Nurtured by Nature

Nurtured by Nature

As winter slowly winds down and spring approaches I find myself enjoying more moments in nature. These moments give me peace and comfort in a way that few other things can. One recent Sunday evening as I laid in the fallen leaves, hands folded behind my head, gazing gently at the barren tree branches, eyes tracing the winding path of a crow in the fading blue sky above, it occurred to me that I am deeply nurtured by nature.

I found myself toying with the phrase and thinking about the eternal nature vs. nurture debate. Are humans the way we are because of our nature? Or are we shaped by the way we are nurtured? We once defined nature as our genes which were viewed as the full potential of a human being. The more we learn about genes, the more we find that the expression of genes isn’t simply a machine that runs in the body without any influence by the human. It turns out we can influence our final body chemistry which in turn influences our health and mental well-being by being thoughtful about our food, the environment we live in and seeking the benefits of exercise, stress reduction (although a bit of stress is good) and appropriate rest.

Or is a human being largely shaped by the way they are nurtured – their home environment and the people who influence their view of the world?

Either way could be left to feel a bit like we’re dealt of a hand of cards – perhaps leading to the proliferation of a victim society which appears common in society.

I am inclined to think that as with most things in life, the answer isn’t so simple as checking the box next to nature or nurture. I believe that what makes a human being is a combination of both their genetic make-up (nature) and the environment in which they are raised (nurture). Outside of these two options, I believe there is a critical element often left out of the conversation. The missing link is the element of choice.

Genes, and their expression in the body as hormones, can influence if a person has a mostly pessimistic or optimistic view of life. This tendency to view the world as mostly out to get us or help us often influences the way we respond to the curves life throws our way. Which then shapes our experience in life. Hence my view that nature and nurture can be very difficult to untangle.

Which leads me back to the beginning, my sudden realization that I am nurtured by nature. Nature was a huge part of my upbringing so for me it very well may be pleasantly mixed with nurture.

Yesterday, while resting between rounds of hauling loads of branches to our burn-pile, I watched an assassin bug roam about in his territory. I found myself wondering what he was thinking as I picked him on my finger to admire his antennae and sticky feet. I marveled at his ability to climb straight up the side of my old Coleman thermos. I watched him tentatively climb to the top and wave those same beautiful antennae looking for chemical traces on the air.

This morning, I enjoyed long slow lazy moments with my Tony cat curled up on my chest, purring his heart out.

This afternoon, as we blazed through the countryside on our Harley’s, I spotted a few guinea hens next to the road looking startled, perhaps by our bikes, but truthfully they usually look startled in my experience. Just moments before I spied a lady walking a white and brown spotted horse on the roadside.

During these small moments I notice that my heart rate slows, my mind is tuned in to the moment and I think I truly am being nurtured by nature. This nurturing is something I treasure and will hold on to with all my might. Because in these moments of peace and tranquility the biggest problems are solved. Probably not in the way you’d normally think of solving a problem, though. In these moments I often realize that the things I think are big problems, usually aren’t problems at all. Instead, they are simply opportunities to make a choice. Preferably a choice that is in tune with my nature and one that will nurture my body and soul.


Hangin’ Round

Hangin’ Round

As we neared the fire tower, I wondered if I could manage to hike one more giant step. I’d already eased myself up about a 1,000 in the relatively steep 1.2 mile ascent to the peak that, as the young energetic ranger had told me was “50 feet higher than Pilot Mountain”. How was it that I found myself struggling to make it those last 100 steps to a peak I didn’t even know existed before I entered the park visitor center. I attribute this to pride. Pride and a nasty habit of trying to finish as many trails as possible at a park.

We originally struck out to Hanging Rock State Park this morning to see the “Hanging Rock”. My husband had observed that I was hankering for adventure and Hanging Rock was both on our North Carolina bucket list and an easy 2 hour drive from home.

On our way to the park we passed Walnut Cove which has a lovely water tower and Dansbury – the streets bordered by lovely old brick buildings and a quaint white church.

Immediately outside of Dansbury we saw the sign for hanging rock and turned on to the park road. Our first stop was a reconnaissance mission to gather a trail map and route advice from the park ranger. I walked up to the counter, rested my hiking poles in front of me and asked for trail advice. The ranger took one look at me and said (I’m not kidding she really said this) “it looks like you’ve a serious hiker – our highest trail is Moore’s Loop – the one with the fire tower – that’s where you need to go. It’s 50 feet higher than pilot mountain.” A pleasant smile plastered on her face. I think I crushed a small bit of her soul by asking about touristy destinations like Hanging Rock – geez, it is the namesake of the park, after all – and waterfalls. I had disappointedly revealed that I was yet another bucket-lister. My hiker credibility a bit diminished in her eyes, she told me that yes, I could also see these things a short distance from the parking lot. Politely dismissed, I gathered my hiking poles and map decorated with yellow highlighter and wandered outside to find my companions for this adventure – my husband and our boxer, Desi.

Both now confused about how we should spend our time at the park, we took off on the Hanging Rock trail. Logic being that we certainly wanted to see the famous rock and other destinations may or may not happen. I was a bit disappointed to find the trail a wide and domesticated creature. In the beginning it was even paved in asphalt. And then the people – there were a lot of them. Pleasant enough and often with a friendly dog tugging at the end of the leash. But so many people, I can’t imagine what it’s like on a pleasant summer day.

We persisted, stepping a bit delicately in the recently melted snow and ice. Soon we came into a stand of hardwood trees and some vistas which afforded lovely views of the scenery below.

And after about 3/4 of a mile, we reached the beginning of the hanging rock formation. A nice lady snapped a photo of us under the rock.

A few hundred steps later, we walked out into Hanging Rock and took in the views. The air was still. The sky was blue. Most of the other hikers were polite and friendly. We paused for a snack and to enjoy the moment. I marveled at how my fear of heights is gone now. Thanks to the striding edge of Helvellyn!

On the way down we paused to do a bit Hanging Around ourselves. I simply couldn’t resist! Besides I have a goal to do 5 clean pull-ups this year so it was good training.

Now we reached a crucial decision point – would we take a leisurely turn, or satisfy the ambitions of the park ranger and tackle the fire tower peak? If you know me, you know what happened…

We looped around Wolf Rock and paused at the outcrop for lunch – Subway sandwiches we’d picked up on the way.

This section of trail was pleasantly narrow and we passed only a few people. One being a barefoot young lady with lilac-colored hair. We chatted with her about the surprisingly warm soil temp. A few moments down the path I reminisced about a friend who picked up a parasite through her feet once and happily kept my German-designed yak hiking boots strapped to my feet.

The path dipped down to a lake before we began the stairs of the giants climb to balancing rock and the fire tower. A gal with a Colorado ball-cap and a sunny disposition had suggested it was a good route as long as I had “good knees and was up for a strenuous climb”. Check that, I thought. We’ve climbed the fells of northern England and the Grand Canyon. This is kid stuff. Oh no, it was most definitely not.

A few hundred steps in I found myself remembering all those climbs to the top of church towers in Europe. Those climbs paled in comparison to this ascent. Also I began to ponder if it feels more difficult when you can actually see the top of when it’s obscured from view? Eventually, we made it to the top. As I sat down to quench my thirst and catch some air, we took in the views of Pilot Mountain.

A fellow Harley rider asked about our bikes and our Boxer. More Desi admirers arrived and I found myself thinking of our many mountain ascents and how they’re all unique.

The sun creeping westward, we finally made our descent down the long stretch of the loop. As promised by some hikers we met on the fire tower viewing deck, the terrain varied and the sunlight danced on the leaves as we carefully treaded through more black mucky trails and partially melted snow fields. We came across a pile of rocks that for all the world looked like a giant Jenga game to me.Eventually our path joined the fisherman’s path along the lake before ending our loop on the road. It was joyously flat as we admired views of the partially-frozen lake.

We all felt a bit like Desi, sleepy and satisfied with a day conquering mountains and ourselves. And if that ranger’s reading this, I hope she’s proud of what we accomplished!

2017 was a very big year

2017 was a very big year

As New Year’s Eve approaches I find myself reflecting on all that transpired in 2017. It was a very big year! I shared much of it with you, but I feel a need to once again reflect and sum it up. So, I did what every good American would do and pulled out a journal my sister gave me and wrote down my 2017 Adventure List. These are written in the order they appeared in my mind, which I do believe implies their significance in my memory.

“2017 Adventures”

1. Admired my first real Frida hung in the galleries of MALBA in Buenos Aires. What a fierce beauty she was! Extra special because I did not know it was on display in this museum and found it quite by accident. A most pleasant surprise.

2. Drank Belgian Biere in a cellar in Brügge with my expat sista Tilghman. Yes, it is some of the best beer in the world, although the Czech beer is slightly better. I can safely say this now that I have moved home from Germany! Ha ha.

3. Accidentally drove by Stonehenge on our way to London and stopped to snap a few photos from a nearby field road. Super-funny because we actually decided we wouldn’t have time to stop and crossed it off our list. Guess it was meant to be…

4. Visited the home church of my Thacher Ancestors – St. Barnabas in Queen Camel, Somerset County, England. A fulfilling and emotional journey retracing our roots to England. Which inspired the outline of a book I intend to write someday.

5. Enjoyed a few (ok maybe more than a few…) pints in the traditional British pub next to the family church with the Marston Magnus Drinking Club. More book material…

6. Watched the Tour de France and MET CAVENDISH!!!! And he signed my Tour baseball cap!!!

7. Learned to Stand Up Paddle (SUP) off the coast of Ilhabela in Brazil. The trick was first remembering how to dance.

8. Tip-toed through the tulips at Keukenhoff. I was too excited to only tiptoe and also occasionally jumped for joy. This place is spectacular!!!

9. Completed the “3 Countries in a Day Bike Tour” organized by fearless leader John – Germany, Netherlands and Belgium – 100 miles and unlimited laughs in a torrential rain storm with the Red Hat bike Gang. The commemorative jersey is in the mail, or so I’ve been told.

10. Survived the Dead Guys Bike Tour around Oxford, England guided by our dear friend Adam – most memorable – visiting the simple grave of J.R.R. Tolkien and the grave and home of Agatha Christie.

11. Attended the Garth Brooks World Tour in Nashville – Bonus: dancing in the Honky Tonks on Broadway with my love.

12. Lost my Tony cat. Found my Tony cat (whew, that was a close call).

13. Finally baked my first apple pie in a pan we received as a wedding gift 18 years ago. Thanks to the help of my clever nephew, it was delicious!

14. Enjoyed Tapas in the rain in La Rioja, Spain with my college racing team-mate Christina and her husband. We had not seen each other for about 12 years but it felt like it had only been yesterday. This is the good stuff!

15. Cheered on the fliers at the Planica Ski-Jumping event with a dear friend I’d met in California on a field tour years ago.

16. Hiked the Striding Edge on Helvellyn. Certainly my most memorable hiking adventure to date. Only the Grand Canyon comes close in terms of challenge and scenery.

17. Rode The Chunnel!

18. Drove on the wrong side of the road in England, safely, mind you, in a left-hand- drive German car, no less!

19. Morning jog through the Berlin Tiergarten for a sunrise view of the Brandenberg Tur.

20. Repatriated to America with only one broken glühwein mug in my shipment and was welcomed home by the most incredible surprise party with my family and friends! Reminded again that I am tremendously blessed!

Here’s to 2018! A time when I intend to spend as many precious moments as possible with the people I love near and far! Thanks for everyone who made 2017 amazing and will help make 2018 even better.



There is this thing in America which begins earlier every year and is increasing in strength and ferocity. We call it “Black Friday”. Immediately after giving thanks for everything in our lives, we either take off after the evening meal, or wake up at the crack of dawn to join thousands of other Americans to go shopping. I tried it once years ago – there was no place to park, crowds in stores were elbow-to-elbow, and to top it all off, the prices were not good! So, I decided then – never again.

Delightedly, this year I learned of a new tradition called #optoutside. Instead of heading in to a store for shopping, or sitting on your couch watching tv, thousands of Americans decided to opt outside for some time in nature.

We pulled up the google maps, located some new trails, and then headed out. Our trail selections were just about 2 miles from each other but about as different as night and day. Our first stop was at Spring Creek Bluffs. We parked in a small gravel lot, leashed up our hound dog and took off. The trail started in some scrubby woods and quickly we found ourselves in a high bank overlooking Spring Creek. Chas found a log that had fallen across the Creek creating a natural bridge and walked across it with Desi. It was mid-afternoon and the light glowed through the colorful leaves creating a scenery that looked a bit like the stained glass of European cathedrals.

We wondered if these were the Bluffs and hoped that wasn’t true. Soon enough we came to a point where the Bluffs appeared, with straight, tall Beech trees sporting yellow leaves standing like guardians on the slope.

The slope quickly climbed steeply to the peak of the Bluffs and as we reached the crest we met some folks who spoke with an English accent turning back because they thought the trail had ended. We enjoyed the view for a bit before continuing on.

Good thing we continued because the trail became even more breathtaking as we followed the ridge and meandered down to a greenway that bordered a neighborhood. We met a runner who jogged by with ragged breaths and a haggard expression on his face. Boy, I know that feeling, I thought. After a few hundred yards we turned back on to our trail to loop back to the beginning.

A short distance later we rejoined the path and walked along the ridge and down the slope before winding up on a surprisingly long boardwalk. The place must be swampy in the summer time. At the end of the path we found a beautiful placard engraved with this poem. Nice inspiration on our day opting out in nature.

After completing this trail, we drove the short distance to Hemlock Bluffs – a nature preserve that had a beautiful nature center and what turned out to be very well-developed chip bark trails.

Such a contrast to our first trail experience of the day. At Spring Creek Bluffs we saw maybe 10 people and one dog. Here groups of families, many with happy hounds tugging at the end of a leash, strolled along together enjoying the fine fall weather. Because we were still traveling the same bluff (I had assumed), I expected the scenery to be the same. As it turned out that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This park hosts a rare grove of Hemlock trees – a type of evergreen that is normally found in the mountains of western North Carolina – that thrives here because of a unique cold and swampy microclimate.

The preserve also has a large population of beech trees and what blew me away was the color of their leaves. Here the trees were wearing golden brown leaves, while on the other bluff the leaves were bright yellow. I still don’t know why this phenomenon would occur, but you can bet I’ll be doing some research on it.

We hiked all the trails at the park (about 3 miles worth), sometimes racing to stay ahead of noisy families, other times enjoying a rare human-free moment. I was impressed with the infrastructure and think it would be fun to return in the summer for a hope at a glimpse of the many salamander species that make this preserve home.

Today was sunny and warm and we headed off to San Lee for a mountain bike ride. Another gorgeous day on a challenging terrain made a bit more treacherous by the coating of colorful leaves.

I’d recommend checking out all of these parks if you have some time to explore in the area of Cary and Sanford, North Carolina. And if you didn’t do it this year, I’d encourage you to join us next year as we #optoutside!

Friday Float on Vater Rhein (aka one of my zaniest adventures yet!)

Friday Float on Vater Rhein (aka one of my zaniest adventures yet!)

A few months ago I went to my colleagues office for the final weigh-in of the Desperate Dieters Challenge. I joined the challenge on a whim when I was working to lose weight and thought it would be nice to have a group to keep me accountable. It worked! As the challenge officially came to an end we needed a new adventure. After the weigh-in, my buddy Peter Josef popped in to the office with a new captain’s hat perched on his head and this is when our crazy plan was hatched. We would commute home from the office in Monheim to Düsseldorf via 3-man canoe.
We picked a Friday afternoon and on the appointed day I drove to the office toting a bag loaded with flip flops, a swimsuit, running shorts, a t-shirt, ball cap, shades fitted with a home-made lanyard, sunblock (I was optimistic that we MIGHT experience some sun) and, most important of all, 6 iced-down Duff beers and 3 bifi rolls for sustenance.

After the work day was over, we gathered in the lobby and walked out to Peter Josef’s car. There it was – a borrowed 3-man canoe strapped to the top of his station wagon. This is the moment when it hit me – I was about to do a rather crazy thing – canoeing down the Rhein river with two colleagues who I’d never boated with before and on top of that none of us had ever paddled the Vater Rhein! 

I was feeling relatively ok about this until John started to worry… aloud… if only he would have worried to himself, then I wouldn’t have also become a bit worried. As we drove toward our launch point I learned that we needed to take the ferry to Zons. Now is when it should be noted that Düsseldorf is on the opposite side of the river from Zons, which led me to deduce we would have to CROSS the river. I had not considered this as a possibility and this is when I began to think we could be embarking on a dangerous undertaking.

Waiting for the ferry gave us a chance to note the strong current in the water. Fortunately, we would be going downstream, but this is when John pointed out what would be our biggest challenge on the ride. He pointed out the erosion control (piles of rocks leading from the bank and out into the river at perpendicular angles to the shore. He asked if we knew what these were called and this is when the trip got interesting. These structures, according to my British friend, are called Groins! As you can imagine, for the rest of the trip we frequently had to make attempts to avoid the groins as we pursued a narrow path between the frequent, huge, barges and the currents created by the groins. We delighted in childishly referring to the gnarly groins, and avoiding the groin, and such it went for the duration.
Before we took off it was decided that John was captain and Peter was in the rear steering and I was in the middle to add some fuel. And to hand beers when it was time for this.

In the beginning there was lots of yelling from John to Peter Josef – go to the right, go to the left, not so far left, what are you doing man? I said left! It was rather humorous.
After about an hour we found our rhythm. 30 minutes later it was time to pop a top and we found a sleepy bay where we rested, enjoyed a cold Duff beer and took in the views.

As we resumed paddling, occasionally John would break in to song providing a soundtrack of Irish and Scottish seaman songs. We shared stories of our many and varied crazy travel adventures and occasionally we quietly took in the views of the beautiful Rhein. Although there wasn’t much quiet, this is a pretty talkative crowd! In addition to the jokes we also saw some very (ahem) interesting scenery…Once we averted our eyes when we saw a guy au natural sunning on the river banks. 

The day was mostly cloudy. About 30 minutes from the Mediahafen, it began to rain a bit. It could not dampen our spirits. Fortunately, it was a bit warm so we didn’t get chilled. About 3 hours after we entered the water in Zons, we passed the Paradiestrand in Düsseldorf and made a hard right into the Hafen. We were quite proud of traveling without incident when a huge barge began to bear down upon us laying on the horn. 

We dashed out of their way and made our way toward a dock, pulled the boat out of the water and lugged it up a steep ramp to the road and then on to John’s garage for the night.

All of us were thrilled to have completed the Rhein river commute challenge. It’s certainly an evening I will never forget. When I shared the story with my husband, he commented that since I’d traveled to work via car and bike and now boat, I needed to go by train. I laughed and then, sure enough, I went by train last Tuesday. I’m grateful that he constantly challenges me to find new ways to experience life and doesn’t stop me from taking crazy adventures like paddling down the Rhein in a 3-man canoe!

Our next adventure will be a 3-country, 100 mile bike tour in a day! What a way to end my 2 year adventure in Deutschland! More to come on that soon.

Bike Bahn

Bike Bahn

I love to plan trips but every once in a while I love to just go along for the ride when someone else has built the plan. It brings an element of surprise that delivers a bit more excitement for what my otherwise be a routine activity. 

Today, this is just what I did. I rolled out of bed at 6 am, brewed some coffee, had a quick breakfast in the courtyard while I took my cat for a stand (cats don’t really walk) and then put the finishing touches on my bike – pumped up the tires and the frame shock. Threw my wallet, a rain coat (it’s Germany you can NEVER trust the forecast) and a banana into my camelback before rolling out of my apartment for the ride to the Düsseldorf HBF (hauptbahnhoff = main train station).

My instructions were to meet my friend (aka epic bicycle tour guide) at Gleis 7 to catch a train for Hamm (supposedly – German trains are notoriously late) departing at 8:47 am. Our plan was to ride a stretch of the Römer-Lippe Route. You can link to the route here

Römer = Roman and this trail is so named because it is located in one of the territories that was ruled by Rome during their reign in Europe. Later it became, and continues to be, an industrial region fueled by a ready supply of water from the Lippe river. This region was also in the past dominated by coal mining and coal power generation. The coal power plants are now gone, but the remnants of coal mining remain in the form of huge iron structures near the river banks.

I thought this post could be a bit about our actual ride and a bit of an instructional guide about how to travel by bike and train in Germany. It’s not so complicated but could be a bit intimidating for the un-initiated. Also, legal disclosure, I am certain there will be some errors and omissions of rules in this post. Honestly, it’s impossible to know all the rules in Germany! But, what we did today worked so hopefully it would work for you.

The first thing is to buy a ticket. While this may sound easy, it can be very complicated! Fortunately, my friend had a local help with this. What we used was a ticket that was a 24 hour fare for the entire state of Nord Rhein Westfalia. In addition to the ticket for you, you also need a ticket for your bicycle (aka Fahrad). You can try to make these selections online but I highly recommend (I cannot underline this point enough) that you go to the DB office and ask for their help during your first few trips. The people at the counter speak English and are very helpful. These are the tickets we used for our trip.

You will also notice the price on the ticket. This ticket is for up to 5 people because we originally planned to be a group of 3. It was still cheaper than two individual fares though. Be prepared to pay to play on German trains! They are not cheap. If you believe you will ride them often you can purchase discount options. As it turned out, I didn’t ride trains as much as I’d anticipated so I never did buy a discount card. But it’s worth exploring if you plan to be a frequent traveler.

Then when it comes to boarding the train with your bike, you need to look for the bike train car. You’ll see this on the sign board. In NRW the platforms have four sections: A, B, C, D. When you see the details for your train you just need to look for a pictures on the electronic sign board at the platform that has a picture of a bicycle under a letter. It’s often under the letter D. When you board the train have your fingers crossed that it’s not already full of bikes or baby carriages. In that case you’ll need to wait for the next train. Fortunately, we found space for our bikes probably because it was a bit early in the morning. As the train car filled with more bikes we lost our seat in the carriage, locked up the bikes and headed upstairs for the hour ride to Hamm.

As we traveled along we chatted exchanging travel stories and getting caught up on life. I found a great farmscape at one of the stations we passed. The tractor was the right color!

When we arrived in Hamm, we walked out and found the bicycle sign and started our ride to Lünen.

Our route was marked with the Roman centurion helmet. It was relatively easy to follow. We quickly left the city center and found the Lippe. I paused to admire a tall corn field that bordered some grain bins.

We paused near some cooling towers for a photo. They were impressive structures! I couldn’t tell if the plant was still active.

Soon we entered into a section of trail that was closed in on both sides by trees and we stopped to pick some blackberries.

As we started to takeoff I noticed a sign for a natural area and we paused to admire the view.

About a kilometer later I spotted what looked like a small path to the right so we stopped to check it out. What a surprise when we discovered a herd of cattle called Heckrinder that looked a bit like buffalo. My friend translated the sign for us and we learned that the habitat was a semirestired natural grassland and the herd is an attempt to restore European buffalo. I enjoyed watching the herd move about and we even spotted some calves!

By now we started to get a little hungry and fortunately our lunch stop was nearby. Our plan was to stop at a yacht club in Bergkamen. We passed my favorite bridge of the day and then entered the city.

I knew it was going to be a great lunch destination when a few Harley’s passed us and then we saw a guy in a root beer brown stingray getting an ice cream. Then the place was actually called California! That was too coincidental for me.

This is one of the best parts about bicycle touring by train in Germany. You can enjoy a nice bier with lunch without worrying about the drive home!

The next half of the ride went pretty quickly. Along the way we saw some retired coal mine equipment, an interesting industrial plant and a beautiful swamp.

Soon we entered Lünen and made a very important observation. Almost everyone was carrying an ice cream! This was certainly a sign. We needed gelato. We paused to snap a photo finish and then made our last refueling stop. 

I could not believe they had watermelon gelato. Of course, I had to try some.

We rolled the final 400 meters to the HBF and boarded the train to Dortmund. Then transferred to a train running to the Düsseldorf HBF. This is where it got interesting… the train was packed! Like, standing room only packed. We were able to cram ourselves and our bikes into the car.

Then, perhaps the most entertaining part of the day happened when I watched a girl grab her bike and walk off the train with a tomato plant, an entire tomato plant (!), peaking out of the top of her rucksack.

Soon we pulled in to the Düsseldorf HBF, lugged our bikes down the stairs from the platform in to the station. I was biking home and my friend needed to catch another train to her home. Happy and sleepy and relaxed we hugged and parted ways. Promising to try to squeeze in one more ride in September before I move back to America. Yes, the clock is ticking down. It’s time to grab hold of every moment. But, when is it not? 

Life is short, make it a good ride.

The Striding Edge

The Striding Edge

The guidebook warned – “not for people who suffer vertigo”. I’ll say!

Our first hike in the Lakes District was a trek to the peak of Helvellyn. A beauty of a mountain, distinguished as being the favorite hike of William Woodsworth, the romantic poet. Two days before our hike we sat at Adam’s sun room table, fresh pints of English ale within arms reach, carefully studying trail maps. We had 2 full days to explore the wonders of the Lakes and Adam recommended that we make two hikes: Helvellyn and Great Gables. The hikes were expected to take between 4 and 6 hours each. We checked the forecast and the weather promised to be beautiful during our visit. It’s not advised to hike during inclement weather, which I completely understood after we were on the trail!

On the day of our ascent, we started our hike around 9 am, half expecting to get in another hike in the afternoon, on the advisement of Adam who indicated we could cover the trail in a few hours…. 7 hours later, as we hobbled down giant stone steps, our only destination was a shop to acquire a few hard-earned cold British beers and meat pies. But I’m getting ahead of myself, here’s the rest of the story.

We parked in the lovely village of Penrith and asked a local where we could locate the trail head. This is much easier, by the way, in England, where everyone speaks (some version of) English. A brief instruction, “walk up that road, look for the sign” and we were on our way.

Our first encounter was with a friendly couple who spend all their vacations hiking in the Lakes and sleeping in their caravan – the British term for a camper. Genuinely friendly and upbeat people, we had a nice chat as we began our hike and they reconfirmed our path to the peak. They reassured us that we could certainly make it up the striding edge. As we walked, the terrain almost immediately was nearly completely vertical, or at least that’s how it felt to me, and I silently thanked my lucky stars for my months of stair climber training over the winter. We shed our outer layer as our body temperature climbed with the elevation.

Half-way up the first hill, we reached a livestock gate and they split left as we continued up, now moving slightly laterally and a little less steeply up the mountain.

Our first destination was “the hole in the wall”. A curious name, I thought, “why do they call it that?”. Well, actually, because it is, literally, a hole in the stone wall! 

The area is crisscrossed with beautiful hand-built stone walls used to separate pastures which are grazed by sheep. Luckily we arrived on the tail-end of lambing season and our soundtrack for the duration of our visit was the bleats of sheep. Such a lovely sound!

After we climbed across the “hole in the wall”, we marveled at our first views of the peak of Helvellyn – hugging a lake called Red Tarn. 

We paused for a bit to ask a chap to snap a photo of us. 

Then we reciprocated by taking a photo of him for his wife. He had lived in the area for over a decade and was hiking the infamous mountain for his first time. We talked about our impending encounter with the striding edge, and he expressed he was also a bit worried… this did not help!
After a stroll across a high mountain meadow, we were suddenly on the striding edge. Which is basically, a ridge ascent where you climb across rocks with, ocassionally, nearly shear drops that it is best to avoid looking at, if you know what I mean. In the beginning, it was easy going. 

Then, the path narrowed and we began hand-over-hand bouldering, if you will, at great height. 

The most challenging part came when we came down the backside of a rocky ridge requiring quite a bit of triceps and careful foot placement. This is where we met a chap in his 50s who was on his last nerve. We helped him down and he decided he would not continue. It was sad, because we’d met him on our way up the first mountain ascent and he was excited to be finally hiking the mountain after considering it for years. But, as he made the decision to bail out and literally slide down the gravely backside of the mountain mere feet from the summit, my husband and I reflected on the power of intention. When we first met him, he said that he was going to “try” to make it but he wasn’t sure he’d be successful. We, on the other hand, perhaps foolishly, certainly boldly, never doubted our ability to make the ascent. And, you know what, we did!

But first, after we completed the rocky ridge grappling, we needed to make one final push. I’ll admit, seeing a grown man bail out, got to me a bit, so I focused my attention on quickly pushing up the ridge to the peak. Here the trail became more vertical and more of a scramble with lose rocks and not as much solid footing. We charged up quickly, and suddenly we reached the peak.

It was time for lunch and some fellows were rising to continue their hike. We grabbed their spot on the rim to savor the view as we refueled with salami and blue cheese sandwiches. Yes, an admittedly strange combination, which turned out to be delicious! 

After our lunch we spent a bit of time on the peak taking in the views of Ulswater in the distance.

We read a monument to a hiker who died on the mountain and his skeleton was later found because his dog stayed by his side for 3 months! Quite a tale of loyalty, or desperation (she allegedly consumed his flesh), you take your pick.

Fortunately, this was not our day to die, but we weren’t quite certain of this yet. We had ahead of us the descent down the Swiral Edge. Not quite as steep as the striding edge, but challenging, nonetheless. A group of college kids skipped across the rocks and we watched in wonder at their nimble steps.

We found ourselves wondering, where is the trail? Seriously, y’all, I have never encountered such trails in America! It was rather invigorating and felt like a real adventure!

Clouds passed overhead, altering the colors of the landscape moment by moment. As we descended, I snapped photos of the changing scenery. 

We paused for a moment on the banks of the tarn to admire the reflection of the mountain in the water. Then we continued our descent.

For a bit, we climbed out and back, basically up to the hole in the wall. This is where we needed to make a decision – go back the way we came, or take a looping path back to Glenridding. Of course, we went for the loop, we always go for the loop option. The first portion followed the rock wall along the ridge, then made a descent down what could best be described as steps for giants. Huge rocks which basically formed a stairway. By this point we were a bit tired and our feet began to complain about the pounding on the rocks. 

We persisted, occasionally stopping to admire the views and say hello to the sheep. 

After what felt like a very long time of walking down giant steps, we re-entered the valley. The first person we met was a boy and we asked him the way to Penrith. In the most delightful Lakes District accent, he informed us we could either walk up the hill (my legs cried: “please, no more hills”) or along the beck (the local word for river or creek) in to town where we would find a store and then turn right and follow the road to Penrith. We opted for the Beck path and happily soaked in more scenery.

A stop at the market to assess supplies confirmed they had a good selection of beer so we pushed on to our car and then drove back to stock up. We ended the day with beer and reheated meat pies as we soaked up the sunset over Ulswater.

Such a lovely day! We were filled with a sense of accomplishment and a bit of worry about the chap who bailed and went down the side of the hill. We wondered if we should have taken his number to call and make sure he was ok. We also wondered how he felt after bailing halfway and were grateful for our convinction and ability to persevere in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.

As often happens on a hike in the woods. Once again, the mountain was our teacher and reminded us that a prepared body, supported by a sound mind, can accomplish any challenge.

It was one he** of a day on Helvellyn!