Boardman Lake and Naked Cheesecake

Cold temps, gloomy skies, blustery wind, and snow could not keep us cooped up in the house on Sunday afternoon. The dogs, having not hiked with us much over the summer due to the tick population explosion of recent years, were frantically excited about the prospect of a ride in the car and the promise of a hike. I was excited about the prospect of a piece of pumpkin cheesecake from Olive Garden after our outdoor excursion. (I was also excited to walk somewhere new but was a little apprehensive about whether I’d be freezing the entire time.)

In a nod to the wind and near-freezing temps, I donned three pairs of socks, two pairs of pants, three shirts, a winter coat, gloves, a hat, and hiking boots. Shocker…I was still cold. I would have worn my face mask, but vanity won out.

Note to self: Better to look like a bank robber than have a frozen nose.

We didn’t hike the NCT this time. In fact, I’m not sure you could call what we did hiking. Some might call it “urban hiking.” I prefer to call it was it was. It was a walk. On pavement. Around a lake. Actually just part of a lake. Someday we’ll return and walk the entire 4 miles around the lake, but Sunday was not the day for that. (Thank you time change and ridiculously early sunset.)

We chose the recently completed Boardman Lake Trail in Traverse City for our walk. The new bridges took us out over the water. They were covered with snow, which presented an interesting challenge for Luna. She wanted to pull so as to get over the bridge as quickly as possible. But when she pulled, her feet slipped out from under her.

We saw a large amount of waterfowl, including more swans in one place than I’ve ever seen before, as we were treated to rapidly changing weather. There was snow. There was sun. There was a suspiciously grey sky that threatened more snow.

After returning to the car, we drove to Petsmart so Neville could experience his first shopping trip. How neglectful we’ve been to have not taken him shopping even once in the first five years of his life. Luna, who hasn’t been shopping much herself, was taken aback by both sets of automatic doors. Neville, our nervous fellow, seemed a bit uncertain about the entire experience. His tail remained in the “I’m not having a good time” position as we wandered the aisles in search of some tasty treats. Both dogs get an A+ for the day, though, due to their surprising ability to totally ignore the little dog yipping at them in the checkout lane.

To all the little dog people out there: Sorry, I simply don’t understand the allure of a tiny dog. (I hope that’s not too controversial to say. Again, I’m sorry.) I told Hubby that if we get to the point in our lives where we can’t have a large dog, it’ll be time to adopt a cat again.

After Petsmart, we were off to Olive Garden to pick up my cheesecake. I know. I know. I’ve said many times that I’m cutting out sugar. But pumpkin cheesecake is only available for a limited time and my willpower is only so great. I ordered it, vowing to make it my last piece of cheesecake for the season. (Note that a new season begins in just over a month, and The Cheesecake Factory is only an hour and a half away.) I inspected my sugary treat before we left the parking lot and was slightly dismayed to note that there was no whipped topping. Perhaps, I thought, whipped topping doesn’t do well with take-out and that’s why they left it off. Fine. I’ll get over it. I suppose.

But then…

We got home. I pulled the cheesecake from the fridge after dinner and realized they’d also left off the caramel sauce. All I had was a sad, naked piece of cheesecake that was hardly worthy of Last Cheesecake of the Season status.

Note to Olive Garden: Our relationship has now been severely strained. You nearly lost me when you discontinued the White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake. This latest debacle…there are no words.

As for books…

I may have mentioned that the next best thing to going hiking myself was reading about someone else’s hiking adventures. Yes, that can sometimes be true. Then I read Thru and Back Again: A Hiker’s Journey on the North Country Trail by Luke Jordan. And now I disagree with my original premise.

It wasn’t that I didn’t find his recollection of his time hiking the NCT interesting. I did, in the sense that I liked seeing sections we’d hiked in Michigan and Pennsylvania through someone else’s eyes. What I didn’t enjoy, and it’s what I don’t enjoy about our own high-mile hikes, is that when you’re ticking off mile after mile, you miss some of the wonder. You miss the little things along the way. You miss the tiny mushrooms, the wildflowers, just soaking in the beauty of a moss-line trail. Sure, you notice them. Your eyes take them in, your brain registers them, but you don’t really have the time to crouch down to SEE them.

I did find the author’s epilogue relatable. In it, he recounts the challenges of returning to his regular life after spending more than 200 days on the trail. Last month, Hubby and I went on vacation and spent three days hiking in Pennsylvania and a couple days walking trails and along the beach in Florida and Georgia. We encountered few people, especially in Pennsylvania, and much of our time was spent in the quiet of nature. At the end of our vacation, we attended a family wedding in Florida. The wedding noise–dance music, chatter of talking, etc–was almost overwhelming. And that was after just a week of near solitude. I can only imagine what I’d feel like after 200 days of minimal human interaction and the quiet of the trail.

I do now have a few more places to add to my ever-growing list of places I want to visit after reading about them in his book. I hope to one day visit Watkins Glen State Park and Robert H Treman State Park in New York. I also think I’d like to climb Mt Marcy, though the reviews on All Trails have me thinking I’m going to find myself in a muddy mess.

A Little Sunday Stroll

We wanted to load the dogs in the car, head south, and get in some NCT (North Country Trail) miles near Baldwin, Michigan on Sunday afternoon, but…

There was a minor situation with the garage door that needed fixing after church. Then there was lunch to eat. Then I wondered how muddy the trail would be after Saturday’s rain. Then I wondered if the ticks would still be bad since that is a tick-infested area, and ticks apparently lurk about when it’s above 45 degrees. Then it was two o’clock and, now that we’d set the clocks back an hour, we knew there wouldn’t be much time to hike before dark. When you drive an hour to a trailhead, it’s nice to get more than a mile or so down the trail before having to turn back to beat the dark.

So instead of leaving the neighborhood for our hike, we hiked our neighborhood. It was windy and chilly, but after walking up and down hills and over uneven terrain, I found myself unzipping my winter coat for a few minutes. I quickly cooled down and had to zip it back up. Whenever this happens, I’m always reminded of a story in a childhood book where the sun and the wind compete to see if they could get Goofy to remove his jacket or keep it on.

On our hike, we found Feather Moss (Hypnum imponens) and British Soldiers (Cladonia cristatella), a type of lichen with scarlet tips. Hubby noticed a pair of dried-up milkweed pods near the ground that looked like a bird, and I saw some Reindeer Lichen but did not get a photo.

The dogs enjoyed our little cross-country stroll, and Luna, who is usually all about the shortest route home, thought briefly about extending our hike to the ATV trails in the back of the neighborhood when we asked her which way she wanted to go. (She knows every road and shortcut out here, so she knew what she was doing when she pointed her body toward the trails.) We’d barely moved a step when we heard the sound of gunshots (not unusual or alarming in our neighborhood, especially this close to hunting season when hunters are doing target practice). Luna, though, decided it was time to get us back home and if she had to drag us there, that’s what she’d do. No one is getting mistaken for a deer on her watch.

As for books…

I recently finished reading Legacy by Nora Roberts. I have to say, she redeemed herself, in my opinion, with this book. I’ve been feeling a bit “Meh” about her more recent books (especially her most recent trilogies), but this one was pretty good. I do wonder, though, if she’s got some sort of side deal with Coke where she mentions their product and gets some sort of “product placement” kickback. This is at least the second book where she’s mentioned Coke numerous times. And now I’m curious…Do people really drink Coke for breakfast? Is this a thing? If it is, why? Why are you starting your day with a massive hit of sugar and caffeine? I’m not really judging the caffeine so much, as I like to start my day with a massive mug of tea. It’s the sugar I don’t understand. Do you really have the “energy to get everything done” following a sugar buzz and massive sugar crash? Do you want to destroy your pancreas? And your teeth? Again…not judging. I just don’t understand.

Anyway, I digress, which is standard operating procedure for me. Back to the book–the plot moved well, the characters were interesting, and she kept us guessing until the very last section as to who the “bad guy” was. One thing that confused me, though, was the main character’s job. She made fitness DVDs. Is this still a thing? I used to buy fitness DVDs (and I actually used them), but it seems to me that YouTube workouts, especially those that are planned out by trainers and uploaded almost daily, must be the more popular workout option for those wanting a follow-along format. I know this became my go-to option in 2020. Why would I buy a DVD now and exercise with the same program over and over when I can use one of the thousands of videos available online for free? It seemed that the main character used the internet for blogging/vlogging, so I don’t understand why the author went with a somewhat antiquated method of getting the character’s fitness products to an audience.

The Rainiest of Times, the Gloomiest of Times

It was the rainiest of times. It was the gloomiest of times.

When it wasn’t the rainiest of times, it was the busiest of times.

Welcome to the last little bit of northern Michigan autumn. Though the calendar has not yet declared the first day of winter, we know the chilly temps and blustery winds of the season will arrive well before some arbitrary date in mid-December. We’ve had a few glimpses of it already. We’ve woken to find snow weighing down the tree branches and dusting the deck. We’ve stepped outside into winds whipping the last leaves from the trees. We’ve felt the bite of freezing temperatures on our evening walks with the dogs.

And yet…

The sun and warm temps made a reappearance to melt that snow and push away the gloom of what felt like eons of rain, and we found ourselves enjoying a real fall. Suddenly, there was the good weather we needed to get all of our outdoor chores accomplished.

Was this a good thing? I suppose. It is, after all, better to get the lease raked in the fall than it is to have them moldering under the snow all winter. (Spare me the “Leaves Aren’t Litter” nonsense that has infiltrated my Facebook feed this year. When you suffer from allergies, slimy, moldy leaves are not your friend in the spring. The spiders and critters can happily over-winter under the leaves where I relocated them at the edge of the property.)

(Oh. My. Goodness. The spiders have been something this fall. They’ve been lurking on the front porch at night, waiting to run inside whenever Hubby opens the door to let the dogs out. I’m sure you can understand why I’d want them to over-winter just a bit further from the house.)

It wasn’t just the leaves keeping us busy. There was firewood to haul, windows to wash (I’d rather over-winter under the leaves with the spiders than have to wash windows), a garden to dig up, and door trim to paint. (I was so excited to get to that door trim painting that I stalled by cleaning kitchen cupboards.)

Funny story about that door trim: Hubby thought it would only take an hour to paint. Ha! By the time I’d scraped and taped and first coated and second coated, I’d been out there all afternoon. I think I’ll let him show me how to get it done in an hour the next time it needs re-painted!

Unfortunately, with all the work that needed to get done before the cold weather returned, we didn’t get to enjoy the beautiful weather in the way beautiful weather should be enjoyed: HIKING. All I wanted was to be non-adult about all the adulting that needed doing and say, “Mañana to our responsibilities, and get out on the trail. But we just couldn’t do that. We’d like to actually be warm this winter and have clean windows to peer through when looking at the snow.

After a week of hard work, though, it was wonderful to enjoy a well-earned day of rest on Saturday when the rain and high winds reappeared. I read. I cross-stitched. I binged a television show. I ate waaaaay too many of the leftover Rice Krispie treats I only made because the kids had been home. It was wonderful. Mostly. The sugar high was something to behold and a good reminder of why I’ve been limiting my sugar intake.

Is it too much to ask for one more week of lovely weather now that our work is finished? (Mostly. We still have a bit of wood to move.) One weekend free of rain so we can get out on the trail before the trail is buried under a foot of snow and ice? It looks like we might get that week, but the forecast is showing flakes for the weekend. Bummer.

As for books…

I recently finished reading Wilderness: The Gateway to the Soul by Scott Stillman. What’s the next best thing to going hiking? Reading about hiking, of course. But this book wasn’t just about hiking. It was about exploring out-of-the-way places, going deep within them, and eschewing modern distractions while there, in hopes that we can find who we are when everything is stripped away. It was reminiscent of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire–the good parts of that book, not the icky, semi-political view parts which would not be acceptable today.

Much of what Stillman wrote resonated with me, and I bookmarked the most interesting thoughts with torn bits of paper. There were so many bits of paper protruding from the book that Hubby made a comment.

“…how can I possibly justify not seeing all there is to see? Every beach, every mountain, every river, every trail! I want to see it all. There is so much beauty. And only so much time.” – Scott Stillman, Wilderness

There’s only so much time, AND there’s only so much money. That’s a sad truth I don’t want to dwell on. The advice I keep seeing on Facebook (one of those modern inventions I should be eschewing to make room for more important matters) tells me I need to get out and travel, that I can always make money but I can’t always make memories, or something like that. But living requires money. We can’t ignore the fact that there will be a time when we’ll need to live on retirement savings. We also can’t guarantee that we’ll live long enough to spend the money we spent a lifetime saving. As with all things, we need balance, and that Facebook advice doesn’t preach that message.

Later, the author states,

“This is the easiest time to be alive. Poverty, violence hatred, greed. Sure they exist, as they have for centuries. These things are not new. The media is new.” – Scott Stillman

He then goes on to say what I’ve said for years now. “Turn off the evening news.” If I could only follow my own, and his, advice. I watch a bit of news and scroll through Twitter (which is an absolute hellhole wasteland of craziness), and I feel pulled into a pit of depression and despair. Then I turn it off, shut it down, and look around. The world looks pretty good outside my window. The people I know? Sure, they’ve got flaws, but they aren’t the raving lunatics that seem to exist on our screens.

Someone once told me I needed to watch the news so I wouldn’t be ignorant. Honestly, I’d rather be ignorant than depressed. And, when the news is more feelings and opinions than facts, aren’t we all still ignorant when we’re done watching, as well as depressed?

Finally, I will leave you with one more quote from the book which I believe should be taken to heart.

“Whenever I have a decision to make, I base my choice on what would yield the most fun. Because he who has the most fun wins.” – Scott Stillman

Have fun.

Yes, even when you’re in the midst of the most tedious, boring, muscle-tiring task of pushing a wheelbarrow full of wood up a hill equal to three flights of stairs, there’s always a way to make it fun: Listening to Christmas music in October, laughing at grown men discussing excrement on a fitness podcast, or inventing creative curses as your leg and back muscles scream from overuse. Life is too short to take everything so seriously. As an added bonus, your good-natured, fun-loving attitude will peeve any perennially-jaded relatives.

The Great Fall Adventure Days 8-10: Kissimmee

After Mickey Mouse-shaped waffles at our hotel near Disney World, we headed out for a morning walk at the Kissimmee Lakefront Park. Much to my surprise and delight, I spotted the Monument of States almost as soon as we got out of the car. The day before, when I’d been perusing things to do in Kissimmee that didn’t have anything to do with long lines, rides, and Mickey Mouse, I’d stumbled across the Monument of States. As one commenter had reviewed it harshly, saying it was run down, I figured it wouldn’t be worth visiting. But there it was, right down the street from where we’d parked. So before we headed to the lakefront pathway, we strolled the block or two to the monument.

We spent several minutes locating the Michigan blocks, then continued to the lakefront walkway, where we birdwatched, spotted some flooding from Hurricane Ian, and burned off some calories. I’m really thankful that, other than on our first day of hiking in Pennsylvania, we had beautiful weather for our trip. There’s nothing worse than going on vacation and being forced to do indoor activities. In my opinion. I’m not into touristy trap stuff. Especially if the admission fee is out of this world. (I’m looking at you, Kennedy Space Center, whose admission price has exploded since I was last there at age ten.)

Following our walk, we drove to the Gaylord Palms Resort where we spent a few hours visiting with family and drinking NA piña coladas by the pool. Later that evening we returned to the Gaylord Palms for a wedding. Not to sound like an old fuddy-duddy at the ripe old age of 40-something, but after spending nearly a week in the woods or walking on the beach mostly by ourselves, pounding dance music is a bit overwhelming. I promised Hubby one dance–not being a fan of dancing–and he managed to get two out of me despite my attempts to vacate the dance floor. The nerve!

We rose early in the morning and began the 2-day drive home. We kept our stops to a minimum in order to get back to our distressed puppers as soon as possible. As two of our kids were in the midst of their fall semester at college (the third lives downstate and has two cats) and couldn’t be home to pet sit, we’d been forced to board the dogs. We decided to go with an option that wasn’t the vet’s office since the little guy had been horribly traumatized by staying there once before. This time, though, both dogs found the experience not to their liking and ended up with some tummy distress. As the kids had been available to pick them up a couple days before we returned home, they’d had the “fun” of dealing with the results of that tummy distress. We had the “fun” and nearly $200 vet bill of dealing with it when we got home because our big girl ended up with colitis caused by stress and time and a bland diet did not return her gut to normal. It took pills..multiple pills a day. And she hates pills. Sigh.

As for books, Hubby and I listened to the short story The Hangman by Louise Penny while driving in Florida. This is book 6.5 in the Inspector Gamache series. We were disappointed that this audiobook had a different narrator than the past 6 books and are hoping the original narrator will be the reader for the other books in the series. After listening to the same person for 6 books, we’ve become used to how the narrator does the characters’ voices, so it was a little difficult to follow the story when new voices were used.

The Great Fall Adventure Day 7 – Florida Fun

American Beauty Berry

The morning of day 7 of our Great Fall Adventure found us wandering about, vaguely lost, at the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens. While not free like most of our outdoor adventures, $3/person to enter wasn’t too much to pay for a walk through some beautiful scenery in 13 diverse ecosystems. As it was fall, there weren’t many flowering plants still in bloom, though we did enjoy seeing pops of color from the blooming American Beauty Berry (Callicarpa Americana), which we were convinced was Laurel Leaf Snailseed due to a sign posted nearby that was apparently meant to indicate another plant.

As to wandering about, vaguely lost…it would have helped immensely if the trail names on the map kiosks matched the names on the trail signage. It also would have helped if we had picked up a map before beginning our wanderings. Alas, we were 50% to blame for not knowing exactly where we were most of the time. I give the other 50% of the blame to the Arboretum for poor signage.

We also should have taken water with us. Rookie mistake! And we aren’t rookies.

I believe we traveled down most of the available trails before returning to the car for one of our standard on-the-road lunches–peanut butter sandwiches, Fritos, and fruit. We simply can’t travel without our Fritos. (What I wouldn’t give to get some sort of advertising money for mentioning Fritos over and over again! Hey, Fritos, can we make this happen? I’m going to add a Fritos tag on here. Do you think someone in corporate will see it?)

As morning turned to afternoon, we pointed the car toward Anastasia State Park.

What a wonderful choice Anastasia was, and we hadn’t even had it on our radar when planning this trip. We hiked the Ancient Dunes Trail and believe we saw most of it even though we had to detour a bit due to some standing water left by Hurricane Ian. We then headed for the beach, which we were thrilled to find we’d have mostly to ourselves, and walked and collected shells until we felt like turning back.

Finally, tired from all the walking and a little more tanned from our time in the sun, we headed toward dinner at Cracker Barrel and our hotel in Kissimmee, where we were thrilled to find we’d been upgraded to a room on the top floor that had two bathrooms, a living room, a separate bedroom, and a kitchen. We felt like royalty living it up in the penthous. All we’d planned on was a standard room!

As for books…

I recently listened to Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson. Bless this woman’s husband for all he must put up with. It sounds like she’s given him some interesting times, especially with the taxidermied raccoon. I am thankful she is willing to shine a light on the struggles of mental illness, as it is an area of health that still has too much stigma surrounding it. And I appreciate her ability to add some humor to how she handles it. We all take too much too seriously and need the ability to laugh at our own struggles. (I’ve been known to laugh about my “corpse hands” now and then. Thanks, Raynaud’s Disease, for blessing me with hands that are generally a deathly shade of purple.)

The Great Fall Adventure – Days 5 & 6

What is the worst thing about traveling?

For me, it’s long days spent in the car. Sure, the company is great. Hubby and I find plenty to talk about and enjoy listening to audiobooks together. But sitting for HOURS at a time with nothing really FUN planned for an entire day of VACATION seems like a waste of vacation. Our fifth day of vacation was such a day as we drove from Pennsylvania all the way to Columbia, SC, which was to be our stopping point for the night.

Our GPS gave us an estimate of slightly less than ten hours of road time. That’s totally doable, but it is a lot of hours on the road. Then, when you add in stops for lunch (We chose Olive Garden. It took a bit longer than grabbing fast food, but can we say, “PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE?!”) and dinner and restroom visits, you’ve got something like a 12-13-hour day on the road. All you’re doing is sitting in the car, so why is it so exhausting?

It was late by the time we reached our hotel for the night, an incredibly nice Hampton Inn. Following breakfast the next day, we briefly considered heading over to the Obama Convenience Store to take a selfie. Hubby was all for it. My brother, to whom I’d mentioned the idea before we left home, was rooting for us to go there. He promised to make us the wallpaper on his computer if we went and snapped a photo. I was apprehensive. Should we risk going somewhere we know has been the scene of many segments of Live PD (On Patrol, now) multiple times? A quick Google search gave us our answer. No, we should not. We absolutely should not visit a store that the police have been called to over 770 times in a two-year period. (Meeting Captain Danny Brown of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department would have put the cherry on the day but I didn’t relish meeting him in any official capacity if I could avoid doing so.)

(Just going to throw this out there: If you’re not watching On Patrol, what are you even doing with your life? It is the best entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights.)

Dreams of selfies thoroughly squashed, we continued on our way to Jekyll Island State Park in Georgia. Jekyll Island was a spot we had tentatively listed on our vacation itinerary prior to leaving home. (Originally we had planned to go to Congaree National Park with Jekyll as an extra option if we had time. As Congaree sustained damage from the hurricane, we chose not to go there on this trip.) As the island had not been subjected to any real damage from Hurricane Ian, we were able to visit.

We spent the afternoon wandering along Driftwood Beach, where Hubby nearly got accosted by a crab that was trying to return to its hole in the sand that Hubby was almost standing on. Driftwood Beach is, as the name implies, home to many massive hunks of driftwood. We also enjoyed walking a long nature trail on the island and visiting Horton Pond, where we found a pair of alligators. We walked the short path from Horton Pond to the Horton House, a tabby house, but found the house to be a popular spot for people getting professional photographs taken. We were unable to enter the house due to a family using it for this purpose and chose not to wait for them to leave as the bugs were biting. Alas, a look inside from afar had to suffice. After a quick dinner of chili dogs and blizzards at the island’s Dairy Queen, we pointed the car toward Jacksonville, Florida, which was to be our stopping point for the day.

As for books…

I recently finished reading My Killer Vacation by Tessa Bailey. I enjoyed the story, but –insert wide-eyed expression of shock here–HOLY COW! I wish I had read the author’s bio before starting this book. Apparently, she’s the Michelangelo of dirty talk. Yep. I’d say that’s about right. She’d have nuns falling over in horror at the language AND at the actions of the hero and heroine while inside a Catholic church vestibule. (In fact, some nuns walked in at this point in the story. Thankfully once activities had ceased.)

I enjoyed the story, but, honestly, I don’t really find that the dirty talk and extreme descriptions really add all that much. Call me a prude. Whatever.

We met a nice stranger who showed us this perfect spot for a photo and took pictures for us. This one might make it on our Christmas cards this year.

The Great Fall Adventure Day 4 – The Allegheny River Trail

Did we plan on walking two dogs on Day 4 of our Great Fall Adventure? No, we did not. After all, we’d left our two pups back in Michigan. And yet, there we were, on a trail with two strange dogs.

But we’ll get to that part of our adventure in a moment.

First, let’s explain how we ended up on the Allegheny River Trail, a trail a bit more, shall we say, civilized than we would ordinarily pick for a vacation adventure. Civilized as in flat and paved and occasionally passing right by houses. We’re generally all about climbing over roots and rocks on trails “paved” with pine needles.

(Quick stats on the Allegheny River Trail, which is also a portion of the North Country Trail. It’s a rails-to-trails trail of 30 miles running beside the Allegheny River between Franklin and Parker, PA. You can find more info here:

Our legs were tired–tired of hills mostly–so we knew we didn’t have a full day of rough terrain in us. But having done 26.4 miles of Pennsylvania hiking the past two days, we could see that the PA Hike 50 patch that we’d thought might be out of reach might just be possible to earn IF we could knock off the remaining 23.6 miles needed. It would be difficult, we knew, seeing how our previous max miles for a day was 21, with those miles being done on fresh legs. We figured our legs could handle a long hike on flat ground if our feet could hold up to the beating they would take on the pavement of the Allegheny River Trail. Another tick on the plus side to doing this portion of the NCT was that there was a cool tunnel. (There are actually two tunnels, but we wouldn’t be traveling that far down the trail.) If we couldn’t hit that 23.6-mile goal, we knew we’d at least get close enough that we could maybe finish up the few miles needed to hit 50 in the morning before heading off on the southern part of our adventure.

We set out in the brisk morning air for the town of Emlenton, where we knew parking was available. Had we known there was a small parking lot available at the far end of the Rockland Tunnel (our midpoint), we would have parked there. This would have allowed us to leave half our supplies in the car and refuel before starting the second leg of our trip. As it was, we had to carry everything we would need for nearly 24 miles.

The miles ticked by quickly. The weather warmed, and I went from a coat and winter hat down to a hoodie and ball cap as the day progressed. (By the time we finished our hike, the winter duds would be back on.) As we reached the six-mile point and neared the Rockland Tunnel, we saw a couple doggos heading toward us on the trail. Hubby insisted that I get behind him for protection, though I’m not sure why as I am used to strays from my days spent volunteering at an animal shelter. (Here’s where I make the sure-to-be-controversial statement that I never met a mean pitbull. And I interacted with many. But I digress…)

The black dog (Nellie) was unsure of us, approaching and barking, then backing away as we neared. The white dog (Sophie) approached with a look on her face that could only be described as, “I made a huge mistake, and I’m so happy you’re going to fix this.” Seeing Sophie’s acceptance of us, Nellie determined that we weren’t scary people and came close enough for us to get ahold of her and check out the tags on her collar.

A few phone calls and one makeshift leash that I’d MacGyver-ed out of my backpack drawstring later, and we’d arranged with their owner to proceed through the 1/2-mile-long Rockland Tunnel to the parking lot on the other side where she could pick them up. As we waited for her to arrive with time ticking by, we began getting concerned that our unplanned rescue might keep us from hitting our goal. But what are you going to do? Leave those two out there to fend for themselves. Clearly not. 45 minutes later, the dogs were safely in their owner’s car and we were back on our way.

At approximately the 12-mile mark, we turned around and started back to the trailhead. Snacks were running low and our energy was flagging probably by about mile 16. But we pressed on. There was nothing for it. We had to keep walking. Though it seemed as if we would never reach the car, finally, there it was.

And our 50 miles were complete!

Besides rescuing the doggos, cool trail moments were seeing a massive spider, spotting a snake peeking out from under a leaf, having a deer almost run onto the trail in front of us, and walking through the Rockland Tunnel. By the way, if you ever plan to hike here, make sure to have a light source of some kind. Those tunnels are DARK.

As for books, I recently finished reading Love in the Time of Serial Killers by Alicia Thompson. I’m going to give this one a “meh” rating. Do I really want to delve into why? I probably shouldn’t. Let’s just say the plot wasn’t quite what I was expecting, I didn’t really like the main character because she really didn’t have too many redeeming qualities, and when the author called another author who is immensely more talented simply due to opposing political views a derogatory term, I probably should have tossed this book right into the library book return without reading any further. The only thing I’m thankful for is that I didn’t pay for this book.

The Great Fall Adventure Day 3 – Cook Forest State Park

Back in January, I picked a word for the year. That word was “Uncomfortable.” I quickly began to regret my word choice as life seemed to find all sorts of ways to make me uncomfortable…probably so I could live up to the quote I wrote in red gel pen in my bullet journal: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

(See this post for more on how choosing this word may have been a mistake!)

Anyway, day 2 of our Great Fall Adventure had clearly launched us straight outta the Comfort Zone and straight into a hiking nightmare. Rain, cold, wet socks, slippery rocks. But we survived. I’m not sure if Hubby felt like life began at the end of our comfort zone that day, but I sure didn’t. I felt more numb than alive after 4 hours in the wet and cold. Now, dry and warm and cozy in our happy home, I can almost look back on that day with, if not fondness, but a small amount of something that isn’t quite nostalgia…I don’t long to return to that day, but I’m maybe…thankful?…for having my limits tested and for finding out that I can do difficult things.

Day 3 of our Great Fall Adventure brought yet another uncomfortable moment, this time in the form of an old fire tower. But we’ll get to that in a moment.

The morning started off foggy. Thankfully, there was no rain in the forecast. We set off on the North Country Trail from the Cook Forest State Park Visitor Center, heading south. The trail was wide and well-maintained, moving upward at a slight incline. It wasn’t long, though, before we were back on rocky terrain similar to what we’d traveled on the day before.

Can you imagine these rhododendrons in bloom? It must be amazing!

Is there anything better than hiking through a moss-shrouded forest? I can’t think of too many things that rank higher.

After many uphills and downhills followed by passing through what felt like a secret passage through the lushest rhododendrons I’ve ever seen (I have serious rhododendron envy right now), we came to it:

The fire tower.

I’d seen it on the map. I’d seen it in a tourism video. I didn’t want to climb it. I knew that I would.

I have a bit of a fear of heights. And that fire tower was tall. It was 87.5 feet tall, to be specific.

It felt like it was 500 feet tall.

A sign on the side declared that only 6 people could climb it at one time. I thought that maybe if you have to limit it to just 6, perhaps it should be limited to none.

We started up and up and up. There were two people behind us, which increased my nervousness tenfold. The top platform (not the very top, as that was closed off) was tiny, barely big enough for the four of us, let alone the six that were allowed. The tower swayed slightly in the breeze, and though I knew from reading an informational sign that it had withstood many windstorms in the past, I was not confident in its ability to handle a breeze. I crouched down, body fully behind the railing as if that would protect me should the tower succumb to the gentle fall breeze, and snapped a few quick photos. I then declared it time to leave. I thought going down would be better than the climb, but it wasn’t. I was incredibly happy when my feet were back on solid ground.

I wouldn’t ordinarily share such an unflattering photo of myself, but Hubby got a candid shot of me on top of the tower that perfectly shows just how much fun I was having.

After the tower, we continued on the trail, which went downhill for what felt like FOREVER. We passed a pair of young men who were coming up the trail just as we started down, and I marveled at how out of breath they were. I commented to Hubby that they were clearly out of shape, despite the fact that they were young and looked to be in good shape. Guess what? I was huffing and puffing and sweating when we climbed that hill on our return trip. I owe them an apology for my thoughts.

We climbed yet another hill as we continued on, eventually finding ourselves in a delightful copse of maple trees that smells just like maple syrup. Soon, we came to a rock cairn and a bench overlooking the mountains. We continued just a little further to a road that would make for a great landmark should we ever return to hike more of the trail in Pennsylvania before turning back. After lunch on the bench, we retraced our steps, making one slight misturn onto another trail on the way back to the parking lot. We quickly righted our mistake, after noting that a bridge we were crossing seemed unfamiliar. Once back at the car, we enjoyed a quick snack before heading north on the trail in the gathering darkness for another mile or so.

Our total for the day was 14 miles.

As for books…

I recently finished The Cactus by Sarah Haywood. I actually wasn’t certain, when I first picked up this book if I was going to finish reading it. Call it the Vacation Book Curse, if you will, that had me wondering if this story was worth my time.

Here’s what happens: I pack approximately 462 books when I go on vacation. I rarely read even one from beginning to end on a trip. Usually, at the end of the day, I’m too exhausted from all of the fresh air and hiking that reading takes just too much energy. Thus, it takes me forever to get past the first 20 pages of a book. Another “thus,” I start to think the book I’m reading must not be all that great if it takes me a week to get through those 20 pages.

However, I persevered when we got home and found that it was actually a delightful book with a delightful main character who grew much between the first and last page.

The Great Fall Adventure Day 2 – Slippery Rock Gorge Trail

It was a day that would test us physically and mentally and ruin any trust in weather forecasters that still remained. (Having been caught in unexpected rain showers several times over the years while out hiking, my trust in forecasts and those who make them has been at an all-time low for a while now.)

You may recall that we had chosen Pennsylvania as our vacation destination due to the clear skies predicted for the foreseeable future. The forecast very clearly read, “No rain for the next 10 days,” or something to that effect. Considering how often meteorologists can’t accurately predict the weather for the next hour, they really have no business making such grand claims for a ten-day period.

Our first indication that something wasn’t quite right with the forecast was the gloomy skies that greeted us in the morning as we stepped out of our hotel with bellies full of free hotel breakfast. The second sign that we might have unfavorable hiking conditions came when raindrops began dotting our windshield. Heart sinking and thoughts of ruined plans running rampant through my mind, I pulled up the weather forecast which now showed a high chance of rain for the ENTIRE day.

But, full of optimism (or stupidity?), we drove on toward the trailhead. By the time we reached the parking lot for Hell’s Hollow Falls at McConnells Mill State Park, the rain had ceased, and we assumed (one should never assume anything) that maybe, just maybe, the only rain we might see that day would be just of the sprinkle variety. We could handle that. We had ponchos in our backpacks. And unlike the Wicked Witch of the West, we don’t melt when we get wet.

We set off on the Slippery Rock Gorge Trail, bypassing the side trail to Hell’s Hollow Falls with the plan to walk that short trail at the end of the day if our legs still had some miles left in them.

The weather, with temps in the mid-50s, for the entire 6.2 miles through the gorge couldn’t have been more pleasant. We briefly marveled over how dry Hell Run (Creek? Stream?) was, noting that we would have no trouble crossing it without getting our feet wet if we wanted to take a shortcut through the relatively dry streambed to the Hell’s Falls Trail on our return trip rather than walk nearly all the way back to the trailhead where the gorge trail and the falls trail split. We snapped photos at Natural Bridge, which is, as its incredibly creative name implies, a natural bridge. We passed through Walnut Flats, where I’m pretty sure there were no walnuts other than the ones in our trail mix. There was, however, a flotation ring all by its lonesome in the middle of practically nowhere. (As Slippery Rock Creek runs parallel to the trail, perhaps this flotation device is provided so hikers can aid paddlers or other hikers who dare to dip their toes in the water at this location.) After three hours, we reached Eckert Bridge, where we finished our lunch and “enjoyed” the company of one very persistent yellow jacket.

Then, it was decision time. Would we continue on to McConnell’s Mill, another mile or so down the trail or would we retrace our steps back to the trailhead, check out Hell’s Hollow Falls, and drive on to the Mill, which we’d heard from a pair of hikers we’d encountered earlier in the day was a nice place to visit?

We decided, wisely, as we soon discovered, to head back toward the car.

Shortly after starting back, we felt sprinkles. In just a few minutes, it became obvious that we’d need to put on the lovely, red ponchos that make us look like Teletubbies. I am too vain to post the photo of us in our ponchos here. Before we knew it, it was pouring. There was one brief moment when it seemed to let up, then the tail end of Hurricane Ian reared up for one last hurrah.

The trail became one continuous puddle.

Our ponchos did what they could, but they could only cover so much. Our shirt sleeves began to get wet. Our pant legs were soon soaked. Water sloshed through our shoes, despite our attempt to avoid the water running through the middle of the trail.

Did I mention it was 54 degrees?

My fingers grew numb. As did my toes.

As the miles and hours ticked by, I longed to see the sign that would tell us we had only two more miles to go. (That was the only sign in the gorge that gave mileage.) When it finally appeared, I muttered to myself, “Only two more miles to go. You’re almost there. Then you can get warm.”

Those last two sentences would become my mantra for the last two miles (that actually felt like way more than two miles).

If there was one consolation about the whole thing, it was that we weren’t the only people silly enough to be out hiking the trail that day. We’d passed or been passed by several trail runners in the morning. (I’m going to say that running this rocky, rooty trail is probably not in your ankles’ best interest.) And we’d passed or been passed by seven people in the rainy afternoon. Consolation #2 and #3 were the experiences of having a fox run right onto the trail in front of me and finding a snakeskin.

When we passed that streambed that had been relatively dry in the morning on our way back to the car, it was full of water. (See photos below. The photo on the left was from the morning. The one on the right was from the afternoon.)

I probably don’t need to even say this, but we did not hike out to Hell’s Hollow Falls. We also did not drive to the mill. What I did do, was change out of my dripping shirt right in the parking lot, doing my best to not flash anything inappropriate at the man sitting in the car near ours. Thankfully, I have mastered the shirt change-out maneuver to the point where no one has to be embarrassed. My dripping pants were shed in the car (as I could think of no way to easily maneuver out of them in the parking lot without creating quite a scene) and exchanged for dry ones. Poor Hubby chose to keep his wet jeans on and was shivering on the drive to the hotel and was still shivering by the time we got to our hotel room. My fingers were so numb I couldn’t open my own granola bar or bottle of water, and I did not enjoy the helpless feeling at all.

If you ever choose to hike this trail, note that signs on either end of the trail offer different warnings about how many hours to allow. I’m fairly certain the sign at the trailhead off Shaffer Road stated to allow 6 hours to hike the 6.2 miles to Eckert Bridge and back. At Eckert Bridge, the sign says to allow 4.5 hours each way. We ended up taking 7 hours to hike the trail–3 hours out and 4 back. Our return time would have been less had the weather been good. Also of note, this trail is part of the North Country National Scenic Trail. Yea! We added to our 100-mile goal for the year.

As for books…

Hubby and I finished listening to Fall Out by Carrie Stuart Parks on the drive. This one was kind of “meh” for me. I’m fairly certain I’ve never read or listened to any other books by this author, and I probably won’t do so again. This book did have decent reviews on Amazon, so maybe I was just missing something. Hubby and I did like the inclusion of Bible verses and the element of faith woven throughout.

The Great Fall Adventure

There wasn’t supposed to be a fall trip. Having been to Texas in December and The Smokies and Mammoth Cave in May, we were vacationed out.

Well…maybe not vacationed out in the sense that we didn’t want to have more adventures. More like vacationed out in the sense that money doesn’t grow on trees and decent hotel rooms are not at all cheap. (Plus, we’d need to board the dogs as no college-aged offspring would be available for pet-sitting duty, and their “hotel” doesn’t come cheap either. Our little potatoes with legs, aka guinea pigs, went on a college adventure to our daughter’s dorm room, so at least they wouldn’t need a paid caretaker.)

But there was a family wedding planned in Florida, and could we be the only family members to not show up?

We could not.

If we had to drive to Florida, there definitely needed to be something fun happening along the way to sweeten the deal of having to travel that far and having to endure wedding festivities. (Can everyone just please elope?)

While the mountains were calling, the forecast looked appalling. Plan A involved visiting Shenandoah National Park for a few days of hiking before continuing to Congaree National Park and Florida. After seeing a less-than-agreeable forecast (and finding out that portions of the already small Congaree National Park had been damaged by Hurricane Ian), we opted for Plan B, which meant there was no real plan other than to get to Florida in time for the wedding.

I am not a spontaneous kind of gal. I like my days planned out. I like to know exactly what’s coming. But this week would be all about spontaneity.

As we pursued ideas for the first few days of our trip, a favorable ten-day forecast for western Pennsylvania had us pointing our car in that direction.

But first…

My summer wish list had included a trip to Dow Gardens in Midland, MI, to see the giant wooden bugs on display there. We hadn’t made it there during the summer, but, since it was on the way to Pennsylvania, we decided to stop there to see the bugs (which would be leaving shortly after we returned home to Michigan) and stretch our legs before continuing on our drive. My parents, who have never been there either, decided to meet us there.

The big bugs did not disappoint. The ladybug was my favorite.

The gardens and walkways were beautiful.

And the canopy walk in the Whiting forest was enjoyable…except for the clear floor part where we could see the trees under our feet. As not a fan of heights, this and the rope bridge were real “testers” for me.

After exploring for a couple hours (and five miles), Hubby and I set off for Pennsylvania.

As for books…

I finished The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood on the first leg of our trip. It was a delightful, humorous, brainy romance. I look forward to reading more books by this author.

Stay tuned for more vacation adventures.