Thursday, June 27, 2013

Almost Heaven...West Virginia

What do you get when you take one of the most scenic places east of the Mississippi and add a dozen fit, outdoorsy and positive women?  Magic I tell you...absolute magic!

This past Fall, my friends Chris, Caroline and I went to Canaan Valley, WV for our AGAW--Annual Girls Adventure Weekend.  We had an absolutely amazing time and in fact, it was so much fun, I couldn't wait to return and share the experience with a larger group of friends.  So this past weekend, I organized a three day, Girls Adventure Getaway back to Canaan--one of my favorite places in the mid-Atlantic.

First up on our agenda was climbing the Via Ferrata, which is a fixed route climb up and over two parallel sheer rock faces.  The Via Ferrata, Italian for "Iron Road," has steel rungs and cables anchored into the rock which climbers clip into and out of, as they scale the mountains. 

Ten of us began the climb and one opted out early. 

L to R:  Heather, Kim, Laura, Amy, Jody, Kristi, Paula, Chris and I
The Via Ferrata is safe, but it isn't the place for anyone with a fear of heights as you'll be able to see from the pictures below.

Along the way, we had to cross one of the highest pedestrian suspension bridges in North America (it may actually be the highest).  The photos are deceiving--it's actually much higher than it looks.  As we got to the bridge, the wind kicked up which made the bridge sway even more...which of course added to the thrill of crossing it.


After we crossed the bridge, we continued climbing to the summit.  Here's Jody on the top (notice the suspension bridge far below).

Jody on the summit.




L to R:  Heather, Kim, Laura and Amy on first summit

Kristi on the way up
This picture below cracks me up.  Jody is a total stud--heck she's done the RAAM (Race Across America) on a two person team, but as you can see, she's not crazy about heights.  Her idea of a good view was staring at the rock face right in front of her...while holding on for dear life.  :)

The group on the top of the second summit, with spectacular views of the Allegheny Mountains as far as we could see.

Once we finished, we shared a few celebratory beers with our two guides.   They were great and absolutely loved us--in fact, they asked if they could join our "chicks only" group.  Sorry dudes, no boys allowed!

You know you're getting old when your guides are young enough to be your children :-)!

From the Via Ferrata, we headed to Timberline Ski Resort in Canaan Valley.  I have a friend who generously offered to let us use his ski Chalet for weekend.  We got settled in and cooked tons of healthy food, drank some beer and wine and stayed up late chatting, laughing and getting to know one another better.

On Saturday we awoke and headed into the small town of Davis to participate in the Canaan Valley Mountain Bike Festival.  The Festival had a half dozen scheduled mt bike rides, all of which were led by well known locals.  The rides varied in length and difficulty.  The vast majority of our group opted to do The Nature Tour--a ride that was "medium" in terms of length and difficulty--and was led by Chippy Carefree, a total character who also happens to own White Grass Cross Country Ski Area.  (We all loved Chippy and he loved the end, he was calling us the Fresh Air Girls and he also asked to join our group as well.  I guess there's something inviting about being with a group of people who are so obviously enjoying themselves.)

We headed over to the Canaan Valley Institute and rode on the Camp 70 trails for 3 1/2 hours.

We rode through wildflower filled meadows,

and through gorgeous fern forests,

and through numerous "rock gardens."  The trails were technical and there were a few spills.  In fact, we had to help "rescue" one of the men in our group who fell on a rock garden and broke several ribs.  It was neat seeing Amy, a physical therapist, step up and take charge in her gently soothing, yet confident manner.


Here's Chippy and the "Fresh Air Girls" along the Blackwater River.  (How can you not love a guy named Chippy Carefree???)

While we were busy riding the Camp 70 trails, Lorene and Virginia opted to do a longer tour--a 30 mile ride led by Sue Haywood--a well known, professional mt biker.


Once we returned to our chalet, Clair--a gifted and experienced yoga instructor, led us through a 45 minute class.  I have to sheepishly admit that I have been playing a myriad of sports, running, biking, hiking, backpacking and adventure racing for the past 38 years...and this yoga class, which was supposed to be relaxing, totally kicked my ass!  I am the least flexible person I know...The only position that felt somewhat comfortable was the child's pose--and that's only because I subsequently discovered I was doing it wrong.  :-)  Fortunately, Clair has inspired me to really start working on my flexibility.

By now, as the result of shared experiences over the course of two physically challenging days, we were all good friends.  It's amazing how quickly and thoroughly we bonded.  So that night, rather than go into town, we opted to eat in the chalet and enjoy each others' company.  We talked and laughed about everything under the sun. We shared our hopes, dreams and fears.  We opened up about adventures gone bad, crazy ex'es and some of the challenges we were currently facing.  We talked about global events, good books and places to visit.  Needless to say, it was sisterhood at its finest!

The next morning, 7 of us set out to hike 8-9 miles in Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.  I've been hiking there several times before, but this was the first time I was able to access the Sods via Timberline's Private Access Trail.  Normally, visitors have to drive at least 30-40 minutes along twisty, gravel forest roads to get to the public access points.  This time, we could access the wilderness via a 5 minute walk from our cabin door--it was awesome!  Consequently, I was able to experience a whole new area of Dolly Sods that I hadn't seen before. 


Dolly Sods is a rocky, high altitude plateau with a micro climate which results in vegetation more like what you'd expect to see in northern Canada, rather than West Virginia.  As an aside, Dolly Sods is named after an 18th century homesteading family (The Dahles) and Sods is a term for an open, mountaintop meadow. (Thanks Wikipedia--We were wondering how it got its name.)

It was amazing the number of different eco systems we passed through over the course of 9 miles.  From pine forests,

to huge boulder gardens

which were fun to scramble and hop along,

to fern gardens and soggy bogs--they were all spectacular.  In fact, we found one gorgeous campsite tucked into a small stand of pines that was calling our names.

This photo totally cracks me up.  Kristi is a master naturalist and while walking through this mucky bog, she spotted an unusual wildflower.  She was calling for people to come check it out.  Clair in the meantime, was shin deep in muck and was running and hopping away, exclaiming "Ewww, I don't care...I don't care about the flower."  It was hilarious.  Heather is imitating Clair's reaction and laughing hysterically while doing so.

We decided to leave our mark and used a few of the approximately 2 billion rocks to make a cairn.

 It will be fun to see if it's still standing next time we return.


 And there will be a next time, for we shall return...

Each night we were treated to amazing sunset views from our chalet.

I've been home now for 3 days and I still have a silly, ear-to-ear grin plastered across my face.  I'm already dreaming about our next Girls Adventure Getaway...and don't think I can wait an entire year to experience something so good again.  In fact, I know I can't!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

These Hands...

These are my father's hands...the hands that helped raise me and shape me into the person I am today. It's not often that I've written a tribute to my Dad--in fact, I think this may be the first time I've ever done so.  However, my Dad recently turned 75 years old and I want him to know just how much I love him and understand just how much he's positively impacted my life.

My Dad is part of the older generation of men--a generation who demonstrated their love for their families by working hard and providing for them. Because of my father's hard work, talent and dedication, his business began to flourish which enabled my mom to stay home and raise all five of us kids.  Furthermore, we were able to live in a comfortable home, pursue our passions, take lessons, play a multitude of sports, attend camps, study and travel abroad and graduate from the colleges we wanted (debt free).  It was only after I became an adult and parent myself, that I was truly able to appreciate the sacrifices my Dad made for us and realize just how positively life changing these gifts and opportunities were.

My Dad also impacted my life in so many other ways as well.  For starters, he instilled in me a love of the outdoors that has been a driving force throughout my life.  Some of my happiest childhood memories involve summers spent hiking the Appalachian Trail with my Dad and brother Bill as well as our many family camping trips--whether we were in coastal Maine, the Florida Keys or dozens of other places in-between.  My Dad was always willing to nurture this love of the outdoors and adventure as well.  I remember when I was about 11 years old, I became obsessed with the book My Side of the Mountain--the story of a 13 year old boy who runs away from home and survives off the land in the Catskill Mountains.  I desperately wanted to do that--survive off the land by myself, not run away.  So one three day weekend, my Dad humored me and he and I drove to the Allegheny Mountains of New York.  He literally slept in a shack, while I went into the woods to survive on my own.  It was a grand adventure--I spent the days searching for food and spent the crystal clear nights sleeping out under the stars.  I even had a raccoon walk across my sleeping bag one of the nights.  But to be honest, three very hungry days later, I was ready to go home--and eat!

My Dad also imparted a physical and mental toughness in me that has served me well.  My Dad is not a whiner or complainer--he's much more a "suck it up and get it done" kind of guy.  He's tough and not much bothers him.  For example when he sawed off a couple of his fingers at work, he calmly reached down into the sawdust pile, picked them up, walked over to my brother and said he probably should go to the ER.  I'm not quite sure I'm that tough, but I will say that it takes a lot to faze me.  I can be covered in leeches in the jungles of Borneo, get the crap beat out of me while going through Prisoner of War training, or be attacked by swarms of mosquitoes in the Alaskan backcountry, and I'll (barely) complain.

However, the greatest gifts my Dad gave me aren't material in nature or don't have to do with my love of the outdoors or being tough--instead, the greatest gifts my Dad gave me are two fold.  First, there was never a doubt in my mind that my father loved me unconditionally.  I always knew, no matter what, that my Dad would love me and be there for me if I needed him.  And secondly, my father had an unwavering belief in me.  He truly believed I could do or be anything I wanted.  He had complete confidence in my abilities and as a result, that confidence rubbed off onto me (and all my siblings).  Bob jokingly calls it the crazy Moslow self-confidence gene--and it's true.  My siblings and I all are blessed with a strong sense of self-worth and can-do attitudes.  And when I think about it, having parents who love you unconditionally and believe in you wholeheartedly, is really all a child truly needs.

I know at times my Dad can be a bit self-conscious about his hands, but I absolutely love them exactly how they are.  I think my Dad's hands tell the tale--the story of a man who loved his wife and children and literally and figuratively worked his fingers to the bone to provide them with tremendous opportunities and gifts.   So on this Father's Day, I want to publicly thank my Dad for all he's done for me. From the day I was born until now, my Dad has loved me, believed in me, supported me and helped make me who I am.  And for that, I am eternally grateful. I love you Dad...I hope I've made you proud! 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Coming Up Soon--The Girls Adventure Weekend

For the past couple of years, my good friends (and fellow adventure racers) Chris, Caroline and I have been taking an Annual Girls Adventure Weekend, which we affectionately call AGAW.  AGAW 2012 was our best one yet--we went to Canaan Valley, West Virginia which is an adventure lovers paradise--and spent 3 glorious days climbing, hiking and mt biking.

On our first day, we went to Nelson Rocks Preserve, which is the home of the Via Ferrata.

The Via Ferrata--or Iron Road-- is an amazingly cool, fixed route climb.

It consists of scaling sheer rock faces,

and crossing one of the highest pedestrian suspension bridges in North America.

We ultimately reached the summit,

where we were treated to amazing views of the Allegheny Mountains.

While there, we stayed in a cabin at Canaan Valley State Park, which has dozens of "tame" deer that literally eat right out of your hands.

On the second day of AGAW, we started off the day with a 4 mile hike at the State Park and then went mountain biking on the Camp 70 trails which are located at the Canaan Valley Institute.

The mountain biking was great with just the right mix of rocks, roots and hills.

On our third and final day, we went hiking in Dolly Sods Wilderness Area, a rocky, high altitude plateau that looks and feels more like the tundra, than it does West Virginia. 

Fortunately, we were lucky to be there to witness the Sods' peak Fall colors.

Needless to say, we had a total blast!  In fact, we had so much fun that I am organizing another Girls Adventure Weekend and am bringing 11 athletic women friends to Canaan this upcoming weekend.  We'll be climbing, mt biking, hiking, slacklining, doing yoga and even caving this time around.  I'm so excited, I can hardly wait!