A Hiking We All Went

 

“Not all those who wander are lost”

                               J.R.R. Tolkien

I recently returned from a wonderful hiking trip. I was invited to join nine other women on their annual hiking adventure which they have taken for the last 16 years together. When I received the invitation, I hardly stopped to think about it. Count me in any time there is hiking, a chance to travel, and an opportunity to make new friends. I had never met these women and this would be my first “Hen Hike.”

The Hens-lunch at the waterfall

The Hens-lunch at the waterfall

 The Hens are made up of five visually impaired women and five sighted guides who have been friends for years. They are the kind of women who are “shakers and movers,” impressive in their vivacious spirits and thirst for adventure. Most of them have been involved with Ski For Light, Inc. (which I will write about in another post), where the sighted guides have developed their skill to guide the visually impaired and their selfless sense of service as volunteers. It is a group of physically fit and “aging gracefully” women who know how to have fun! They are world travelers, survivors of some of life’s most difficult challenges, professionals, wise, well-read, kind and gracious ladies. And it was such a privilege to be among them!

 We stayed at the Starlight Inn in northeast Pennsylvania. It is nestled in the country, overlooking a lake and surrounded by scenic trails. Sari the innkeeper, runs the quaint establishment with other family members. Wholesome and homemade meals are served in the cozy dining room where you feel as though you are part of the family. Every day, we were sent off on our hike with made-to-order sack lunches; meaty sandwiches on freshly baked bread, crisp apples and homemade cookies.

Fall colors on the trail-Betty and Susan

Fall colors on the trail-Betty and Susan

 

Each morning we hit the trails paired up with our guide for the day. The trees were spectacular in their fall “coats of many colors.” We walked the woodsy paths, side by side, at an easy pace and lost ourselves in companionable conversations. Breathing in the cool fresh air, we merrily trudged along in our broken-in boots,LLBean flannels and brandishing our walking canes. The sun was bright on our faces as we wandered the forest, leaving behind the worries of the world. The hikes were pleasant and we covered quite a bit of ground. We discovered several waterfalls and open meadows which were perfect lunch spots. It was refreshing and relaxing to enjoy the beautiful scenery with new friends who also appreciated nature.

 The hiking was only half the fun. Every day, we gathered in the “parlor” for Happy Hour, sipping wine and nibbling cheese and crackers. We shared stories of our lives and talked about the day’s highlights. Each day, I learned more about the Hens and grew to appreciate their colorful personalities, their vitality, and their fun-loving, adventurous spirits. After our lovely evening meals, we retired to the sun porch to play games. Some of the Hens pulled out their knitting as we played. We cackled and laughed until we cried and our sides hurt! And after much mirth and merriment, we trotted off to bed, full and satisfied with the day’s activities.

Hen Hike 2014

Hen Hike 2014

 This trip was such a joy. Everything went smoothly and the group meshed so well. I am grateful to these special women for welcoming me warmly and sharing their lives with me. I appreciated what the guides did for us VIPs (visually impaired person) and I was inspired by the VIPs. It is always reassuring to me to be with others who are visually impaired and managing life so well…it empowers me to keep on and encourages me to “see the possibilities” for new adventures. Happy Trails!

 

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A Saturday Stroll Through the Cemetery

Yesterday was “get out of the house day.” My husband and I laid aside our Saturday chores and opted for a trip to Atlanta. We had a full day of activities planned. We wanted to do some walking, check out a new restaurant, and shop at a store I have never been to before. I packed for the adventure, including food and water for my Sophie girl. She was just as excited as I was to “get out of Dodge” and get some exercise.

First stop was historic Oakland Cemetery. I love walking around old cemeteries and reading the gravestones. This garden sanctuary dates back to 1850 and is full of Atlanta stories and history. There are beautiful old live oaks and magnolias that cool off the brick paths. The ornate monuments and wrought iron gates are stately and showy. There is unique sculpture and architecture marking the final resting places of Atlanta’s dignitaries. We strolled peacefully among the headstones and my husband read them to me. There were soldiers’ graves from the Civil War and tiny crooked markers of infants who died prematurely. One of my favorites today was a husband’s stone which read, “All I ask of you is forever remember me as loving you.” Such a touching testament to eternal love…the words stayed with me all day.

We moseyed on and came upon the gravesite of Margaret Mitchell Marsh, the author of the Pulitzer Prize novel Gone with the Wind. It was published in 1936 and is said to be the second most read book in the world, after the Bible.  Yet she lies next to her husband with a simple headstone without powerfully penned words. Just an observation… 

Despite the shade and coolness among the trees, the day was heating up. Sophie was panting but being a trooper. She did a great job guiding me around broken concrete paths and low hanging tree branches. We made our way back to the entrance gate. Sophie appreciated a long swig of cool water at the car and a relief break. Then just across the street, we walked to a pub called “Six Feet Under” which had great reviews and the promise of cold beer. We refreshed ourselves with some suds and seafood gazpacho…de-lish! Then we shared a lovely baked basa on a bed of spinach and some scallops and asparagus. The day was shaping up to be a real treat!

We headed into Atlanta and found the REI store. I was eager to peruse this sports enthusiast’s super-store. I think like many customers, I fancy myself to be way more sporty than I am. Ha-I am more like a wanna-be! But I am planning a hiking trip in October so one of my objectives was to look for hiking pants. I never knew such an item existed before and I have done my fair share of hiking. But this trip is special and I want to dress for success! So I tried on several items and found just the right pair. I could have spent all day in this store fingering the yoga attire, the fashionable trail outfits and the soft and cozy long underwear. But alas, the budget and my husband couldn’t tolerate that! True to his gender, his shopping motto is always “seek-find-buy-then leave as soon as possible.”

It was a wonderful day trip and perfect antidote for cabin fever. It left me thinking about the age-old existential question: “What do you want to be known for when you die?” and “What do you want as an epitaph on your gravestone?”

Traveling Blind: A Sensory Experience

 

Yosemite National Park-El Capitan

Yosemite National Park-El Capitan

The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.

Saint Augustine

My husband and I just returned from a trip to California. We visited Yosemite National Park, San Francisco, Muir Woods, Carmel, and Sonoma Valley. He is an excellent vacation planner and travel companion! This was one of my favorite trips with such a variety of experiences and adventures: hiking among the giant Sequoia, picnicking and wine-tasting in lush wine country, riding the rickety trolley car, shopping in the “hippie” district in the city, lunching on dim sum in colorful China Town, sipping tea in the peaceful Japanese gardens, meandering in the serenity of Cathedral Grove among the regal Redwoods, walking the dog-friendly beaches with my guide dog Sophie, breathing in the fresh, crisp air on the Coastal Trail, feasting on local seafood and wines…ahhh…I am still basking in the glow of the sweet sensory memories of it all!                                                                                                                        

Matanzas Creek Winery-Sonoma Valley

Matanzas Creek Winery-Sonoma Valley

                                                         

A couple and guide dog at the base of a giant Sequoia tree

The Mighty Sequoia Tree

 

Where ever you go, go with all your heart.

Confucius

As I was packing, I marveled at how little I needed in my suitcase. A mere 46 lbs. of worldly trappings and accoutrements to survive a twelve day trip was all I required. I have learned to keep it simple. That way, there is less to organize, keep track of, and haul around! I love this sense of freedom from material things and it creates room in my soul to take in the new experiences. It is enlightening to consider what we can live without and how freeing it can be to shed extra baggage.

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In the past when I have traveled as a visually impaired person, I often experienced overwhelming fatigue, anxiety, and even irritability while trying to adjust to new surroundings. This would cause stress  which took away from the ability to enjoy the adventure. This trip was different somehow. I have learned to relax and accept my limitations. I try to pace myself, yet challenge myself at the same time so as not to miss a worthwhile attraction. For instance, we chose to take a two-mile “moderate” hike to Glacier Point in Yosemite. It took us a few hours to painstakingly navigate a rocky course to reach a spectacular summit view. My guide dog was an amazing and attentive partner as she moved me through the obstacles of rocks, logs, and roots. My husband patiently gave me verbal instructions and a steady arm when needed. It took teamwork and concentration as the three of us plugged along the path. The payoff was arriving at the highest point in Yosemite, surrounded by unmatched grandeur; sparkling granite cliffs, terraced waterfalls, and a feeling of infinite openness and space. It was exhilarating and energizing! And the satisfaction of accomplishment spurred me onward. As visually impaired people, we sometimes have to find a different way to do things and take our time-but what joy there is in success and the experience.   

Ft. Funston Beach

Ft. Funston Beach

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

Mary Ritter Beard

From the moment we arrived in California, I sensed the differences. The air was cool and crisp with a woodsy herbal scent. The birds sang different songs. Trees have unique silhouettes and shades of color. The sky was bigger and bluer than in Georgia. Flowers seem to be more bold and varied. There are ever-present views and briny smells of the ocean. Foods and people from all parts of the world abound. Travel is about appreciating the differences and variety which the world has to offer. I may not “see” all the sights, but I can employ all of my senses to enrich my experience and celebrate the joys of travel. It is about being there and “being present.”

Pleasure is the flower that passes; remembrance, the lasting perfume.

Jean de Boufflers

A special benefit of this trip was the opportunity to truly enjoy the company of my husband. With the distractions of home, work, and other responsibilities left behind, we were able to tune in to each other fully and refresh ourselves together. Long walks and talks on beautiful beaches can rejuvenate the mind, body and soul. I discovered that each day I could not wait to get up and going, as it meant more time with Kevin. His undivided attention was luxurious and the lazy days together felt extravagant. I wanted to make the most of “him and me” time. So travel is also about the joy of being with your loved ones. All the adventures, sights and experiences are richer when shared and the memories sweeter when made together.