Tag Archives: hiking

Ravine Gardens Adventure

It’s azalea season in Florida. Every year at this time, we talk about driving to Ravine Gardens State Park in Palatka, because it has hiking trails that pass through banks of azaleas on all sides. It’s a beautiful place any time of year, but it’s spectacular during azalea season. We talk about it every year, but we hadn’t actually done it since my now sixteen-year-old grandson was a toddler.

This year, something changed. My husband retired from his hated office job and became available for weekday adventures. Two of my grandsons are home-schooled, so they were available for a weekday field trip. I finally spoke up and said, “We should go to Ravine Gardens.”

Well, I had to add a specific day, because apparently nobody else in my family will take responsibility for such a heavy decision. I took a deep breath and said, “Tuesday. We should go Tuesday.”

No one had a problem with Tuesday, so we started making preparations. We picked up drinks and snacks and sandwich ingredients for a picnic lunch. We got my daughter to agree to have the boys up and dressed by nine o’clock in the morning – a major concession, but, hey – we were going on an adventure!

It was a lovely adventure. We got there early enough to enjoy a hike on the azalea trail before lunch. The kids were a bit nervous about the two suspension bridges, but they conquered their fears and learned to enjoy themselves. The sixteen-year-old even made a special effort to go up again all by himself, just to prove that he could do it. I was proud of him.

He Did It!

He Did It!


There are picnic tables all over the park, so we had no trouble finding a place to have our lunch. There is an automobile road that goes all the way through the gardens. We chose a picnic spot on the edge of that road in order to have easy access to our cooler, which stayed in the back of the van.

After we finished our sandwiches and snacks, we cleaned up our area and got back into the van to drive to the lily pond under the second suspension bridge. The boys had chosen that spot for their art project because it was so pretty. It was also interesting because the pond was full of big, fat tadpoles and lots of little fish. A sign warned of alligators but we didn’t see any. Maybe they saw the sign that said, “Alligators No Swimming” and obeyed it.

Pollywog

Pollywog


No Swimming

No Swimming


My grandsons used watercolors to create pictures inspired by the things they saw in the park. I don’t know why I didn’t realize there would be a painting break during this adventure, but I didn’t, so my paints were left at home. Oh, well…I had a lovely time relaxing in the shade while the boys created their works of art.
Pretty Pond

Pretty Pond


Azalea Gardens

Azalea Gardens


Even after our hike and our lunch and our relaxation at the lily pond, we still had plenty of time to get back to Jacksonville before rush hour, which was the only goal my husband set for this adventure.
I don’t think he would count napping on a bench at the lily pond as a goal.

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I’m Glad I Danced

The bills have arrived. I have piles of receipts I am matching up to my credit card statements. Every time I check one off, a memory is triggered that makes me say, “Worth it!” The gas to get us out of Florida? Worth it. Camping fees at our first stop in Mississippi? Worth it. The gas to get us out of Mississippi? Worth it. Admission to the Very Large Array? Worth it. Postcards for the grandchildren? Worth it.

More gas, more admissions, more postcards? All worth it. It’s time to pay the piper and I am grateful that I got to dance. There is now scientific evidence that spending money on experiences will make us happier than spending it on stuff. I don’t have a lot to show for the money we spent on our trip out West – a few refrigerator magnets and a lot of photographs – but I have memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I had reached an age (sixty-one, if you’re counting) when I was starting to think I might not have any more adventures. I thought I might just sit in my comfy chair and play iPad games or have virtual adventures on the Xbox 360 for the rest of my life, but I was wrong. Amazingly, delightfully wrong. I went out into America, and I saw beautiful things. I saw things I had dreamed of seeing all my life and I saw things I had never even imagined. I hiked legendary trails and I hiked trails so obscure we only knew about them because there’s an internet and a search engine to help find them. I climbed a scary ladder and felt stronger and braver than I’ve felt since my last child was born.

I used to say, “I want to see the Grand Canyon before I die.” Well, I’ve seen it now, but I’m not done yet. I have a list. I want to see Yosemite. I want to see Yellowstone. I want to see giant sequoias and I want to see the Aurora Borealis. The world is full of beautiful things and I want to see as many of them as I can.

We saved for this trip, so I can pay these bills once I get them in order. We will do that, and then we will start saving for the next trip. Sometimes, I look at credit card statements and wonder what in the world I was thinking when I charged all that stuff. This time, I know exactly what I was thinking.
image
Worth it.

Jeans

I didn’t really mean to wait until the day before my vacation to go shopping for new jeans. I tried to start the quest earlier. A couple of weeks ago, I needed clothes appropriate for jury duty. I was spending time in department stores, looking for plain black pants. It made sense to look at jeans while I was out and about. It made sense, but it was depressing.

Jeans aren’t jeans any more. When I want new jeans, I want five pockets, straight legs and one hundred per cent cotton denim. Dark blue denim, not faded or stone-washed and certainly not already worn out. Why in the world would anyone want to pay good money for jeans with holes in them? I can wear holes in them all by myself, thank you very much. And don’t even get me started on embellishments.

So I looked at jeans a couple of weeks ago, but my real goal was to get black dress pants and that was a whole lot easier, so I gave up on the jeans. I had time. I had weeks. Surely there would be better hunting after I fulfilled my obligation to the judicial system. That’s what I thought.

I kept putting it off. I remembered a previous jeans-shopping trip when I tried on twenty-four pairs of jeans without finding even one that fit. I didn’t want to face it, but I needed new jeans for this vacation. There will be canyons. There will be deserts. There will be hiking. My old jeans were getting so frayed, they were almost trendy. I’m an old lady; I don’t wear trendy jeans.

This morning, I set out. My usual first stop on a quest for jeans is the local thrift store. Manufacturers don’t seem to make classic jeans any more, so I try to find them gently used. I drove to the thrift store, but it was closed. According to the hours posted on the door, it should have been open, but there was another sign on the door, a handwritten sign that said, “Store is closed.” Succinct. Undeniable.

I was forced to move on. To a real store, with actual new blue jeans. Two stores. The first store had some interesting knit pants, but not a single pair of jeans that I even wanted to try on. Not only did they all have spandex in them, they were all “skinny.” I don’t do skinny. I did buy some knit pants, in a size I couldn’t believe was really my size. The brand runs small, that’s what I’m saying.

Fortunately, the next store had jeans. They even had some with straight legs and some that were boot-cut. I was thrilled. They’re not perfect jeans. One pair is too long and the other pair has odd pockets. Both pairs have a tiny bit of spandex in them, but neither pair is frayed or slashed or faded or skinny. I called it a successful shopping trip and hurried home to pack. Yes, I washed my new jeans first. I don’t want to be hiking those canyons in jeans with odd lint patterns where the size stickers were.

Breathing

I just returned from my trip to the mountains of Western North Carolina. We camped out on our land in our little blue teardrop trailer and we spent a lot of time with my sister and brother-in-law, who have an adorable cottage just over the ridge from our land. We could only escape from the Florida heat for about five days, but they were delightful days.

I think everyone in our party would agree that the best day was the one we spent on the Blue Ridge Parkway. My sister packed a picnic lunch in a real picnic basket. She actually made the bread for the sandwiches. There was even a checked tablecloth that used to belong to our mother. It was a perfect picnic and we went up to the Parkway to find a perfect place to enjoy it.

Our first stop was Mt. Mitchell. Mt. Mitchell is the tallest peak in the eastern United States and we never go to North Carolina without making the climb to the summit. A sign at the visitor center told us not to worry about the bugs, that they might look like ticks, but they were harmless weevils. We wondered if we would see any of these weevils, but we couldn’t miss them. The observation tower at the top of Mt. Mitchell was crawling with them. They were on the benches and on the railings and all over the signs that pointed out the various other mountains you can see from Mt. Mitchell.

Two weevils.  I don't know which is the lesser.

Two weevils. I don’t know which is the lesser.


Some days, all you can see from the top of Mt. Mitchell is fog, but this was not one of those days.
We could see forever.

We could see forever.


We spent some time admiring this view and then we went back to the Parkway and drove to the Craggy Gardens Picnic Area, which was a perfectly beautiful spot for an outdoor meal. We found a table in the shade and enjoyed sandwiches, chips and fresh fruit. My sister brought hot water in a Thermos so we could have coffee and tea with our meal.
A Perfect Picnic

A Perfect Picnic


We lingered over lunch and then we put our picnic things in the car and headed for the trail to Craggy Flats. We had been to Craggy Flats before but we had always used the shorter trail from the visitor’s center. This trail was a bit more challenging, so we took our time and rested here and there along the way. The view at the top was definitely worth the hike.
Worth the Hike

Worth the Hike


We also enjoyed the long grass, the tiny wildflowers and the gnarled trees, which were so climbable even we older folks could not resist.
Tree

Tree


No, I did not do any painting while I was up there, but I sure did some wonderful breathing.