Hiking the Smokies

On our first trip to the  Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we picked up a booklet called Hike the Smokies for Families. Basically, the goal is for the entire family to hike 50 miles together. Once you have completed your first 10 miles, you get a sticker in your booklet, then at 25 miles you get a pin. Another sticker gets added at 40 miles and then the final pin at 50. Since our kids are all so high energy and we all enjoy getting outside, we thought this would be the perfect challenge for us.

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We completed our first hike in the park on March 9, and since then we have hiked a total of 32.4 miles. We originally thought we would have the entire summer to complete the mileage, but since Rob will be working for the park service come June, we will have to complete the final 17.6 miles within the next month.

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We are trying to get our miles in without overdoing it so we are doing a mixture of short and long trails and are trying to split up hiking days. Yesterday was a beautiful day for a drive, but neither Rob or I were up for a long hike, so we went to Clingmans Dome instead, which is the highest point in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There is a steep half-mile trail that leads up to spectacular views from the top.

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At the top, we ran into some Appalachian Trail thru-hikers, since the trail crosses right by the dome. They were already 200 miles into their 2200 mile journey and I found myself wanting to jump on the trail with them. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is on our list, but it will not happen for several years. We need time to plan and train and the kids need to be big enough to carry their own gear. If all goes as planned, Rob will celebrate his 50th birthday somewhere along the trail, and a short four days later, I will celebrate my 40th.

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The drive through the park was amazing. The trees are green, wildflowers are blooming. It is spectacular. The trees in the higher elevations are a little slower, but with the beautiful sunshine, I know they will not be too far behind. I am so grateful that we are living close enough to the park to be able to experience all of the changes and to have time to explore as much of it as possible. Normally it is into a park one day and out the next and you leave feeling as though there was still so much to see, but I think that when the time comes for us to leave the Smokies, we will feel pretty good about all we were able to see and do.

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Earth Day 2013

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.
~George Gordon, Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

Can we keep him? – Part 2

I thought I had seen it all, so today when the kids brought home another lizard, I was not surprised, although I must admit that this one was a little bigger than all of the others.

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And when they ran home saying they had found frogs, I was not surprised then, either. When they returned to the creek and brought some home, they looked as I expected. At least two of them did. But Nathan’s frog made me look twice. This was a first…

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And since we are on a reptile kick, I would like to share our snake with you. The kids and I came across her down at the river, and while I did not know she poisonous at the time, we did not dare get close to her. We waited patiently on an elevated log until she was ready to move on. She eventually took off into the water and we were free to move again. The biggest difference between the snake and all the other critters the kids have found is that nobody asked to keep this one…

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Word of the Day: Surprise!

Surprise n 1. unexpected or astonishing event or circumstance

Today, after driving a surprising 14 miles of dirt, mountainous, narrow, twisty crazy roads, we finally arrived at the trail head of the hike we wanted to do. Boogerman, it was called, which seemed fitting for us. We parked the car, grabbed our packs and headed a few yards back down the road to the trail.

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Surprise! The foot bridge was gone, so the only way to begin the trail was to cross the creek. Rob studied it for a minute, and decided that not only was it indeed crossable, but that we were just crazy enough to do so. The water was very, very cold, but we slowly made our way across.

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It was supposed to be warm today, so we figured we would dry out while we were hiking. We made our way down the trail and soon came upon a bridge. The best thing I can say about this bridge was that at least it existed. But the winter had been hard on it and it had been beaten down by many logs.

Surprise!  This bridge was more of an obstacle course. It was almost completely sideways from all the logs that had piled up against it, so we crossed it like bears, so some other woodland critter.

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Once we all made our way safely across, we continued on down the trail. The loop we were heading on ventured away from the creek, so it gave us time to dry out. We were actually on the lookout for bears because there were signs everywhere. Hair, scat, multiple trees with obvious bear scratches. But between our 10 feet, crunchy leaves and two little boys who like to talk, we couldn’t sneak up on anything, which I suppose was a good thing, but we would really like to see a bear.

Eventually our loop led us back to the creek, and while everything started out fine, it didn’t stay that way for very long.

Surprise! All the rain that had fallen over the last month had flooded the trail, so while we were almost dry, it was time to get wet once again. All except Catheryn, who clung like a monkey to her daddy’s back.

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It was not too far past here when William came running at me with… something. After the venomous snake encounter yesterday, I was a little gun-shy.

Surprise! At least it wasn’t a snake!

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We had all but given up the hope of ever being dry again. It just didn’t seem to be in the cards today. The trail made its way back out of the creek and we continued on our merry, although somewhat sloshy, way.

Surprise! Are you kidding me? Another missing bridge??

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We were trying to decide the best place to cross when we came upon a little trail someone had marked. It led to a tree that had fallen across the creek. Rob crossed first and then went downstream in case anyone fell in trying to cross it. Luckily, nobody did.

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7.4 miles and 5.5 hours later, we arrived back at the beginning. We had to cross the main creek again in order to get back to the car, but we were already wet so it wasn’t nearly as bad as the first time across. Unfortunately, Rob twisted his ankle a couple miles from the finish. It is sore, but hopefully it won’t take too long to heal up.

Overall, it was a great day full of… surprises. Lessons of the day: expect the unexpected, be grateful for bridges, and don’t be afraid to get your feet wet.

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Scene from Saturday

The sun finally decided to make an appearance today after what felt like weeks and weeks of nonstop rain. It was warm and bright and refreshing. None of us wanted to come inside, so we spent as much time as possible outside. We read down by the river, squealed at a big snake (which Rob thinks may have been a cottonmouth…), watched some rafters, wrote letters in the grass, and started our annual farmer’s tans. It was a glorious day, and I am so excited that tomorrow is supposed to bring more of the same.

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Can we keep him?

I am so that glad my kids are not afraid to touch things. They stick their hands into dark, damp holes and don’t even think twice about it. I admire this about them. Their courage, their bravery. Or perhaps it falls more along the lines of craziness and insanity? I am not exactly sure, but must they bring home everything they find?

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I have gotten used to the various lizards, some living and some not so much. I am not sure how they manage to find some of the little guys, but they do have a talent for it. I guess they get tired of lizards after a while and feel the need to mix it up a little. I am not sure if I should be grateful for this or not, but it doesn’t seem to matter one way or another. They bring home their new “friends” regardless.

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Isn’t he just adorable? All right, maybe adorable isn’t quite the right word here. I turned down multiple offers to pet him, and instead encouraged the kids to take him on home, to his home, that is. I am sure his mama was missing him.

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And then there was the turtle, which Nathan found just this afternoon. Unfortunately, this little guy must have had a rough winter, because he was dead. Learning this made Natie cry because he loves turtles so much. But he did what any turtle-lover would do, he buried him. And after a short service, he went off in search of a live one.

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I am sure that if he does not find another turtle, he will find something else worthy of bringing home. Another toad perhaps, or some more caterpillars, another bird or a baby bunny. And when the kids arrive home with their new-found friend, they will ask the age-old question:

“Can we keep him?”