I announced my intention to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020 WAY back in July of 2015. Some people seem to be assuming that I have given up on it. What??? No. I still intend on starting my hike in April of 2020. Ready or not here I come. This summer I will be buckling my pack and staking my tent even more; going to places I have never been and gaining some valuable experience. And I’ll even write about a few of those adventures. Plans are in the works for a trip to the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail, and a possible trip to Maine. I’ll, of course, also keep hiking around Western New York.
Right now though, Mother Nature has not yet received the message that Spring is about to be here and has been unleashing some serious snow and cold around here.
I’m not letting that stop me though. I revisited an old favorite place to hike, Tillman Nature Preserve. The last time I visited there was a monsoon! (Read about it here.) I was up past my ankles in water while hiking in my work boots and a skirt! (This was back when I didn’t prepare very well.) It was a little different this time. The weather was cool, but it had just been raining so the trails were mushy and muddy in places and downright ponds to walk through. The boardwalks and waterproofed boots were sure handy!
Of course, I always say – It isn’t a truly good hike unless there’s a little mud!
Before and after of my boots.
Tillman Nature Preserve has a great loop trail that is just over 2 miles. It crosses and recrosses a road and is completely and utterly FLAT. There were a few interesting photo ops though.
Some kind of fungus, a neat little bridge and it seems as if someone built a couple “shelters”. Only one seemed to be big enough for me to get in, so I did.
As you can see by the sunshine over my shoulder the shelter is not very weatherproof, but it’s still fun. I cleaned up some litter around the shelters and on the trail.
There must be at least a six pack of Bud Light and a couple Gatorade bottles. What a shame. I’m glad I brought a bag to collect it all in. I actually washed and kept the orange shaker bottle. It looked brand new! I’m guessing it fell off a fat-tire bike rider.
A week later, my big green pack was looking sad, so I packed it lightly and buckled it up to revisit Hunters Creek Park. I was worried about the snow in the parking lot, but I didn’t need to be. So many people love this park it must have been plowed. I put on my micro spikes for a short hike around the most used trails. The trails with no human tracks made me nervous. I didn’t want to blaze my own trail yet and I had left my snow shoes in my car.
It was not even 30 degrees, but I was plenty warm with my layers. I was confident hiking on the icy paths with my micro spikes. I had my taped together, well-used map, so I didn’t get lost. Although at one point I thought a blue dashed line was the creek when it was actually a trail. Oops. So much for having a map. I am seriously considering taking an orienteering class this summer.
I love this picture below of the brilliant sunset (my AT dream) behind poles (work, life) with a directional sign (chose left or right). I don’t want to go left or right; I want to go straight into that brilliant dream!!! Those poles can just get out of my way! When I’m on the AT, I will take many photos of the sunset I am sure; and NONE of them will have poles in the way!
I ate a good breakfast. (My husband made it for me.)
I laced up my boots and threw my pack into the car.
I had packed my big backpack the night before with all the essentials. You know, everything you need on a short day hike. Stove, pots, 2 liters of water, rain gear, head lamp, emergency blanket, extra clothes, gloves, food for two days. I just wanted to be prepared – I am in training after all.
I asked my nephew to hike with me and was happy he agreed. Matthew hikes fast and doesn’t complain when I can’t keep up.
My husband drove us to the trail head on Getman Road and I discovered a very fast moving stream about shin deep right across the trail. I wasn’t familiar with this trail head, but I looked up and down the creek and couldn’t find a way across that wouldn’t mean hiking in wet boots the rest of the way, so we moved to Plan B.
Plan B was entering the trail at Mammot Road. We would have had to hike .7 miles on this road anyway, now we will avoid the road walk. I peeked down the trail before making the commitment to the hike. It seemed wet, but not impassable. I sent my husband on his way back home and Matthew and I took off down the trail.
We encountered many, many “puddles” aka swampy areas. Matt has LONG legs and moves like a gazelle. I have short stubby legs and I lacked any finesse hopping over these areas, especially carrying my full pack. I prayed my boots stayed dry and the prayer worked. And I really sloshed through the water. As long as it wasn’t over my ankle I was good. (I love my Keen boots!)
Matt and I stuck close together while the ground was a giant puddle but once the trail dried out, Matt was off like a flash. The trail was very easy to follow. The bright orange blazes were close together and I knew Matt would be able to follow it no problem.
Matt backtracked a little to find me and told me saw a railroad track ahead. Sure enough we came upon the track and glanced in both directions. No trains in sight. Drat. That would have been a treat to see a train so close. We didn’t want to wait around not knowing the schedule at all.
We spotted the orange flag in a tree branch indicating the trail entrance and Matt took off again. I stopped a few times to take some pictures, look at the sky, admire the forest and listen to the birds. We didn’t see any deer, only their footprints and some scat.
We saw some gorgeous waterfalls, including one that I drive by everyday and didn’t even know that it was there! It was spectacular especially with all the snow melt and rain we had recently.
We crossed Broadway into Darien Lake State Park. We found the log book and signed in.
It started to really warm up so I stopped to take off my jacket and we had an impromptu snack time. After a few cheese puffs, beef jerky and red fish we were fortified.
I put a few red fish in my pocket and we continued our journey. It didn’t take long to come across the blue trail to the lean to.
I gave Matt the option to hike it and he declined so we continued on following the orange blazes towards Sumner Road.
We actually heard a tree fall somewhere nearby and we both stopped in our tracks. We looked at each other relieved that it wasn’t a bear crashing through the woods to eat us. Then I found a ninja tree stump! Tell me it doesn’t look like ninja??
The trail ends at a parking lot on Sumner Road, so when I started hearing traffic I called my husband to pick us up. Timed right we wouldn’t wait long for him. We exited the trail and found a picnic bench, snacked again and had a drink. I picked up trash I found in the lot.
It was a beautiful day of nearly 60 degrees in January. It took us about two hours to hike about 4 miles. Matt said he’d be up to hiking this trail again when it was dry!
I have a few other trails up my sleeve for us, too! I just ordered and received a bunch of maps from the Finger Lakes Trail Conference. My goal this summer is to hike the Letchworth State Park branch trail of the FLT.
I have a Bucket List. Do you? If not, you should! A Bucket List details things that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime. Recently, I was able to check off a couple things on my Bucket List.
Well, I’m trying to step outside my comfort zone in baby steps. It’s not easy for me to do things that I feel intimidated by. I know, I know, I want to thru hike the Appalachian Trail…pretty intimidating. So I have to start putting myself out there NOW.
One really fun thing I did off my Bucket List was participate in the Color Run. A Color Run is a 5K non race. Just my thing! During the run/walk/skipping along the course there are “Color Zones” where a bunch of people throw different colored powder at you. There’s an orange zone, pink zone, blue zone, purple zone, you get the drift. By the end of the course you are covered head to toe in different colors.
Participating in the Color Run was a little intimidating for me. I was afraid you had RUN or JOG the whole thing. Heaven forbid!! NOT TRUE!!! The more I read other people’s experiences I was satisfied that I could just walk or skip or jog a tiny bit. Unfortunately, the night before the race I was anxious. I didn’t want to go alone. I was ready to back out. My registration was paid, I had my t-shirt and polka-dot socks, but I was NERVOUS! My husband came to my rescue, like he often does, and when I asked him if he would join me on the course, he said he would. He is such a trooper. We both got thoroughly covered in different colors and we walked pretty much the entire way, but at the end we still got shiny silver medals and we weren’t the last ones across the finish line!
Another thing I really had to do was sleep outside in the woods all by myself. Since I was a little girl I’ve been afraid of the dark. Now, I’ve outgrown being afraid while in the darkness of my house. Mostly…but especially when my dogs or others are around. When I am with others outside in the dark, easy; I’m not scared really at all. If I am alone outside, with only a tent, how will I do? Well, I survived!
I started out with a baby step. I slept in my backyard! Now, I have a very woodsy backyard. Where I slept, I couldn’t see my house, but I could see my shed. It was pitch black out.
I knew my dogs and husband were only a few hundred feet away. I knew I could easily walk back to my house in the dark. I also had a headlamp and my phone so I had light. Like I said, baby steps. It was also a baby step for my husband. He loves to worry! He was pretty freaked out about me sleeping outside by myself. It was good for both of us. I slept okay and managed to not freak out more than twice from the weird noises. When I woke up at 6 am, I walked to the house and slept another couple hours in my bed.
Just this past weekend I decided it was now or never to actually camp out in the woods away from home. I convinced my husband to drop me off at a nearby trail head where I knew about 2 miles down the trail was a lean to. We left late in the day so I wouldn’t be at the lean to bored out of my mind for too long before bed.
There was one car in the parking lot and as any worry wart would, my husband took a picture of their license plate. As I hiked, the woods became darker and darker. I forgot how it gets darker in the woods more quickly.
Whew. I made it to the lean to and unpacked my gear. I started a small fire in the fire ring, and I mean small.
While settling in I realized the mosquitoes were going to kill me. Even with repellent on. There were mouse droppings in the lean to. I felt exposed. And scared. And nervous. And worried. And And And!
So, in the dusk, I rapidly set up my tent. I’m so glad it’s so easy! In less than 15 minutes I was snug as a bug inside my tent watching the fire die out.
Somehow during my rush I butt dialed my mother. When I realized it and put the phone to my ear and heard her beautiful voice it was like magic! It was like I was cheating a little though. I was supposed to be outside in the woods overnight by myself. Well, my mother couldn’t do anything to protect me when she is just on the other end of the phone so we chatted for 10 minutes and she encouraged me and I felt so much more brave!
Inside my tent that night I could hear the nearby amusement park roller coaster and what I thought were the screams of the riders! It’s crazy how sound travels. Then I heard their fireworks at 9pm and then again at 10pm. Then it was eerily silent. Just the sounds of the forest around me. The call of a barred owl, the miscellaneous insects and some weird licking sound? Seriously??!!?? I heard a raccoon and YELLED at it! It must have run off because I never heard it’s chittering sound again. I kept hearing the “licking” sound, though. Like my dog licking his paw over and over and over…ugh. I have no idea what that was, and I don’t care. I just turned Adele Radio on and drowned it out for 20 minutes. It worked. I fell asleep and dreamed. I posted a 4 minute video at the end of this article if you want to know really how my night was and what my dream was about. Just be kind; it was a no makeup kind of day.
My body clock finally woke me at my usual time just before the sunrise and gradually I could hear the forest waking up all around me. The birds began their morning songs and I debated whether to hike for awhile or just head back to the trail head and have my husband pick me up. I started my little stove and ate hot granola with blueberries.
As I walked around the trees while eating and breathing in the sweet morning air I felt exhilarated! I made it through the night! But, I wanted to go home. I packed up and headed back.
Next time I will hike longer in, camp out and hike longer out. All by myself. Sigh. Now to just do it.
A couple other small things I have checked off my Bucket List is making a little gnome home. I did that at the base of one of the largest red oak trees in Erie County, which happens to be in my front yard.
The other thing checked off was that I had wanted my picture taken with Shark Girl. She is a lot like me! Quite a resemblance. Especially the teeth!
Also at Canalside in Buffalo was the world’s largest rubber duck. I didn’t realize that seeing it was on my bucket list until I heard about it. But, how could you NOT go see the world’s LARGEST rubber ducky! It was 6 stories tall and weighs about one ton!
Next week on my bucket list is: I get to meet Alison Arngrim. She is the actress that played Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie. Can’t wait!
The week after that I have PRK eye surgery scheduled. That will cross off another thing on my Bucket List! No glasses for me on my thru hike!
Whew…that’s quite enough for now!
As promised here is the scary video! Sorry about the vertical video. I’m learning!
Checked off another one on the bucket list! Add video to my blog!
Well, traveling in Southern Florida is nothing like Western New York or the Appalachian Trail. The only thing similar is maybe how hot it can get! Florida is very flat and there are a lot of paved paths!
Sanibel Island is on the Gulf Coast of Florida near Fort Myers. The Island is about 12 miles long and you get there by crossing a long bridge from Ft. Myers. The main attractions (for me) on Sanibel Island are the (1) BEACH and (2) Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.
The Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge comprises more than half the Island. There is a Wildlife Drive that you can drive your car through, walk, or bike. There are other trails that I didn’t get a chance to do mainly because it was very hot and also, I was on vacation and slept in or went to the beach!
At the Refuge you can see a lot of different kinds of birds like the Roseate Spoonbill (many people think they are flamingos, nope!), Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Ibis, Green Headed Night Heron, and many, many others. Just naming a few. Years ago I was avid birdwatcher, now, not so much. I needed my Peterson Guide to help me identify them. There is other wildlife on the Refuge like Alligators! (Remember, you can click on a picture to make it bigger!)
We looked and looked for Alligators, but had no luck here.
One early morning, I took a leisurely drive along Wildlife Drive. I would drive a little, get out and walk and look and drive a little further. It was so quiet, only fishermen were around. I had the place pretty much to myself. Just me and a couple thousand birds! It was very peaceful and calm and I enjoyed my walk about the Refuge very much.
We stayed at the Blind Pass Condos. It was located on the Western end of the Island away from the restaurants, shopping and touristy things. That was good and bad. Good that it was quiet on our beach, bad that we had to drive to restaurants, shopping and touristy things! That being said though, we were on Bowman’s Beach! The sand was soft, the shelling was super and it was never crowded. We rented bikes for the week for the kids and that seemed to help with their desire to explore. Our condo was set up with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The owner thought of everything you might need for a beach vacation: beach towels, hats, beach toys, shelling tools, buckets, pool noodles, boogie boards, beach chairs, beach umbrellas, beach cart to lug it all, a cooler, even tennis rackets and balls if you wanted to sweat it out on the court. It was nice to have a kitchen to keep food cost down; we only ate out for dinners mostly.
Back to the outside! On our condo property there was a bridge that led to the beach.
The bridge went over a murky lagoon that we could kayak or canoe in. NO THANKS. That’s where we saw our Alligator!! In our entire week stay we didn’t see anyone kayaking or canoeing in that lagoon! We also saw the Manatees here. I think there were two big ones and a small one. The pictures didn’t come out well. My son’s girlfriend, Amanda, took the nice photo of the Alligator! I shamelessly stole a few of these photos in this article from her Facebook! Thanks, Amanda!
On the other side of the bridge was the BEACH!
I just realized I didn’t take many pictures of the beach during the day!
The fabulous thing about Sanibel Island is the amount of sea shells you can find and collect! I think I brought home 10 pounds worth of sea shells! I must have walked miles on that beach with my back hunched over scanning the waves. The Islander’s call it “The Sanibel Stoop.” It’s amazing I didn’t need a Chiropractic adjustment when I came home! On the beach you will see taped off areas that are nesting grounds for sea turtles. The little babies hatch and come out after dusk and follow the moonlight into the ocean, and if they see the lights in our homes they might be drawn the wrong way, so we had to close our blinds in our condo by 9:oo pm so the baby sea turtles would not be confused!
One of my most favorite times of day is sunset. The beach seems to always have an incredible view of the sun disappearing.
And the sunset from the lagoon was stunning, as well. Amanda took an amazing photo!
At the Eastern end of the Island is the Sanibel Lighthouse. We visited the grounds there and the beach. The beach seemed rockier on this end of the Island and had more seaweed (yuck!).
Of course, I did a little geocaching! I was close to finding 100 geocaches so I decided I would find my 100th geocache on the Island! Dave and I went bike riding on the bike path, which is LOADED with caches. Then I got the fever and we found a few more with the kids.
We also visited the Sanibel Island Historic Village. It’s a group of original and replica homes and businesses from the beginnings of residency on the Island. It was Carl and Amanda’s idea to visit and Dave and I tagged along. We were glad we did, it was really interesting to learn about the hardships the Island pioneers dealt with. There was no bridge back then and everything was brought to the Island by ferry. The hurricanes that hit the Island would often completely demolish all the buildings and they would have to start from scratch.
On our way to the airport we stopped by the Henry Ford and Thomas Edison Museum in Fort Myers. We walked about the gardens and were amazed by the banyan tree. It was planted in 1925 and is believed to be one of the biggest banyan trees in the United States. This is ALL ONE TREE! Its limbs drop down to make it appear it is multiple trees, but is actually ONE TREE! It is 400 feet tall and spreads nearly an acre! These pictures just do not do it justice. We all wished we could play in the limbs and climb through it, but it was all roped off.
In Tampa we checked out the Museum of Science and Industry. With my Life Membership at the Buffalo Museum of Science we got in FREE! Carl rode a bike that was on a tightrope high up in the air! Carl also finally found a brain (see photo) and we studied all about the human body.
There was a really beautiful trail outside near where we parked. Too bad we had a plane to catch; I didn’t have to time to do more than take a picture of the enticing trail head.
After a two hour plane delay, we were glad to be home. I will miss the beach, the relaxing, and the important quality time spent with my son and his girlfriend and of course, my husband!