HIYOH & the First Month of Dental School

Back in May of this year I started planning my first real hiking trip: a three day trek on the Appalachian Trail (which then became a three day hike on the North Country Trail). In my quest for knowledge of all things hiking and backpacking related I joined a couple of Facebook groups for women who hike; they were a little intense but quite helpful and interesting. One of the phrases I heard quite often in these groups was “hike your own hike”. It was repeated as a kind of hiking mantra or motto.  But it seems a little obvious right? Everyone is one their own journey and moves at their own pace and all that. Yeah yeah. Blah blah whatever.

Months later, in August, as I was running a trail half marathon with little to no training that phrase popped back into my head: hike your own hike.

It occurred to me that the same holds true for running: you are running your race and no one else’s (even when you’re running with or right next to them). That aspect of personal improvement and competition with yourself is something I’ve always loved about running. And at that moment I was on track to run the worst (time-wise) half marathon I’ve done to date but I actually felt proud of myself, like I was doing okay. I was running my own race and I was killing it (compared to myself and my expectations for myself). My sister died in early June, barely two months prior; it put my summer off to a bad start. After that I had a couple weeks of bare minimum levels of functioning. Then my work schedule got crazy (partially to accommodate some of the time off I needed to be with my family); I was working a few nights in a row and then having a few days to function as a normal person. Up and down, back and forth, awake for 24 hours straight then trying to sleep during the day but also trying to not waste the time I could/should be spending with my kids. The thing about working nights is that messes with your body beyond the exhaustion part of it, going back and forth between being awake all night and trying to function during the day multiplies those negative effects.

SO there I was on the morning of August 4th (which, fun fact, happens to be my former wedding anniversary) running slowly through some random woods in Michigan as the day got hotter and more humid by the minute feeling not too bad about myself and my race. I definitely wasn’t winning any awards on this one but, considering the circumstances and the challenges I’d faced, that was okay. I was running MY race; my unique life experiences had brought me to that place and were a part of the accomplishments of the day. No one else was dealing with exactly the same things I was so maybe even if they were faster it wasn’t a big deal; we were playing with different decks. (Then again maybe it was an even bigger feat. Who knows what personal struggles brought them to that moment of their lives.)

Fast forward another few months (okay, two) and here I am, not running or hiking much but I’m finally starting to grasp the full meaning of “hiking my own hike”.

I started dental school this fall. The average age of my class is 24. There are a handful of people who are turning 21 this year. Most of the others are 22 or 23. I am not; I’m a non-traditional student. A really non-traditional student. I’m 38, a single/divorced mom with five kids, the oldest of them just a couple years younger than some of my classmates.

We have very different lives, my classmates and I. There are a few who are 30 or close to it and a couple who are married. Pretty sure I’m the only one with kids. I’m one hundred percent sure that I’m the only one in my class with five kids. But right now (and for the next three and a half years), these are my peers. These are the only other people in my life who really understand the demands and expectations I’m dealing with.

Dental school is Crazy; the course load is insane! (22 credits this semester) And it’s literally a complete reversal of what my schedule has been for the past seven years. I’m awake by 5:30 every morning (some days closer to 4) and out the door by 6:15 (okay, 6:30 the weeks my kids are home). I spend two and a half to three hours a day commuting to school. Two days a week we have roughly five hours of heavy science lectures (and a couple others) in the same classroom. It’s hard.

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Balancing dental school and family life…it’s messy sometimes.

But I expected that. It’s dental school, it’s supposed to be hard. (If it was easy everyone would do it.) The one thing I didn’t anticipate is how isolated and lonely I feel some days. Dental school, like nursing school or any other set program, is one of the few times in your adult life you are surrounded by people going through the exact same thing as you. Typically that produces some deep-seated friendships and a strong sense of camaraderie among classmates. And I do feel some air of community with my classmates but often I’m set apart by the differences between their day-to-day and mine. It’s been taking a minute to get used to.

Much like the race, different circumstances and life experiences brought everyone to this place. While we are (according to the school) all high achieving and highly qualified individuals we did not go through the same process to get there. We are not all dealing with the same challenges and struggles as we adapt to dental school either; some of us have trained more than others. While I’ve been struggling to find my place socially, I’m finding that my crazy life experiences have prepared me for dental school in ways I could not have imagined. I’m used to juggling a wide variety of demands and having very little free time. I know how to prioritize things when everything id SO important but you just don’t have time to do it all. And functioning optimally on little sleep has been my way if life for a while. Heck, I’m less tired than I’ve been in years because now the five hours of sleep I’m getting is actually at night. (Sleeping at night is AMAZING, y’all!)

Yeah sure, it’s been ten years since I took anatomy and I don’t remember the enzymes of the TCA cycle or glycolysis but my other life skills are coming in pretty handy.

We’ve all got different tools, strengths, and skills and we’re all out there using them to get where we need to be. I guess that’s what hiking your own hike is about.

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The Great Birthday Backpacking Adventure: Day 3

I know it’s been a hot minute since I (finally) posted about days 1 & 2 of my early June backpacking trip along the coast of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; time gets away from me and the summer days are packed with both fun and obligatory happenings. Hopefully you haven’t been holding your breath in anticipation of a conclusion after reading about Day 1 and Day 2. (If you’ve been a regular here you definitely know better. We’re very slow but steady eventual bloggers.)

The second night of the trip we camped in an area called Mosquito River. As I said, that was not a misnomer. The camping spot was basically a mini campground with designated spots and a very rustic outhouse (which was still better than having to dig a hole in the ground). It was right on the Mosquito River in a lush, brilliantly green forest.

Day three’s hike started here with some more mini bluffs and a steep uphill climb. Both Adventure Guy and myself were well rested and ready to go after another breakfast of oatmeal and insta coffee. With only ten or eleven miles left to Munising Falls we knew we’d be done hiking by the end of the day. That put a little extra pep in our steps. Not that we weren’t enjoying this adventure but I, for one, was looking forward to hot showers and cold beer. The fierce hoard of mosquitoes that began swarming as soon as we hit the trail added to our motivation to move quickly.

After a few minutes of hiking and probably half a can of bug spray we stopped so I could put on one of the head nets we picked up on our way up North. The guy didn’t want his…or any bug spray at first (he did cave on the bug spray after a few more minutes of fighting the swarms). Mosquito Valley spanned the first four or so miles of the day. Apparently there’s also a Mosquito Falls but we decided not to take the detour to see it. The bugs along with the lure of showering and hot food played heavily in that decision. (Maybe we’ll get back up there sometime soon for some more hiking. The area really is amazing.)

We stopped as infrequently as possible on this patch of trail. Finally, after close to an hour and a half, we emerged from the trail into a parking lot with freshly cleaned porta-jons. I never thought I’d be so happy to see one of those things but they were so clean and the bugs couldn’t get in. There was a great little boat launch here (not a small launch, rather a launch for small boats like kayaks or canoes). On the other side of the parking lot the woods began thinning a bit and soon the shore of Lake Superior was in view again. Miner’s Beach was a short mile from there and finally we were out of the high intensity bug zone. What a relief that was!

When we got to the information center and “overlook” at Sand Point a few miles later a thick fog was rolling in. Like literally rolling in. We watched the view across the bay disappear.

It went from this…

…to this…

…and then this in maybe five minutes. Maybe.

And as you can see by the angle of the trees in those pictures the wind was picking up too; rain was about to happen. Despite our hunger, the shelters, & running water available we decided to just grab a quick snack and keep moving. There was some debate over whether or not to break out rain gear; jackets, but not rain pants (actually I was already wearing mine) were donned and we picked up the trail again as it headed back into the woods.

The ground was pretty wet throughout this last section of the trail (between Sand Point & Munising Falls). Some of the very muddy areas had boardwalk but much of it had a variety of branches, rocks, & tree debris to hop and step across if you wanted to avoid the thick black mud. And believe me, you wanted to avoid that mud! I did a so-so job of it and was damp and muddy from almost my knees down.

Along with mud and seemingly younger forest in this section there were these awesome fern sprawls. They looked like something straight out of Jurassic Park…

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Can’t you just imagine a T-Rex photo shopped into the background?

The last three miles of the day (and the trip) seemed to take forever, partially because cautiously picking a path over the muddy spots slowed us down. Sometime in this stretch it started to rain. It wasn’t too cold but we definitely ended up thoroughly drenched. Adventure Guy and I agreed that if this wasn’t our last day of backpacking the rain would really suck! As it was we were kind of enjoying it; it added to the sense of adventure as we trudged through the very wet woods.

Another cool feature of this leg of the journey was the waterfalls. There were so many of them! And a lot of them were very tall. While there are a couple falls noted on the map, most of these were not marked or named. They were just out there along the trail.

Sometimes the trail went right along the edge of the falls. It was crazy and somewhat intimidating for someone who doesn’t exactly love heights (such as myself).

That tree on the right is growing straight up out of the ravine.

It’s hard to tell but the line of yellow moss is the cliff edge. All that other stuff was waaay down there!

At the very end of the trail there was a detour. That was quite the disappointment because we were having a debate over where the North Country trail came out at the Munising Falls visitor center. I thought we might hike right behind the falls where we saw the frozen falls back in February but the guy thought we might pop out right by the visitors center. I guess we’ll have to go back to see someday because we were directed out of the woods and onto a small stretch of road that put us in the visitors center parking lot.

And finally we were done!

I was hoping to get to the visitors center in time to stamp our National Parks passports… We just missed it. By maybe two minutes, probably less. There was still a park ranger inside but the doors were locked. This was our second near miss with the stamps at the Munising Falls visitor center.

I was pretty mad about not getting stamps and also very wet and tired. We threw all the soaked gear in the back of the car and turned up the heat. Sitting down on a cushioned seat felt amazingly luxurious.

We did it!!!

On day three we hiked from Mosquito River to Munising Falls, roughly 11 miles, for a total of 42 miles on the North Country Scenic trail (from Grand Marais to Munising) plus all the side run-offs for scenic overlooks and campsites… 45 miles of backpacking in three days.

The Great Birthday Backpacking Adventure: Day 2

Day 2 of the three day, two night backpacking trip in Michigan’s Upper peninsula was my favorite day. I suspect that having slept, albeit somewhat poorly, for close to eleven hours the night before played a large part in that but it was also a day of fun discovery.

As mentioned I did not sleep well the first night; it was totally my own fault. Both my boyfriend and I were exhausted at the end of the first day. When I went to bed I was seriously dreading waking up and putting that heavy, heavy pack back on my aching shoulders. There was a slight feeling of What the fuck did I get myself into? and I was so tired that I decided against changing into the insulated underlayer I had brought to sleep in. I rationalized that it wasn’t really that cold and my new sleeping bag is rated to 35 degrees, almost freezing. I’d be fine sleeping in my capris length running tights, a tank top, & thin moisture wicking long sleeve shirt. I may have even taken my socks off…

Big mistake, folks. Big one!

I woke up maybe an hour or two after crashing because I was cold. So so cold!

I was shivering and struggled to get back to sleep. A wise person would have taken that opportunity to get out of that inefficient sleeping bag and put on warmer clothes. That same wise person would have then slept peacefully the rest of the night.

Apparently I am not a wise person. I continued to toss and turn and attempt to curl up into a ball inside my sleeping bag for warmth. I kicked my boyfriend who was totally unaware of my misery in his own warm bag. I even woke him up once or twice to tell him my feet were freezing. He didn’t even remember it in the morning. He may have been as exhausted as I was.

We didn’t start moving around until close to nine that morning; it took an hour to prepare breakfast (oatmeal, a little dehydrated fruit and Starbucks via), get cleaned up and our campsite packed back up. When I hoisted the pack on I was happy to discover the dread from the night before was gone. In fact, I felt good and ready to go see what was out there. Our goal for day two was to get as many miles in as we could while still taking the time to soak up our surroundings and enjoy the experience.

All fresh faced & caffeinated for the second day of hiking

Once again our hike for the day started in the woods but it was immediately more interesting than the first part of the first day. Pretty early on we came across an old car smack in the middle of the forest.

It very clearly had been there quite a while. The names and dates scratched in its rust patched surface dated back to the early 1980’s. Hundreds of explorers had left their mark somewhere on the vehicle. My guy and I spent a good fifteen minutes looking over the car and gawking like the tourists we were. A couple other hikers passed us by; I think they had a nice little laugh at our enthusiasm. (But really it was so cool!)

The next exceptionally cool thing we came upon was the gorges. And boy were they gorgeous!

Basically they’re a rather large cliff/rock formation/mini cave in the woods. So of course we climbed them.

At this point we were somewhere in the Beaver River Basin area. Everything was extreme green with great views of Lake Superior and the many rivers and small streams that feed into it. The day was near perfect, sunny & cool. It topped out around sixty degrees that day with most the morning in the low to mid fifties. We had lunch at this beautiful rustic campsite and then continued on to spry falls. And let me say we did not take enough pictures.

The path continued right along the coast and the elevation kept increasing, sometimes gradually sometimes abruptly.

We stumbled on a seagull’s nest on the edge that we could have walked right up to.

Yet another cool feature of day two was castle rock.

We approached it from the higher side then climbed down around it until we reached the beach.

The white water on the right in the above picture is the river shown below.

The beach was a perfect spot for a snack and a mid afternoon rest. We took our shoes off and waded in the cold water of Lake Superior.

Okay, I went in. My boyfriend more dipped his toes than waded. The cold water felt great on my tired legs and slightly sore feet. The river flowing into the lake was warm and more my guy’s speed. To get off e beach we had to climb a sort of ladder of logs set into the ascending side of the sand dunes surrounding it.

The rest of the afternoon was filled with amazing upclose views of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Towards the end of the day we had to choose which of the many overlooks and side paths to explore. There was so much to see here and all of it was phenomenal.

Eventually we got back into the woods and started counting down the miles to our campsite goal. Because my Garmin battery was low the day before and I had not tossed the charger for it in the backpack, I wasn’t tracking our miles on day two. We had estimated the distance to the Mosquito River campsite. While that did not sound appealing the next campsite was miles away. Apparently that made it a popular destination, that and it being part of a ten mile hiking loop. There weren’t any designated spots in the Mosquito River camping area so we pitched our tent in a random spot between trees.

And let me just say, Mosquito River was not a misnomer. Unfortunately. That night was the first time the whole trip that the bugs were bad and they were probably no where near as bad as they typically are or would be just a few weeks later. By bugs I mostly mean mosquitoes. They were plentiful. At least the campsite had easy options for keeping the bears away…

…or at least not attracting them. There were signs posted telling of a bear being sited in the area. The only interesting wild life we saw was a deer that literally walked through our camp site.

At the end of the second day I was tired, we had hiked far, but I still no where near as exhausted as I was the day before. That night I made better choices and changed into the warm sleep clothes I brought. And I slept like a baby…

Actually, better than a baby, like someone who had hiked 17 hilly miles carrying a 25lb pack.

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.

Bugs & Bears

There’s an old saying, something about God willing and the creek not rising…

Well, folks, the creek is rising. Quite literally.

As I recently mentioned my boyfriend and I have been planning a backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. We decided we wanted to take a mini vacation to celebrate our upcoming shared birthday; the legendary Appalachian Trail seemed to be the ideal adventure, mostly because I’ve got a brother who lives not too far from it. That gave us a good jumping off point. The plan was to drive down, stay with him a night, and head to Shenandoah National Park in the morning for three days and two nights of hiking and backwoods camping. With that idea in mind I delved deep into the rabbit hole of planning for Appalachian Trail backpacking.

It’s a totally new world for me. I’ve hiked and I’ve camped but never have I carried everything I needed for camping, nor have I hiked from sun up to sun down. Heck, I’ve never even backwoods camped; the lovely and plentiful state parks of Michigan are my jam. You pretty much know what you’re getting at the state parks. They’re like the Holiday Inn Express of the camping set, nothing too fancy but they get the job done and you know they’ve got toilets. As I researched more about backpacking and wilderness camping a few major concerns caught my attention. Water. Bugs. And bears. (Oh my!) Specifically getting and carrying water, ticks, and bears. Frankly these are legitimate concerns especially in Virginia’s portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Water has been the easiest of the three to figure out. There are tons of efficient and light weight water purification systems out there and even more reviews or sites with people talking about each of them. We chose a reasonable priced, easily packed filter system and a back up Life Straw (I love that they give one to people in water challenged areas when you buy one). A couple bladders with straw tubes attached and another without for extra water and that was taken care of. Easy peasy as not too crazy expensive.

Ticks and bears on the other hand are a little more tricky.

We invested in “bear bag” systems for hanging food and smelly toiletries out of the reach of furry friends. (Apparently bears have an even stronger sense of smell than blood hounds.) I spent some time reading about bear interaction etiquette. A large part of the bear problem along the trail and in the more well used national parks is because of people being irresponsible. As soon as a bear learns to associate people with food they probably will not leave them alone. Eventually the problematic bear has to be relocated to a more remote area or put down. All that because of irresponsible backpackers. Not only did I not want to attract bears to our campsites but I definitely did not want to be the cause for bears having to be kicked out of their habitat.

Ticks are a fear inducing problem because they carry the infamous Lyme disease along with a host of other unpleasant illnesses. There’s a newer tiny tick species that looks like a spec of dirt but their bite causes a meat allergy. Yeah, a red meat allergic reaction that you may be stuck with for the rest of your life. I’m a meat-a-terian. That shit ain’t cool! Tick keys and permethrin along with tall, tick repellent socks were bought.

All the information and pre-planning has helped to ausage my fears a bit but with so much unknown and so little you can do about it (you never really know what bad things might happen) there has still been a lingering, lurking fear of food getting eaten by bears and us getting eaten (bit) by ticks. (I’ve talked so much about ticks and tick repulsion and such that my tick paranoia (or healthy sense of caution as I call it) has begun rubbing off on my boyfriend.) But the unknown is what makes this an adventure, that and stepping outside of the day to day comfort zone.

Which brings me back around to the aforementioned literal creek rising.

After seeing some blurb about hurricane Alberto, I realized I should probably check the weather for Virginia before we leave. Turns out a large part of Virginia, the part we wanted to traverse on foot, has been very wet this week with more rainfall in the forecast. The three days we had planned to be backpacking all had 80-100% chance of rain. Carrying close to 30lbs while walking over hilly terrain for three days sounds super fun. Doing that soaking wet definitely does not!

So, plans have changed. Instead of south we’re north bound. Instead of the Appalachian Trail we’ll be treading the lesser known but still very cool North Country Trail. The creek rising is part of the adventure, we’ll still have bugs and bears to contend with.

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.

Michigan Midwinter Break

The Divorced Parenting God’s have smiled on me this winter.

Not only have a good portion of the school snow days fallen on my parenting time, but I also got the kids’ midwinter break and the Friday they’ve got off school for parent-teacher conferences. In preparation for this boon of potential winter fun time with the kids I spent weeks running around, meeting various strangers from Facebook to collect enough snow shoes for a mini “up north” vacation.

Local City Park (without kids)

Two weekends ago we finally got a good solid dumping of snow here in lower Michigan. Okay, there’s already been some snow this winter but I was happy to have another heavy snowfall. (I think we got twelve to fourteen inches over a couple days.) While everyone else was complaining about it I was plotting and executing some snow related adventures.

Okay, maybe adventure is too strong of a word. Really we just went for a winter hike around the city park to try out our snow shoes in some deeper snow.

We trekked across the very frozen lake to a couple tiny islands and then around the oldest corner of the adjacent cemetery.

The verbosity of some of these old tombstones is truly magnificent. One of them simply said “MOTHER”. To be fair, almost all the lettering had eroded so maybe it had said more at some point. And people definitely did not live as long at the turn of that century so maybe they just didn’t have time to waste putting more words on their tombstones. YOLO and all that.

After about an hour of leisurely strolling around on the snow my guy & I sledded down the hill a couple times and grabbed some hot chocolate and dinner before I had to get to work for the night. I was a little tired later but it was worth it to get out and play in the snow.

The little guy tried out his new snow shoes in the yard.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

I had never seen or even heard of the “ice caves” that form in the Munising area of the upper peninsula of Michigan but my boyfriend visited them years ago & told me about them. As soon as I knew they existed I wanted to go.

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There happened to be a snow shoe race at Taquamenon falls (also in the Upper Peninsula) the weekend of the kids’ midwinter break. It was perfect! We’d go up Friday, stay near the falls & do the run then go up to Munising, see the ice caves & spend Saturday night there. Drive home Sunday evening. The kids still had Monday off school to …I don’t know, be lame teenagers.

Needless to say it did not go down that way.

First, that happen to be one of the busiest winter weekends in the U.P.; we couldn’t find a hotel near Taquamenon OR Munising for either, let alone both, nights. (Instead we stayed in Manistique.) Second, we left later than anticipated. AND third, my kids decided to be lame teenagers ahead of schedule and started balking at everything and complaining when we were trying to leave on Friday.

After dramatic pouting from the daughter we finally hit the road around 7pm and arrived Up North around one in the morning. We had to summon the hotel owner from their near by home (and bed) to check in; it was close to two in the morning by the time we were getting ourselves to sleep. In the morning a combination of getting to bed super late, being over an hour from the snow shoe race, & the crabby state of the teenagers (who we had planned to leave at the hotel while we did said race) dissuaded us from doing the race. Instead we decided to head to breakfast and then Munising for the day to explore some ice formations.

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They just exude enthusiasm don’t they?

Before we went Up North exploring I had done some online exploring and learned that there were two popular sites for ice “caves”. One was on a small island roughly a mile out into Lake Superior. The article I found cautioned against hiking over the frozen lake unprepared, it warned of hidden thin spots in the ice and crazy shifting waters stealthily weakening it from underneath. That was enough to scare me off; I was more interested in the safe inland formations of the Eben Ice caves that required a hike across firm (but also snow covered and frozen ground) to get to them.

I hinted to my boyfriend about my desire to avoid plummeting through the ice to our cold, watery deaths by keeping all our feet solidly on the earth and he did what any good boyfriend would do: Tricked me into facing my fears.

Just kidding. I did mention that I was wary of hiking over the frozen lake but when we left the hotel in Manistique Saturday morning I told him we should probably hit the coolest spots first. That way if the teenagers suddenly got crabby again we would have at least seen that.

We drove along a surprisingly crowded little road until it ended at a couple parking lots and got out to see this:

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(Actually this was taken after we started hiking; we were almost a third of the way out at this point.)

I questioned whether or not it was safe to hike across what I thought was a bay until my boyfriend pointed out the groups of other people coming and going and the well worn path through the deep snow that covered the ice. Obviously we went for it.

The snow on the lake was pretty deep and while there was a trodden path, the snow shoes still helped make the 0.70 mile trek out there easier.

He didn’t think it was easier with snow shoes but, trust me, it really was.

The frozen lake was impressive in and of itself. Before we knew it those sort of cool giant icicles were amazing shelves of ice, water that looked like it had been hit by Elsa from the movie Frozen and halted mid fall, suddenly finding itself a solid.

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Frozen waves. How cool is that?!?

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We abandoned our snow shoes and climbed around behind the ice shelves.

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This was one of the coolest things I have ever seen!

The kids were duly impressed, even the two teenagers. And remember the ice climbing festival that prevented us from staying closer to Munising? Well, it also gave us the opportunity to watch these random folks climb the ledges of hanging icicles.

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I’m pretty sure my youngest wants a set of ice hooks & cleats now. And it turns out this was the “dangerous” “mile” hike across frozen Lake Superior that that website had warned me about. I think they oversold the danger aspect a bit. And maybe the mile part too; Garmin GPS told me we hiked 2.13 miles in the two hours we spent exploring.

Munising Falls

After we left the main attraction of the ice cliffs we found another national parks site. This one boasted a waterfall and only an 800 foot hike.

The different textures in the ice were beautiful and amazing. Who knew water could find so many configurations to freeze in?

Frozen Lake Michigan

Our second and last morning of the trip started with a healthy serving of requests to leave asap. One teenager wanted to get home to hang out with friends and the other just wanted to be in her room. (Seriously, kids?) We did not acquiesce and instead went to the Lake Michigan shoreline in Manistique where we were staying.

Just breaking the ice a little.

Those hills are not sand mounds, they’re frozen waves complete with ingrained sand.

Lake Michigan was not as solidly frozen as Lake Superior. The inlet had almost a gradient of textures leading out to the active water.

Everything from frozen foam…

To slushy clouds…

And piles of frozen glass…

A few of us attempted a walk along the pier to the lighthouse.

Which ended up being an ice climbing alongside the pier.

This is as close as we got.

After an hour of playing on the beach it was time to head home.

Despite the teenage grumbling and complaining everyone had a good time and we were all blown away by the natural phenomenon of the Great Lakes in the winter. I will definitely try to make a winter up north trip a reoccurring event!