Have you ever had a weekend where you’re still smiling about it a few days later when you’re back in the office?  Where you look a little goofy bouncing down the hall to the copier with a dreamy look on your face?  It’s happened to me twice recently!  Once after doing trail work at Caesar Creek and the second after biking two days in a row.

Caesar Creek is about 45 minutes from my house and has some great hiking trails, camping, waterways and the famous Pioneer Village.  One of the trails in Caesar Creek is a 22-mile segment  that is part of the Buckeye Trail, which is an approximately 1,400-mile loop around Ohio.  Part of the 22-mile segment had become so rutted that horses were apparently falling and twisting ankles.  I was immediately terrified that these horses who fell had to be put down, like in the movies, but thankfully, none of them died.   9 of the 22 miles are being bulldozed and re-built by the ODNR. Volunteers, like my friend Joel, are handling the other 13 miles.  Joel is going to host about 7 workdays over the next year and a half, culminating in a celebratory grand re-opening of the trail in the Fall of 2017.   The first workday was two Saturday’s ago and it was a total blast.  I hadn’t been in the woods for about 4 weekends, which made me very grumpy, so when I woke up on Saturday, it truly felt like Christmas morning.  I packed up my car and headed north, meeting the gang around 10 a.m.  Although I had packed my backpack full of water and delish snacks, I hadn’t brought any tools besides some cute pink garden gloves.  But thankfully, one of the guys loaned me his spare hedge clippers.  Off we plodded into the woods with Joel’s chainsaw, Ethan’s clippers and Lew’s hatchet.  For the next several hours, we joked, laughed and worked to widen a mile of the trail to about 4 feet, so that there was plenty of room for it to grow this summer without covering the foot path.  We all made fun of each other, told crazy stories, and then flopped in the middle of the trail covered in twigs, dirt and sweat, finally declaring that it was time to go to Stone House Tavern in Waynesville for some cold beers and fried food.  On our way out of the woods, we befriended an Army veteran named Matt, who had spent a year in Afghanistan, and is currently training to do the entire 1,400 miles of the Buckeye Trail.  We invited him to join us at the Tavern, which he did after finishing the last 3 miles of his 20 mile hike.  There were 10 of us and at the end of our meal, Matt absolutely insisted on paying for everyone’s meal and drinks.  He wouldn’t take no for an answer.  It was so incredibly kind.

After that, 4 of us camped out at Hickory Overlook, next to the lake.  The sunset was magnificent and then we had a roaring campfire and I made us some “special” S’mores, which consist of graham crackers, a thin layer of Reese’s chocolate peanut butter spread and jumbo marshmallows.  A Park Officer hung out with us for about an hour until he was called to find an unresponsive officer and someone else.  The next morning, everyone left, but I decided to sit by the lake a read my new book, I Had to Survive, which is by one of the Uruguayans whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in the 70s (you may have seen the movie, Alive, which is about them).   I had purchased it moments after reading a NatGeo interview that my friend Clay had posted and I highly recommend it so far (only half way through). I found a little clearing in the woods and sat there reading for an hour, overlooking the lake and watching the mid-morning kayakers and paddle-boarders going past.  And that’s when I realized another reason that I love backpacking/camping.  When I’m in the woods, I’m totally and completely content with my surroundings. I don’t want to change a thing.  I simply enjoy whatever is there and make the most of whatever Earth’s living room has to offer.  I might be hungry, thirsty, tired, sore, cold or rain-soaked, but I can’t think of any spot in the woods that I’ve wanted to change or regretted visiting.  Of course, I’m not staying in places like those on Naked & Afraid, Lost and Survivor.  And of course, I always like to upgrade my gear, but all in all, I feel very content out there.   And that contentment totally spilled over into my workweek.

Last weekend was also extremely fulfilling.  On Saturday, I joined the 50 West Cycling “Ladies Ride” which I found through meetup.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely loyal to my LBS, BioWheels (more on their awesomeness at a later date!), but the 50 West ride was fabulous.  The weather was cool and sunny and most of the trees and flowers were in full bloom.  I’m terrified of biking on roads, but we ended up jumping off the bike path and cruising down the roads of Indian Hill, doing some of the biggest hills in my biking career.  My thighs burned on the uphills and I literally felt like a speeding bullet on the downhills–it was a total blast!  That afternoon, I went home and flopped on a blanket in the park.  The next morning, we had gorgeous weather again, so I biked the path from Newtown to Loveland.  Afterwards, I flopped in the park again, exhausted.  That night, I took my “little” bro (he’s 15 but 6 feet tall) out for dinner at the Silver Spring House, which was yummy and fun!  He’s the best.  Come Monday morning, I was still grinning ear to ear after such a fulfilling weekend.  Here’s to true contentment!  Now if only I can practice it in all aspects of life…

Now (and Then)

A lot of people ask me how I got into backpacking and why in the world I love it so much.  I even had one guy tell me that if people in third world countries knew that I choose to live “like them” on the weekends, they’d think I was crazy.  For the record, I never spoke to Mr. Ignorant again.  So this is part one of a two part post about my love for backpacking (Now) and dis-love for backpacking (Then).

It all started when my very dear friend, Kim, asked me to join her for a 2 day/1 night beginner’s backpacking workshop in April, 2014 in Stillwater Prairie in mid-Ohio.  The company running the trip was Outdoor Adventure Connection, based in Dayton, Ohio (  The Chief Adventure Officer, Andy aka Captain Blue (or Uncle Andy later on) would be leading us, along with his esteemed assistant.  I signed up for the trip and off I puttered to REI to purchase a new Osprey Ariel 65 liter backpack with the assistance of a sales person.  Then I stopped by my stepdad’s house to grab my old sleeping bag that I had used at summer camp when I was 12 years old.  The sleeping bag took up the entire pack, but I was unfazed since I had no idea that modern sleeping bags pack down to smaller than a shoe box.  Kim and I arrived to Stillwater and I was the only person without trekking poles, because I thought those were for “older folks” (but now I can’t backpack without them!).   Andy lent me his spare poles and we trotted into the woods.  Every couple of hours we had a “workshop” where Andy and his assistant taught us about everything from Leave No Trace to bathroom issues.   Who knew that living in the woods for a few days could be so complicated?!  I love school and felt like I was in an outdoor classroom, gobbling up every tidbit of knowledge I could.  That night, Andy cooked about 10 freeze-dried meals and desserts for all of us to share and boy were they tasty after a long hike!  Kim and I slept side by side in her dad’s tent, although we woke up every hour on the hour.  The next day my pack was cutting into my shoulders and no amount of adjustments could alleviate the pain.  I was in so much pain that I seriously almost called my mom to come pick me up on the side of the trail.  But the good folks we were with insisted on swapping packs with me to change up the pressure points and I was able to finish with a smile.  After that weekend, I was totally hooked on backpacking!

Me and Kim at OAC’s Beginners’ Backpacking Workshop, April 2014, Stillwater Prairie

It’s taken me a long time to realize why I love backpacking, but I’ve finally uncovered some of the subconscious reasons.  First, nature is healing.  My heart bears a heavy burden and sometimes the burden is too much for me to handle alone.  When that happens, I literally look at a tree or at my feet on the grass and ask the earth to please take some of the pain out of my heart.  I know that my heart can only take so much and at some point I need help. I envision the pain flowing from my heart and out of my body into the earth.  The earth is much bigger and wiser than me and can handle the pain that my immortal soul cannot.  She loves us all and can heal us spiritually and emotionally, I believe.  I used to turn to a bottle of wine, but that only made things worse.  Now I turn to nature and it really works.

The second reason is that it helps me escape my own head.  Whenever I have a nagging issue, whether it’s about dating or my family or whatever, and I’m in the woods, I find it terribly hard to focus on the issue because I realize that there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it 10 miles from civilization without cell service.  A lot of times, I realize that even if I were back home, there’s nothing I can do about it.  I let go and stop trying to figure it out or control it and I simply focus on each step and each breath that I have the privilege of taking that day.  The next moment is not promised to me and so I must relish this exact moment spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally.   Nature is the best catalyst for that.

The third reason came to me when I read an article that my dear friend, Stevie, posted by Mark Manson entitled, “You probably know to ask yourself, ‘What do I want?’ Here’s a way better question.”  My interpretation and understanding of the article is that most people think they need to figure out and then do “what makes them happy”.  But instead, people need to think about what uncomfortable, difficult and challenging moments they’re willing to endure for whatever makes them happy.  Manson used to fantasize about becoming a famous guitar player and how happy that would make him feel.  He envisioned being on stage with his fans screaming for him.  What he didn’t envision were all the obstacles and hurdles that he would have to face in order to become a famous guitar player.  So the real question according to Manson is, “What pain are you willing to sustain?”  For me, it’s spending an entire day packing freeze-dried meals and a 65 liter pack with enough gear to last a week in woods.  Or hiking 24 miles in the pouring down rain for 2 days, and waking up with water splashing on my face because my tent wetted out, and I still have 4 days left on the trail.  It’s getting home late on a Sunday night after a long drive back and spending the next 3 nights hand washing all of my mud-caked gear in the bathtub with special soap and waterproofer, so that it stays in great condition.  Do I love these steps in the process?  No.  Would I ever let someone else do these things for me?  Heck no.  Because it’s all part of what I love, which is being out on the trail with the sun on my face, wind in my air and nature all around me.  Yes, this is self-imposed and no, I’m not complaining.  I’m simply agreeing with Manson.  So now you know what’s really behind my photos of sun-kissed smiles atop Sassafras Mountain or lush forests on the Roan Highlands.  And this is what I LOVE!