hiking while it’s still green

A little less than two years ago, a colleague told me to, “Get outside and go hiking while it’s still green.” I had just  moved to San Luis Obispo, and Sada (colleague soon to become good friend) was telling me some of the ins and outs of my new town and region. The rainy season was coming to an end, which would soon mean that the green would go away and the dust would come again — beautiful in its own way, but not the green that desert eyes learn to savor. Sure enough, within just a couple weeks, the hills lost their brilliance and returned to shades of brown.

Today's view of Bishop Peak from the top of Cerro San Luis.
Today’s view of Bishop Peak from the top of Cerro San Luis.
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Rain drops on the leaves of a wild cucumber plant.

Today Ben and I went out on a hike to one of the first hikes I did following Sada’s words of wisdom, a hill called Cerro San Luis. Although it was threatening rain, we decided to hike anyway. Near the top it sprinkled on us, and then we relaxed under a tree when the rain came down a little heavier. Just before were about to start up the hill again, we said hello to a hiker headed down, and she commented that we looked so perfect with the big tree around us and said she should take our photo. I gladly shared my iPhone with her. A minute later, she continued down the trail, and I was left blessed by the kindness of this woman to notice, speak up, and capture a precious moment for us.

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Waiting for the rain to slow.

I am humbled by life these days. It was just two years ago that I was preparing to move to California, to start a new job and build a new home. And here I am with more than I could ever dream of, and I am humbled by this life filled with blessings. As we hiked today, it was a precious time to soak in the beauty. In this season, the green hills and wildflowers in bloom are such great reminders of beauty and blessings. May they never be taken for granted.

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A California poppy.
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Wild sage so wonderfully fragrant.
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Lupine, purples and greens.
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Wild cucumber.
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A rainbow on our way down, a stunning reminder of God’s goodness.

hiking the cumberland river trail

That particular weekend in January we were hoping to go camping, which took some serious commitment for me because I don’t love the cold. But, I believe in seizing the day, and this was the weekend available. Then it got all rainy and muddy on Thursday and Friday. Muddy and cold and a chance of rain. We decided sleeping indoors was a wise move. Someday maybe I will fall in love with cold weather camping. Maybe you will be the one to make that possible. For now, this is this the story of that weekend.

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Camping nixed, the goal was to find a place to be outside. Breathing in nature is good for my soul, and even if I was not camping, there was to be an adventure. We flipped through a book I highly recommend called 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Nashville. There are different editions of this book for different cities, and I think they are brilliant. I am writing this particular trip up here because it is a place I wish I had known about when I was living in Nashville. We went to the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail near Ashland City and did about an eight mile walk on an old railroad path that was paved over. It was flat and easy walk, but the sky was blue, it was warmer than anticipated, and it was a new area. The trail continues for another segment just as long (though I am not sure if it is all paved). For much of the walk we felt like we had it to ourselves. It would be perfect for a bike ride, a hike, taking a stroller, just something different that is close and easy and not muddy when it rains like crazy. Besides, if you do the first part of the trail, there is this random bike welded on top of a pole. Random and odd and made us smile that day.

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I often find that adventures end well with a hunt for a local diner or restaurant. It is now becoming a tradition – sometimes something grand is found, sometimes greasy locations where it is rather clear I am not a local. This time we found a Vuocolo’s Italian Pizzeria, a restaurant in what looks like a house. Inside it feels like a house and there are really only two tables. Would it be good? We had our questions, but that is part of the adventure, part of the game. It was outstanding. The owner will happily divide the pizza in half or quarters so that you can each get what you want. I think it was the best pizza in the Nashville region. Why don’t you take a trip up there this spring or summer? Go for a long walk and get some pizza, then let me know what you think. 

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i climbed ben nevis

Not too many weeks ago, I climbed (hiked) Ben Nevis, the highest point in the UK (though lower in elevation than my home in Kigali). Today it has been cold and rainy, which somehow seems an appropriate time to write about the climb. This was a big climb for me – my longest ever. You go from sea level to 4,400 feet and back in about 9.5 miles. For all the other outdoor things I love, you might wonder why this is the longest hike (in terms of elevation change) I have done. I have bad knees, and honestly did not know how they would do, but figured it was worth finding out.

I tried to put everything in my favor including buying walk poles. In America, it seems walking pools are for the old or the trendy. In Scotland, however, they were a normal part of hiking attire and at least one third of the hikers (of all shapes and sizes and ages) had them. Given that Scotland is a land of walking, hiking, and climbing, I decided to learn from their wisdom. I am thankful that I did learn and plan on taking the sideways glances of Americans with a smile on my face every time I use them in the future. They are grand.

Back to the mountain. Actually, first to the glen. Our first day at Fort William, we decided to hike Glen Nevis, the valley below Ben Nevis. I didn’t think about the kilometers to miles conversion much, and we ended up doing a 12 mile walk. I can fairly confidently say that Matt & Lauren (brother & sister-in-law) would have been thrilled to turn back early and cut the walk in half (or less). But, they humored me as I urged them on, and we stopped for many pictures along the way.

The next day was Ben Nevis. We were prepared with food, drinks, all appropriate layers and a compass in case the top became totally clouded in. The nice guy at the shop described it as a “long, hard plod.” But it was already sunny (miracle) and the weather forecast was good (another miracle). And so we began the plod up the mountain. At this point, I was reminded that my legs are used to walking flat ground for miles at end, but going up is not their favorite. Matt, who bikes all the hills of Edinburgh, smiled and urged me on. Ever the brother, he loved the role reversal.

Matt and I did make it to the top where we the clouds again cleared and granted us some amazing views. I need to mention here that Lauren, though not feeling great, made it half way up the mountain. This, from a woman who bought her first pair of hiking shoes less than two years ago. Check out her comments about the mountain here. And that is how I climbed a mountain, saw some grand views, and fell in love with walking poles.

60 hikes within 60 miles

A few weekends ago I found a treasure while chilling in a bookstore, 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Nashville. Ironically, I was in the bookstore with friends precisely because the weather was blustery and we needed to get out of the house so as to not feel like caged animals. I hesitated in buying the book, but my friend wisely asked why I was hesitating (aka: a mental kick). Last weekend was the first use of the book – a beautiful 6 mile hike off of the Natchez Trace. We had the trail to ourselves as we hiked through forest and beside a stream (where we caught a turtle). Then we sat on the top of a hill where we spent hours reading in a hammock. In a day, this book became a favorite. I do not think that there is anything revolutionary in the book, but it takes away the excuse, or makes easy, the quick escape into nature. In the future, I shall hunt for such a book when I move to a new city.

 

 

adventures in and around seattle

Sometimes life is predictable, and the rest of the time it brings the unknown. I find that most of my life is found in the unknown – a place filled with adventures and new beginnings around every corner. Last week life served me a pile of lemons. As I write this I sit watching sailboats bob in a harbor with chai in hand, and I cannot help but think that I have done a great job of making lemonade from lemons. And so, while I am turning a corner, here are some of the adventures that I have had – I heartily endorse this region and these places if you are so inclined to make your own adventure.

(Pictures were captured with my small Canon PowerShot SD 1000 that fits into my purse or back pocket – perfect for travel and spontaneous adventures, though less than perfect in doing what I ask of it….)

hiking snohomish county

This trip Heather loaned me Hiking Snohomish County by Ken Wilcox – an excellent, small book filled with hikes and day adventures North of Seattle. One day found me and my brother Matt hiking Boulder River and another day I did a solo hike to Wallace Falls. Both could be longer hikes, but I made them mild 6 and 5 mile hikes without too much elevation change. The scenery on both hikes was stunning and hiking alongside rivers and waterfalls filled my ears and mind with sounds of rushing water. The book has over 100 other hikes – this is a region that could fill weeks of fun!

whidbey island

We decided to take the long way from Arlington to Seattle – we drove North,West, and then South. This took us over Deception Pass, down Whidbey Island and required a ferry crossing from Clinton to Mukilteo. We had the perfect Seattle day that makes people forget about the long, grey winters: 75 degrees, blue skies, and warm sun. With the sun roof open, we drove through incredibly beautiful country, saw the water, and stopped at lookouts along the way. If you take just one trip to this region, make sure that you find yourself on a ferry – there is something magical about taking a car from one piece of land to another, and standing at the front of the ferry is a most spectacular bonus.

ballard

Ballard is North of downtown Seattle and is filled goodness. Somehow all of the pictures I took here were on my iphone, but trust me, a good place to explore. Cute shops, multiple locations to get authentic Pho soup, a most awesome cupcake and coffee shop, a jewelry shop, and an old, beautifully restored, small movie theater. My wallet appreciates that I do not live next to these streets.

small town pacific northwest

There are an impressive number of cute small towns to explore in this region – I explored Arlington and Bellingham. Alrington’s cafe selection is nothing special, but I could not have asked for better breakfast diners – just be sure to split your plate with someone or you will be embarrassed by how much food is thrown away. And, I just happened to be in Arlington during their car show – the best of which was a car that also served as a boat. The smiling old owner happily turned on the propellers for the children (and me) to oh and ah over. As for Bellingham, their old historic district, Fairhaven, is worth your time to visit. Cute shops (Arabella), a fantastic independent bookstore (Village Books), fish & chips sold out of a bus, and a coffee shop overlooking the water with big windows (Woods Coffee)- what more could you possibly ask for? A view of the water? They have that too.

flying a kite

The first day of this trip, I bought a kite that I hoped to fly in a park, a city, or by the ocean – anywhere. But every time I took it out of the car, the wind would suddenly stand still. Until this afternoon. And now I feel justified for having Marry Poppin’s “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” running through my head…