Friday, July 29, 2011

Eyeball to Eyeball

   On Wednesday, my kids and I went tubing down the Shenandoah River outside of Harpers Ferry with some friends. It was a glorious day of bright sunshine and crystal blue skies; not the normal humid DC haze. The highlight of the adventure for my kids was leaving the safety of their tube and frolicking in the swallow river. They swam, splashed, chased each other, and jumped off rocks to their hearts content.
   The highlight of the day for me was being eyeball to eyeball with a damselfly. I am not sure what it was about my arms; a great landing pad on top of the bright orange tube but I had many visitors. At one time, I had five of them lined up on my right forearm. The leader and I stared at each other. I loved looking into its big black, bulbous eyes each positioned slightly off center. We stared at each other for a while until a splash hit my arm and all five lifted in flight with their delicate clear, cellophane wings. I wonder what the leader damselfly was thinking as we stared at each other. I was thinking, "you are beautiful."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Part II: Volunteering as a Vacation?! A Wild Ride

Idaho Whitewater Rafting
Google image
   During the American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation, our group worked five days with one day off; free to do whatever we wanted.  After a relaxing morning start, I needed to accomplish a twelve mile run. From the lodge, Gretchen and I ran the Old Cascade Highway to the Iron Goat Trail. In our shorts and t-shirts, we shivered our way down the highway until our body's furnace burned with warmth. We enjoyed an easy run on a fantastic trail with beautiful scenery and views.
    We returned to the lodge to quickly change and eat to catch a ride on the Wave Trek bus that would deliver ten of us to an afternoon of riding cold, frothy rapids down the Skykomish River. It took us thirty minutes to arrive at the little town of Index, WA off of Highway 2. Outdoor Adventures, otherwise known locally as Wave Trek, has a great location on the river with a gift shop, bar and cafe, yard with fire pit and hot tub and a river guiding outfit. 
   Twenty rafters gathered in the cafe to watch a safety video. We gathered our gear in the rain and put on our wetsuits and booties. The temperature of the water was forty degrees. We were the only "girls rock" boat (Gretchen, Phyllis, Nancy and Stacey) with Rachel as our guide. Rachel has guided rivers full-time for eight years but now does the gig part time due to owning her own business (yeah for Rachel!). You can take the girl out of the river but never take the river out of the girl!    
Google image
   She reviewed the safety tips for falling out of the boat and demonstrated paddle strokes. We assumed our positions in the boat (me - front right side) and off we went on an afternoon full of adventure. After a few class three rapids, we reached the class five rapid. We parked the boat on the river bank to scope and plan our route through the rapid. I was willing to give up the front position. I was a little nervous that our guide's confidence was showing cracks. Gretchen (a former guide) advised that I stay in my position to keep things consistent and help Rachel, since it was obvious that she was nervous about riding this rapid. She hadn't guided through this rapid at the current water level (running high due to snow melt). Therefore, she waited until last and watched all the other boats as they successfully paddled the rapid. 

  As we waited, the butterflies in my stomach multiplied. I had lost confidence in Rachel's guiding when our boat got stuck on a few rocks upstream. Then it was our turn to ride and maneuver the rapid.We headed for the first drop and nailed it correctly. Then threaded the needle, as the guides call it, between two rocks successfully but didn't quite get the boat turned back left to make the second drop between two rocks. The left side of the boat caught the right rock and we entered the hole.Three went swimming. Gretchen and I managed to stay in the boat by moving towards the floor. My heart pounded in my head and chest. Once out of the hole and in the eddy, Rachel noticed my face and heavy breathing. She asked if I was having a panic attack. No, I wasn't but I was a little freaked out. I had never gone swimming before in a rapid due to a guide's misjudgment in the river. I have gone swimming due to my own misjudgment while kayaking an inflatable duckie. 
   The three swimmers were quickly rescued by two different boats. As soon as everyone was back into the boat, we went through another rapid. This time, we hit a rock incorrectly on the right side of the boat. It happened so fast after the first rescue. Everyone was so discombobulated that we didn't have enough time to get back in the groove and over we went. All of us, including the guide. As soon as I was in the water, I looked up and grabbed the rope on the boat. Rachel was beside me as an angel kayaker (not part of the crew) approached from her left side trying to assist her to get back in the boat. I remember him say "get back in the boat, you need to get back in the boat." she said, "I cant." And she couldn't. The kayaker left and it was just Rachel and me. I tried to pull myself in the boat but the PFD's are so bulky that I couldn't.  I knew the only way I was getting back in the boat is if she did first. She felt my hand under her butt and together we got her back in the boat. Then together, she pulled me in. I grabbed a paddle but sat on the wrong side as she instructed me to sit on the left. We hit another rapid. Working together, we navigated it successfully. 
   Exiting the rapid, Bernyce appeared beside our boat after swimming through the rapid. Rachel grabbed and pulled her in the boat. She looked water logged and stunned. She lay in the back of the boat catching her breath as we paddled over to the eddy to take stock of all the others who were missing.  Once there, we found out that not only Bernyce went swimming but everyone in their boat did except for their guide Josh. Still in our boat, a safety kayaker came over to Bernyce to say that he wanted to pull her to shore while in the rapid but if he did she would have hit a rock hard and decided for her safety that it would be better to let her ride the rapid. 
   We gathered some of our fellow rafters and then paddled around to another eddy where the rest were. Once there, Mike, the head guide, gave us a pep talk to stay strong and continue to paddle hard because Rachel still needed us to ride the rest of the river, even though we were feeling weary. We did. We paddled hard and stayed together as a team the remaining trip. We made it down the river without swimming again. We had fun riding some class three waves doing 360s. When all was said and done, we lifted the raft out of the water and headed on the bus for our start point, Wave Trek headquarters. There, I sat in the hot tub to add heat to my aching back. There were times on the river that I was exhausted. I forgot how much work it is to ride a river hard and make it through the wild rapids.  Maybe running twelve miles and rafting on the same day wasn't the best idea but I did it. Dressing back in dry clothes felt great. So did a warm latte.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Volunteering as a Vacation?!

For the last couple of summers, I have been taking some "me" time to learn and give back. While my kids are having fun and spending quality time with their grandparents, I rejuvenate my passion for all things hiking and environmental. In the past, I canoe camped in the Adirondacks to learn and become a Leave No Trace Master Educator and strategized with Appalachian Trail clubs in the White Mountains to encourage youth to become trail stewards. This summer, I participated in an American Hiking Society Volunteer Vacation on the Iron Goat Trail in Stevens Pass, Washington (Central Cascades).
Thirteen volunteers from all parts of the United States gathered at the Mountaineers Lodge in Stevens Pass on July 9th for two purposes: to have fun and give our sweat to the Iron Goat Trail. We worked with Volunteers for Outdoor Washington, their Iron Goat Trail committee and the US Forest Service to fix problems caused by multiple avalanches on the nine mile trail. Originally, the group was supposed to break ground on a new connector trail. However, Martin's Creek was running high due to a late snow melt and the Forest Service couldn't build a temporary bridge to access the area (the Cascades received three feet of snow in April). Therefore each day, our large group split into many, each with a crew leader, to tackle blowdowns, dig root balls, fix cribbing, install and clean drainage dips, brush (otherwise known as weed whacking), clear boulders, repair bridges, fix surface gullies, and clear a lot of avalanche debris on the lower and upper pass of the Iron Goat Trail.
The Iron Goat Trail is an interpretive rails trail built from the Great Northern Railroad bed. The railroad was an engineering feat and so is the trail, both built with incredible sweat equity. In the early 1900's, thousands of immigrant workers blasted tunnels, dared heights to construct trellis and chiseled steep mountain sides to complete the railway from Minneapolis to Seattle. In the 1990's, with Ruth Ittner's vision and fortitude , the Iron Goat Trail was built. The trail was built both by many volunteers from American Hiking Society and Volunteers for Outdoor Washington. The Iron Goat Trail is masterfully built; the most beautifully constructed trail I have hiked. The granite, stacked cribbing on the steep mountain slopes matches that of the stone walls built by New England pioneers. Craftsmanship!
The lower pass of the Iron Goat Trail is ADA approved. The trail is wide with a compact surface, gentle elevation gain, easily passable mountain streams and ravines, raised cribbing and wheel chair accessible interpretive signs. ADA trails are also fantastic for families with young children who may need to push a stroller. This trail offers great family fun: easy access, visual and interpretive history, waterfalls, mountain streams, great views, and near and far beautiful scenery. If a challenge is needed, then hike the upper pass of the Iron Goat Trail via the Martin Creek crossover or the more strenuous switchbacks to Windy Point. The best view of the mountains is at Windy Point, whether you are standing or sitting on a toilet. Yes, that's right, there is a composting, pit toilet where you can do two things at once, enjoy the view and well you know....
The group bonded around its central theme, the Iron Goat Trail. We sweated and shivered, created aching backs and muscles, developed hunger pains (then ate really well), grew tired (then slept well), shared stories and conversations and participated in an amazing adventure of white water rafting on our day off (Read Part II of Volunteering as a Vacation). Happy times all for the greater good - hike-able trails to provide access to the bounty of nature!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Trail Discovery for Kids

Highlighted Hike
River Trail
Washington, DC
 Hike Information
ü  The River trail is wide and flat. It is 1.4 miles out and back.
ü  The trail surface is a mix of gravel and mowed grass. It is stroller-friendly (bigger wheels will work best).
ü  The trail follows a peninsula of land with the Anacostia River on one side and the Kenilworth Marsh on the opposite.
ü  Link to the trail map.
 Age Appropriateness
ü  This hike is great for all ages but in particular toddlers and preschoolers. The trail is a fantastic introduction to hiking and nature.
 What is fun for kids?
ü  July is the best month to go because all the water lilies and lotus flowers are in bloom. It is beautiful!
ü  Having the kids choose which path they want to follow around the many ponds.
ü  Walking the boardwalk to the river.
ü  Riverside access to the Anacostia.
ü  Seeing wildlife – many types of butterflies and dragonflies, bull and green frogs, painted, red-eared and snapping turtles, deer, beaver and a lot of birds.
ü  Small visitor center to educate about marshes.
ü  Great place for nature photography.
ü  Picnic tables in the shade!
ü  Hot, hot, hot in the summer! The River Trail is mostly shaded but not the boardwalk or ponds.
ü  Park is open from 7:00 am to 6:30 pm.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Ohiopyle State Park: Pennsylvania’s Outdoor Mecca

For years, I have heard many great stories and comments about Ohiopyle StatePark in Southwestern Pennsylvania. My friend and I, two moms, packed her minivan with camping and rafting gear, bikes and our kids and off we went seeking outdoor adventures.
     From Washington DC, Ohiopyle is a three hour drive and from Pittsburg, 90 minutes. Ohiopyle is located in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, an area lush and green, a temperate rainforest with a large tree canopy shading mountain laurel, rhododendron and ferns. Mountain streams fall from steep ravines and feed the Youghiogheny River. The river provides a white water adventure for children on class I and II rapids to thrill seeking adults who kayak or raft class IV and V rapids. Four companies in Ohiopyle provide guided and unguided trips. My daughter couldn’t wait to ride the rapids; however, it wasn’t in the cards. We experienced temps in the 60’s and rain that creates blue lips and shivering children. Not kid (or mommy) fun!
     We established home for three days in the state park: staking tents, spreading out chairs, hanging a hammock and setting-up the stove. Thank goodness for the tarp because it became our togetherness refuge under the raindrops. The girls stuck together in the two-person and my son hung with the moms. Each site provided a bit of privacy from the next and the bathrooms (showers in a separate house) were “not the best I’ve seen but not the worst,” said my daughter.
     Water play, rafting and riding the natural waterslides (video), didn’t make the agenda for the trip due to the weather. Instead, we wore pants and jackets, a great reprieve from the hot, humid temps in DC, to hike, bike, and visit Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright’s incredible, organic architecture home built over Bear Run for the Kauffman family in 1936. This ingenious marvel is the epitome of what outdoor living should be, besides camping of course!
     We hiked and biked the Great Allegheny Passage, a rails trail from Pittsburg to Cumberland, MD. After establishing home and cooking dinner, we took a twilight hike down the ravine to the Passage to walk amongst the fog that enveloped the old railroad bridge above the Youghiogheny. We also biked in search of the many waterfalls on side trails along the Passage. My kids braved a STEEP downhill climb to one with me in nervous tow. Well worth the nervous climb!
     So much to do in Ohiopyle State Park with not enough time. We will be back to raft or kayak, ride the natural water slides, mountain bike, rock climb and some day bike the entire Great Allegheny Passage. This trip created great memories. We look forward to more in Ohiopyle.