Thursday, January 11, 2018

Feliz Reyes! Happy Birthday, Hope!

Shocking our own parents, our little family survived our first year of parenthood: just one fractured skull and one crushed hand to show for it-- hardly any scarring. This is obviously cause for celebration, so I made some sangria, we borrowed a grill, and invited over everyone we know within strolling distance.
We celebrated Hope's first birthday on Reyes (or Three Kings Day) which is a big deal in Mexico. It is the equivalent of Christmas Day in the States. Kids wake up early and rush to see what presents the Kings have brought them. Everyone eats a ring-shaped cake called a Rosca de Reyes that has a small baby statue cooked inside it. If you get the piece with the baby, you have to buy tamales for the next party. If you are a new
one-year-old, you try to avoid the baby piece because you don't have any money to buy tamales and because it is a choking hazard.
The fear-mongering US state department has just listed the Mexican state of Guerrero, where kids are eating cake and opening presents, as one of the world's most dangerous destinations. My mom says we should exercise caution. She doesn't realize that we are horrible at caution. We hurt ourselves riding bikes and boats on a regular basis. But even the state Mexico named "warrior" has less gun violence than most US cities, so we will try to keep her grandchild alive for another year. Maybe the Reyes will give her a helmet.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Festival of the Virgin de Guadalupe

 Since the 3rd of December, there have been fireworks in the street every night, and sometimes during the day. Hope doesn't wake up for them anymore.After the first night, our baby figured it wasn't really worth the ruckus because we don't let her go to the party. Mexican parents let their kids stay up until the fiesta ends, but we are mean American parents and she is in bed by eight.
The folks in the street are celebrating the Virgin de Guadalupe. This is a big deal in Mexico and it starts the Christmas season, so they take a full 9 days to celebrate. There are parades of icons to the two local Catholic churches and festivals at the churches with food, games and religious services.
The virgin is said to have appeared to a peasant in the Guadalupe suburb of Mexico City in 1531. The location and description are quiet close to an Aztec goddess who was widely worshipped before the Spanish conquered the Aztec empire only a decade earlier. The virgin healed some folks and left an image of herself on the peasant's cloak. This image is venerated and piligrimmaged in Mexico City, but locals build icons throughout the countryto honor and celebrate the VdG every December.
This iconography and saint worship is similar to the veneration of Santa Claus (or Saint Nicholas) in our own culture. Mexicans make requests of the VdG and she is an important part of the Christmas season.
Our favorite correlation was, just like St. Nick, families and children get their photos taken with the Virgin de Guadalupe. Instead of elves, the scene includes horses, bunnies, and ducklings-- all of which probably hate the fireworks.
Now the fireworks have ended for a time, as the virgin's feast day has past, but the Christmas season has begun.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Life South of the Border

I return from a long blog hiatus to announce that I have fallen victim to Mexico's latest scam: one-size-fits-all underwear.
The OSFA approach may work with a garment like a poncho, but underwear needs to at least be slightly tailored to the user. Everyone knows this. But I was sucked in-- it seemed so amazing-- maybe they are really on to something, and I will be a part of the next miracle of science-- akin to scotch tape, or the internet, or virtual reality glasses. Turns out, I just own underwear that doesn't fit. Luckily, thanks to the dollar to peso exchange rate, it was really cheap... I could afford to try another pair in case I got a bad batch...

Friday, October 21, 2016

Day 31: Springer Mountain, Georgia.

We are done. 
It took my pregnancy-compromised immune system 3 days to recover from whatever stomach bug I caught from another hiker. We were covering 18-20 miles per day, and were ready to finish ahead of schedule. Then I was knocked out of commission. A decision had to be made: We could both wait for me to heal, or Forrest could continue without me. As every Iditarod fan knows: "You win the race by the dogs you drop." 
Neither one of us wanted to prolong the finish by an unknown number of days, and we all know I am not a stickler for completing each and every footstep of the AT.
As Forrest marched on at his 25-30 mpd pace, my usefulness transferred to logistics. As my stomach healed, I procured a rental car in an obscure small town, got there to collect it, and needed to station it at the finish of the AT. 
I drove the windy mountain roads, getting lost and crossing the trail multiple times, checking on our lead hiker.
Seeing the small towns of northern Georgia was a mixture of bible meetings, rebel flags, single-wide trailers, gorgeous fall leaves, and then -- out of nowhere-- a little Germany. (The town of Helen, GA has enforced a strict Bavarian building code since the 1960s, all based on drawings from a soldier that was stationed overseas. The town has little to no German heritage, but they like to celebrate Oktoberfest.)
I learned that the first real gold rush in the US was in north Georgia. The rich gold deposits here caused a rush for land and claims, created many of the small towns, prompted the federal government to place a mint here, and led directly to the removal of the Cherokee via the more
famous "Trail of Tears."
Finding the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail is no small task, and when I was well enough, I negotiated our oversized Chrysler down miles of bumpy dirt forest service roads, getting slowed by bumps, holes, curves, and covered wagon traffic. 
When the car was somewhere we could reach it from the end, I put my pack back on and hiked north to find Forrest.
We summitted Springer Mountain together, which really isn't much more than a hill.
We finished the trail from Maine to Georgia in 128 days total. Forrest walked each and every of the 2189 total miles. I walked just under 2000, about 400 of those while pregnant. We saw bears, moose, salamanders, chipmunks, squirrels, mice and way too many snakes. We went through 3 pair of shoes and 2 backpacks each.
It was difficult all of the time, and unpleasant most of the time, but we both have a lot of fond memories of things we saw, people we met, and experiences shared. For me, the highlight worth the blisters was watching Forrest strive and excel at something he's wanted since he was 12. His perseverance, skill in the outdoors, stewardship, patience, and helpfulness were inspiring and I learned more than I know from walking through this with him. Watching people we love succeed at their dreams has to be one of God's best gifts. 
Another of God's lesser gifts, a well-done brunch, is our next goal and I'm taking the Chrysler to Atlanta in search of it.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Day 27: Hiawassee, GA. 2119.6 miles from Katahdin, 69.6 miles from Springer Mt.

To exemplify the ironic laziness of long-distance hikers, we rented a golf cart to do our laundry at our last stop, rather than walk a half mile round trip to the laundromat. The next day, we got up, scarfed down pancakes, and walked almost 18 miles on the trail. 
We were cruisin' towards Georgia and just had one more resupply, which we had already shipped to the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a white water kayaking and rafting destination right on the AT.
I had a great cheat planned that would cut out 15 miles of trail where the AT took a ridiculous bend, and another trail went straight across and connected. I was so pleased that my map (which Forrest does not think we need) was helping me outsmart the trail. Then I got a stomach bug. So, I walked to the nearest road and hitchhiked to town to rest. It is much less satisfying to outright skip days of trail due to being confined to a Holiday Inn Express than to sneakily skip parts on forest service roads.
Forrest marched on into Georgia without me-- I rode across the state line with a nice church lady whose good deed of the week was "rescuing" a pregnant lady from hitchhiking. Being in Georgia has already revealed two interesting facts: 1)chewing tobacco can be purchased by the half-gallon; and 2) my husband thinks that "Gone with the Wind" is an airplane movie.
We are shooting to make Springer Mountain before the week is out... We just have to keep our tobacco weight under control.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Day 22: Fontana Dam, NC. 2024.5 miles from Katahdin, 164.7 from Springer Mt.

What could be more fun than hiking the Appalachian Trail? Doing so in a hurricane. We hiked into Great Smoky Mountain National Park on the eve on Hurricane Matthew pummelling the east coast. It's long arms of wind and rain swept all the way to the Appalachian Mountains. We had a little bit of shelter from the storm, thanks to your tax dollars.
GSMNP is America's most visited National Park-- reporting 9.5 million visitors annually. Nine million of those visitors never leave what the National Park Service calls "the front country" and the lay person calls "the road."  (Imagine driving a carload of children to a huge playground and never leaving the parking lot. I know a few six-year-olds that would call that crazy, but that's how most Americans treat our park system.)
Even the "few" half million visitors annually that make it into the "back country" at GSMNP create quite an impact, so the park service insists that everyone concentrate camping to 3-sided shelters-- these were blessed protection from inches of rain and strong winds.
The Federal Government, in their wisdom, has also redirected funding from trail maintenance (which is atrocious on the AT in the park) to ensuring the few privies (outhouses) at said shelters are handicap "usable." The result is a pit toilet in a wooden box large enough for a wheelchair, complete with stainless steel lift bars and handles. You would never get a wheelchair down the miles of trails to these privies, but perhaps even more short-sighted is they didn't even outfit the stalls with ramps.
I only got to analyse a few privies,because of a long-standing Tennessee law forbidding outhouses. This law was apparently made ages ago to encourage people to convert to indoor plumbing, it's current practice results in thousands of people forced to camp and shelter in the same areas with zero waste management plan.
If the government didn't give us enough to think about, camping with packs of strangers certainly did. When it was raining, we were the only people in the shelter to hang our food bag from a tree (a method used to keep bears from eating you in your sleep while trying to get to your peanut butter). We concluded that most Americans would rather risk attack to themselves and their neighbors by large wild animals than get their backpacks wet.
The highest mountain in Tennessee is located in GSMNP: Clingman's Dome (6655'). This is also the highest mountain on the Appalachian Trail. It is adorned with an ugly concrete tower, and no other commemoration of the walker's lofty accomplishment besides recognizing, by all the crowds, that one could drive here. At least we know in our hearts that it's all downhill from here. Too bad walking downhill while pregnant is pretty difficult.
Within 2 weeks of accomplishing our goal, I stand by my original claim that hiking the AT while pregnant is not worse or harder than hiking last year, but it is slower. I also really miss Aleve, which I popped multiple times per day to ease sore joints and feet, but cannot safely ingest right now. However, the trail is a great escape from random people touching my stomach, a particularly irksome practice of our culture that has, thankfully, not transferred to the hiking community. It could be because I smell so bad, but, so long as we hang our food, I can travel through the woods unmolested.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Day 16: Hot Springs, NC. 1914.8 miles from Katahdin, 273.7miles from Springer Mt.

Fewer than 300 miles to go, I have just entered my 3rd trimester, and, in my greatest coup to date, I am about to skip 33 miles of trail. The 3s are all lining up.
I made the mistake of picking up Forrest's pack at lunch the other day, just to move it. It was almost too heavy to lift, and only then did I realize how much of my gear he has sequestered into his pack. This guy can move uphill on rocks at a walking sprint; packs out every piece of litter he sees, even though his own pack is over-full; and, he is doing 100 push-ups per day because he is "not getting enough exercise" walking 16-20 miles daily. For these reasons, we both agreed I would take a day of rest while he stomps out an "easy" 33 miles in just over 24 hours.
The Appalachian Trail in the South is much easier trail than in the North-- less steep climbs and descents and better groomed trail, for the most part. We have been walking the spine of the Blue Ridge that separates Tennessee and North Carolina and are about to plunge into the Great Smoky Mountains, the country's most visited National Park and site of a continual eating competition between obese Americans and American Black Bears.
Forrest's pack belt keeps getting smaller and smaller, and mine keeps getting bigger. I
 get lots of entertaining reactions from other hikers when they notice my belly:  from squeals to "you are so brave" to "do you drink a lot of beer or are you pregnant?"