Labor Day Weekend Camping (the End and the Beginning)

As a child, Labor Day weekend gave me the feeling of being pulled between two worlds.  I wanted to soak up the final few hours of summer and freedom, and yet the inevitability of school and backpacks and homework loomed, but with it the hope of a new beginning.  Labor Day weekend meant enjoying the final moments of one season while preparing for the start of the next.  

This Labor Day weekend Andrew and I joined our friends Elliott and Lauren for two days of roughing it in the woods: camping, hiking, peeing behind trees.  We drove into the mountains Friday evening and set up camp in the dark.  Saturday morning, after filling up on oatmeal and French press coffee, we began the first of two hikes planned for the day: Mount Pleasant.  Andrew and I had hiked it on a previous camping weekend, and the views are stunning.  On a clear day, this is what you’ll see:

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However, after hiking 3-ish miles to the top this Saturday, this is was our view:

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Heavy fog everywhere.  Womp womp.  

We finished the hike, ate lunch at our campsite, then started our second hike of the day:  Cold Mountain.  This hike is an approximately six-mile loop with nice overlooks on the way to an open meadow with beautiful mountain views all around.  

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We did encounter some lingering fog, but thankfully we still were able to steal a few glimpses of those beautiful blue mountains that I love.

Back at camp, with achy bodies from 12.5 miles of hiking, we cleaned up as best we could and started cooking dinner.  Just as we put the steaks on the fire, we heard the rain rolling in.  At the threat of not being able to cook the steaks, Andrew sprung into Eagle Scout mode in a way I’ve never seen.  “Tarp!  Someone grab the tarp!  Two tall sticks!  Twine!  Tent stakes!”  Before the rain could touch our fire, Andrew had constructed a shelter for us with a tarp hung over a rope (strung between two tree branches), with two corners held up by large sticks, which were secured to the ground with tent stakes and twine.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture because, well, it was pouring rain and very dark at this point, but suffice it to say we were all thoroughly impressed.  We ate our steaks (which were unbelievably delicious after hiking all day) as the fire roared and water rushed under our feet–because, hey, we were still outside in a torrential downpour– and we laughed at how disgusting we all felt covered in sweat and mud, and life was very good.  

In the morning I woke early and hiked up the Appalachian Trail a bit to catch the sunrise.  


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It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for a good sunrise–the colors, the stillness of the morning, the promise of a new day.

For me this Labor Day weekend evoked that childhood feeling of being torn between two worlds.  On Friday I wrapped up six years working as a youth minister.  It was a time full of joy and challenges and working with people that I love, but like every season, it had to come to an end to make way for something new.  Today is the start of a new season for me as I pursue a career in personal training.  For the next few months I will be a full-time student preparing for the certification exam, and while I am nervous about venturing into the unknown (and yes, giving up a paycheck for a period), I am thrilled to embark on this journey.

The sun is rising on the first day of a new season for me, and I am giddy about the possibilities of what it may hold.  

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Anniversary Weekend Part 2: Caverns, Bird Knob Hike, and Wine-Tasting

Day two of our anniversary weekend in the mountains (you can check out the day one recap here) began with coffee-sipping on the porch of our cabin.

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We could hear a stream rushing somewhere in the woods below and a rooster crowing somewhere in the distance, but there were very few sounds beyond that.  This cabin was the epitome of seclusion, and it was awesome.

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After a leisurely breakfast and a quick dip in the hot tub, we drove into Luray to check out Luray Caverns.  They were pretty cool–it is amazing how it all was formed–but after a while it all kind of looks the same to me.  Andrew, on the other hand, my rock-loving mine engineer, was geeking out the whole time, and that was fun to watch.  There’s basically one rule in the caverns:  don’t touch the rocks (the oil from our skin breaks them down).  We saw one guy in our group sneakily reach out and touch a rock with his finger;  Andrew shook his head, and under his breath said, “Exhibit some self-control, buddy.” 😀

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After our caverning adventure we stopped for lunch at this wonderful restaurant called Gathering Grounds.  It’s a coffee/sandwich shop with delicious food…and gluten-free options!  In a little mountain town like Luray, we weren’t sure how well-versed the restaurants would be in food allergies, but they were incredibly accommodating.  They even had a few GF pastries available for dessert.  Andrew finished his meal with a giant peanut butter cookie and was a very happy camper. 😀  If you find yourself in Luray, check out Gathering Grounds!

We spent a little time exploring Main Street and letting our food digest, then we drove back into the mountains for our second hike of the weekend:  Bird Knob.  Our criteria for choosing this hike were 1. good views (always) and 2. shorter distance… something less strenuous and time consuming than our crazy hike from the day before.  While the Bird Knob hike is 8 miles if you do the entire thing, the overlooks are only 1.5 miles into the hike, so we could make it a 3 miler if needed.

I made certain to pack enough water for this hike, but I didn’t pay much attention to the elevation chart.  My thought process:  “Three miles?  That’s an evening stroll around the neighborhood.”  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  The entirety of the 1.5 miles to the overlook was uphill, and parts of it were annoyingly steep.  It probably wouldn’t have been as difficult if our legs weren’t sore from our hike the previous day.  As we neared the top Andrew said, “Next time I choose the hikes.” 😉

As usual, the views made it all worthwhile:

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We hiked about a mile beyond this, then turned around and made our way back down the mountain.

Back at the cabin we grilled some steaks, poured a couple of drinks, and watched the sun set.

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Gender role reversal: Andrew with a fruity mixed drink, Catherine with a dark stout 😉

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We concluded our weekend with some wine tasting on Sunday on our drive back to Richmond.  We stopped at Barboursville Vineyards, which is an Italian-owned winery, made to look like an old Tuscan farmhouse.  The wine was pretty good–none of them tasted as much like grape juice as I want wine to taste–but the scenery was beautiful:

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The weekend was simultaneously relaxing and exhausting.  It was so great to get away and be in the mountains, but we (I) picked some tough hikes 😀  Regardless, we were very thankful for the opportunity to celebrate two years of marriage!

-Beach or mountains?  Andrew and I discussed this Saturday; he picked the beach, I picked the mountains (but ask me again when I’m at the beach this summer ;-))
-Have you been to any caverns (Luray or other)?  What did you think?  Are you a rock-toucher/rule-breaker?

Anniversary Weekend Part 1: Hiking Strickler Knob

Today marks two years that Andrew and I have been married!  We celebrated this weekend with a getaway to a cute mountain cabin in Luray, Virginia.  The trip was both awesome and exhausting, filled with hiking and exploring the area.

Friday morning we drove straight from Richmond to the base of our first hike–Strickler Knob–with plans to check into the cabin that evening.  I’d like to give this section of the post a special title based on our (my) experience:

Pack More Water Than You Think You Need

Strickler Knob is about a 9.5-mile hike with an incredible 360 degree view at the top of the mountain.  Now, 9.5 miles is a pretty long hike, and the reviews I read rated it 5 out of 6 in terms of difficulty, but for some reason I was not taking that thing seriously before we started.  I only packed one 24-oz water bottle, and that turned out to be a dangerous mistake.

About ten minutes into the hike, the trail turns very steeply downhill–the kind of downhill that isn’t fun at all–so steep that after .6 mile, when the trail finally started going uphill, it felt relaxing.  During that section all I could think was, “This is going to be terrible on the way back…”  And it was…but more on that soon. 🙂

The entire hike was beautiful;  there was a stream, rock scrambling, and these views at the top:

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Amazing.

The return trip is where it became painful.  The temperature was hotter than expected, and with no leaves on the trees yet, there was very little shade.  I’d consumed all of my water, and Andrew refilled my bottle with half of his second bottle (so by being under-prepared, I endangered both of us).  In addition to being dehydrated, rationing water meant that I had only eaten a few bites of my sandwich when we stopped for lunch–with a dry mouth it was tough to swallow.  All around, I did not have enough fuel in my system.

For most of the return trip I felt okay.  We even ran a few downhill sections!  And then we reached the bottom of that d**n hill that I knew was going to be terrible from the start.  Friends, I am in good shape.  Cardiovascularly I can go the distance; the muscles in my legs are strong.  After 8.5 miles, however, with not quite enough water or food, this ascent was not pretty.  I had to stop and rest–and not just rest, but sit down–every .05 miles.  That’s roughly every minute, maybe two on that terrain.  I’ve certainly felt tired on hikes before, but this was the first time I’d ever thought, “I cannot make it to the top of this hill.  How am I going to do this?  I’m going to have to camp here.”  Andrew said he was preparing himself to have to carry me.  It was awful.

And then after a grueling .6 mile, we reached flat ground…and I turned around and cursed the mountainside.

With adequate fuel, it would have been a tough hike, but with only 4.5 cups of water over that distance, it was almost more than I could take.  I was thankful to have Andrew there to encourage me and share his water! Anytime you go into the woods, pack more water than you think you need.

After completing the hike, we made our way to the cabin.

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Isn’t it cute??  We refueled with dinner cooked on the grill, then relaxed in the hot tub 😀

Despite the dehydration, it was a great day.  I’d like to tackle that hike again with better preparation…the views are worth it!

I will post about the rest of the weekend tomorrow, but for now…

Happy anniversary to the love of my life! 😀

Breckenridge and Hiking Cheeseman Canyon (Colorado Days 2 & 3)

We’ve been home from Colorado for about 32 hours now, and I am thoroughly jet-lagged and exhausted–the good kind of exhausted. The kind of exhausted you feel when you pack a lot of awesome things into a few days. 🙂  Here’s what the next few days of our trip entailed:

Day 2: Breckenridge
On Friday we drove deep into the mountains to the adorable little skiing town, Breckenridge.  These were some of the views as we drove:

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It didn’t even look real!  So beautiful.  Once we arrived in Breck, we spent hours walking up and down Main Street exploring the shops…and being the big kids that we are. 😀 

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The hat shop was a particularly good time 😀

Day 3: Hiking Cheeseman Canyon

On Friday night, Andrew’s friend and best man Kevin arrived.  Kevin’s sister Julie lives with Jenny, so it worked out well that the five of us could pile into one apartment for a weekend of best friend/family fun. 🙂  Saturday we all went hiking–Andrew later declared it, “Probably my favorite hike ever!”  It was, in fact, a pretty beautiful hike, with the trail following a canyon river. 

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So nice 🙂  One trail ran about 50 feet (?) above the river and had mini trails that led to a lower trail immediately beside the river.  We switched between the two throughout the hike and determined that we covered about six miles total.  While we didn’t gain much elevation overall, the trail was very up-and-down–I could feel it in the calves! 

That night we met up with our friend Ashley for dinner–Ashley is a good friend from Virginia who moved out to Denver about five years ago, and we love that we are able to see her somewhat regularly now!  Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos. 

I always say (and have written numerous times on this blog) that if I lived within 15 minutes of a mountain I’d hike every day.  After hiking Thursday, walking around Breckenridge Friday (we covered some serious miles), and hiking Saturday, I began to question that declaration.  My legs were achy.  (I don’t know why I made that past tense;  we didn’t slow down Sunday or Monday, and my legs are still achy. :)) 

I will save our last day and a half for another post, but they include Andrew’s birthday and (wait for it…) more hiking. 🙂

Have a great Wednesday!

Hiking in Golden (Colorado Day 1)

Our first day in Colorado was excellent.  After an early morning (4:43 AM) and a long flight (3.5 hours), we finally arrived in Denver; with the two-hour time change, we still had the entire day ahead of us!  Jenny picked us up from the airport, and after dropping our luggage off at her cute apartment, we drove to the town of Golden (home of the Coors brewery, for anyone who’s interested).

We ate lunch at this fantastic sub shop called Snarf’s, then walked to a nearby trail for some hiking.

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Tree pose… on a tree 😀

Unfortunately, we reached a point where the trail was closed–we ignored the initial sign indicating dangerous conditions ahead, but within 100 feet of our disobedience there was an actual gate closing the trail.  Probably for the best. 🙂

One of the great things about this area is that there are plenty other trails to hike!  We walked back through the small town of Golden and began hiking the South Table.

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As you can see, it was gorgeous!  The last photo was our favorite in a series of jump shots–it looks like we are levitating 😀  The large rock in the first photo of this series is South Table where we hiked to and where the rest of the photos were taken.

We finished the day with some delicious pho, then went to bed shortly after.  By Denver time we’d been up since 2:43 AM, traveled across the country, hiked a bunch, gained an extra two hours in our day–so 9:45 PM (11:45 PM Richmond time) felt like just about the latest I could possibly keep my eyes open.

This morning Jenny is taking us to Breckenridge (or simply “Breck” as the locals call it;  we’ve learned that they love abbreves out here ;-)).

Have a great Friday!

Trail Running + Hiking

For a girl who loves the great outdoors, this has been an excellent week.

I recently started trail-running with a friend Andrew and I met through Ultimate Frisbee, and we met this week for a river run.

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It’s tough to have a bad workout when that’s your scenery!

On Tuesday (my day off), my friend Kate and I drove to the mountains for a hike.  We started with the hike I did a few weeks ago–Humpback Rocks–but when we reached the Appalachian Trail, we walked south rather than north and discovered a few new-to-us overlooks.

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Gorgeous, right?  We hiked about six miles total, including some serious uphills!  My glutes were a tad sore the next day.

There’s just something about the mountains–and being outside in general–that is good for my soul. No matter how grueling the workout, when there’s beautiful scenery involved, I always walk back inside feeling rejuvenated.

Have a great Sunday!

Did you get outside at all this week or workout in any beautiful places?

Hiking: Humpback Rocks + Dobie Mountain

Hiking is good for my soul.  Apparently it’s good for my heart as well, because we hit the mountains Saturday, and I didn’t have a single heart palpitation all day.  Nature for the win!

Andrew and I went with our friends Evan and Kristina;  Evan is one of my coworkers, and we’d been talking about all going hiking together for a while.  It was great to finally make it happen!  Kristina’s sister and her boyfriend drove up from Virginia Tech and met us at Humpback Rocks.

This hike, which is one of our favorites because of the awesome views and close proximity to home, is always steeper than I remember.  There was very little conversation happening for the first 15 minutes or so :-D.  The ascent to the overlook is only one mile though, so before long we were looking at this:

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After we reached this overlook, we decided to continue hiking–the trail meets up with the Appalachian Trail pretty quickly.  Humpback Rocks shares a parking lot with another hike we’ve done recently–Dobie Mountain–and the two are connected by the AT.  Now, we had never done the combined hike and weren’t sure exactly how many miles of AT stretched between the two, but the group decided to give it a try.

This section of the AT (going north) was beautiful–mostly downhill, lots of pretty leaves, and lots of switchbacks.  So many switchbacks… none of which were visible on Google maps (yes, the AT is on there!), so when we’d been hiking for 15 minutes and I said, “We’re just about a mile away from the next overlook,” I was very wrong.  About an hour later, we were…one mile from the overlook.  My bad, guys. 🙂  Eventually we made it, and it was worth the extra miles:

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The whole gang

By the time we made it out of the woods, I think we’d hiked about six miles.  Not too shabby!

Hiking just makes me feel alive, and as I previously mentioned, it seemed to quiet the frequent heart palpitations I’ve been having lately.  Plus, we had great company this weekend, which made the day even greater!

Where have you hiked lately?
What was the highlight of your weekend?