The Great Birthday Backpacking Adventure Day 1

The great birthday backpacking adventure happened, though not as expected. Unfortunately my writing about it has been delayed, first by a crazy week of work (which of course became crazy weeks) and low data on my phone and then by the shocking and untimely death of my sister (which I’m sure you’ll hear much more about… eventually). So now, over a month later, I’m finally getting around to writing about the backpacking trip.

Long story short, it was amazing.

Not making it to the Appalachian Trail was disappointing but it gave us the opportunity to log some miles on the North Country Trail. We noticed this equally impressive though less popular National Trail on other trips to the Upper Peninsula this past year and had even hiked a short ways on it once. So when the forecast for Virginia promised rain for all three days we were planning on backpacking, the North Country Trail made sense.

There’s a popular section that books and stuff call the Lakeshore Trail; it runs along the coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (and I do mean right along the coast) from the National Park’s Grand Sable Visitors center near Grand Marais to Munising Falls (which is where we saw ice caves and frozen waterfalls back in February). You can park on one end, book a shuttle service to the other, and hike back. It’s just over 42 miles of trail with designated backwoods camp sites scattered throughout plus whatever side paths you take for the various scenic overlooks and whatnot.

The Lakeshore trail is that dashed line that runs…wait for it… Right along the lakeshore.

We had three days, three and a half max, to get back to Munising Falls. This meant we had to cover at least fourteen miles a day, I was hoping we’d get a little farther and get a night in a hotel (and a shower) before the 7ish hour drive home. Because this was our first experience backpacking we really weren’t sure what our pace would be. Hiking with a 25-30lb pack for the entire day is very different from the light couple hours at a time hiking we had experience with previously.

It was still chilly in the UP on the first of June; forty-two degrees which was startling after leaving eighty plus days. The start of the trail was nothing too exciting, a grassy field that fed into a woods with a river. The trail wound around a lake by way of the highway for a couple miles before returning to the forest. We stopped a couple times to adjust the packs, turns out placement of the weight is crucial for comfort. Well, relative comfort. It wasn’t until we reached the “log slide” six miles later that we saw the great lake we had been hiking alongside all morning.

And what a breathtaking view of the lake it was! Quite literally. The wind up there was a little intense.

This part of the upper peninsula, like most of it, used to be a booming logging area. The steep dunes were used to slide logs down to Lake Superior’s shoreline for transport. There was an old logging shed nearby with a sled for dragging logs in the winter and a giant cart thing for when the ground was less frozen. According to the signs most the log harvesting was done in the winter.

(I took pictures of this and a few other features of the beginning of the trail on an older digital camera but somehow managed to either delete or thoroughly hide them from myself. Doh!)

We sat at the top of the dunes, ate lunch and rested about half an hour before continuing. Lunch consisted of tuna packets, baby bell cheese, and some trail mix.

The trail was very well maintained with scenic steps built into the steeper hillsides and plank bridges covering the small crossing rivers as well as the muddy areas. It was super nice to not have to worry about wet or muddy shoes especially when we were less than half way through our first day.

The next point of reference on the trail was the Au Sable lighthouse on Au Sable point about four miles away.

It was cool because it’s a lighthouse but as far as lighthouses go it was kind of meh.

We poked around at the lighthouse station for a minute, used the rough outhouses, and continued on. Shortly after that we found the stone foundation of an old structured in the woods. It was covered in moss and underbrush type growth but you could just make out the outline.

(I had pictures on the camera of this too.)

Our goal for day one was to make it to a rustic campsite a little past twelve mile beach. We had started hiking around 9am, if I remember correctly, it was close to 4pm when we reached twelve mile beach.

I was using a hiking app on my Garmin to track our progress throughout the day but at this point its battery was running low. As were ours; both the boyfriend and I were exhausted. Twelve miles with heavy packs on low sleep was a lot! So we got out one of our fancy lightweight quick-dry towels, laid it on the sand at the top of some steps leading down to the beach, and took a nap.

We set an alarm and woke up 45 minutes later, right around five o’clock. After another snack & some water we moved on.

The group campsite just before the Beaver River basin area was about an hour away & by then we were so beat neither of us felt like hiking just a little further to the non group campsite. Plus we were starving again. At least I was. The guy wanted to start a fire; we didn’t need one, he just wanted one “for warmth”. It was admittedly chilly in the shade of the woods but when you trekked down to the water less than a quarter mile away the beach was basking in an almost-sunset glow and was comfortable.

Our “one person” hiking tent on its maiden voyage at a Scout overnight the week before the Birthday Backpacking Adventure.

After some annoyance and possible nagging on my part, he gave up the fire attempts and we hooked our tiny cooktop to the small butane tank. Within seven minutes we had boiling water, another ten yielded a complete Mountain House meal of something resembling beef stew. It was a surprisingly satisfying dinner finished off with candy bars we had picked up at the gas station that morning. We ate sitting on a driftwood log on the beach a short distance from where Seven Mile Creek (according to the map above) meets Lake Superior. Not another human was in sight, not even evidence of one, it was peaceful and refreshing; the perfect ending to an exciting and tiring day.

There was talk of watching the sunset but in the short time it took us to scarf down rehydrated stew we realized all we both wanted was sleep. Clean up consisted of adding the meal package to the gallon ziplock that help our garbage for the day, rinsing off the spoon/fork combo eating utensils and closing all of them in a scent proof bag. After we tucked anything that would possibly attract a bear (other than ourselves) into the metal “bear box” at our campsite we climbed into our tiny tent and crashed. It was maybe 9:30pm.

Total for day one: @15.5 miles hiked over roughly 7 hours.

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The Next Big Adventure

I’m exhausted and at work.

Like, alternating caffeine sources and there’s still eight hours left on this shift exhausted (it’s a twelve… And I work nights).

Like, haven’t had a real night’s (or even day’s) sleep since Tuesday and it’s Sunday night (technically Monday morning).

That kind of exhausted.

Plus my shoulders ache every time I lift my arms and the deep scrapes on my knees (that are eleven days old and should be healed) are throbbing.

It’s a good feeling though, the hurts. Though not so much the exhaustion. (You know your schedule is not okay when you can’t wait for dental school to start so you can get some regular sleep.)

But the muscle aches and the bruises and the extended life of these scrapes are due to something resembling adventure. (As is a small portion of the exhaustion.) See, my boyfriend and I did a muddy obstacle course run less than two days ago. My shoulders ache from crawling through mud a foot deep and climbing over walls made of tires or rope nets or rough wood. The scabs on my knees, caused by tripping on a run when I was very tired, got a new lease on life when I oh-so awkwardly clambered over a web of tubes serving as a water crossing. So, yeah, I hurt but it’s a good kind of hurt, one that I earned.

Before I started dating my super awesome and great boyfriend I was uncomfortable even running with or in front of any guy I was interested in. Somehow, though, things are different with him. Last year around this time we did our first 5k together (his first race ever). It was pouring rain and quite chilly out but we had so much fun. There was nothing awkward or uncomfortable about it.

Since then we’ve done this obstacle run both last year and this year, a handful of 5 & 10ks, a crazy trail 15k, a run over a huge bridge, at least one “doubler”… And that’s just the running. The long and short of it is this guy challenges me, he pushes me.

Physically, I try harder when I run with him because he’s faster than me and I don’t want to look like a wimp in front of him. (But he doesn’t make me feel bad or think less of me if I’m having a bad run day and need to slow down a bit.) Mentally, he pushes me to step out of my comfort zone and try new things whether it’s food or a new hiking experience. He’s less cautious than I am, less of an over thinker. It’s a good balance. I am cautiously willing to try things and my hesitation keeps him from doing anything too ridiculous.

While things like this mud obstacle run and the various types of races we’ve done are contained adventure our next big thing is a little less so. In just under two weeks my guy and I are going on a backpacking trip that will include hiking a part of the Appalachian Trail.

We’ve lightly talked about hiking the AT since he stumbled on part of it while driving back from a vacation last year but our lives are a bit too complicated to venture out on a long section hike (though maybe that’ll happen at some point). Visiting one of my brothers in Virginia and striking out on a few day hike from there, however, is manageable.

So that’s what we’re doing.

So far we’ve bought a bunch of hiking/backpacking gear (apparently the lighter something is the more expensive it is), read a bunch of information about backpacking; extended hiking; and the Appalachian Trail. I’ve tested the tiny tent and I’ve even loaded up my rather giant backpack to a little more than 20lbs and gone for a five mile hike. (That was eye opening.)

I’m excited! We’re both excited, really. I’m also a little scared. (He’s not… But maybe he should be.) There are bears as disease bearing ticks. We could get lost out there in the wild. It does happen. There’s just so much unknown. I’ve never even gone backwoods camping (as in not in a campground with designated bathroom spots and stuff).

Even if we just go out and hike our pre-planned route and nothing truly unexpected happens this will be an adventure.

Aaaand, in case you’re counting (or really for my own running tally) the Hightail to Ale race is #4 for this year and the mud/obstacle run #5. That’s already half of my total from 2017.

A Two Race Weekend

I’m a little late to post about it but the weekend before this one that just happened my fun little running gang (aka my boyfriend and whichever of my kids I can coerce into running) and I had a two race weekend. (In case you couldn’t guess that from the title up there.)

Really just my boyfriend and I did both races but my two youngest sons (ages 13 & 8) did do the first one with us.

Saturday:

This small out and back 5k through a lakeside neighborhood was more than just a fun race for us. It was a fund raiser for a friend of the 13 year old who has had some major unexpected health issues this year. His story has a happy ending, he’s on the other side of them now, but it was a little scary for a bit. It was a difficult time for my sensitive and often emotional teenager; we were more than happy to contribute to the family by participating in this run.

Other than the cause and atmosphere there was nothing too exciting about this 5k. The course had some light, rolling hills that made it enjoyably challenging and the morning was chilly (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) but it was a pretty basic 5k.

Usually running with my boyfriend pushes my pace a bit (which is good) but we planned on taking this one easy since the race on Sunday was going to be much more difficult and we were running with the eight year old. The attempts at getting him to run in the weeks leading up to the race were… Not entirely successful, to say the least, so my goal was to try to get my son to run the first mile and to finish in under forty minutes.

Lucky for us his teacher showed up and decided to run with us (my little guy loves his teachers). The teacher did a great job of motivating my little guy to run the whole race.

That’s right, he ran the whole 3.1 miles. The 8 year old, his teacher, my boyfriend, and I all finished in about 31:40. Not too shabby for an untrained eight year old!

The 13 year old decided he was not feeling so motivated that chilly morning and walked almost the whole first mile. At the 1.5 mile turn around the rest of the group was at least a quarter of a mile ahead of him. He must have really pushed himself in the second half of the race because he ended up finishing about twenty seconds after we did. I was a little surprised and quite impressed to see him hauling in right behind us. After the run we hurried over to a family First Communion party already in progress where we ate cake then ran around playing basketball. Everyone was pretty beat that night.

Sunday:

Sometimes I poke fun at the cheesy memes and sayings about “being your best self & living your best life” and all that crap but early Sunday morning I was most definitely not my best self.

My guy and I had to be out the door before 7am (on a Sunday!) to get to the five mile trail run we had signed up to do. And boy was I cranky that morning! First, my boyfriend didn’t have the clothes he needed so I had to scrounge up some running pants for him. Then the neighbors were texting me to complain about the stupid dog barking (she had literally been out for less than five minutes before turning on the obnoxiousness). And of course we were leaving late.. ugh.

Despite all that we did get to the race course with (just!) enough time to get our shirts and numbers, hit the porta-potties, and join the large crowd behind the start line. Because this was a rather intense trail run the race started in waves. They weren’t time based or at all organized, just groups of people about the same size started a few minutes apart. I’m not sure which wave we started in but we didn’t wait too long before politely pushing our way to the start and beginning this challenging trail race.

It didn’t take us long to catch the tail end of the previous heat. I had heard that the trail got quite narrow in the very hilly woods. I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to push myself early in the five mile race, the course was intense and early morning races are really hit or miss for me. My guy, on the other hand, was full of energy and kept bounding ahead on the packed trails. This made me a little salty but I kept it to myself. I figured I’d already used my crabbiness allowance for the morning. Eventually he slowed down a bit and I realized I really didn’t feel bad.

Other than stopping to take off a layer (Did I mention it was just above freezing when the race started?) and some minor breathing issues on one particularly arduous hill I ran the whole five miles. And I didn’t feel like I was dying, I still felt pretty damn decent when we crossed the finish.

Garmin thought otherwise though.

My goal for this five miles was to stay under an hour and I’m happy to say we did it. As an added bonus, my guy finished 9th in his age group and I was 13th in mine.

Obviously that didn’t win us any additional bling but it’s nice knowing we’re not too shabby out there.

So if you’re keeping track these were races #2 & 3 for 2018; #1 was the St. Paddy’s day run. (Or rather to help me keep track)

Last weekend was a work weekend for me so it was totally devoid of races but tomorrow we’re running one of the bigger (beer themed!) Fun 5ks we did last year. Coincidentally it’s supposed to be cold and rainy again… even though it’s been close to eighty all week. Isn’t that just how it goes sometimes!

Sitting quietly in the moment

I tend to live life in a flurry of activity. I enjoy a certain level of busyness (or as some might call it chaos). I’m a bit of a challenge junkie, always pushing myself to see what I can accomplish next.

Imagine one of those old school cartoon characters juggling plates or carrying boxes, stuff gets stacked on, higher and higher until whatever they’re carrying is teetering dangerously (and somewhat humorously) close to toppling over. And every now and then it does all come crashing down around the ridiculous protagonist. That’s a pretty accurate metaphor (simile?) for me trying to manage my life. But I like it; I thrive in chaos and a certain level of craziness.

The sweet spot is that point where everything wobbles just enough to make you question if (or when) everything you’re piling on is going to fall. That visceral feeling in your gut, hovering between fear and excitement. The adrenaline that courses, turning into a pleasant, heady rush when your personal tower of nonsense stays erect. That’s it. Because when everything is about to come crashing down into a natural disaster level mess and you’re on the brink of being declared a national emergency but then, then at the very last moment, it doesn’t and you’ve somehow pulled it off (maybe with a few more grey hairs and slightly elevated blood pressure to show for it), you feel like you’ve accomplished something. You’ve succeeded. And, damn is it impressive!

The “I don’t know how you do it all”s and comments of the sort, made with a certain amount of awe but in a baffled tone that says “why would you even try?”, they’re gratifying. Sure a normal person would not take on so much at once but who wants to be normal. Downtime is overrated anyhow right?… Right?!?!

That’s the zone I thrive in. But right now my life is not there. Instead I’m in a place of seemingly static waiting. Everything is going to change, there is going to be a major shift towards chaos, but not for months. And in the meantime…. What?

Just daily life and waiting.

I’m trying to use these next few months before dental school starts to relax and enjoy life. Play games and go to the library regularly with my kids. Do all the fun runs. Start and finish projects. Take small vacations. And that’s all well and good, but in the day-to-day it’s slow. For me that’s frustrating. My instinct is to push forward, to be focused on the next hill. To go go go. Not to come home from the morning rush of getting the kids to school and look around and think “Now what?” So far I haven’t been handling the apparently empty days very well. (To be sure, there’s always things I should be doing but they’re the boring, mundane chores of daily living that I’d much rather avoid.) I’ve been restless, antsy and on edge. My temper is a little too quick and irritations often lurks just below the surface.

It’s a struggle to sit quietly and be content in the moment. But that’s what life is showing me needs to be done right now. It’s a time to embrace the stillness, take a few deep breaths and enjoy where I am instead of trying to jump to the next phase. I’m sure in six months, when I’m balls deep in the first semester of dental school and trying to manage four kids in school and fall extra curriculars, I’ll miss this phase.

Boredom Induced Crocheting

Roughly eight years ago I began teaching myself to crochet as a means of combating pervasive boredom. See, I had this job that was lacking in actual work for me to do. The days were painfully slow; I needed something to occupy my mind and help me feel like I was accomplishing something.

Over the years crocheting has been a creative outlet that is relatively cheap and, unlike sewing, portable. There have been busier times where significantly less crochet has taken place but even while finishing my undergrad, balancing classes, homework, work, & the demands of parenting, I usually had one or two very slow moving crochet projects sitting around.

One such project is a blanket for my daughter. I have been working on the stupid thing for three years now. Just this last weekend, though, I finally finished it. FINALLY! (That was my daughter’s actual reaction when I knotted that last stand of yarn off the hook.)

What started with one Mockingjay square turned into a hefty almost full sized bed covering monster. I’m not kidding, this thing is a beast. It probably weighs five pounds at least.

Some of the favorite themes covered in this blanket are: Doctor Who, Sherlock, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Night Vale, Hamilton, 4-H/horses, & the Princess Bride. There’s also a book shelf and a cactus. The large purple squares at the bottom were made by my daughter’s Great Grandmother (on her dad’s side) who passed away the year I started the blanket. Needless to say my girl loves this thing. And I’m pretty happy to have it done already. (haha)

(You can see the blanket in progress here, here, & here.)

Much like eight years ago my life is currently in a season of boredom. This one due to the time gap between getting accepted to dental school and actually starting it. I should point out that boredom is relative. I tend to thrive on a certain level of craziness in my schedule and life. Sitting around is not my strong suit and I’ve, more than once, been accused of not knowing how to relax. (I do think I’m getting better at it though.) Once again crochet has been helping to fill the time, keeping my hands busy and entertaining my restless mind.

Lately I’ve been all about the quick projects. Almost instant gratification is the name of the game here. And hats are where it’s at!

These two are a new baby gift for one of my sisters. Her two year old just got a baby brother. Hopefully I get these to them before it’s too warm for the tiny boys to wear them!

(You can find the free pattern for the aviator hats here.)

I picked up this variegated wool-blend yarn during my Christmas shopping with no specific purpose. I just really liked the colors, it was probably in sale, & I enjoy working with something other than acrylic yarn now and then. I first tried a hat pattern that had more detailed texture (the one following) but all the cool texture got lost in the colors of the yarn. This horizontal ribbing still incorporates some interesting texture but it doesn’t look overly busy with the constant color changes. There was no pattern for this one, just an idea for the texture and the basic hat shape. I’ve already¬† worn this colorful hat a few times but it’s really better suited for fall or winter. I’m sure it’ll quickly become a regular in my cool weather hat rotations.

I’ve had the “Ups & Downs” hat pattern in my Ravelry que for quite a while now. The different textures on the band of this hat made it fun and interesting to make. I first started this with the colorful yarn above but it was a little too crazy. This lavender soft acrylic that was in my stash is a much better match for this pattern. The braids on this one are a little wobbly. They’re made up of very tall stitches that are twisted together after the hat is finished; the last one is looped over the button to keep the braids in tact. Apparently my tall stitches could use a little work. I’ve got a whole other skein of this yarn and there’s a pattern for matching fingerless gloves. I might give those a go this week and see if my tall stitches don’t improve with practice. Why the heck not? I’ve got the time.

And, lastly, is this spring baggy beanie I threw together to use up some yarn leftover from a Christmas project. I’m planning to mail this one to a friend. It’s not her typical color scheme but it’s made from the same yarn as the hat I made for her daughter. A little mother & daughter matching is always fun.

So there you have it. A (finally!) finished blanket and a plethora of hats.

St. Paddy’s Day Fun 5k

The Ninja running in the middle is my little guy.

Over the past five years my enjoyment of and enthusiasm for running has grown in a variety of ways. This includes who I get to run with as well as where, when, & how far. These days I prefer the 10k distance over the 5; I like the level of challenge it provides and my regular running keeps me in basically decent 10k shape. Plus I feel less lame being whipped by a 6.2 mile race than by a measly 3.1.

For St. Patrick’s day 2018 I found a smaller fun 5k run for me, the boyfriend, a few of the kids, & one of my sisters to do. It was an out and back course at a county park in Lansing. The options for this race included a (free!) kid’s run and the 5k. It was early on a Saturday and pretty chilly so I did not miss having the option of doing a 10k.

Getting seven people up, ready to run, & out the door at 7:00 am is a lot of work. I didn’t hydrate well before the race and definitely felt it halfway through. Despite that I ran at what I consider my base level race pace (around 9:10/mile) and finished in just barely over 28 minutes.

My Garmin gave that run a “training effect” score of 4, stating that I probably improved my fitness with it. And I was pretty tired afterwards. My oldest son (who appears to be growing out of my head in the picture there) finished 18th overall (out of roughly 550). My sister told my middle guy she’d pay him five bucks if he beat her. He definitely did not (by a good seven minutes) but he did finish with a great kick; he really hasn’t been running lately so that was an accomplishment.

This St. Paddy’s Day run was a great start to the 2018 race season (a term used very lightly here). Everyone had fun and earned a delicious breakfast out afterwards.

Getting Stuffed

After going up north for a quick mini-vacation (if you can call three days and two nights in with a couple grouchy teenagers a vacation) it was back to (normalcy) reality which means back to making dinner three to five nights a week. Sit-down dinners are an important part of our family life and while I know it’s not what we have for dinner that’s important, I get tired of making the same five meals over and over again. I’m constantly asking the fam for dinner suggestions. Sometimes I actually get some.

This past go-round my boyfriend suggested stuffed peppers. And maybe stuffed mushrooms. I’ve never made either. Well, not true, I’ve made stuffed peppers at work but never for the family to eat. I’ve also made an appetizer version of stuffed mushrooms with the cute little baby Bella mushrooms, stuffing, spinach, and cheese. The much bigger version of those have always been intriguing but a little intimidating. They’re a big commitment. Like, if I make them and don’t like em it’s a lot to either suffer through or waste.

Stuffed foods are one of those things that could go either way for me with my weird food texture/color preferences. I don’t like mushy or over mixed food. I’m very wary of sauces I don’t know and have a strict one-sauce-per-item policy. And anything pureed, especially if it’s green (really anything green that doesn’t have a very distinguishable solid shape) is definitely a no! But, really, I’m not a picky eater.

That being said…

Let’s start with the mushrooms: they were beautiful and delicious.

I knew the kids were not going to touch the stuffed mushrooms (no matter how much bacon and cheese I put on them) so I got a four pack of the large but not huge portobello. I popped the stems off, scooped out the weird fin things, brushed them with oil and put them in the oven with the already cooking stuffed peppers. I think the recipe I was very loosely following called for ten to twelve minutes of oven time before stuffing.

In the meantime I mixed the internal ingredients: just a little minced garlic, cooked bacon, diced tomatoes, uncooked spinach (see above regarding issues with mushy green stuff), and ,of course, cheese. It’s pretty easy to tailor this to your personal preferences.

After the requisite baking time the stuffing is heaped on the now fork-tender mushroom caps. I say heaped because the caps don’t actually hold much stuffing. It’s more a topping than a stuffing.

Return to the oven for maybe five minutes and Bam! Delicious, basically healthy food. The mushrooms alone probably aren’t filling enough to be their own meal but they are a great side and the leftovers were super delicious for lunch the next day.

For some reason I almost always have an excess of stuffing. A couple days later I got a spinach, bacon, & tomato omelette out of the leftover mushroom stuffing. It was also delicious!

There’s not a lot to say about the stuffed peppers. The recipe I followed was pretty standard. I tweaked the amount of sauce mixed with the rice to suit my texture issue based preferences and put cheese on top but other than that actually followed the directions. Weird, I know. Oh, I did not cook my peppers at all before stuffing them. I like a more firm pepper. (Yeah, that’s what she said!)

Unlike the mushrooms, everyone loved the stuffed peppers. One kid even took leftovers for lunch the next day. You know the meal is a hot when the leftovers get eaten without prompting. Seriously, “Put down that bagel and eat some leftovers!” is something I say often.

Speaking of leftovers, the stuffed peppers would be a pretty good way to use leftovers. Specifically leftover rice. Since the rice is cooked before mixing and stuffing you could make these with leftover rice from another meal, stir fry or something like that. It would make their prep quicker too. I’m all about quick prep and using leftovers.