Time Out

This is my last day of a one-week vacation.  Instead of going somewhere, a friend came down for a week of hiking in the area.  I managed to disconnect from my day job completely.

The reality is that work is going on without me.  I may have a few messes to fix when I get back, but those messes probably would have happened whether I was there or not.  And if I weren’t there, someone else would figure out how to clean them up.

I choose to take from this the lesson that if there is time for me to take a week away, there is time for me to take a breath during the day.  There is time for me to stop at a reasonable hour and pick up again the next day.  There is time for me to take care of myself regardless of what messes come up.

I re-learned the truth of how important unplugged time is to me.  Going out into the wilderness where there were no sounds besides the wind blowing through the trees, water tumbling over rocks, and occasional conversation with my friend brought with it a sense of connectedness with the world around me that hours in front of a computer cannot achieve.

The computer, whether for work or just for fun, takes me away from the here and now.  Choosing footholds along a rocky trail puts me intensely in the present moment in a way that’s hard to achieve typing on a keyboard or reading an email.

I also re-learned the power of physical exertion.  The sense of aliveness and appreciation for every bone, muscle, blood cell in my body intensifies as the trail becomes more challenging.  The ability to move myself rhythmically up a steep rocky climb turns into a sense of power and wonder.  The body is a marvelous thing to inhabit when it’s working well.

And, I re-learned the joy of pushing limits just a little.  Hiking with a friend who hasn’t hiked much helped keep me from over-doing.  It kept the soreness to a minimum and allowed me to enjoy what I was capable of without suffering what might otherwise have been the pain of over-exertion.  Happy medium is called “happy” for a really good reason.

Taking time away also gave me the time and energy to consider alternative possibilities.  The freed energy led to imagination and my imagination went wild.  At the end of a week of time “off”, I find myself full of hope.  Hope that I can make time for what is most important to me.  Hope that anything truly is possible.  Hope that life can be joyful on a daily basis.  Hope that I can return to my “normal” life and make it a little less normal and a little more peaceful.  Hope that if I can do that, the world as a whole can be more peaceful, too.

It was a good vacation.

The Easy Way to Point Park

View from canon in Point Park

View from canon in Point Park

My plan was to walk from Cravens House to Sunset Rock to Point Park and then back to Craven’s house.  This would be more like a loop vs just an out and back.  Since both Sunset Rock and Point Park are 1 1/2 miles from Cravens House, the math in my head indicated we’d be walking 3 miles regardless of whether we did the loop or the out and back.

I forgot about the part between Sunset Rock and Point Park.  Turns out that’s something like an extra mile.  While I wouldn’t have minded the extra mile, the rest of the crowd turned against me.  Pat completely over-ruled any consideration of walking to Point Park.

Making our way back down the trail

Making our way back down the trail

When we got to the point in the trail where we had to pick between walking back towards Cravens House or up to Point Park, Pat asked if we were going to Point Park.  We were all surprised.  Then, he clarified that he was asking if we wanted to drive up to Point Park after we got back to Craven’s House, not if we wanted to walk to Point Park.

Oh well.

On the way back to Craven’s House, the trail did a switch-back near the top of the cliff and then passed below Sunset Rock.  When we were at the top, we passed a group of young adults who had hung camping hammocks between some trees that hung over the edge of the cliff.

Two hammocks visible from the trail below the cliff

Two hammocks visible from the trail below the cliff

We took some photos for them with their iPhones as we went by.  I attempted to get a shot for me as well, but I had one of my typical moments where I believed I had my camera set on aperture priority and didn’t worry about checking the exposure.  Several minutes later, when we were well down the trail, I took a peak and discovered my shot was a giant black rectangle.

When we passed underneath, I managed to get a shot of the two visible hammocks from below.  It looked a lot scarier when we were looking down from the top.  All I could think to myself was, “I don’t care how strong those hammocks are, how can they know the trees will hold?”  After all, the trees were right on the side of the cliff with very little place to grip with their roots.  I had visions of them toppling over and dragging the hammocks with the young campers with them.

Tisen making sure I'm coming along

Tisen making sure I’m coming along

For the record, we have seen nothing on the news about any hikers who fell from Sunset Rock, so I think they were OK.

We made it back down the trail, past the square tree branch, off the cliff, and back to Cravens House.

While we did make it up to Point Park (via automobile), we made only a quick jaunt around the asphalt path and skipped the off-road trail out to the point.  I felt like we short-changed my brother and sister-in-law, but they plan to come back.

My brother and sister-in-law posing being the wheel of a canon at Point Park

My brother and sister-in-law posing being the wheel of a canon at Point Park

Walk to Sunset

Sunset Rock Hipstamatic Style

Sunset Rock Hipstamatic Style

In the effort to entertain my brother and sister-in-law, I came up with the following itinerary:

  1. Have them assist in a birds of prey program at a local festival.
  2. Take them to lunch at a famous barbecue on a hill with goats.
  3. Haul them up to Lookout mountain and take them hiking for a couple of hours.
  4. Drag them out for Mexican-fusion at favorite taco spot.
  5. Give them a tour of husband’s workshop.

We are now on #3.  Hauling said brother and sister-in-law up to Lookout Mountain for a relatively short, easy hike.

Sunset Rock via DSLR

Sunset Rock via DSLR

One of my favorite short, easy hikes on Lookout is the hike from Craven’s House to Sunset Rock.  There are many routes to choose from so it’s easy to make the hike as short as 3 miles or as long as 10, depending on how long you want to be out.  Regardless of which route you choose, the scenery on Lookout and the views from the overlooks are always fantastic.

Our fearless hiking crew

Our fearless hiking crew

The rock formations on Lookout are amazing in and of themselves.  The sandstone (or maybe limestone?) splits, drops, careens, and leans in ways that make you feel like you’re doing something really dangerous by walking on stone that might fall off the side of the mountain at any moment.  If the trail were along the creek with the same rock formations, it wouldn’t be quite as adventurous, but it would still be beautiful.

Chunks of ice remind us it's only spring on the calendar

Chunks of ice remind us it’s only spring on the calendar

Water runs between the rocks from time to time.  We were surprised on this early spring day to discover chunks of ice lingering in one microscopic waterfall.  Just another reminder that only the humans around here are convinced it’s supposed to be spring.

Even the mushrooms look like they are winterized

Even the mushrooms look like they are winterized

Tisen enjoys this hike, too.  He likes to linger behind, sniffing, and then dart back in front.  Sometimes, he stops to check on me if I’m hanging back.  I’m not sure if he’s worried I’m going to fall off a cliff (a reasonably probable occurrence) or if he thinks I might sneak off and disappear to some new life that doesn’t include him.  He really doesn’t have to worry about the latter–I’m not anxious to find out what life will feel like without him.

Tisen checking on Mommy

Tisen checking on Mommy

We made it to Sunset Rock in tact, although Tisen scared me to the point that I yelled at him when he got so close to the edge that I really thought he was going to lift his leg and immediately topple down the cliff.  I called him three times and when he ignored me, I panicked and yelled his name at the kind of volume that echoed off the surrounding cliff sides.  He looked up at me, surprised and sheepish.  I couldn’t remember having ever raised my voice at him before; I felt a little foolish.

View of the valley from Sunset Rock

View of the valley from Sunset Rock

The view from Sunset Rock is not actually better than the view from Point Park, but making the hike through the woods and up the mountain makes it feel so much better.

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?