Alright, I’ll be the first to admit it. This may be a little more existential than most people are ready for…BUT – and this is a big but – I’m certain I’m not the only person to have moments like this, especially in the wilderness.
Anyway. I love fall! I love the colors. I love the cooler temperatures. I love the crisp, clear blue skies. And I love the sound of walking through fallen leaves.
Our foliage is nowhere near peak right now – still lots of green in the mountains – and if not brilliant, it promises to be a good year.
I finally got to go for a walk in the woods, first time in a while, and it was the best day ever. Resting next to a bold stream, I found a deep, calm pool below a tiny waterfall. Brightly colored leaves were dancing an endless ballet, telling a story of unseen forces, in the constantly changing eddies.
In fact, if it weren’t for the leaves you would never know there were invisible currents below the surface. Much like life itself.
How could you not take pause to reflect at such a beautiful spot…at such a perfect moment?
This is, for me, what I like to call an “all is well” moment. My life works when I’m in the woods, taking time to notice what’s around me. My thoughts become clearer. My creativity soars. My spirit is renewed. And I come out more refreshed, more focused, more relaxed.
It’s the very reason why I hike so much.
Take time to find your “all is well” moments within nature. It’ll change your life and you’ll never be the same person again.
I’d love to hear what renews your spirit. Maybe it’s a gorgeous view, sitting under the largest tree in the forest or meditating on a lone boulder. I don’t know…whatever. Give us an idea in the comments section.
It’s time for a campfire, some good company and S’mores – S’more Good Hiking Posts, that is. Here’s a collection of some of the sweetest reads I’ve found around the web this week.
Lighten Up, Will Ya’!
Are you new to lightweight backpacking? No need to be so heavy about it. Follow these 5 tips from GoLite and save yourself some trouble on the trail. It’s a great place to start for successful, safe and smart lightweight backpacking. These folks know what they’re talking about.
So, here you are. You drank the Kool-Aid so to speak and are convinced that lightweight backpacking is the way to go. Well, congratulations because you are right! Going light on the trail takes away unnecessary aches and pains and trades them in for more enjoyment and fun. But only if you do it right. Read more…
A Choice Every Outdoor Parent Has To Face
Kids change everything! How much risk are you willing to take on your hiking adventures once you have a family? I know my willingness to risk it all decreased immediately when our first child was born. And I’m not the only parent who’s noticed this change. Check out Melissa’s experience over at Adventure Tykes.
Recently there has been a lot of discussion going around the blogosphere about adventuring and taking risks as a parent. Quite a few parents have been sharing stories about what risk takers they were pre-child and how their risk taking has toned way down or become null since they’ve become parents. Read more…
Rain, Rain, Go Away
Experience is the best teacher – especially under extreme conditions. My friend, Andy, literally had all night to think about the rainy predicament he found himself in and has some great suggestions to share with you in his post at Sierra SocialHub.
Lying wide awake listening to the sound of rain drops pounding on my tent, I was beginning to freak out. As an experienced car camper, I wanted to make a run for the car and get out of this fierce rainstorm. Unfortunately, I was ten days into a 14-day backpacking trip and many miles from any vehicle or shelter. Read more…
The End Is In Sight
You can’t walk over 2,000 miles and not expect to have a bad day, a body ache, a strong emotion…or two. Likewise, you can’t deny the kindness, support and joy you find along the way. No one shares it with as much honesty or makes it as real – the real you can actually feel in your heart – as Kimberlie from The New Nomads. Each post, like this one, is a masterfully crafted portrait of her amazing journey on the PCT.
Not the land.. No.. The land always just is what it is.. It’s me. I became a maniacal bipolar occupant of the land in these last 7 days. One day I’d wake up a reborn wood nymph, headed gleefully towards a bluegrass festival with fists full of black licorice and a vibrant awe in my gait. The next morning…. Read more…
What’s A Little Rain?
There’s nothing I enjoy more than walking in the woods on a rainy day. And I’m not the only one. Crystal, a member of our Google+ Thru-hiking Community, writes about her rainy day hike at Acadia National Park on her blog, A New Day Yesterday. I don’t know about you, but it kinda makes me wish I were there too.
My original reason for coming to the East Coast was that I saw a picture of Acadia National Park one day and decided that I just had to go there. The scenery is just beautiful, and what better way to take it in than by hitting some of the park’s many hiking trails. Read more…
Looking for a good time? Maybe some wholesome family fun? Deep Creek is about as close as you can come to a natural amusement park…and a helluva lot cheaper.
We’ve been going for years and we’ve only seen and done a fraction of what’s available.
Looking upstream at the calm, lower section of Deep Creek. Great for younger kids to tube!
There’s so much to love about Deep Creek! Each time we go I promise myself we’re going to explore more of the whole area.
But, alas, I’m just a kid at heart. All we ever do, like so many times before, is tube down the half-mile long white water rapids of Deep Creek. All day long; up and down, one run after another with a little swimming thrown in now and then.
It’s so much fun. You’ve really got to try it for yourself!
Here’s a video from last year’s trip. I didn’t feel like walking back to my car to get my camera this year. It would have kept me from making another run.
Located on the southern edge of the Great Smoky Mountain Park and just north of Bryson City, there’s so much more to Deep Creek than tubing. I know, for some of you who have been there, that’s going to sound blasphemous, but it’s true.
You’ll find lots of hiking trails, bridle trails, waterfalls, camping and picnicking around Deep Creek.
Admittedly, I’ve never done all these other fun things, but judging from their popularity, I’d still recommend them.
Useful tips I wish someone told us the first time we went tubing at Deep Creek:
Go early and plan to stay all day
Tube rentals range from $3 to $5 a day – make sure you get one with a bottom
Wear water shoes and a swim suit that won’t get pulled off by the strong water
Plan to have a picnic while you’re there.
Try to avoid weekends. They’re VERY crowded.
On this year’s trip I did manage to break tradition…slightly. I got everyone to go on a very short hike to Juney Whank Falls.
I did say very short hike, didn’t I?The trailhead is right at the main parking lot and it’s only .3 mile to the falls. Luckily everyone was interested in doing it. (I think the idea of seeing a waterfall motivated them.)
It’s an easy walk. Most of the trail is shared with a wide bridle path which meanders around Deep Creek. The grade is easy – around 200 feet elevation gain – and the trail, like most National Parks, is well maintained.
Juney Whank is a charming waterfall with about an 80-foot drop, and well worth the trip. There’s a very nice bridge spanning the falls with a built-in bench to sit and rest as you watch and listen to the tumbling water.
This is the view looking up at Juney Whank Falls.
This is the view looking down Juney Whank Falls.
You can keep walking – the trail makes a loop – or go back the way you came. Katie and I decided to head back the way we came since the kids were stating to show signs of hunger and you know how irritable hungry kids can be on the trail. It was time for dinner.
So what about next year?
Next year I promise to explore more. Serioulsy! I do. I mean I will. You can hold me to it. ‘Till then…
See ya’ on the trail,
Directions to Deep Creek:
From the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway, take the Veterans Blvd exit and follow the signs to Bryson City. Stay on this road and veer right at the light just before the river. The road changes names to Slope St. Turn right on Mitchell St, then left on Everett St. Cross the railroad tracks and turn right on Depot St. Turn left on Ramseur St and then an immediate right on Deep Creek Rd. Veer left onto West Deep Creek Rd and follow this as it winds around to the Smoky Mountain Park entrance. Pick up your tubes before entering park and then drive another half mile to the Deep Creek parking area.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long…nearly nine months. But it’s not like I haven’t thought about it practically every day since the hike.
I guess some things just need time to process.
It was my youngest son’s birthday; his thirteenth. That’s an important day for most kids – “Woohoo! I’m a teenager!” – and a pretty significant “coming of age” birthday in many cultures.
I wanted to get it right.
This is my buddy, River. He’s always game for a hike.
My youngest son, River, is a good kid and I wanted to do something special for him; one of those memorable father and son things you hope your kid never forgets. Only time will tell if I accomplished this…for him. I mean, I know I’ll never forget that day.
It had to be something fun and exciting; something more than just a gift. It had to be something special so we could use code words and wink at each other like we had a secret. And it had to be something where I could weave in the talk – you know, as in, THE talk. He’s thirteen after all.
Then it came to me. A hike! What a great way to spend the day – dirt, snakes, creeks, backpacks and, best of all, no Xbox, no TV, no distractions and no girls. (No offense, ladies, but you can’t have THE talk with a girl around.)
I remember when I got THE talk. Everything was very serious. “Sit down, son. It’s time we have the talk.” It was heavy, significant, mysterious, cold and clinical. There was no room for levity. Both my parents were present and there were things I wanted to ask that I wasn’t comfortable asking around my mom.
You understand, don’t you?
The Upper Nantahala River at Standing Indian, Nantahala National Forest
Anyway, I wanted something different for my son. It was going to be a conversation – not a talk. It was going to be safe for him to explore any topic. I was going to listen to him as much as I spoke.
Making it part of a fun activity seemed like the perfect way to approach it.
Since it was his day, he was part of the planning process – although I reserved a few surprises for him. He chose Standing Indian for our hike. It’s not very crowded and there are tons of trails to choose from.
For my part, I read about “rites of passage” in different cultures; what they did and what it all meant. And I think I came up with a good plan.
Besides our hike, my plan included some fun things, a surprise picnic and some extra special snacks – you can never have too much food for a teenage boy.
I polished my talking points; the things I wanted to cover. And I made room in the plan for spontaneity.
But I still had to come up with the perfect gift – a gift that would be the BEST GIFT EVAH.
Finding this bear print was one of the big highlights of our hike.
It finally dawned on me. I scrounged around looking for my old pocket knives. He’s wanted a pocket knife for years, but his mother kept telling him he needs to be a little older. I would have given it to him when he was ten – that’s when my dad gave me my first pocket knife, but that’s another story.
I didn’t mention the pocket knife to my wife. You know the old adage, “it’s easier to get forgiveness than it is to get permission.” Besides, he had to be old enough sooner or later.
His birthday finally came. It was the most beautiful November day I’ve ever seen. The sun was shining, the air was crisp and the leaves were still in color.
My son, River, decided he would like to take the path that followed the Upper Nantahala River. Now, before that lands on you like, “how apropos,” I don’t think it had anything to do with his name. The trail is flat. He’s not much into hiking up mountains…yet.
After 45 minutes, we came upon a nice spot in the river – rapids upstream, slow moving pool downstream and a fairly level rocky, sandy area.
I wanted to ease into my talking points. Give him a chance to play, let loose and be a boy before I talked to him about being a man. So we poked around here and there, exploring the sand bar. We collected some garbage that someone else left behind, found a big bear print and I taught him how to skip stones on the water.
The Main Event
Eventually we sat down on some boulders to watch the water dance through the rapids. Quiet time.
At one point he put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Thanks, Dad.”
“You’re welcome. The big one-three. Know what that means,” I asked?
“Yep. We’re gonna have THE talk.” And he smiled at me as if to say, “I’m ready.”
And that’s how it began; me wondering how he knew we were going to have THE talk.
It turned out easier than I thought. Being prepared helped a lot, I’m sure. And my son’s disarming humor and charm certainly lightened things up.
We talked about responsibility – both to himself, his family and his community. I answered his questions about what it means to be a man – to the best of my ability since I’m still figuring it out myself.
He asked questions about all the changes going on with his body. And, yes, we even talked about sex, love and relationships.
Somewhere in the middle of it all, I pulled out a handful of pocket knives. His eyes got as big as a harvest moon. I said, “You’re ready. Pick one.” He looked at all of them, touched them, opened them, turned them around in his hand and finally chose one.
Guess which one River chose?
He suddenly sat straighter. He seemed taller. His shoulders suddenly got broader. He batted his eyes, fighting back the overwhelming sense to cry. He doesn’t know, yet, grown men cry too. I forgot to mention that in THE talk.
He gave me a big hug and said, “I love you, Dad.” And, yes, my heart melted as I said, “I love you too.”
River jumped up and hopped around the sandbar, whooping and hollering. He just couldn’t contain the excitement any longer.
Turning back to me, he said, “Let’s go home. I can’t wait to show Mom my new pocket knife.”
I swallowed hard. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.
See ya’ on the trail,
I’d love to hear how you’ve handled or plan to handle this special time for your children. Let me know in the comment section.
It’s time for a campfire, some good company and S’mores – S’more Good Hiking Posts, that is. Here’s a collection of some of the sweetest reads I’ve found around the web this week.
One Foot, Two Foot, Wet Foot, Dry Foot
Whether you step in a stream or get caught in the rain, if you’re going to hike, you’re going to get wet boots. Sometimes it can’t be helped. And wet boots aren’t comfy. But how do you safely dry your boots? Greg Christensen over at Seattle Backpackers Magazine shares this ingenious boot-drying method.
“My friends and I had been on the trail three days when the rain hit. It started as drizzly rain, then changed to a fat-drop rain, then to a misty rain and then to a sprinkling on- and-off rain. We’d been hiking in an open valley, and by the time we reached the relative shelter of a distant pine forest, we were….” Read more…
Thanks! But I Think I’ll Walk
Looking for adventure in the Himalayas? Here’s one trip where the flight in and out may prove to be more adventurous than your hike. From his blog, Words From Swaziland, Steve shares his personal experience with the Lukla Airport in a humorous – and slightly anxious – fashion. I was certainly on the edge of my seat and I wasn’t even on the plane.
“Aside from the lady who was throwing rice over her shoulder as an offering to whichever Hindu deity deals with flying, the passenger complement comprised nervous trekkers, one cheerful chap and one morose chap from the Nepal Civil Aviation Authority, a Buddhist Monk and a Flight Attendant. I know that the Flight Attendant is obligatory and have a sneaking suspicion that the Monk is also on the airline’s payroll….” Read more…
A Family That Hikes Together…
One of my favorite things is to see families hiking together – or rather, families who enjoy hiking together. Jeff, from The Path Less Beaten, is gracious enough to share his family’s love for hiking with insight, wit and a whole lotta great pics. Thanks, Jeff, for another great trip.
“We originally started off the year with the goal to hike the entire Tahoe Rim Trail before year’s end. We started off with good intentions, hiking from Big Meadow to Echo Summit. As the summer progressed though, we started to realize some of the challenges that the trail posed.” Read more…
A Stroll Through The English Countryside
Ok! I’ll be honest. Until recently, England was not the first place I thought of for adventure hiking. No offense to my British friends, but I’ve never been to the UK. My primary experience of England comes from watching British TV shows, like Inspector Lewis, Luther and Sherlock which only deal with the British countryside when someone’s been murdered. So, you can see it’s not my fault. But that’s all behind me now. I’ve repented. And I owe it all to Martin from Adventures Close To Home. Here’s another one of his great posts that makes me want to hike through the English countryside.
“After some time faffing about in the suburbs I found Melton country park from where I could join the Jubilee Way which in turn would eventually lead me to the village of Stathern. My wild camp for the night was to be just beyond Stathern in the woods of the Vale of Belvoir.” Read more…
How Far Would You Go?
Whoa! That’s some serious desire. But I’m not surprised by David’s plans. Hardcore hikers will do just about anything to go on a special trail, especially if there is a lottery for spots. We wish you well, David! Looking forward to your follow up report on An Epic Adventure.
“The Enchantments is a place I’ve dreamed of going ever since I first heard about it back on Monday. It’s known as the hike in Washington; as in the best. Permits are next to impossible to get and are…” Read more…
Don’t let the name of this waterfall fool you. It’s not really a secret. And I’m not breaking any local “code of silence” by telling you about it. Thank goodness.
It’s just so remote hardly anyone knows of it, including plenty of locals.
How remote is it? Let’s just say you have to really be committed to visiting Secret Falls. It’s literally out in the middle of the wilderness. After you’ve survived the numerous, curvy switchbacks out of Highlands, NC, you head down a long, poorly maintained, one lane gravel road.
But that’s all part of its charm.
For when it comes to waterfalls, the more remote they are, the less popular they are…and this is a good thing. As the tourists hit Dry Falls and Bridal Veil Falls, you should plan to spend your day at Secret Falls.
How To Find Secret Falls
I’m not one to reinvent the wheel, so instead of providing detailed directions, I’m simply going to refer you to a couple of friends of mine, Matt and Melinda, over at Stay And Play In The Smokies. Besides providing great directions to Secret Falls, they’re also a great resource for travel and vacation information about western North Carolina.
This relatively short trail, less than a mile from the trailhead, is very level and wide. You’ll have to cross two streams, but they both have sturdy log bridges that are easy to cross.
Once you reach the side trail to Secret Falls, there’s a short drop in elevation to the lower part of the falls. Just watch the steps – a couple of them were wobbly.
This is where you get the best view and photo ops of Secret Falls. If you visit in warmer weather, you can even take advantage of the great swimming hole.
Being relatively easy to get too and fairly safe if you keep your distance from the edge, you’ll find an incredible view looking down Secret Falls and beyond. And I imagine this would look spectacular when the fall colors are at their peak.
You can visit Secret Falls anytime of year. Go for a day or spend a night or two. Swim, fish, camp or take lots of photos. There’s so much to see and do here. Just remember to keep it nice for the next visitors and pack out anything you take with you.