spent the next hour or so thinking about how maybe we had spent too much time worrying about bears and not enough worrying about coyotes. Coyotes are pack animals and as such we could be confronted with several animals at one time rather than a lone bear. We only have one can of pepper spray and it only last for several short seconds - is that enough to defend ourselve from a pack of coyotes - I doubt it! Then as I was lying there contemplating all the ways the coyotes were going to dismember me I realized that the bear pepper spray was in the back of the truck. Oops!

I haven't quite resolved how I feel about this new coyote fear but I think another can of pepper spray may be needed and we will have to be sure that the spray is in the tent with us at night!

Happy Hiking!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lessons Learned on an Overnighter

First Overnighter - January 15, 2011

In my life I have taken up numerous hobbies. Bowling, pottery, scrapbooking, photography, painting, gardening , etc. One thing common to all of my hobbies is the learning curve. I can read all the magazines and books on a hobby and think that I know what to do, but what it boils down to is practice and getting out there and doing it. So on our first overnight hike in January we had read all the books and had a lot of new gear to try and a big learning curve to climb
Our JetBoil stove worked wonderfully. It was able to boil water within 2 minutes which came in very handy for that morning cup of coffee. Speaking of coffee, we used the new Starbucks Vie packets of instant coffee which were delicious. Dirt Track and Nibbles tried the Tasters Choice brand and were less than thrilled. While the Starbucks is significantly more expensive, it is an expense I will pay for a good morning cup of joe! For our food on this trip we bought the freeze dried variety of backpacking food. Mountain House was the brand we used. We had macaroni and cheese which was very yummy and creamy. Dirt Track and Nibbles had Beef Stroganoff which was super yummy, and Chili Mac which was also good. In the morning Dirt Track and Nibbles had scrambled eggs and bacon which was just okay in my opinion - it was a bit too bacony (if there is such a thing). But the biggest suprise was the freeze dried ice cream. It was a bar of neopolatin and the consistency was like the marshmallows in Lucky Charms cereal. You would break a piece off and put it in your mouth were it would dissolve into a creamy bit of flavor that was really good. It really did taste like ice cream without the coldness which considering it was about 40 degrees outside was okay with us.

The biggest lesson learned on this hike though was about sleeping bags. When we were shopping for our sleeping bags we were very concerned about weight since we have to carry all of our gear and every ounce counts when it is on your back! David chose a 20 degree sleeping bag since he is cold natured and was willing to carry a little extra weight for more warmth. I on the otherhand am hot natured so I chose a 40 degree sleeping bag which weighed less. I thought that since I am hot natured and will be wearing warm clothing while in the sleeping bag that a 40 degree sleeping bag would surely be warm enough. WRONG!!

The temperature on this trip dipped into the low 20's that night. When I first got in my bag I was all nice and toasty having just left the warmth of the campfire. About two hours later I awoke freezing! I took my jacket and laid it over my feet. Put my gloves and hat on and tried to snuggle deeper into the bag. An hour later my teeth were chattering and I was certain frostbite was setting in on my toes. I put on another pair of socks, another shirt and pants. Still freezing! We took David's jacket and zipped it up and then I put my legs into the arms so it would cover my feet the put the whole thing into the sleeping bag. Eventually I warmed enough to fall into a fitful sleep. Now while all this is going on David is in his 20 degree bag NAKED because he is so hot! But in his defense he offered to let me have his sleeping bag numerous times that night and at one point about 4 in the morning he actually ORDERED me to take his bag. I refused all his offerings and orders (I am not a good military person). He chose wisely when he bought his bag and I chose poorly, I did not think it was fair to ask him to be cold because of my poor choice. Personal responsibility and accountability applies on the trail just like it should in real life! But I love that he was willing to make that sacrifice for me!

As soon as daylight broke David covered me with his bag and went out to make a fire. I was so happy for that night to be over and to have survived the experience. Once I warmed up enough I took my socks off to check my toes for frostbite. They weren't black so I dodged that bullet. I can honestly say that I have never been that cold in my entire life nor do I ever want to do that again. I will be buying a new sleeping bag before the next overnighter and it will be a 20 degree bag. The lesson learned is that warmth is worth a few extra ounces of weight!

All in all the first overnight trip was a huge success. David was disappointed that he didn't get to try out his technique for pooping in the woods. I was thrilled to discover a discreetly placed Port-a-potty in the woods so we didn't have to poop in the woods.

The hike was beautiful.

The companionship of good friends was comforting.

The coyotes didn't eat us which is always a plus!

Happy Hiking!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What's in a name?

There are many things to think about and consider when planning a hike on the AT. What to bring, how much everything weighs, what to eat etc. But I didn't realize until recently that I also needed to think about an appropriate trail name. After reading a few books I realized that part of the adventure of the AT is leaving your urban life behind. So hikers generally come up with a trail name that they go by while on the trail. These names usually reflect some part of their personality or life situations. Some examples: AWOL, Pepsi, Gotta Go, Chuckles...

On our last hike we spent quite a bit of time discussing appropriate trail names for the four of us. With my real name being Sheila I thought an interesting name would be Aussie Girl since that is what Sheila means in Australia. I also thought that if I could manage to develop an accent people would think I was from Australia. But I can't do accents to save my life!

Now David, has developed a nickname among our family and friends. Anyone who has had the pleasure of my husband coming and fixing something at their house knows that he is quite adept at fixing most anything. Computer not working, no problem. Electrical issues, they are his speciality. Car or lawnmower broke, he can help. Sprinkler system need repair, he is there. So we affectionately call him our Frickin Genius. We all decided that this should be his trail name and we will call him FG for short.

Janice is our fun loving friend who is a bit obsessed with food. She doesn't ever want to be hungry so she always has food with her and she wants to know what time it is while we are hiking so she can know if it is time to have another snack. 1 snack per hour is her rule! So we are going to call her Nibbles since she loves to nibble her way through a hike. Of course her husband Ray thought we said Nipples and he liked that idea much better! Which leads us to Ray's name.

Ray, bless his heart, has a one track mind and it is always going down the dirt track. You can't say anything around Ray without him turning it into something sexual. He isn't usually offensive about it but there is always a sexual undertone that just makes you chuckle! Dirt Track is definately an appropriate name for Ray.

So now that we have picked some names we are going to try them out while we are hiking this year and just make sure they feel right for us. We can always change our mind before we start the AT next year!

Please Don't Shoot Us!

With the beginning of the fall season and the cooler weather we have become very excited about hiking and have added camping to our hikes. The next to the last week of October we went camping at Karik Lake and couldn't help but notice the influx of camoflaged tents, campers, trucks and people. I ask David "is it hunting season yet?" "No, not til November" he replies. Okay. There were people all over the campground with bows and arrows doing practice shooting. Now these aren"t your typical cowboy and indian style bow and arrows...these are very, very large and scary bow and arrows. So I decide that we are going to have to invest in some "Please Don't Shoot Us!" hiking attire before November rolls around. Off into the woods we go a hiking and everything is fine. A few days later I discover that it is actually bow hunting season and we were traipsing around in the woods with deer crazed hunters. YIKES! Of course we didn't see any hunters or deer for that matter.

On the last day of October we headed out to Hurricane Lake for a halloween hike and we all had on our "Please Don't Shoot Us!" hiking attire. We were very bright and visible. This will continue to be our hiking outfit through hunting season. Honestly, I don't worry about the bow hunters too much because they have to be fairly close to achieve a hit. But those guys with the that is another story!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

And Me Without My Legs!

I am one of those kind of gals who when she takes up a new hobby she is all in, I want all the cool toys that go with the hobby. Those of you who know me know of my large collection of scrapbooking toys. When scuba diving was our hobby I was always looking for cool gear, stickers, shirts etc. Now I have moved to hiking as my primary hobby so it stands to reason that I am all about the gear. Cool boots, got 'em. Thick socks, check. Nifty sweat towel, definately have it. Cool hiking pants with zip off legs, two pairs in my arsenal.

As we have been expanding our hiking trail selections we tend to do some of the trails frequently because of the convenience. The University of West Florida multiuse trails are one of our frequently hiked trails. The trail is a good distance at 9 miles, it is a loop trail, it is well shaded, it is well marked, and it is well cleared. It is the well cleared part of the trail that has caused me to become complacent about my zip off pants. I have started wearing them as shorts when we do this trail and leaving the legs at home. It is ridiculously hot here still!

Today was going to be a UWF hiking day but when we received a text from our hiking buddies saying they weren't coming I decided that maybe we should try something new...I am also very easily bored! As we are sitting in our driveway I make this decision to go to a new place today and chose the Tarklin Bayou State Park. We looked up directions and headed off. It wasn't until we arrived and got out of the car that it occurred to me that I didn't have my legs. Oh well, how bad could it be? Right?

There is a trail map posted and there are actually three trails. One is paved and we all know that is NOT hiking! One trail is approximately 7 miles - Perfect! Oh but wait, according to the trail map this trail is very wet, possibly up to two feet of water most of the year. TWO FEET! Oh well, we have hiked wet before so off we go.

In all fairness the trail wasn't bad. We did have to do some creative trail blazing to get around several of the wetter areas. The entire trail wasn't swampy like this and we did come out to a beautiful beach on the Perdido River. But without my legs I was having all sorts of grasses, weeds and briars constantly rubbing my bare ankles and calves. And I kept expecting something to jump out and bite me.

I am amazed that every time we hike a new trail or situation I learn something from the experience. Today I learned that while I don't always have to wear my legs, I should always take them with me so I can have the option!

We ended up completing the trail without getting wet but I am confident that if there had been much rain recently this would have been a very different story. I also did a lot of thinking about how to treat snake bites today and have David in there researching this for me as I write. I hope that is information I will never have to use but better to be prepared!

Happy Hiking

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mental Weakness/Mental Toughness

Mental Weakness vs. Mental Toughness

A few years back we adopted a saying around our house called "mental weakness". This term is used in our household in many situations. For example, the whole house gets a stomach bug except one person, well the sick people are just mentally weak. Can't talk yourself out of a nice warm bed on a winter morning to exercise then you are mentally weak. We pride ourselves on avoiding mental weakness at our house and frequently challenge one another by calling them mentally weak. So this past weekend when David and I decided to tackle the hiking trail at Torreya State Park we were having no part of mental weakness talk. We had read that this trail was the closest you could come to Applaichain Trail conditions in the state of Florida. Great, we're up for it. David's sister had done this trail and told horror stories of the difficulty of the trail. Surely she was just mentally weak. Well let me just say I was wrong. There was a river of mental weakness flowing off my body while we hiked this trail.

Torreya State Park has two hiking trails. One is a 7 mile loop and one is a 5 mile loop called the Torreya Challenge. David and I were drawn to the challenge loop like a moth to a lightbulb. It had the word challenge in the name so it had to be hard right, RIGHT. We missed the trailhead where the maps that had mileage were located so using a posted map we found an connector trail to the main 7 mile loop where we then hiked to another connector trail to the challenge loop. Of course we had to reverse this process on the return trip. No problem it doesn't look that far. No mental weakness for us.

Well 5 1/2 hours later we finally emerged from the trail. Challenge was an understatement. This trail was up and down hills all the way. You would hike down a long trail into a ravine and then hike back out of the ravine only to do it all over again. I was doing good for the first 3 hours and then all these mentally weak thoughts started creeping into my head like "what are you thinking?"; "just think how hard this is going to be when you are carrying a 40 pound pack on your back!"; "are you crazy, you can't do the AT"; "are you sure you even want to do the AT?" and it just went on and on as my legs got weaker. After 4 1/2 hours I really hit a wall and just had to stop, sit down and drink a lot of water. I was so hot and tired that I just thought I would die. MENTAL WEAKNESS!

But guess what? I didn't die! I took a deep breath, a long drink of water and told myself to get my butt off the ground and get moving. I can do this, I want to do this and I will do this. It won't be easy...if it was easy everyone would be doing it! MENTAL TOUGHNESS!

It takes mental toughness to make it through life. The mentally weak see themselves as victims. The mentally tough see themselves as survivors. This hiking thing is about getting out of my comfort zone and pushing myself to the limit and coming out on the other side stronger and tougher!

In the end we calculated we hiked 10 miles in 5 1/2 hours. Now 2 days later the pain in my calf muscles is finally easing off and I am left with a stronger sense of mental toughness and memories of the 7 deer we saw while on the trail. We may just drive to Torreya this weekend and do it again!
Happy Trails!