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Archive for the ‘The Great Outdoors’ Category

Somewhere around November of 2017, I realized that my Instagram friend Heidi had been methodically working her way through a challenge to hike 52 times in a year.  I thought that was pretty hardcore and I was duly impressed.  A little digging revealed that I could sign up to do the challenge myself and, well, I have no self-control when it comes to things like that.  I few keystrokes and clicks of the mouse later, I was officially a 52 Hike Challenger for 2018.

I was already behind by the time I got started, thanks to several weeks of face-shatteringly cold weather that saw us hunkered down inside, not hitting the trails.  (It was so cold that taking out the garbage was like a Polar expedition.)  We finally made it out onto the first trail of the year three weeks into 2018, and we started with Theodore Roosevelt Island, which seemed appropriate.

Over the course of the year, we did mostly hiked together as a family.  We did everything from short, easy trails (like the Story of the Forest Trail in Shenandoah National Park)…

To our fourth Adirondack high peak – Big Slide.

We chased away sadness on the trail.

Hiked with friends of the human and canine variety.

Shared our favorite places with family.

Summited an Adirondack mountain as a family.

And wandered through a glory of Virginia bluebells.

At final count, I think I did about forty-nine of the fifty-two hikes with the kiddos.  (Steve and I made Big Slide a day date, and I hiked Belle Isle and Section C of the Billy Goat Trail alone.)  Hiking with kids is a different experience – think less distance, more logistics.  We had to make sure we had a plan for carrying them if they lost their momentum mid-hike, that we were stocked with snacks, and that we were prepared for any weather.  Kids won’t tough it out the way adults will if they’re hungry or cold, and they can’t cover the same sorts of distances or elevation change – that’s just common sense.  But hiking with them was so rewarding, all the same.

My littles have grown up on the trails, so they’re pros – as kids go.  And it’s totally worth it to impart the lessons of perseverance, teamwork, and respect for the Earth; I don’t think there’s any better way to teach those things than to spend time in nature – a lot of time, and regularly as part of the family routine.  They definitely have their moments, and they are most certainly not always good.  But they’re pretty solid hikers.

The downside to the 52 Hike Challenge?  I had almost no time to do anything else.  Forget Saturday mornings wandering the farmers’ markets, forget ice skating on a winter’s afternoon, and definitely forget kayaking.  I only made it out for one paddle all year long.  (That’s not going to be the story of 2019.)  I loved spending so much time on the hiking trails in 2018, but as the year wore on I started to grow more frustrated that I couldn’t do anything else because I would fall behind on the challenge.  Especially after a summer of not hiking as much as anticipated (partly due to bad weather, and partly to a family tragedy that completely changed the dynamic of the summer) I had no margin at all with the challenge.  A hiking vacation got me almost back on course over the summer, and a few weekends of back-to-back hikes helped, too.  I did end up hitting #hike51 with a few weeks to spare, and was able to plan a special hike to celebrate #hike52.

But, still – it did feel like I couldn’t do anything else for most of the year.  I have limited time for adventuring, and while I love hiking and want trail time to be a part of every month, I’d like a more varied diet of family fun and activity.  I’d like to be able to go out for a run, train for a race, or do things like cross-country ski in the winter and paddle in the summer without worrying that choosing those activities instead of a hike is going to put me behind on a goal.  So consistent with my no-resolutions 2019, I’m not going to take on any specific challenges this year.  I’m going to take my adventures as they come, and enjoy them, without worrying about goals or checklists or calendars.

That said, I couldn’t be happier that I did do the #52HikeChallenge.  It was a fun and exciting goal to work towards all year, and I loved the built-in motivation to find new trails to explore (because who wants to hike in the same park every week for an entire year?).  It took me to trails in five different states (Virginia, D.C., Maryland, Massachusetts and New York) and delivered fresh air, quality time with family and friends, and lots of great exercise.  And I loved every second.

Thanks for a memorable year on the trail, #52HikeChallenge!

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Here we go – the finish line!  For a while there, it looked like this challenge was going to come down to the wire – thanks to so many rainy, gross weekends earlier in the year.  But as it turned out, I had time to spare and even got to plan a really special final hike – read on.

Hike 41: Story of the Forest Trail, Shenandoah National Park (Luray, Virginia), October 13, 2018 – Having driven almost two hours to get to the park, we wanted to squeeze in as much trail time as we could, so after hiking Big Meadows, we hit another trail.  This was a wooded hike that passed over a lovely stream with a perfect Poohsticks bridge.

Hike 42: Fletcher’s Cove, C&O Canal National Historical Park (Washington, DC), October 14, 2018 – I was looking for a hike in the city, because I had an errand to run downtown, and so we decided to check out the network of trails around Fletcher’s Cove, where we usually go to kayak.  The trail we found was all the way down on the bank of the river, and we had water views the entire time – such a treat!

Hike 43: Rock Creek Park (Washington, DC), October 21, 2018 – Two weekends in a row, two hikes in the District – who even are we?  We used to hike the central portion of Rock Creek Park pretty regularly, but it had been a long time since we’d been there.  I’m still in total disbelief that such a wild and peaceful oasis exists in the middle of the nation’s capital.

Hike 44: Rust Nature Preserve (Leesburg, Virginia), October 28, 2018 – How was it that we didn’t know about the nature preserve and sanctuary for Virginia’s native birds of prey before this?  Peanut is obsessed with all predators (she’s a surprisingly bloodthirsty child, who knew?) and especially with raptors – falcons, eagles, kestrels… We loved this meadow hike and we saw a few birds of prey circling the skies above us – too high up to identify, but it was cool to know that they were there.

Hike 45: Huntley Meadows Park (Alexandria, Virginia), November 4, 2018 – The colors finally burst into glory!  Between the vibrant reds, oranges and yellows and the gorgeous birds swooping all around, hike 45 was one for the ages.

Hike 46: Claude Moore Colonial Farm (McLean, Virginia), November 7, 2018 – I’d hoped to get a little further afield on my three days of funemployment between jobs, but it mostly rained.  There was a break in the clouds on my final day, but I’d already committed to chaperoning the class field trip to a local colonial farm (which turned out a really weird day, story for another time).  So you can imagine my delight when a hike on wooded trails around the farm was part of the day’s activities!  It wasn’t exactly restful – herding fourteen kindergartners is stressful, it turns out – but it was a lot of fun.

Hike 47: Billy Goat Trail, Section C (Potomac, Maryland), November 7, 2018 – Same day, after dropping the kids back at school, I drove over the border into Maryland to try to tackle the Billy Goat Trail.  The more famous sections – A and B – were closed due to flooding, but I had a lovely walk with just a leetle bit of scrambling on Section C.  Considering it was a Wednesday afternoon, and most of the world was at work, I felt lucky indeed.

Hike 48: Winkler Botanical Preserve (Alexandria, Virginia), November 10, 2018 – This local gem has been one of my favorite discoveries of the year!  We wandered right down to the pond and meandered along the shoreline, and I picked up some trash.

Hike 49: Widewater State Park (Widewater, Virginia), November 18, 2018 – A hike for the birthday boy!  We love to celebrate on the trail and Steve decided to use his birthday hike credits to check out the newest Virginia state park – as in, Governor Northam had just cut the ribbon a week before.  It was a beautiful, serene spot and we can’t wait to go back.

Hike 50: Great Falls National Park (Great Falls, Virginia), November 23, 2018A Black Friday hike!  We burned off some of the mashed potatoes (so good, though) and showed my parents around Great Falls, a park we love but had randomly never taken them to see – on a very cold morning.

Hike 51: Lake Accotink (Fairfax, Virginia), November 25, 2018 – Did the penultimate hike at a pretty local park!  The kids entertained everyone on the trail with some rousing song and dance routines.

Hike 52: Saratoga National Historical Park (Saratoga Springs, New York), December 24, 2018 – I wanted to save the final hike of the challenge for something extra special, and this trail through a rolling meadow, with mountain views all around – and on Christmas Eve, no less – was just what I wanted.  What a way to finish out a year of hiking!

And there it is – the END of the road!  What an incredible journey it was.  I’ll have more thoughts coming soon about the 52 Hike Challenge, the lessons I learned on the trail, and my favorite memories from a year of hiking.  It was a beautiful way to spend 2018.

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I’m writing this post while looking out the window at several inches of snow piled up on my back patio – brrrrr.  It seems like months ago that I flew down to Miami for three days, but it’s only been about two weeks.  It was a business trip, and most of my time was spent working in a warehouse conference room (but I could see palm trees out the window!) but I did manage to squeeze in one bit of fun while I was there, sneaking out for a sunrise beach run on my last morning.  Getting in a run through the tourist hot spots is one of my favorite things to do while traveling on business, and I promised myself that if I could make the sunrise run happen on this busy trip, I would.  It meant a scramble to get to work on time, but it was worth it.

There are so many great running destinations in Miami, and lots of fabulous views, but I really wanted to run right along the beach.  So I jumped in an Uber and asked my driver to take me to South Pointe Park.  I timed it perfectly, because the sun was just starting to come up over the water when I arrived.

City views!

That’s what I’m talking about…

I made it down to the water and ran in the sand, right where the early morning waves were rolling up to meet the shore, for a little while.

I made this yellow and blue lifeguard station my goal, and I got there right as the sunrise was beginning to get really spectacular.  I stood down at the water line and watched the day roll in.

Just a little at first.

 

Utterly breathtaking!  I watched the seabirds swooping back and forth over the water and envied their freedom.

Eventually, it was time to turn back – I couldn’t be late to the “office.”  But I knew I’d regret not putting my toes in the water, so I took off my running shoes and socks and waded in.  The waves rolled in and out and soaked the hems of my capris with warm salt water, and it was January 4th, and life was pretty darn good.

The spell had to break eventually – it was a golden hour, but it couldn’t last forever.  I ran back along the beach (barefoot!) then wiped the sand off my feet and ran a little bit more along the South Pointe pier, before jumping in an Uber back to the hotel.

One happy sunrise runner!

Do you like to squeeze in sightseeing runs to sweeten up your business trips?

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Here we are – the end of a long road!  I’ve been working toward completing the 52 Hike Challenge for 2018 since back in January – and while I’ll have more thoughts about the project, including quick recaps of my last set of hikes and the lessons I learned over the course of the journey – today, I want to tell you all about the final hike of the challenge.  I got to #hike51 with several weeks to spare, thanks to a hiking vacation and several multi-hike weekends in the summer and fall.  So I knew I had some options available, and I really wanted #hike52 to be extra-special.  I decided to do the final hike of the project in New York while I was there for the holidays, and a Christmas Eve hike in Saratoga before heading to my aunt’s house worked out perfectly.

We were greeted with this bummer of a notice when we arrived at the park.  Steve was worried we wouldn’t be able to hike there at all, due to the government shutdown, but I remembered that the parks stayed open – but unstaffed by rangers – during the last shutdown and I figured the same would be true this time, and it was.  (Also: I mostly stay away from politics in this space, but I have to say, it’s pretty infuriating that these shutdowns keep happening.  The inconveniences to hikers and museum-goers are the least of it – it makes me really angry to think about the many, many friends I have in the federal government workforce who are going without paychecks this holiday season because of a certain orange wannabe-dictator’s temper tantrum.  Anyway.)

Ready for #hike52!  I had my finisher’s medal in this brown envelope (which reads “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL #hike52!”) and I was ready to celebrate a mission accomplished.

The park was pretty much deserted – we saw another couple of hikers and a man out walking his dogs, but that was it.  The kiddos ran up and down on top of the hill near the (closed) visitors’ center for a little while.

There was snowball throwing, which ended after one snowball hit me in the face.  I was not pleased.

I declared it our cue to start the hike, and off we went.  Somehow, I’d never been to the Saratoga National Historical Park before, despite growing up in the area and despite the fact that I’ve been to the Saratoga Spa State Park more times than I can count.  It turned out to be a gorgeous network of trails winding through a hilly meadow with incredible mountain views all around.  Definitely a good choice for a celebratory hike!

What do you think of Nugget’s outfit?  The little guy was cold, so Dad put him in his snowpants to warm up… and zipped them over his jacket.  D’oh!  He looked pretty funny – but he didn’t seem to mind.

Peanut was warm and toasty in her sweater tights, big woolen knee socks, and puffer coat.  She loved following the snowy trail – it really was so picturesque.

Eventually, the littlest hiker started to get a bit grumpy…

So we decided it was time to turn around and head back to the car and on to our Christmas Eve festivities (which were also an engagement party! –> check in with me on Friday).

But first I had to rip into my envelope.  FINISHER!

When we got back to the top of the hill, the boys pretended to fire the cannon a dozen or so times.

This view reminded me of Virginia.

Almost all of the fifty-two hikes I did as part of the project were with these guys.  I’ll have more thoughts on hiking with the kiddos to share when I wrap up the project, but briefly – I’m so grateful to have these mini hiking buddies.  They’ve made this year on the trail a lot of fun.

And with that – onward to 2019 hiking!  Where was the best place you hiked in 2018?

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2018: In Review

Happy New Year’s Eve, friends!  In lieu of my usual Monday post, I am getting sentimental (you’re not surprised, I know) and looking back on the year that is wrapping up today.  2018 was a year of extreme highs and lows – we had some really joyful times, but we also had an unexpected death in the family that left us reeling for the latter half of the year.  I think if there was a theme or a lesson to 2018, it was that life is short and you should hug your loved ones as much as possible.

January was a hectic month.  I entered a particularly busy season at work and had several 70-hour workweeks in a row – ouch.  Poor little Nugget also got hit with a yucky stomach bug that we’re pretty sure he picked up while playing at a local children’s gym.  And the weather was super-weird, fluctuating from 65 degrees one weekend to below freezing for weeks on end.  But we managed to get outside a couple of times, even in the cold weather, kicking off the 52 Hike Challenge at Theodore Roosevelt Island in D.C.

February brought more cold weather, more indoor time, and more hectic weeks at work.  We only managed to hit the trail once, but we did host Peanut’s BFF and her mom for a fun play date.  The girls baked raspberry crumb bars (with some help from the moms) and we all enjoyed them with tea.  I had some grown-up fun, too, attending a rosé tasting event at the Embassy of France with my BFF and doing a bit of book shopping.

March means one thing – my sweet baby’s birthday!  We celebrated THREE YEARS of Nugget with a Star Wars themed birthday party, and true to his nature, Outdoor Boy chose to mark his birthday with a hike.  We hit the trails a few times this month, since the weather finally started to thaw, and we also made a trip to the National Zoo.  I also made a trip to Boston to work on a union campaign (my favorite part of my job) and spent an evening chatting into the night with sweet Katie.

April was a banner month, because I saw my favorite band, the Decemberists, in concert!  They don’t tour all that often and even more rarely come East, so it was a special treat.  The rest of the month was just as celebratory.  We marked Easter with a service at our church – joined by Aunt Rebecca – followed by egg-dyeing and a vegetarian feast with a Aunt Rebecca, Aunt Jenn and Uncle Robert, and Peanut’s very first friend (Jenn and Robert’s daughter).  Hiking was good, too – there was the Bluebell Loop Trail, naturally – a can’t-miss April tradition – a Mason Neck hike with Rebecca and her dog Brandy, and a muddy good time at Great Falls.

May saw more family fun – a visit from Grandma, who we don’t see nearly as much as we wish we did, and a Mother’s Day hike at Mason Neck.  We also started our garden for the year (dubbed “Squirrelbait”) – spoiler: this wasn’t the most successful year.  We visited Mount Vernon and petted the baby animals, and Peanut said lots of hilarious things.

June was a month of highs and lows.  We started with the highs – first a trip to Cornell for my fifteenth reunion.  How is it possible that so much time has gone by since graduation?  It was fun introducing the kids to the place where Steve and I fell in love.  After Cornell, we stayed upstate for a bit longer and swung by my parents’ house, where my brother Dan and his wife Danielle were visiting from Colorado.  We never get enough time with them, but we made the most of the few days we had – sailing on the Adirondack lake where my parents have a camp and hiking at Lake Minnewaska.  The end of the month brought great sadness, though – the sudden and unexpected loss of a beloved family member.  We’re still working through the grief that followed.

July was a sad month, while we grieved and tried to adjust to a new reality without someone we all loved in it.  We’d been planning to make a trip back up north to spend the Fourth of July with my parents, and we decided that we would keep those plans, because we wanted to be with family.  I didn’t recap most of the trip – too sad – but we made it to the lake again and my parents distracted us with an afternoon of hiking at Bash Bish Falls and dinner out in nearby Lenox, Massachusetts.  (Western Massachusetts is so lovely; I wish I got there more.)  We kind of drifted through the rest of the month; I don’t remember much of what we did, other than camp runs and play dates – and I finally learned to bake bread.  It didn’t occur to me at the time, but looking back I think that maybe my obsession with bread-baking this summer might have had something to do with needing an outlet and to do something with my hands when my heart was feeling so sad.

August was the month we reserved for our summer vacation, and we managed to have a pretty good time.  We drove back up to New York (three trips to the Empire State in three months!) and spent a week in the Adirondacks with my parents.  We got a cute Airbnb apartment right in downtown Lake Placid and used it as base camp for a week of hiking and water fun.  Steve and I climbed our fourth Adirondack high peak (Big Slide Mountain this time); the kids splashed and played at the Lake Placid beach, and we celebrated Peanut’s sixth birthday on the trail.

September was quiet after the wild swings of summer, and that was what we needed.  We hiked at Great Falls with new friends who just recently moved to the area from San Francisco, and the kids went back to school.  Most of my month was taken up with back-to-school activities – as kindergarten class mom, I had a lot to do with back to school night, first PTA meetings of the year, and more.  Volunteering in Peanut’s classroom was one of my fall goals, and I have loved being around the school more.

October is my favorite month!  It’s my birthday month, fall splendor is everywhere, and Halloween is the best way to close out a month – if you ask me, which I realize no one did.  I cashed in my birthday authority by dragging the family out for a cold picnic and hiking in Shenandoah National Park – Nugget’s happy place.  During the week, I treated myself to a lunchtime excursion to see No Spectators: the Art of Burning Man at the Renwick Gallery with my friend Susan, and it was fabulous.  The rest of the month, we fit in several more hikes, watched the beginning of the fall foliage changing (it’s really a November phenomenon in Virginia, but it starts in October) and celebrated Halloween at school and in the neighborhood.

November was Steve’s birthday month, and we celebrated on the trails, of course!  Governor Northam had recently opened a brand-new state park – Widewater State Park, near Stafford – so we headed down there to check it out.  Even with the very barest beginnings of a trail network, it was lovely.  I also changed jobs in November, after a long search for a new opportunity, and enjoyed three days of “funemployment” – which I spent reading and chaperoning Peanut’s field trip to the weirdest farm ever.  And of course, one of my favorite holidays – we shared a Thanksgiving feast with my parents and our beloved next door neighbors, then spent Black Friday working off the mashed potatoes on the trail at Great Falls.

December – we made it to the end of the year!  I started the year with a business trip to Philadelphia, which was a lot of fun – and I got to see the lovely A.M.B. into the bargain!  Back in Virginia, we tried out a new tradition and cut down our own Christmas tree, then decorated it with all of our favorite ornaments.  We filled the month with other holiday fun – like a trip to the Christmas trains at the U.S. Botanic Garden – and even made it up to Baltimore to spend a day at the National Aquarium.  We ended the month with a little over a week at my parents’ place and managed to squeeze in almost everything we wanted to do – lots of friend time, hiking, family fun and playdates.  A good way to bid the old year farewell.

And now, it’s 2019!  Here’s hoping for lots of joy and adventures this year – we need them.

 

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FINALLY!  A season packed full of fun, with every.single.item crossed off my seasonal to-do list.  After the Summer of Torrential Rains, I really needed a few months of good weekend weather.  We were sorely in need of family time and we made sure to pack the autumn season full of it.

  • Pick apples at Butler’s Orchard (and maybe some raspberries too?).  Done!  Well – not at Butler’s, because it was closed on the day we wanted to go.  And not berries – we were too late in the season.  But the kids and I drove out to Bluemont with some friends on Columbus Day and enjoyed a day of apple picking at Great Country Farms, followed by a hike to Bears Den Overlook – a lovely way to play hooky from work.

  • Hike Big Meadows at Shenandoah National Park – moving this one over from the summer list.  Done!  I cashed in my birthday rights for a day trip out to Luray, and we had a picnic (hot soup in the chilly fall air) and hiked Big Meadows and the Story of the Forest Trail.  Big Meadows was absolutely magical!

  • Roll up my sleeves and do some fall baking with Peanut.  Calling this done, even though Peanut only helped with taste-testing this time (ha!).  I had fun whipping up a cranberry-apple spice cake with maple buttercream and candied cranberries to take to the neighbors’ house for Thanksgiving dessert.  And there’ve been several batches of sourdough bread, sourdough rolls, and spiced apple cornbread – yum.

  • Catch up on the 52 Hike Challenge before it gets really cold.  Done!  Well – I’m calling it done.  The next hike I do will be hike 52 – wahoo!  (I’m saving it for something special.)  I have loved spending so much time on the trails this year.

  

  • Read cozy mysteries – as many as possible.  Calling this done.  I have had a great year of reading, now that it’s almost over, and there’s no season like fall for curling up with a blanket, a big cup of tea and a cozy mystery.  I visited with Lady Georgianna and Hercule Poirot, two of my favorite sleuths, and had fun experiencing a different kind of mystery novel in The Floating Admiral.

  • Run the Wonder Woman virtual 5K (and maybe the Alexandria Turkey Trot).  Done!  Not the Turkey Trot – I was too busy cooking all day – but I did manage to squeeze in 3.1 miles on the Potomac Yards trail for the Wonder Woman virtual 5K run.  I made the plans to do the run “with” my fellow Wonder Woman fan, Katie – she got it done sooner than I did, but I made it happen eventually!

  • Volunteer in Peanut’s classroom.  Done!  I made a goal that I would be more present and visible at school this year, especially for Peanut – Nugget is such an easygoing, happy-go-lucky guy that he doesn’t really need me at school, but Peanut does.  It’s been a commitment, but I have been around a lot more in Peanut’s class and I think it’s been helpful.  I am a class mom, so I helped to lead Back to School Night for the kindergarten parents, co-hosted the class Halloween party (and was in charge of the Halloween art project – superhero pumpkins!), chaperoned a field trip to a nearby Colonial farm, and helped serve muffins and open applesauce cups during the Togetherness Feast before Thanksgiving.
  • Get back into Barre3.  I could have done better with this, but I’m calling it done.  Getting to class has proven too hard to fit in, but I signed up for Barre3 Online and have done some workouts from the comfort of my bedroom.  Hoping to keep this going over the winter – I really do enjoy Barre3, I just don’t enjoy the fact that my kids are already awake before I have to leave for the 5:45 a.m. class.

  • Pumpkin picking, of course!  This is an easy one to put on the list, because it’s guaranteed to happen.  We went back to Wegmeyer Farms this year and the kids had fun choosing their pumpkins and snacking on apple cider donuts.  The best!

  • Take the kids trick-or-treating (they already have their costumes!) at Mount Vernon and in the neighborhood again.  Another easy one, because Halloween is coming whether I’m on my game or not!  We actually didn’t make it to the Mount Vernon trick-or-treating this year, but the neighborhood block party was bumping as usual.

How about that for a seasonal list?!  It was a great fall.  In addition to all of the fun above, I changed jobs and we hosted my parents for Thanksgiving.  We really did need this bright and happy season, and I feel a bit more human again after a summer that left us all pretty emotionally banged up.  Here’s hoping we can keep this momentum going and get more joy and more family bonding in over the winter.

 

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It’s pretty much become a tradition that we celebrate birthdays on the trails.  I think that in the past year, every single member of the family has had a birthday hike, and November was Steve’s turn.  With all the choices in the world – well, all the choices in northern Virginia, the District of Columbia, and the close-in Maryland suburbs, anyway – he picked Widewater State Park, a brand new addition to the Virginia state park system (as in, Governor Northam officially opened it eight days before we put boots on the trail).

So on the Saturday before Steve’s birthday, we found ourselves driving down to Stafford to check out the new park.  The visitors’ center and the trail signs all smelled of new wood – mmmmmm.

Locals have been hiking around Widewater for ages now, but the park itself is still fairly bare-bones.  Many more things are planned – including a souped-up canoe and kayak launch (we will be back) and additional hiking trails.  There’s only one fairly short loop trail at the moment, but it was lovely and we felt very in the know, being some of the first visitors to a new state park.

The water views are always the best part, right?

I mean, look at that.

Eventually, the trail skipped across the road and continued through a stand of trees and by a pond – nothing particularly dramatic or earth-shattering, but lovely and peaceful all the same.  Sometimes that’s exactly what you need.

Happy birthday, handsome!  I hope you enjoyed your celebratory hike.  I sure am glad you’re my permanent trail buddy.  

 

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