Edward Point

As Tisen and I walked what we thought was the last 15 minutes to Edward Point, shadows raced across the forest floor like silent, dark ghosts.  I looked up to discover a half a dozen turkey vultures circling overhead.  Close overhead.  Too close.

Given we were hot, tired, and bleeding from numerous wounds from brambles, it was a little ominous to feel like they were so interested in us.

Fortunately, they soared further away as we approached, giving us a more breathing room.

As we looked around (well, I looked around, I don’t know what Tisen was doing exactly), I realized that the area must have had a fire in recent years.  The trees were charred in place.  The growth was thick and dense, but it was all wild flowers and sun-loving brush.  The bugs loved it.  I couldn’t seem to keep them off of me.  I saw bugs on me that I’d never seen before.  I stopped shooing and started swatting, leaving red hand-prints on my arms.  They went well with the bleeding scratches from the earlier brambles.

There is something disconcerting about hiking from relatively deep forest into bright meadows when a mountain is well below timberline.  You expect to come out into open spaces when hiking in Colorado, but here, it just seems wrong.  I found myself wondering when the forest had burned and whether that was normal here in the Eastern  US.

About 15 minutes after we’d found our way back to the Cumberland Trail, we encountered an overlook that faced the cliff on the other side of the gulch.  Directly across from us was a huge building that absolutely looked wrong.  There is nothing I resent more than when I spend hours making my way to a overlook in the “wilderness” only to discover I’m within a football field (or two) of a major development.  I found myself hoping this was not, in fact, Edward Point.

I googled Edward Point to see if I could tell.  Thankfully, I was able to determine that we were not there yet.  Now, I had a decision to face.  A 72-pound dog who is tired and hot and 45-year-old knees that are equally tired give one pause at moments like these.  Had it been me and only me, there would have been no hesitation–I was going to make it to Edward Point this time no matter what.  However, I’d lifted Tisen enough times on the way up to know I couldn’t carry him back.  I had to consider whether he could make it or not.

I decided to give it another 10 minutes.  I could see where we were along the gulf and it seemed like Edward Point, which overlooks the main river valley, had to be close.  I was so glad we’d stuck it out when we arrived at the overlook.  While Tisen took a nap in the shade, I took as many photos of the view as I could.

Lost Again

Tisen has a very specific way of cooling off in streams. He walks in, feels around with his feet until he finds the perfect spot, then he lays down.  I suspect it has something to do with his Holstein genes.

Having cooled off for several minutes and drunk his fill of water, Tisen recovered enough to tackle the uphill climb.

As we made our way of the far side of the gulch, the climb got steeper.  We were distracted by the amazing rock formations.  Perhaps this is why, when we got to the next junction in the trail, I decided we needed to head downhill rather than up.  This turned out to be a bad mistake.

We ended up on a trail that kept getting narrower and more overgrown.  Soon, we were walking through brambles that hooked themselves into bare skin, tearing flesh as I forced my way through.  Tisen was somewhat protected by his fur, but both of us looked like we’d taken a beating by the time we got to a clearer part of the trail.

The trail now tucked up against another rock bluff, looking more like a deer trail than a parks and recreation trail.  I should have turned around about a 1/4 mile in.  Have I mentioned I have issues with going backwards?

On the plus side, since nature was calling pretty loudly at this point, it was good that we were in an isolated area with plenty of underbrush so I could heed the call without fear of someone walking up on me.  On the minus side, there were so many enormous spider webs in the rocky bluff I was almost afraid to turn my back on them.

When we got around the bluff, we started bush-whacking uphill, hearing voices above us and thinking that must be the main trail.

This was tough going.

Not only were there more brambles and spider webs, but now there were more and more rocks to climb as well.  I was worried about Tisen getting a little more exercise than he could handle.

As we walked along the face of yet another rock bluff, we caught up with a couple with a child and two dogs.  I have no idea how they all got there, but there they were.  I asked them where we were and they assured me that we were just below the Cumberland Trail.  All we had to do was go straight up the rock face.

I found an entry point that I could climb, lifted all 72 pounds of Tisen up onto the rock at shoulder height and managed to convince him to stay up there while I used a tree to assist my own ascent.

Bush-whacking through another patch of brambles rewarded us with being back on the main trail.  The couple had said Edward Point was about 15 minutes away; had it been much further, I probably would have started heading home.

Beyond the Overlook

Continuing our hike from Signal Point to Edward Point, Tisen and I made our way along the steep slope of the gully.

I guess it’s a gully.  I’m not really clear on when a gully becomes a canyon or if there’s some other name for a horse-shoe-shaped space in the side of a mountain, but essentially, we were going to hike in nearly an ellipse, but we were going to end up on a point on the opposite cliff from where we started.

The trail starts high, goes mostly downhill to the midpoint and then climbs again to Edward Point overlook on the far side.  It requires stepping over, on, or around many rocks in the process.  We clambered our way up the trail, keeping a pretty good pace going.  I eyed the poison ivy growing along the trail with disdain–I knew it meant Tisen and I were going to be taking very thorough baths that night.

When we got about another 1/2 mile down the trail, we ran into an impasse.  This happens quite frequently on trails.  A tree has fallen across the trail that can’t be gone over, so you have to go around.  Usually, this might mean walking a 1/10 of a mile out of the way to skirt the fallen tree.  In this case, there were dozens of trees that had fallen.  It was a terrible scene of destruction that made me sad.  On the other hand, with as many bad storms as have rolled through this area in recent years, it’s pretty amazing that that’s all the damage that’s been done.

But there were piles of fallen trees.  And we we tried to go around, we ran into only more fallen trees.  We went around and went around some more, trying to find a route through all the crap that fell with the trees.  Eventually, we did make it.

Of course, in the process, I lost the trail.  We ended up bush-whacking our way back to the trail, arriving slightly scratched and a little more tired than we would have otherwise.

When we finally found the main trail again, we hadn’t gone more than 10 feet hen we saw a junction with a trail that came from the same direction we had just come from.  It was clearly blazed as the main trail and it looked like it would have missed all of the fallen trees.  I kicked myself and wondered how I had missed that option when we took the high trail to hell.

But, back to relatively clear sailing, we continued on our way, making it to the point where we’d turned around the first time we tried to hike this trail and pushing beyond.  Less than a 1/4 mile past our previous turn-around point, we ran into a stream.  Tisen made quick work of laying down in the water to cool off.  I thought about joining him, but there wasn’t a puddle big enough.

Re-Hike

Sunday has become unofficial hiking day.  Of late, I seem to have fallen into a new routine.  Saturday, I recover from the previous 5 days of hiking, biking, rowing, and yoga.  I do this mostly by laying on the couch with the occasional interruption of taking Tisen for walks.

But Sunday, Sunday I hike.  And this past Sunday, Pat needed to work, so it was the perfect opportunity to make my second attempt at Edward Point.  This time, Tisen and I would start at 10:30 in the morning instead of 4:30 in the evening.  We were mentally prepared for a rather challenging 6 mile hike, up and down Signal Mountain, scrambling over rocks.

This was our fourth trip to the Signal Point overlook.  It’s an easy walk down a paved trail from the parking lot.  We spent 20 minutes covering the 100 yards from the parking lot to the overlook–there were lots of places to sniff.

But the overlook is it for the suburban park setting.  After stopping for a couple of quick shots, we headed to the Cumberland Trail.  Even with its manmade steps, it’s not an easy trail.  Many people make it the first half mile to a “natural” overlook point over the gully that our trail would wind its way around.  But it involves clamoring down steep and big steps, jumping onto rocks, and stepping carefully.  Tisen did an amazing job navigating all the obstacles.

Every time we go on a hike that starts out with an accessible view, I notice the drop off in population as you get further from the parking lot.  We were still on the most traveled part of the trail, but already we were down to only 2 other people who we didn’t see until we made it to the overlook point.

Before we’d rounded the first blind turn, a Pileated Woodpecker called from so close to where we were standing that I was sure I would look up and see it clinging to a tree.  As I searched for the shape of this giant woodpecker, it called again, sounding slightly further away.  I searched frantically, watching for shadows against the dark forest floor.  When it called a third time, the Doppler effect kicked in–I could hear it moving away from us as it called.  I was bummed.  I haven’t seen a Pileated Woodpecker in quite a while–I would have loved to have gotten a shot of it.

We continued our hike possibly in greater safety now that the woodpecker was gone–I have a tendency to forget I’m walking on the edge of a cliff when I’m searching for a bird.

When we stopped at the first natural overlook, Tisen was already panting hard.  I got out his portable water bowl and tried to coax him into drinking water.  Tisen stuck his elbow in the collapsible water bowl and stared at me, pink tongue lolling from his black-and-white mouth.

Why I Don’t Cook

When I returned from my recent adventure in Vermont, I was feeling motivated to eat as healthy as possible.  I also triggered an addiction to lobster, having stopped in Boston on both the way there and the way back, indulging in lobster rolls in both directions.

As such, I got out my favorite cookbook, “The Ultra-Metabolism Cookbook” and found myself drooling over the Lobster Fra Diavalo recipe.

By luck, my noon meeting cancelled and I managed to spend lunch at the grocery store.  I bought the provisions necessary for a 3-course meal–salad, entree, and dessert.

When my day had mostly wrapped up (I did have one evening conference call with some folks in Australia, but it didn’t last long), I started cooking.

Now, this is a rather rare phenomenon.  Finding me in the kitchen usually means I’m making coffee, eating yogurt straight out of the carton, or perhaps doing something as creative as making a smoothie.  But on this night, I was undertaking making 3 courses all for the same meal.

I started thawing the lobster tails for the Lobster Fra Diavalo.  I made pomegranate salad dressing and prepped the salad.  I put on wild rice to cook without fully reading the instructions (quite the risk taker).  I served the salad around 8PM, right after my conference call was over.  Not bad if you ignore the fact I’d started prepping around 5:30PM.

I thought I’d started the rice too late, but then I realized the sauce for the lobster had to cook down, so then my rice was going to be done too early.  I turned up the heat on the diavalo sauce in the hope of reducing it faster.  While it cooked, I made up some chocolate sauce from a New Life Hiking Spa recipe available on their website.  I was going to serve banana “ice cream” and chocolate sauce for dessert.

Note the time in the photo of the lobster cooking on the stove.  At 9:17, I was still trying to reduce the sauce.  We ate our lobster at 9:30.  It was actually quite good, if I do say so myself.  But, can lobster ever really taste bad?

Next, I took frozen bananas out of the freezer only to discover they weren’t really frozen all the way.  I decided to try to make the dessert anyway.  I put them in the blender and tried to puree them into an ice cream consistency.  Between their unfrozen state and my crappy blender, they came out more of a pudding consistency.  I enjoyed it anyway.  My husband wasn’t so keen on the dessert.  The chocolate sauce was tasty, but sweetened with maple syrup (not from Vermont), it was a little too mapley for him.

All in all, I invested about 5 hours of my time between planning, shopping, cooking, eating, and cleaning up for this one healthy meal.  I texted my friend that I now understand why I have time to workout–I don’t cook.

Bluff Trail

Having made it to Sunset Rock, instead of going back the way we came, we looked for the more popular trail back to Craven’s House, Bluff Trail.  However, the map was a bit confusing as to whether we had to go back down the trail we’d come up to get to Bluff Trail or if it was at the same elevation as Sunset Rock.

There was a trail leading in the correct direction from Sunset Rock, so we decided it must be the trail we were looking for and headed on a treacherous route along the cliff.  It ended about 100 yards beyond Sunset Rock and we were forced to double back.  When we returned to Sunset Rock, a man with a young daughter was there.  There were two choices:  go up or go down.  I decided to ask the man which direction they’d come from.  They’d come down the trail we were eye-balling.  Turns out, we could have gotten to Sunset Rock by driving o the top of the staircase and walking about 1500 feet.  We walked over 2 miles to get to the same place that the man and his daughter had walked about 500 yards to.  It’s almost depressing, but we really enjoyed the walk.

In any case, we deduced that back down was our only option.  We climbed the “stairs” back down to another junction and then headed parallel to the bluff.  We were treated to occasional glimpse between the trees of a view of the valley.

Tisen liked this trail a lot.  He came into his own trotting along, right next to a cliff.  I was more worried than he was. Any time I started to freak out that he might fall over the edge, I’d call him and he’d look up at me with an expression that clearly said, “you’re not good at math.”  Maybe he’s right–he never did slip over the edge.

The rock formations on Lookout Mountain are pretty amazing.  Giant Rocks have fallen into unexpected places, decorating the landscape in places where it seems they must have been air-lifted in by helicopter.

The rock formations are a  beautiful.  They are sandstone, with intense layers that create interesting caves or have splits and vines and/or moss, all depending on where you see these giant reminders of a time long gone.

I don’t know what exactly is so attractive about these giant boulders.  Perhaps it’s because where each one appears, it’s as if time has stood still for centuries.

Tisen was less impressed with formations and more concerned about ensuring he had a way out.

Perhaps this is why Tisen had a magical ability to always end up in my frame?  His obsession with being in front led him to pass me whenever I stopped to shoot.  I’m not sure what was driving him to always be in front, but he ended up walking into my frame almost every time I stopped to get a shot.

Sunset Rock

Lookout Mountain is both a backdrop and a center piece for Chattanooga.  It’s full of tourist destinations and local favorites; quiet neighborhoods and busy streets; civil war history and quiet countryside.  It offers fantastic views and shaded woods.  It all just depends on where on Lookout Mountain you go.

This past weekend, when we were trying to decide where we wanted to hike, my husband’s criteria was that he wanted to spend less than an hour driving round-trip and he didn’t want to hike more than 5 miles.  My criteria was that I wanted there to be a view and I wanted the trail to be doable in my fivefingers shoes.  Lookout Mountain was our perfect compromise.

We’ve gone up to Point Park on Lookout Mountain many times.  We’ve walked the paved trail down to the overlook at the point.  And, off in the distance, we noticed people sitting on Sunset Rock.  Today was our day to sit on Sunset Rock.

We decided to start at Craven’s House.  There are several trails from Craven’s House that can get you to Sunset Rock.  We chose the longest route.  Even so, it was not much more than 2 miles to Sunset Rock.

We took a trail called Rifle Pits Trail.  I’m sure there is an explanation for why it’s called “Rifle Pits,” but all I could think about was rifles spewing out shells and leaving behind the casings like I might spit out the pits from Kalamata olives.  We did not see a single shell casing, however.

This trail was partially an old road, which made for easy walking.  However, when we got to the Gum Spring Trail juncture, we turned and started climbing a lot of steps.  While it wasn’t so difficult as to be daunting, we were a little worried about Tisen.  These were mostly large stones positioned to form stairs, not actual stairs.  But every time I stopped to check on Tisen, he would run into the backs of my legs, he was so tight on my heels.

I made it up the steep section in 1 piece–it’s a miracle I didn’t trip over Tisen and fall off the cliff.  And the view from Sunset Rock was spectacular.  Unfortunately, it was, as usual, the wrong time of day to be shooting, but I did what I could.

Speaking of shooting, does anyone know how to train a dog not to walk into the frame when you stop to take a picture?  I had to trash about 50 images because of a Holstein-like blur running through them.  While we’re talking about unexpected visitors in the camera frame, let’s talk about my husband.  I think we’ve reached a point in our photographer/non-photographer relationship where he’s tired of assisting.  I didn’t bring my tripod or any extra lenses (for once), which meant he didn’t feel obligated to carry anything for me.  But, he still felt obligated to walk through my frame.  What do you suppose that means?

Bird Kings

I have a lot of funny stories about birding.  Let’s start with the 2 years I spent getting out my CD-set of bird songs every time I heard a particular bird calling, trying desperately to figure out what it was, only to discover (eventually) it was a chipmunk.

Or, how about the time I managed to convince myself that a Great Blue Heron (one of the most readily identifiable birds around) was a Tri-colored Heron because its feathers were hanging at a weird angle, making a pattern of color around its neck I hadn’t seen before.

Then there’s the time I was sure I was seeing a Louisiana Waterthrush only to realize I was looking at a female Red-winged Blackbird.  While I think all birders have been fooled by a female Red-winged Blackbird, I’d bet there aren’t too many who thought they might be a Louisiana Waterthrush.

But besides my identification mishaps, I also have physical ones.  For example, at the end of this month’s Wednesday morning bird walk (which I was leading), I got excited trying to see a bird in a tree right above us and I walked right into a concrete bench and fell over it, landing on my rear.  Fortunately, my fellow birders managed to catch me enough to keep me from falling all the way over the bench and onto the ground.

There’s also the time I was so busy looking up that I walked into a branch that smacked me right in my wide-open mouth.  I guess that’s better than a friend of mine who made the mistake of looking up with an open mouth just in time to catch a not-so-tasty snack.

Oh, and then there’s the time I drove off the road trying to identify a hawk perched on post at the side of the road.  Friends, don’t let friends bird and drive.

Perhaps it’s all of these antics that often give me the feeling that the birds are as amused watching me as I am watching them.

On our Saturday morning bird walk, which I was also leading, we discovered a family of Eastern Kingbirds.  It appeared the baby had fledged and Mom and Dad were trying to encourage it to start feeding itself (sound familiar, parents?).  But the baby wasn’t ready to give up on getting spoon (or beak) fed.

Perched low in a shrub near eye-level, we had quite a treat watching these wonderful flycatchers swoop in and encourage the baby to make an effort.  Baby, on the other hand, demanded to be fed loudly, squealing at Mom and Dad with a bright pink, open mouth.  No tasty treat for Baby either.

I love Eastern Kingbirds. They’re the easiest flycatcher to identify by sight.  The white rim along the tip of their tails and their size along with their pure white breast make them striking and distinct.  That’s what makes a bird a favorite for me–easily distinguishable features.

Indulgence

On our last full day in Vermont, after lunch, we decided to take a field trip.  We went to the famous gift shop of a hotel a few miles down the road.  This required making some arrangements.

For starters, we didn’t have a car.  We also didn’t want to walk, having already hiked that morning.  Fortunately for us, the owner was willing to come pick us up and drive us to her shop.

I am not a big fan of shopping.  But, I really wasn’t feeling up to trying Zoomba for the second time (definitely not an exercise for me) and we could get back in plenty of time for yoga class.  Plus, I thought I might find a gift for Tisen.

I was right.  I found an adorable moose to add to Tisen’s collection of “babies.”  I also found a book of guitars for Pat.  And a book of top 10 lists of places to go for Pat and I to share and fantasize about.

And then, I found the most dangerous thing of all.  It was a bag of maple syrup jelly beans.  This was not a wise purchase given that I was at a weight-loss spa, getting tons of exercise, and eating extremely healthy foods.  There is nothing that triggers a binge for me more than pure sugar in convenient handfuls.

When I got done paying for my items, I opened the bag of jelly beans and poured the first handful before I even put my wallet away.  By the time my friend got up to the counter to pay for her stuff (it was at least 10 minutes later, I swear), nearly a quarter of the bag had mysteriously disappeared.

As it turned out, it was the last bag of jelly beans and my friend had wanted to buy them as a gift for her son.  Had I not torn into them already, I would have given them to her.  As it was, she couldn’t really take him a half eaten bag of jelly beans.

Back at the “spa,” I opted to take a nap before yoga versus going to the strength class.  Funny how a person can eat jelly beans while taking a nap.  The darn things just disappeared and I was left in a sugar coma, having polished off 8 oz of maple syrup jelly beans in about 2 hours.

I do not do well feeling like I’m being deprived of anything.  When I get in a situation where I feel like I’m not “allowed” to have something, I start craving it.  When I get any kind of candy, I eat it until it’s gone like I’m afraid someone will steal it from me.  It’s not good.  I’ve been combating this problem by having a few small pieces of dark chocolate everyday.  It’s good for me and it’s so strong, I can’t eat a lot of it.  I guess I should have brought some along with me to the spa.

The Necessaries

Our second hike in Vermont was on a gravel road that ran next to a stream.  The stream spoke the usual stream language, babbling to us as we walked.  Something we don’t always think about when we imagine the sound of a happily babbling stream is the way it seems to connect directly with our bladders.  Or, at least, mine.

I love the sound of running water diving and dipping and dropping over stones in a shallow bed as it makes its way downhill.  I love it less when I really need to use the non-existent facilities.  This is a case where perhaps the advanced hike might have been more accommodating–finding a private place at least 50 yards from water to go off and take care of one’s needs when walking along a relatively popular dirt road with a group of 15-20 people is not such a simple undertaking.  I endeavored to prove I still have good bladder control.  I made it to the turn around point, through the snack break, and about halfway back, but then we arrived at the juncture between the road and the stream.  The very thought of water rushing beneath my feet as it crossed under the road was more than I could bear.

I made a break for the woods and climbed up an overgrown hillside, bushwhacking my way to a private spot, trying to do as little damage to the hillside in the process as possible.  Fortunately for me, my selected site was in fact private and no one caught me in the somewhat awkward act of re-positioning clothing after the fact.

This, did however, evoke a memory from a long ago jeep trek up a mountain jeep trail near Ouray, Colorado in Yankee Boy Basin.  It was a trip I took with my father, brother, and elderly aunt to deliver my mother’s ashes to her favorite location in the world.  About half way up the jeep trail, my elderly aunt needed to use the facilities.  When I explained to her that there weren’t any facilities, she exclaimed, “What??!!!  They should have a bathroom if they’re going to let people come up here!!!”  The concept of wilderness was a bit lost on her.

I took her to find a spot in the woods.  I don’t think she’d ever walked through the woods except on a fairly flat and easy to follow trail before, let alone found a hidden spot to squat.  I found a secluded spot for her and walked around to another secluded spot for myself not far away.  About the time I was getting re-situated, I heard squealing.  I ran over to where I’d left my aunt and was greeted by two feet, pants circling the ankles above them, kicking in the air amongst the underbrush.  My aunt had fallen over backwards.  Now that is a sight I wish I could forget!

Thankfully, I managed to enjoy the hike in Vermont and leave un-traumatized.