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.  

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! 😀

April Garden Update

Spring–along with its appropriate weather–has finally arrived.  Right now I am loving watching everything come to life in our yard.

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As part of my birthday present this year, my mom gave me little figurines to make a fairy garden;  at first I was skeptical, but I gleaned some ideas from Pinterest and created this:

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Hah!  Isn’t it cute?   I visited our local greenhouse earlier this week, and they apparently have an entire section dedicated to fairy gardens, complete with mini plants and figurines.  Who knew?  Fairy gardens are a thing.  Andrew thought it was ridiculously frivolous when I showed him, but ultimately conceded that it is kind of cute, then wished the tiny lawn ornaments the best of luck against the squirrel thieves that frequent our yard. 🙂

To balance out the frivolousness of the fairy garden, we do have some very practical plants growing: our vegetables!  Lots and lots of vegetables.  We started our seeds at the beginning of March (then started some more a few weeks later), and now we have quite the greenhouse of our own.

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Here’s what we are growing:

~Tomatoes- Brandywine, Black Krim, Yellow Pear, and Sweetie (Cherry)
~Peppers- Red Bell, Yellow, Pimento, and Jalepeno
~Squash- Yellow, Zucchini, Spaghetti, and Butternut
~Tomatillos
~Eggplant
~Watermelon
~Cucumber
~Green Beans (not yet planted)
~Strawberries (already in garden from last year)
~Kale, Spinach, Lettuce, Chard (already planted in garden)

So, it looks like we’ll be able to eat this summer.

In a few weeks, once the outside temperature is more consistently warm and the plants have a little more time to grow, we will plant them in the garden, which is prepped and ready!

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Vegetable gardening season, we welcome you. 🙂

-Are you growing any vegetables this summer?
-Have you ever made a fairy garden?  Have you ever heard of a fairy garden? 😀

Mountain Biking at Dutch Gap

Well, it seems the warm weather we had Saturday was just another spring teaser, as it is very likely to snow again tomorrow.  I feel certain that even the greatest snow lovers in Virginia are over it by now.  <Sigh.>

Andrew and I enjoyed the nice weather while we could; on Saturday we packed up our bikes and drove to the Dutch Gap Conservation Area, a park not too far from home.

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The park has a 4.5 mile trail that runs around a pond, with lots of spur trails that we rode down as well.  We didn’t ride super fast or super far, but it was a very enjoyable afternoon!  We spent about two hours exploring the area and enjoying the outdoors.

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At one point we took some photos with the self-timer on my camera…

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In case you were wondering, jumping photos are incredibly difficult to capture with a self-timer. 🙂

We did have a pretty good laugh at my expense at the beginning of our trek:  Andrew’s sister, Jenny, gave us the water bottles seen in the bike photo above for Christmas.  My previous water bottle was a Camelbak.  As we were getting set up…

Me: I can’t quite figure out this water bottle.

Andrew: What do you mean?

Me: I don’t know how hard to bite the straw part.  Sometimes hardly any water comes out, and sometimes it flows freely, but I can’t figure out the right way to do it.

Andrew: You don’t have to bite it at all.  It’s just a straw.

Oops. 😀  We laughed.

The rest of our weekend was filled with doing some odds and ends around the house, watching Robin Hood: Men in Tights on Netflix (I loved this movie as a kid, and it was exponentially funnier as an adult, :-D) and watching basketball (my March Madness bracket is pretty much done, by the way).  Speaking of basketball–and backtracking because I’ve been very undisciplined about blogging lately–the basketball team that Andrew and my brother, Ross, play for won their championship game on Thursday!

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So proud of these guys 😀

The medal is now hanging from our mantle, of course.

Have a great Monday, everyone!

-What was the highlight of your weekend?
Did you fill out a bracket for the NCAA tournament? Are more than two of your teams still alive?

Tastes of Spring

My office is closed today, and I’m watching the snow fall outside through the kitchen window…again.  I like snow, but I am ready for the warmer weather we experienced briefly this weekend.  It was quite the teaser!  We did manage to squeeze in a few spring activities, one of which I am so, so excited about: planting vegetable seeds!!

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Last year we took the “go big or go home” approach with our vegetable garden, tilling a 10-ft x 20-ft plot in the middle of our back yard, and we experienced surprisingly great success.  (You can check out last year’s garden updates starting here.)  We ate amazing, fresh produce throughout the summer, and we are still working our way through the veggies we froze by using them in soups and stir-fries.  It’s been wonderful.

This Saturday we gathered our supplies–some seeds saved from vegetables last year, some new seeds, dirt, a seed starting box, a clear storage bin to use as a makeshift greenhouse–and set up a planting station in our driveway.

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We planted:
-Brandywine Tomatoes
-“Sweetie” Cherry Tomatoes
-Black Krim Tomatoes
-Yellow Pear Tomatoes
-Bell Peppers
-Pimento Peppers
-Tomatillos
-Butternut Squash
-Spaghetti Squash
-Watermelon

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And now our guest bathroom is a greenhouse. 😉  In the seed starting box in the foreground, which has a clear plastic lid, we planted all the tomatoes and peppers.  For the others, we are experimenting with 1. bigger containers and 2. a bigger greenhouse: a clear, upside down storage container.  We put our space heater in the bathroom with the seeds to make sure they are nice and warm. 🙂

Even though our garden last year was a success, I feel so nervous about how well these little guys will do;  we are still rookies who just happened to have ideal growing conditions last summer.  We’ll have to wait and see what happens!

Sunday was even more gorgeous than Saturday.  With temperatures in the 70’s, we simply couldn’t stay inside, so we drove to the University of Richmond to play disc golf.   If you’ve never played disc golf before, I think it’s the perfect compromise activity for people like Andrew and me–it’s essentially taking a walk in a park with elements of competition and athletics. 🙂

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Also, we found a turtle:

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#
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It was an awesome way to spend a beautiful Sunday afternoon. 🙂

And now we return to our regularly scheduled winter weather.  On the upside, I took these photos this morning of a giant hawk that sometimes hangs out in our back yard…so beautiful in the snow!

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Have a great Monday, everyone!

What’s the weather like outside your window today?
-Have you ever played disc golf?  What do you think?
-Are you growing veggies this summer, and have you started the seeds?

Running: When Dogs Bite

I experienced a running first yesterday: a dog bit me. 

I was running on a semi-major road near my house, and I saw the dog and its owners (or more likely owner + friend) up ahead on the same sidewalk.  As we approached one another, I could see that the dog–a mutt, maybe 40-50lb–was very excited, so I slowed to a walk and tried to give it as much space as possible.  The dog was barking, and the owner pulled the leash a little tighter, and just as we passed each other, the dog lunged and grabbed hold of my thigh with its teeth.

“Oh my gosh!  Did he bite you??  Did he bite you??”

“Yeah, yeah, he bit me!”

“Are you okay??  I’m so sorry!  He’s had all his shots!  I can give you my contact information and am happy to pay any medical bills!  He’s a puppy, and he just doesn’t do very well!”

“It’s okay; I’m okay.  Thank you.  I’m sure a band-aid will cover it.  It’s okay!  It happens!”

It happened so fast, and I was wearing running tights (now ripped), so I couldn’t see the extent of the damage.  It definitely hurt, but it was also cold, so I knew my skin was more sensitive.  It was just a very surprising situation, and I didn’t think through my reaction.

I tried to resume running, crossing the street into a neighborhood, and immediately was met with a lot of pain in my leg.  I investigated as best I could without pulling down my pants in public, and the one gash I could see was not pretty.  I can’t promise that I didn’t utter a few four-letter words.  From there I hobbled home, not quite crying, but definitely whimpering.

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24 hours later–Tilt your computer screen as needed to get the full color-effect of that bruise 😉

After inspecting the wound, I sent a picture to Andrew, my mom, and a couple of friends in the medical field, and they all urged me to go to the doctor just to get it checked out.  Friends, that was a funny telephone call:

“Hi, I’m a patient of Dr. So-and-So.  Um, I just got bitten by a dog.  Is that something she could take a look at today?

They were able to to see me right away, and said it looked all right, and it was time for me to get a tetanus shot anyway.  They gave me the shot and some heavy-duty antibiotic cream, and sent me home.  The left side of my body–my leg where I was bitten, and my arm where I got the shot–is super sore today, so I am going to take it easy for a few days, but otherwise, I think I will be all right.

After the incident, I did some research to learn what one is supposed to do if bitten by a dog.  If you happen to find yourself in a similar situation, here’s what to do:

To avoid the bite:
-Slow your run to a walk so you are less threatening.
-Don’t stare, but keep the dog in site.
-Walk in the opposite direction of the dog.

After being bitten:
-If the owner is present, take the contact info!  (I am kicking myself for not doing this!)
-Apply basic first-aid: wash the area with soap and water, apply antibiotic ointment and sterile bandage.
-Go to the doctor.  Just in case.  I know it’s a pain, but why risk it?
-If you took contact information, ask for proof of up-to-date vaccinations for dog.
-Report the incident to animal control.

Stay safe out there, friends!

-Have you ever been bitten by a dog while a running?  How bad was it, and what did you do?