Hut Life-Hiking Trip-Chapter 4

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Through the trees, I could hear voices and see glimpses of the camouflaged hut. I couldn’t wait to get to the top of the rocks but it was not to lay my eyes on the hut, to take in the spectacular views or to enjoy a moment of recognition of the day’s accomplishments. My main objective was to get out of my damp clothes and put on EVERY SINGLE layer I had packed. I was cold, chilled to the bone, and I dreamed of holding a mug of steaming, hot coffee in my hands.

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When we reached the clearing near the hut, one of the first things I noticed was the line of muddy, wet boots and sweaty, stinky socks, all different colors and sizes gathered together to dry out in the cool air. Other gear was scattered on the ground, draped over the hut’s porch railings, and hanging from tree branches in hopes that some drying would take place. There seemed to be no separation of whose stuff belonged to whom, no boundaries between strangers. This was communal ground and our muddied, wet gear was the physical evidence of a shared experience. My first taste of hiker camaraderie.

A friendly member of the hut croo (yes, that is spelled correctly) welcomed us at the front desk next to a basket of complimentary ear plugs and hut merchandise. He assigned us to the South Bunk Room. The sleeping accommodations at the Zealand Falls hut are bunk beds stacked three high. Each bunk bed is a cubicle built into the cabin and includes several built-in shelves, lots of hooks to store and hang things on and a small personal reading lamp.

Many of the bottom bunks had already been claimed but we managed to find a cluster of bunks close to each other. Loving Leader, Hot Mama and I took the tippity-top bunks and dragged our gear up the tall ladder.

Now, let’s pause a minute… I was about to be introduced to the very thing that has caused me the most anxiety about this whole trip. It seems a bit silly now but we all have our hang ups and issues. One of mine is germs and cleanliness.

At our first trip planning meeting, Loving Leader explained the AMC huts and sleeping arrangements to us. We had asked her about what gear to bring for sleeping and she shared some suggestions. She also explained how the hut provides each hiker with three wool blankets and a pillow. This may not seem like a big deal BUT having just heard about the huts being minimally equipped, the outdoor facilities, all supplies and trash having to be packed in and out by the croo (on their backs,) and the fact of no running hot water got me thinking. How exactly and how frequently were those wool blankets and pillow cases washed? And how many heads had rested on the pillows? And how many bodies had been wrapped in the blankets? The possible answers to my questions made my skin crawl and itch. I knew, no matter how tired I was, I would not be able to get a good night’s sleep with those blankets and pillow around me. Before I left for the trip I made the decision that I needed my own, reliable sleep system. A system that I could depend on- a sleeping bag that compresses to the size of a football. My sleeping woes and anxiety were defused and I crossed the worry off my list.

(Dear EMS employee, Thank you for your encouragement and the validation of my feelings  when I explained to you why I needed a sleeping bag. You listened with grace as I over-explained my issues and phobias. I also thank you for not making me feel like a fool, a wimp or a weirdo, even though you may have been thinking that. I know that you were hoping to make a sale and I am sorry. I went to Dick’s to purchase my sleeping bag because it was on sale.I hope you understand.  XO Melon Ball) 

 

Oh, glorious joy filled me the rest of the evening. Warm, DRY clothes, good company, new friends, beautiful views, delicious food, and a warm, attentive croo. All of this made my first hut experience wonderful.

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Lights out came sooner than I thought. I wrote in my journal by headlamp, made one more bathroom run in the dark, put in my set of complimentary ear plugs, and then snuggled down in my mummy bag. As I fell asleep to the distant snores of the stranger two bunks below me, I thought again how great it was to be alive and how strange it was that I felt safer than I ever had in a room full of people I did not know. Somehow they did not feel like strangers any more. I did not know all the details of their lives. I didn’t even know all of their names. It didn’t matter though. We had become a “community for a night. ” A community brought together by sharing a hike, a rainstorm, a meal, good conversation and now much needed rest.

As I drifted off to sleep, I thought how wonderfully simple all of it was and how complicated our world has become. If only we would share more, listen more, cheer each other on more, and love people more(even in all their stinkiness), what a better world this would be.

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This video will give you a little “taste” of the huts:


Expectations-Hiking Trip-Chapter 3

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View from Mount Avalon (AMC Highland Center down in the valley)

“If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

-Mark Twain

The cloudy skies had deceived me. From the lodge’s window, their appearance had led me to believe the outside temperature was cool so I had dressed in layers. But after fifteen minutes of hiking it became clear I had overdressed and the temperature was not what I had expected. It was perfect. Not too warm, not too cool but I was hot, sticky and sweaty in my long-sleeve, layered shirt. The sweaty clothes were an added nuisance to my heightened awareness of the weight on my back. I questioned whether or not I should take off my pack and remove a layer but in the end decided against it. This began a constant struggle and debate I had with myself during the whole hiking trip. To add or remove a layer-that was the big question.

The Avalon Trail was pretty, well maintained and well marked. On the way to the summit we laughed and talked as we marched in a single line, one behind the other. Joyfully we stepped over slippery stones as we crossed over streams and waterways.

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Beecher Cascade

I cannot remember at what point the trail turned on us. Some time early in the day, while we were very joyful and happy, the trail went from something like this*:

 

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and turned into this:

(Please note, these pictures not do the trails justice. The depth and the grade are lost in these shots. These are challenging trails to conquer. They are filled with rocks, roots and many hidden places to trip and lose your footing.)

While scrambling up over the rocks and gracefully executing pas de bourrees over the slippery roots, I realized that I had expectations of this trip. Even though I had said over and over again how I did not want to know anything about what to expect or where we were going, I had unknowingly made my own conclusions. Conclusions that included a what a trail should look like, what the weather should be like and how much effort I would exert.

I laughed to myself at my own realizations. What had I expected? A mild, gentle graded trail? A waltz in the woods? We were hiking in the Granite State. The White Mountains! Hello! GRANITE. ROCKS. MOUNTAINS. There’s a specific reason why things are named the way they are. I had figured this would be a challenging hike but did not know just how challenging it would be. Oh, but to have this challenge made me happy and feel blessed to be alive. No guts, no glory. Right?

At the top of a rock pile, we made a steep climb, and final scramble over the boulders to the summit of Mount Avalon (elevation: 3,442 ft.) The view from Mt. Avalon is gorgeous. Some people say it is one of the best views of the Presidential Range from all the mountains at Crawford Notch. We paused for a few moments to take it all in. Our very first peak bagged.

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It’s funny how sometimes you can see things more clearly when you look back at them. When I look at this picture now, I can clearly see something I missed then. Dark, streaky rain clouds at the horizon. A turn of weather, earlier than we expected.

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Minutes after we left the summit small drops of rain began to fall. Just a few spits of raindrops at first but soon the rain became steady. There would be no chances of drying out now and it was getting cold too. We stopped to put on our rain gear and cover our packs with rain covers and ponchos. I still felt sweaty-cold from the morning and my hands were the starting to feel numb. I put on my winter hat and gloves trying to get as warm as possible. We had about five more hours of hiking ahead of us.

As we hiked, clouds continued to pour buckets and buckets of rain over our heads. The woods offered us no protection from the showers. The rain added an extra challenge to an already challenging trail. Mossy rocks became hazards and roots were sneaky and slick. Small streams started to form in between the rocks of the steep paths we walked. We tried to avoid stepping in puddles and mud but our efforts were in vain. Extra concentration was needed as we contemplated each step and where to hold our footing.

As wet and cold as were nobody complained. We cheered each other on. The rain did not snuff out our joy or extinguish our movement. We were women on a mission and bagged two more peaks. Two 4,000 footers. Mt. Tom (elevation: 4051 ft) and Mt. Field (elevation: 4340 ft) Here I realized that not all summits have beautiful views as (as I had expected.) Mt. Tom and Mt.Field had trees and cairns. I concluded that the view was not as important as the accomplishment and I was content in knowing we had safely reached each summit.

 

Some time toward the end of the day, the rain stopped (thank you, Jesus.) A trail sign with the hut’s name was a very happy, welcomed sight. I felt as if I was about to cross the finish line of a marathon. One last push and I would be done. I dreamed of a hot cup of coffee, dry warm clothes and regaining feeling in my fingers. I felt like I had been baptized by water and fire. My strength had been tested and I had persevered. It was a great feeling, a mixture of exhaustion, hard work and accomplishment. One last steep, rocky incline and I was about to find out that a night spent at the huts is the cherry on top of a day’s long hike…

PS-For those wondering about the practical side of things, using outdoor facilities is extra “fun” in the rain. Lots of stuff (rain gear) can get in the way and a bare bottom in the cold is a jolting experience. If you want to feel at one with nature, try going the bathroom on the side of the trail, in the freezing cold rain. I guarantee you will get the full experience Mother Nature has to offer.

*This is not a picture of a trail in the White Mountains but an accurate depiction of what I thought the trails might look like before I left for the trip.


Last Chance-Hiking Trip-Chapter 2

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The window was left open all night and a cool mountain breeze flowed across my bed and over my face. I snuggled down into the cozy flannel sheets that lined the cot and allowed my eyes to get accustomed to the light that filled the room. Our room was quiet but busy.

One by one, we popped out of our beds and got dressed. We checked and rechecked our packs, tightened straps and made adjustments. We texted our goodbyes and final instructions to our families, then turned off our phones and rolled up our phone chargers. We wouldn’t need them where we were going. No electricity on the trail and no electrical outlets in the huts.

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It was our last chance to add or take away from the weight and supplies we were going to carry on our backs over the next three days. For me, there was nothing to add or take away. I had gone over all my supplies about fifty times and carefully packed clothes in Ziplock bags labeled for specific days. Normally, I am not this organized but for this trip I felt it a necessity. Maybe it was my way of trying to control the unknown.

Most of my pack was filled with clothes because I was very serious about not being cold. I packed layers and layers of items for every situation I could think of. Yes, even if it started snowing, I was prepared to be warm. A few second thoughts and nervous feelings about overpacking ran through my mind but I could not bring myself to remove one single item from my pack. I decided to call it done.

Once everyone was ready, we headed down to the lodge’s kitchen. I stuffed myself full with a hearty, warm breakfast of oatmeal, eggs and fruit. Loving Leader had suggested we have a big breakfast and a big dinner, and eat snacks and bars (things easy to pack) for our lunches on the trail. We had an important task to do before leaving the dining room area, we needed to fill our hydration bladders. My water reservoir was much larger than the one I have used in the past for running. It was awkward to fill but I pretended to look like I knew what I was doing even as the water sloshed in the sink and over my bag. Screwing the cover closed, I felt accomplished and I carried the water upstairs to put into my pack. I was surprised at how much 3 liters of water weighed and somewhat dreading the extra weight to my pack but I knew that this was a non-negotiable item.

After Loving Leader led us in devotions and prayers, I felt full in almost every way. Full of food, full pack, full hydration bladder, full heart, full of energy, full of anticipation. One more comfortable, indoor bathroom facilities use and then we checked with the front desk about the day’s weather forecast. The forecast called for cloudy skies with rain in the afternoon. The expected rain would be the “heaviest” around 1pm-2pm. Not perfect weather but not terrible weather either. (At least, this was my thinking.)

On Wednesday, 9:20 AM, under cloudy skies, we headed out of the lodge’s doors and stepped onto the Avalon Trail ready to “bag” our first peak. Three expectations were about to be tested.

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WONDER-FULL WEDNESDAY- WONDERMENT- PART 1

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It has been days since I have returned from my hiking trip and I am still trying to process my time in the mountains. In the four days we were there, so much happened physically, emotionally and spiritually. It was a step back in time, a place away from the busyness of the world, a time filled with extreme gratitude and wonderment.

Wonderment is the best way I can describe the trip. The feeling or emotion sparked by curiosity, awe and surprising things. I hiked in wonderment as the strength of my mind and soul overtook the physical strength of my body, pushing it to new limits, building new confidence and holding tight to Jesus. I felt wonderment gazing at valleys and mountains and thinking about God and His Creation. I listened in wonderment to new hiker friends share their stories of mountainous accomplishments. Challenging, peaceful, life-changing, and fun are other words but really none of them best describes the time as wonderment.

The only thing I hated about this trip was my last step from the sanctuary of the shadowed woods into the bright, blinding sunlight of the trail head’s parking lot. A place where two worlds collide. As my eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight, I wished I could turn around and run back into the woods. I wanted to keep exploring, keep pushing my body, keep discovering new things and seeing what was around the next bend or over the next boulder. I think this might have been the exact moment of when my new hiking addiction started.

Before I get too carried away, I guess I should start at the beginning, at the trailhead. If you have been reading along, you know this was my very first hike longer than a day’s trip. Four days and three nights backpacking with a 20-25 lb pack through the White Mountains of New Hampshire. There were five women on this trip. Five women who are now bonded together by sweat, tears and great respect for each other and this shared experience. I will lovingly refer to them as Loving Leader, Hot Mama, Sweaty-Sweet Diva, and Courageous Jade.

Those are not their official trail names (more about that later.) I was the only one blessed to received an official trail name on this hike, complete with a ceremony and pledge. “Melon Ball” was given to me because of my bright melon-colored rain gear and my sweet, joyful, refreshing personality (or at least that’s what my friends told me.)

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Loving Leader was very smart to start our trip off on the right foot. We arrived at Crawford Notch’s AMC Highland Center Lodge in the early evening. A good meal and good night’s sleep was in order before we hit the trail in the morning. The lodge’s accommodations were warm and comfortable and the atmosphere was joyful and peaceful. Hikers coming and going, some fresh from new adventures and some anticipating great ones to come. These were luxury accommodations compared to the hut’s lodging complete with warm running water, towels, comfortable beds and bedding. The food was plenty, delicious and filling!

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Lupine

At sunset, the five of us walked around the lodge admiring the mountains and pretty wildflowers. In the serene setting, I found myself evaluating my current state. I was running on empty, high on adrenaline. A few hours earlier, I had left my house filled with visiting relatives. It had been about a month since our home was inhabited by only our family of five. It had been good to see everyone and I was glad everyone was able to come. But it had been tiring and emotional. I hate saying goodbyes and as much as I try not to think about it while my family is here, I always think of our time together as a countdown before I have to say goodbye again.

Besides all the company, various loved ones and life circumstances were weighing heavily on my heart and mind. I stood there facing the setting sun and started to breath. Deep breaths of fresh mountain air were met with exhales, releases of stress and control over unknown circumstances. The air and the views started to cleanse and prepare my heart for something bigger. I could feel God replace the heaviness with the lightness of joy, peace and new discovery. I felt myself leaning in to hear His voice on the wind and watch the majesty of trees and a mountains bow down at His feet. Standing there, I felt very small and it felt so good. So good to know the Almighty God, mighty and powerful enough to create the great mountains on His command, is the same Almighty God who is loving and kind enough to be gentle with the current state of my tired heart and soul.

In the depths of my heart, I felt his calling to take His hand. The Great Shepherd ready to lead me besides quiet waters and refresh my soul. (Psalm 23) The Creator calling me to “come and see” for He was about to guide me on a heart’s journey to see and experience greater things. When I lay my tired head down and closed my eyes on the first night, I knew this adventure would be much more than I could have ever imagined and I was right.

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Crawford Notch

 

 

 

 


WONDER-FULL Wednesday- The Right Stuff

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It’s been a few weeks since I have updated my adventures in preparing for my hike. Hike month is now here! Twenty-two days until I step onto the trail. To date, I have only had one hiking dream  nightmare. In my dream, I was in the car with my friends heading up to the mountain. We were almost there and I needed to get something out of my pack. When I opened my pack, I found NOTHING! I hadn’t packed a thing! I panicked, told my friends to let me off on the side of the highway (which they DID!!!!) and said I would meet them on the trail. Then I walked back to my house to pack the essentials- socks, trailmix and underwear. Except there were no clean underwear to pack- I am a little blurry if that was a dream or reality. And then I woke up.

The dream got me thinking about what gear I already have and what I need to buy/borrow. If you ask my husband, I am sure he would say that I would be fine hiking with my old school backpack with a couple of Market Basket shopping bags tied to the side for the things that cannot fit. Seriously, that would be a lot of bags tied to my side straps! I am not my husband though and part of the fun of this adventure is a little shopping (thank you for the birthday money, mom, Gammy and Jonette!)

The most important thing that I needed to purchase was a pack. When I visited REI, there were walls and walls of them and it was overwhelming. I needed a smaller selection and decided that I would try EMS. Now that I am a true-outdoorsy, adventurous type person, I need to get very familiar with these outdoorsy-type stores.

Purchasing the hiking boots provided me earned confidence. I walked into EMS with a little more swagger in my step than I had in REI. I met Austin who reminded me of Price Harry (who I have never met but maybe because he was a red head.) He was in his twenties, an outdoorsy-type kid and enthusiastic about my trip. As a side note, I have never met a ginger I did not like and I trusted his opinion. It was a good start.

Austin led me over to the packs. He pointed out two packs that he thought would be good for me. I tried the first one on. Boom! Perfect fit! Austin was surprised. Just to make sure, he had me try on another pack. I made him load and unload weight and I walked around the store a few times. Everything was great! The pack was comfortable and it was black. Black goes with everything. And yes, those types of things matter to me.

I do not know much more about my pack other than it has a lot of pockets, it has a place for a water reservoir (Austin told me the size I need to get) and it has a rain cover (which according to Austin is a MAJOR plus.) He told me he has the same pack and lived seven days out of it. If Austin can do seven, I can do four!

Austin also said the key to fitting everything you need is to pack smartly. He told me a down jacket was a smart pack. He showed me one that can be squished into a pocket on the inside of a coat. It looked great to me! Fifteen minutes later, my pack was purchased as well as the squishy, puffy, down jacket and I am now that much closer to having everything I need for this trip. PS I am still not sure how the coat fits into that pocket but I will figure it out.

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The lightweight, puffy, squishy jacket….

 

A few other purchases….A new headlamp! BONUS:  I did not know the head lamp had RED FLASHING LIGHTS!!

I was looking for something to keep my hair back and greasy, unshowered hair covered (no showers in the huts) and I came across a thing called a Buff. I figured it would not only work for good appearance purposes but will also “protect me from the elements.” It is a very interesting accessory. The tubular piece of fabric can be worn in many ways. Here are a few examples.

The last picture accurately depicts a novice trying to use this tubular headwear. I am kidding. I can see how this item will come in very handy. It seems like it will keep me warm, cool and comfortable.

My favorite way of wearing the Buff might be this though…. Just call me Belle Starr (The Bandit Queen)

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Well, that’s all for now….until next time, don’t squat with your spurs on…


WONDER-FULL Wednesday-The Valley of Grief

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The two people who would have gotten the biggest kick out of this summer hiking adventure are not around for me to tell it to. They were two of my biggest cheerleaders. They always had time for me and loved me with the type of love that instills courage, dreams and confidence.

My grandfather, Baba, was one of the most gentlest, kindliest, intelligent people that I had the privileged to know. He was a chemist, teacher and inventor. His thirst for knowledge was quenched at the library where he was found on a daily basis. And if he couldn’t make it to the library in person, he reached them by phone. He was always researching something and had a questions for the reference desk. Baba was adventurous and fun.  He took us on family mystery rides, taught us all the words to “I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch Coconuts”, and watched Cindafella more times that I can remember. I think he passed on his love of PBS to me and whenever I watch Masterpiece Theater, I pretend that he is sitting right next to me with a big bowl of air popped popcorn.(Sorry Baba, I put a lot of salt AND butter on mine.) My grandfather had a country-western DJ company, was the president of his writing club, and was always on the look out for a new project. He approached failure as a challenge to succeed. He left a legacy of education, perseverance, gentle and kind words, mystery and adventure.

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My aunt was beautiful inside and out. She was creative and loved art, poetry and books. Like my grandfather, she was a teacher. Auntie had her degree in education and was a personal trainer. In the 90s, she made a few exercise videos rocking colorful,spandex exercise clothing. She dabbled in modeling too. Auntie was fun and had a great sense of humor. She loved Seinfeld and Toy Story. I can still hear her laugh and see her smile. She was one of those people who came alongside you. Celebrated with you, cried with you, laughed with you, encouraged you. Oh, she was such an encourager! And a leader! People loved to be with her. My aunt was also a courageous fighter. She fought cancer for many years. At the end of her life, she kept her wit, humor and grace until she could no longer speak or write. She never complained to me and always managed to give me a smile.

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Tomorrow marks a day of remembrance. Ten years have passed since Auntie’s passing and some days my grief is as raw and real as it was then. I think grief is like that. No right or wrong way to work through it. It pulls me back through memories. There are moments when I still expect to see my aunt walk through the door or hear her voice as she sings my name -“Shanny-Jean.” So many times, I have wanted to pick up the phone and tell her the latest news or hear her excitement over this hiking trip. I am sure she would have me on some sort of personal training routine for strengthening my glutes and core muscles (complete with the perfectly drawn stick-figures.)

I can no longer hear what my grandfather’s voice sounds like. We have recorded tapes with his voice but if I am being honest, it would make me even more sad to listen to them. He would have loved this hiking trip. Researching all he could about the mountains I will climb and helping me purchase the correct gear. He might have invented some sort of gadget for me to take. Or create freezed-dried humus-his homemade humus was the best.

Even though I can’t have them here on Earth, I carry them with me each day. I see them in butterflies, glass beakers, and in books. What they invested in me has outlasted their breath. They gave me adventure, courage, love of learning, and unconditional love.  I pour those things into my children hoping to leave them a similar legacy that out last my last breath.

They are coming with me on my hike. I am taking this picture in my pack because this is how I think of my grandfather and aunt in heaven. Auntie with her tour book in hand. Baba taking it all in, thinking about the next new thing to jump into. Smiling and laughing. Free of pain and in peace.

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WONDER-FULL WEDNESDAY-Breaking In

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Unless you are Her Majesty the Queen, you are just going to have to do it yourself. While The Queen employs the services of a Royal-Shoe Wearer to break in her new shoes, most of us commoners must endure a slightly uncomfortable time period known as “breaking in.”1

Many sources, from Vogue to the Wall Street Journal, have weighed in on this topic and it seems they all come to the same conclusion, to break in new shoes you need to take it slow. Breaking in is a process. The shoes need time to mold to your feet decreasing the chances of blisters, sore ankles and pinched toes

This is where this week’s hiking update finds me- breaking in.  It has been a little over a week since I bought my hiking boots. I have been wearing them everywhere. Out for walks, shopping, errands around town. They got some extra “breaking in”  when they totally rocked it out during a worship service with my brothers and sisters at the Pentecostal Ministries Church.  BTW, If you ever need to break in hiking boots (or any shoes for that matter) attend a service. Your heart will be overflowing with joy and your feet will have you dancing through the whole week.

I am not only breaking in my shoes, I am also breaking down fat and building muscle and strength. This week, I was reacquainted with an old friend, Jillian Michaels.  America’s toughest trainer is leading me through personal exercise sessions in the comfort of my living room. She promised me that if I give it my all, bring everything I have to my workouts, I will be “ripped” in 30 days. Thirty days seems like a reasonable amount of time to commit to. I am hoping that this start will help me stay focused and motivated to continue regular workouts. I need to get stronger for this hike.  (Please do not tell Jillian about the free froyo I had on Tuesday.)

Between the shoes and workouts, I have been reminded of a few things. One, no one can do it for me. If I want my shoes to be comfortable, I have to wear them. If I want to be physically fit, I have to put in the time and make my body move. Two, new things can feel uncomfortable. The first few days of wearing my boots, I thought I had made a mistake in purchasing them. They were a stiff and snug in the beginning but with wear they have become more relaxed and comfortable. The same goes with the exercise. It was difficult and slightly uncomfortable to start but once I got going, I remembered that I actually like exercising. In fact, I really enjoy it. I have seen improvements in my body and in my mood. My stress level seems lower and I have been sleeping more soundly and comfortably. So a small amount of discomfort in the beginning turns into a lot of good things in the end.

Hiking Goals for the week:

  1. Keep exercising.
  2. Keep breaking in my boots.
  3. Purchase a hiking pack.

For those that need to break in some hiking boots or shoes, check out the video below and see the type of workout my boots went through on Sunday night. So much fun!