Last Saturday Tom and I went rock climbing "Via Ferrata" at Nelson Rocks, West Virginia. It's and "iron road" over the rocks using steel cables and rungs, plus a really cool suspension bridge. We both had a great time and finished the entire course. Tom is a natural at rock climbing (he we went to a gym a few weeks ago and really liked it), and had no problem with heights. For me it took about 5 rungs to get the hang of it but I never really felt comfortable, but that's ok because it was an adrenalin rush the whole time. I don't understand why we humans like to put ourselves into these crazy unnecessary situations, but it must have something to do with the brain chemicals.
We have about 100 days until the trip and have been working hard at improving my stamina for long distance hiking. In the past 3 months we have hiked about 120 miles, with about 32,600 feet of elevation up and down over 10 day hikes and two backpacking trips. When I first started, my average day hike speed was 1.4 mph, and now I average 2 mph. I have been keeping track of everything using my GPS.
I have lost 10 pounds and gained a lot of muscle. Hiking is more enjoyable and I feel more confident and less clumsy. But I still have a ways to go with overall speed, especially with a pack. I have to get up to 2.5 mph to match the leader's low speed.
Tom and I spent the weekend backpacking at Ramsey's Draft Wilderness Area in the George Washington National Forest. We went with our friend Keith from the club whom we have backpack with before and is very experienced. John from Blue Ridge Mountain Sports gave me inspiration and advice for the trip after others had told me it was too difficult and easy to get lost.
The first day of the trip was much different than your average hike. We followed the river and crossed it many times. The area is designated "Wilderness" so no trail blazes are allowed, and no trail maintenance is performed. That means if a 4-foot-diameter tree falls across the path, you have to climb over/under it, or hike around it, which is not easy on a steep slope with a 30-pound pack. In a few spots we lost the trail, but quickly found it again. As long as we took our time we were ok. We had to trust our instincts-if you feel like you are off the trail, you probably are, so stop and look around.
The river crossings were not too bad in most places, but in one spot the rocks were slippery and I fell in, soaking both boots. I stopped and rung out my socks and kept going without too much trouble.
The area along the river once had many giant hemlocks, but they were all recently killed by disease. Hence the reason for many of the roadblocks. One fell across a particularly deep and fast portion of river and made an excellent bridge.
There were a lot of saplings on the trail whipping in our face as we walked through them. It made us very appreciative of the regular trail maintenance performed by groups like the PATC.
The final push up Ramsey's Draft to Hiner Spring was difficult and steep. By the end of the first day our feet and backs were very tired but we felt well accomplished. We hiked only 7 miles in 5 hours, but we did not get lost and no one got hurt. The camp site was lovely with plenty of flat spots and camp fire wood. The spring was nearby and we had plenty of time to set up and cook dinner before dark. Just after dark, several deer came and visited us within 20 feet of the campfire. We went to sleep around 7:30pm.
My best guess to the overnight low was 40 degrees--not bad for November. My feet got a little cold (with dry socks) I think because they were on the ground off my sleeping pad (the spot was sloped down slightly and I kept sliding). Otherwise we were warm in our tents and slept well.
The second day was much more like a standard Shenandoah mountain hike. It was longer - 9 miles - but mostly down hill on well marked trails. The weather was 70 and sunny with a slight breeze. We saw many old pines and oaks and hiked in leaves knee-deep in places. Many of the ridge paths were slanted, making us appreciate trail maintenance again. We averaged 2 mph with stops, a pretty good pace with packs.
Overall I had a great time hiking and camping this weekend. My body hurt less than last time (see Dolly Sods) and I had an easier time keeping up with Tom and Keith. While hiking I asked myself "why do you like backpack so much when it hurts so much?" They answer is that I enjoy the adventure getting there, sleeping in the wilderness, and knowing that I have everything I need to survive for two days on my back, and spending quality time with my hubby and friends. So the goal is to keep getting into shape to make getting there more enjoyable.
Some of you might know that I work part time as a mechanical design engineer. My hours have varied from 20 to 30 hours per week for the last year and a half, depending on the work load. I use a 3-D Computer Aided Design software called SolidWorks to make 'virtual' electro-mechanical devices. Being married and working part time has really improved my quality of life. Before, I worked 40-50 hours per week and commuted 45 minutes each way. I enjoyed my work but I was always exhausted and spent the weekend recovering. Sure, I get paid half as much, but my job is just a fulfilling and I feel as if I get just as much done. And now I have a social life, personal life, and even a gym life, all while getting 9-10 hours of sleep every night.
I am experiencing my first recession since graduation, while working for my first private company. The nation-wide situation did not hit home for me until February when they laid off more than half the people. On Friday my company laid off another two people and reduced the hours of many more. I was reduced to 8 hours per week, with the possibility of working more depending on the workload. I feel lucky to still have a job, and until now I was immune to reductions because engineering has been working really hard to roll out a new product. But things are on hold now for me during emi and ul testing. (I am really worried that work will pick back up in time for our n.z. trip)
After my boss broke the news to me, he gave me some positive feedback on my job performance. I responded with positive things about my job and the company, and my value to the company to be flexible when work is needed.
I am trying to keep a good attitude about all this by thinking of all the wonderful things I can be doing with all the extra time....I just need to stay off the couch....
Organize the attic boxes from my parents house that have been sitting in our garage.
Deep clean the house.
Winterize the garden.
Play with the kittens.
Mid-week day hike.
Go the the gym and take some Pilates reformer classes.
Help a friend plan a backpacking trip for this weekend.
Karate training has been going well. I hope to test for blue belt in Janurary.
Tom and I have been "training" for the New Zealand trip by hiking a lot. Sometimes just the two of us, sometimes with a group. When it was still hot out we led our own trips because it was harder to find people to hike with because of the heat. But I found that it was not too bad if you plan it right. Choose trails with good tree cover and hike down ridges that are in shadow during the time of the day of your hike (for example, hike down the western slope of the SNP in the morning). A bug net for your face is a must for summertime hiking too.
Now that the weather is good and the trees are pretty, there is no shortage of hiking companions. Saturday we went hiking with the OASC/PATC in the SNP and there was about 12 of us. Most of the leaves had fallen off the trees in the lower elevations, and the upper elevations had about a quarter of the leaves left. Only oaks and beech leaves remain on trees. I think that the general population does not realize that peak color in the mountains is about 2-3 weeks before the valley. Tom and I have been enjoying fall color at various elevations for almost 8 weeks.
Last weekend's hike was from the Pinnacles Overlook, along Whiterocks ridge and along Hazel River. The first and last miles were not fun due to the steepness of the trail and poor footing from the fresh wet leaves. Overwise the hike was very nice. The weather was very warm (70s in the valley) and humid with some sprinkles at the end (I hiked in a t-shirt and shorts). We ate lunch next to nice waterfall that was flowing well due to the recent rain. There were some nice old growth trees along the Hazel River Trail, and I found a poplar leaf on the ground measuring over 10 inches wide.
I don't have any pictures for you yet, but here are is the gps info. We hiked 10 miles, climbed about 2000' at an average speed of 1.8 mph.