Looking Ahead To Spain

The time has come for another summer adventure - and Brew and I are so excited! I thought I would share a list of what I am looking forward to as we return to the trail.

First, however, I will include a short list of what I will miss while we are away:

1. My 20-month old niece. She is perfect. I am not biased.

2. The Bachelorette. I am really cheering for Emily to find a good guy this season. I like Sean, but Brew prefers Jef. Thankfully we can keep up with the episodes at realitysteve.com. His blog is better than watching the shows. He is to The Bachelor Franchise what Bill Simmons is to NBA Basketball (By the way, we are cheering for OKC in the finals.)

Now, for the top five (there are more) reasons I can’t wait to start hiking.

1. THERAPY! This spring has been a very difficult and sad season. There have certainly been some highlights, but I have been extra emotional, tired, and confused. (Poor Brew, he thought he had it bad last summer.) The trail is the best (and cheapest) counselor that I know. There is nothing that a long walk can’t work out, and I am hoping that 550-mile GR 11 will give me the perspective and peace that I lost sight of this spring.

2. TIME WITH BREW. If you followed our adventure last summer, then you realize I have a pretty incredible husband. And as wonderful as it is trying to be a full-time professional hiker, I unfortunately have to travel a lot to give workshops and talks - and that means time away from home and my husband. However, I think he was thankful for the quiet house because he spent every spare second he wasn’t teaching working on lesson plans. God bless teachers - they certainly earn their summer vacations. There is no one I would rather spend every minute with for the next two months than Brew - and there is no one else who would sign-up for the job.

3. BEING IN NATURE. Our tent is our summer home. Pulling out some of our camping items, I even started to tear up from the musty smell of much loved gear (in case it is unclear, the tears were caused by nostalgia not hiker stench). There is something very familiar and simple about living in the trail. I am looking forward to going to bed with the sun, worrying only about food, water, and shelter, and appreciating the sun, rain, wind, wildflowers, and animals that line the path. We may be hiking in a foreign country, but the language of the trail is the same.

4. EXPLORATION. Last summer I spent 46 days on a trail that I had already hiked twice before. I truly believe that you never hike the same trial twice, and last summer I explored my human limits. This summer, I am excited to explore a new mountain range, in a new part of the world. I don’t have many expectations except to take it one step and one day at a time. It seems that no matter how fast, or slow, I travel down the trail the pace is always more natural than anything I experience in my day to day life at home.

5. NOT TALKING. My job consists of giving presentations, writing, and communicating with other people on hikes and in workshops. More than ever this summer, I need to be still and listen. I wouldn’t have much to say, unless I took the time to hear what the trail had to tell me. And on that note, it is time to sign-off. We will send updates when possible. Thanks for following along!

PS - Happy Father’s Day to our two wonderful dads!

It’s going to be a “GR-eat” summer!!!

Marriage is all about compromise, right? So after getting to do exactly what I wanted to do last summer and putting Brew through a 46-day gauntlet of thankless, arduous, tasks, I magnanimously let him choose our 2012 summer adventure - as long as it included at least 500 miles of hiking ; )

My husband has come to the decision that we will spend several weeks backpacking, at a relaxed pace, on the  GR 11 in Spain. This “Gran Recorrido” travels 530 miles through the Spanish Pyrenees, from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

Brew was leaning towards the Pyrenees, because we LOVE the mediterranean region, and we both wanted to see more of the area - beyond the Alps and Corsica where we spent our summer in 2010. There are many trails that wind through the Pyrenees, including the GR 10, Haute Rondonnee, the GR 11, and the famous Camino de Santiago that crosses over the mountain range.

In looking at our options, Brew decided to skip the GR 12, because we have already hiked in France. He opted out of the Haute Route because we would have to hike with an ice axe and crampons. And he delayed the Camino, because it is a great trail do to with a family or in the later stages of life. However, ultimately I think Brew’s stomach made up his mind. If he was at all uncertain about his decision, every bite of Spanish food that he put in his mouth at Asheville’s Curate restaurant, reinforced our GR 11 adventure.

My husband loves food, especially European food. We don’t take a stove when we hike in Europe because of plane regulations, but it doesn’t matter, there is enough cured meats, hard cheeses, crusty bread, and Nutella to keep us happy. There are also plentiful huts, villages, and family farms along the route that provide authentic regional cuisine to the hikers. Mmmm….

This experience will be a far cry from our record on the A.T. last summer, but it will be a nice change of pace (literally) and I have no doubt that it will be “full-filling” trip. Now all we have to do is make it to June 15th!!!!

Nat Geo Adventurer Results

Well, the Nat Geo People’s Choice Adventurer of the year votes are all in. It turns out that the two men from Nepal who paraglided off Mt. Everest and paddled to the ocean are the winners. I think we can all agree they deserve it. I doubt that I could ever make it to the top of Everest, let alone paraglide off the mountain!

But GUESS WHAT?! A little bird a Nat Geo informed me that I came in second place! I know what you are thinking - first loser, right? Yes! But also first woman, first North American and first solo adventurer in the voting. Woo Hoo! I’ll take it. 

The bird also told me that my voters had been very dedicated. That pretty much sums up my friends, family, and the trail community. THANK YOU! Now I owe all you guys hundreds of on-line votes and hits. So send me your youtube garage band clip, t-shirt design, or outdoor photo contest link and I WILL VOTE FOR YOU!!!!

If you want to read an inspiring story, check out the People’s Choice Winners here: http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/adventurers-of-the-year/2012/peoples-choice-lakpa-tsheri-sherpa-sano-babu-sunuwar/

Also, a huge congrats to all the other amazing explorers recognized by Nat Geo. It is an honor to forever be known as a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year 2012.

ps - Does second place get a free bottle of Glenfiddich?

Ahhh! This is so cool. I am honored to be with this group of explorers. You can vote for your fav, from now everyday until Jan 18th. I would LOVE your support.

Overmountain Men

Between September 22nd - Oct 7th, I had the privilege of assisting with the Overmountain Victory March that starts in Abingdon, VA and ends at Kings Mountain National Battlefield in SC. The March commemorates the 330 mile route that the Scotch-Irish mountaineers took to engage the loyalist army led by Major Patrick Ferguson at Kings Mountain. The route is designated as a National Historic Trail currently segmented together with 80 miles of hiking trails.

Each weekday during the March, a group of volunteer Revolutionary War reenactors would tell the story of the Overmountain Men’s journey and victory. The cast of characters who acted out this important part of American History were just awesome. Dressed in authentic garb, with gun powder horns around their necks, and antler knives on their hips, these men definitely got the attention of the students that came out each day. (You can see some of their pics on my facebook page.)

This year, the March organizers asked me to come out to select venues and help encourage the kids to go hiking on the Overmountain Victory Trail and other local paths. I LOVE getting kids excited about the trail! When I told the 4th grade students about all the animals you can see and the adventures that you can have in the woods, they were all ready to set out with their families and start exploring.

However, the March also served as a positive personal reminder that we are fortunate, today, to hike because we want to and not because we have to. History is filled with stories of people covering large tracts of land on foot. The past 100 years mark a transition where people no longer have to walk out of necessity, but can now chose to do so simply for pleasure. The story of America is riddled with tales of long-distance hiking, including the Underground Railroad, Lewis and Clark, the Trail of Tears, the Overmountain Men, and many, many others.

It is important to go hiking because it connects us with our ancestors. It also reveals historic places and stories. The land always has a tale to tell if we are willing to listen. In all my hiking and travels, I doubt that I have ever stood in a place, where someone else has not passed. And that thought is often as humbling as the mountains that surround me.

Self-Diagnosis

While I was crawling through Mahousic Notch this summer on two shin splints that felt like broken legs, I met a wonderful thru-hiker. This young man was friendly, out-going, and I’ll be honest I was thrilled to see any sign of life in this portion of trail that resembles the bowels of the underworld.

He immediately inquired about my bandaged legs. “What’s wrong with your legs? Are you okay?” He asked.

I’m not sure if it was my red swollen shins that tipped him off, or the grimace on my face that revealed the pain. “I think I have some really bad shin splints.” I replied.

"But you are going after the record! You have a trainer or doctor with you that can help you, right?"

I laughed. “No. I have the same thing all the other thru-hikers have.”

"What’s that?" He asked.

WebMD.” I replied.

Thru-hiking forces you to self-diagnosis your ailments, come up with a creative treatment plan - that often does not include rest, and monitor your body to make sure that things don’t get worse. Taking a wilderness first responder course helped expand my medical knowledge. Still, I have done a lot of over the phone (thank you Katie and Emily) and computer diagnosis over the years. I usually carry prescriptions that I can begin taking immediately if something goes wrong in the backcountry. And in general I follow the rule: If it gets better - keep hiking. If it stays the same - keep hiking. If it gets worse - keep hiking, until you can get to a doctor.

I say this, not to discourage people from seeking medical attention, but to listen to their bodies as part of the process. I have been amazed in throughout all my hiking and running injuries and ailments at the body’s resiliency and ability to heal itself. 

Now post trail, I am pretty sure that I have something called Athletic Heart Syndrome. Looking back, I believe that I experienced the same condition after my 57 day AT hike in 2008. I’m not that worried about it, because my symptoms are getting better and I am allowing my body to truly rest and heal this fall before doing any intense hiking or running (that can wait until next spring). But in the meantime I’ll probably go get it checked out. After all, having a correct self-diagnosis is always very gratifying.

This is a video that Matt Kirk created. Matt is an amazing person and hiker. I am so grateful that he was able to join me on the 70 - mile stretch through the park. Check out some of what we experienced.

This article shows a really healthy relationship with the trail and self. Great job Will!

Art in Action

Brew and I had an AMAZING weekend at the US Open. We watched 8 hours of tennis on Saturday and 11 hours on Sunday. We both grew up playing competitive tennis and are in awe of the players who are at the highest level of the sport.

Beyond tennis we also follow college football and basketball, but we enjoy watching almost any sport. If it weren’t for televised sports, we would not own a TV.

I am drawn to high performance athletics because it combines art and dedication. When we finished watching Federer play on Saturday I felt like I had just watched a ballet performance – his grace is unparalleled. The next night we sat in a small outer court watching Sam Stosur and Maria Karilenko play their hearts out in a tight three set match. They were challenging one another to raise the game to a higher level, and it was inspiring and exciting to watch. 

When I think about endurance records on Long Distance Trails, I also think about art and dedication. Trail Records require years of experience and training. A hiker or trail runner needs to have logged hundreds of hours and thousands of miles before attempting such an endeavor. And when they are trying to push their limits, it still isn’t about fighting with the trail, but making every effort to flow with it. 

There were multiple times this summer when I felt more beautiful than I ever had. It felt as if I was belting out a beautiful song in perfect tune or performing a highly intricate dance with ease and confidence. If the trail is a canvas and hiking is my medium, then I am really proud of what Brew and I were able to create.

I believe that every hiker (or runner) creates their own story or masterpiece on the trail, and no two are alike. That is the great part about coming together and sharing our experiences, they combine into a museum of expression and inspiration. 

This weekend, at the US Open, Brew and I sat among 23,000 fans and rooted for our favorite players. However, more than supporting a person, it was about supporting the sport; and regardless of who won the point - we always cheered the hardest for good tennis.