Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gear Review: The North Face Thermoball Full-Zip Jacket

Full Disclosure: I am currently employed with the VF Corps, who owns The North Face, but I am not receiving incentive to write this review for them. Although, if they wanted to pay me to test out and review their products, I wouldn't say no. As it stands, I doubt anyone who reads this will care anyway. 

The Thermoball Jacket, "a versatile lightweight jacket that is ready for anything", is one of the big focuses of The North Face this winter season. Designed to be as warm as possible with minimal weight, the synthetic down used to insulate the jacket has been rated as equivalent to the warmth of 600 fill goose down and has the added feature of being able to stow into its own pocket. 

Since I work in one of the few actual, physical The North Face retail locations and am supposed to be well-versed in the products I'm selling, I decided to purchase the Thermoball Full Zip jacket to try for myself. The diamond baffling style is very cute (as well as functional - it keeps the synthetic down balls from shifting and redistributing). The jacket IS remarkably lightweight, and the stow-pocket is pretty cool. A lot of people have a hard time believing the jacket can suffice as a reasonable winter coat due to the thinness of the material.

It's a reasonable cynicism, the material is thin and the entire jacket weighs in at 10.05 ounces. The baffling does, however, leave a weakness for wind to cut through the unprotected stitching in the 100% Nylon shell. I've worn the jacket nearly every day for the past month, and have found that while it doesn't stand up so well against wind, it does suffice in resisting water (namely, from light rain showers, melty snow, or the occasional spill of water since I apparently don't know how to drink from cups). As someone who has relied exclusively on pea coats or great big puffy coats for most of my adult life, I have to say this is a welcome change to my winter wardrobe. In fact, here's a picture of me in the jacket (with bonus red-tailed hawk!). Ignore the dorky look on my face. And the Rhino name-tag misplaced around my neck. In fact, uh, I may find a better picture to use.

The fit is generous - I have a women's medium and I can easily fit a hooded sweatshirt underneath (and I am not a small girl). I believe in layering and normally wear cute sweaters, hoodies, or long sleeved shirts anyhow in my daily activities. This comes from finally resigning to my fate as a person who freezes in temperatures below 60 degrees, so my expectations for the jacket probably weren't as great as maybe someone who can wear tank-tops in mid-January. The women's fit is flattering, and like most sport-style jackets, falls at the top of the hips. I've had problems with things falling out of my pockets - I'm not sure what that's about, but I do know I have to be more careful with things now that I've misplaced my wallet twice! However, I see this being a constant companion on winter hikes and any other outdoor activities I'll encounter this winter and many winters to come. It's definitely going to transition well as a spring and fall jacket, and would have done me wonders that particularly cold night in the Grand Canyon.

Now for story time: The other night, I locked myself out of my car. Unfortunately, I was outside of my house, having just come home from work, and so my housekey was also in my car. I waited about a half hour, in the dark, for roadside assistance to come and unlock my car. The weather was dropping into the mid-20s, and this one particular evening I had opted not to wear a hooded sweatshirt and just had on a flannel shirt that was rolled up to my elbows. The jacket kept me relatively comfortable, although I definitely felt the chill in my hands, legs, and on my head (because of COURSE I had gloves and scarves in my car AND my house, but not on my person). The night wasn't particularly windy, but there was a definite chill in the air. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to test my jacket, I have to say it passed with flying colors. I was suprisingly warm given my lack of layering - however, I am positive on a windier night the chill would have cut right through.

Bottom line: the Thermoball Jacket is a great piece if you are already a fan of layering. While it's not a heavy coat that you can just wear a t-shirt underneath, it will keep you warm and comfortable without added bulk, weight, or the unflattering marshmallow look. Pair it over a sweater or fleece (or any other winter staple one would wear to work, school, or errands normally anyway), and it'll do the trick. Great for outdoor activities and emergency roadside rescues. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Taking a Zero Month

Because of the busy holiday season, plus pressures from elsewhere*, Red Faces, White Blazes will be taking the month off. That doesn't mean there won't be any posts, just that they'll be infrequent and on no schedule.

Beginning in early January, we'll be back with our using features, including Andrew's hiking training plan, "Hiking the Lists", and others.

We wish happy holidays to our handful of loyal readers, and any body who wanders in from the cold, snowy trail onto this blog.

* Namely, there are too many damn movies to watch and write about for Doctor Strangeblog.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Run with City - a Half Marathon Adventure

Run with City? Get it? Be-because the blog is...never mind.

Anyway, as most of our loyal readers know (and they know because they follow our facebook page and also happen to be members of our family - hi guys, love you!) I trained for a subsequently participated in my first half-marathon earlier this month.

I received a text from my best friend in July, while Andrew and I were out hiking around Johnson Shut-ins and the Elephant Rocks State Parks. She basically said "want to do a half-marathon in November?" and I said "sure". I wish the story for how I came to race was more inspirational, but that's pretty much it. I decided if I was going to run 13.1 miles, I'd need a rigorous training schedule.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Why Hello Again, Appalachian Trail!

Note: This started as a mere image post on our Tumblr, but became something more. As it became a full-fledged post, I figured I'd cross post it to here, as we've not had a post all week, and I kind of like it. My Hiking Training Plan recaps will return next week, unless a hectic work week pushes it off until the next week.

The picture is from my latest visit to the Appalachian Trail, at Newfound Gap looking Southbound across US 441. Sure, it's not exactly the hardest spot to reach, or the most strenuous of hikes, but it's still part of the trail. And also the first portion of which I ever visited, even though I'm pretty certain I wasn't aware of it at the time. I visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park with my family several times when I was growing up, many of which coming at a time when the Appalachian Trail was little more to me than a long winding red line going across several eastern states in the atlases I loved to read. On at least a few occasions we stopped at Newfound Gap, and at some point walked across the path of the Appalachian Trail as it crosses the large parking lot.
Since I've become an adult I've driven over Newfound Gap many times, and rarely have I done it without making a stop to view the sweeping vistas of the ancient mountains of Tennessee an North Carolina. Most of the time i make a point to walk to either the crosswalk heading south towards Springer, or the point where the pavement ends and the trails heads northbound on the much longer journey to Katahdin. Common sense has kept me from venturing forth in either direction without provisions, shelter, and proper hiking attire. Someday I fear it may fail, and I may find myself on an unexpected journey into the back of beyond.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hiking the Lists #8: Munising Falls

Hike: #8
Title: Munising Falls
Location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Hike List: UP Michigan
Difficulty: Mostly Easy (Save for one walk up stairs)
Duration of Hike: A short walk to a beautiful waterfall

The cliffs of Pictured Rock offer many scenic sites. The most famous and picturesque are the multicolored rock faces and formations along the shoreline. These sites, viewed primarily by getting on a boat and viewing them from the water, give the place its name. However, there are also many waterfalls of varying size and ease of access. Probably the easiest of the park's waterfalls to visit is Munising Falls. The easy walk to view the waterfall doesn't make it any less beautiful.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Hiking Training Plan: Week #19 Recap

Week: October 22 - 28
Miles Hiked (Week): 13.48
Miles Hiked (October): 30.03
Miles Hiked, (October Goal): 30
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 100.96
Pounds Lost (Week): 0.6
Pounds Lost (Total):  19.0
Weekly Goal Met: No
Nights Camped (Week): 0
Nights Camped (Total): 8
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 1

It took a mostly unprecedented weekend of hiking, but I hit my fourth straight monthly hiking goal, with three hundredths of a mile to spare. It helped that most of the trails I hiked where fairly level with good footing, although a couple were on horse and mountain bike trails, and a short portion was an unintentional bushwhacking session over a woods covered ridge at Rock Cut State Park near Rockford. I guess I did also hike a bit through sand along Lake Michigan at Illinois Beach State Park, so that was a bit difficult, if flat, walking. By far this was the longest weekend of hiking I've had in three years, and is a good rehearsal for next summer, when I will need to average 15-20 miles a week to hit my monthly goals.

For now, the 30 miles in October was the high point, as we head on towards winter. November will only have 20 miles as the goal, and December and January will only have 10 miles as their goals. After a trip to the Smokies and North Georgia in about a week, I'll be taking it easy on the hiking front.

As such, it will become even more important for me to get back on track with the non-hiking exercise and nutrition. I lost weight this week, but at a minuscule rate, especially considering my heavy hiking on the weekend. I actually took the effort to buy some groceries this week, so hopefully it will go better.

I've decided to switch the weekly weigh-in (and thus the period covered by the recap) from Monday to Tuesday. The reason is mainly because of Tuesday has pretty much been the regular day I've done it the past few weeks, and will be required in week 21 as well. It's not a big change, but I figured I'd let everybody know.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hiking Training Plan: Week #18

Week: October 15 - 21
Miles Hiked (Week): 7.75
Miles Hiked (October): 16.55
Miles Hiked, (October Goal): 30
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 87.48
Pounds Gained (Week): 1.4
Pounds Lost (Total):  18.4
Weekly Goal Met: No
Nights Camped (Week): 0
Nights Camped (Total): 8
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 1

So it appears that I've hit a plateau that I can't quite get off of, at least in regards to the fitness portion of the plan. It didn't help this past week that I was involved in code releases for my job two of the nights, which certainly threw me off schedule. Also, I still am having issues with figuring out how to keep things together on the weekend. It certainly wasn't as bad as it has been some weeks, but it can definitely be better.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gear Review: REI Half Dome 2 Plus Tent

I'm a big person who likes to hike and camp. Quite frankly, that makes it a bit of a challenge to find gear that works for me. There are very few sleeping bags for tall people that are also small enough to take on a hike. I only have a small selection of shoes to choose from, as most boots only go up to around 12 or maybe 13. And until I lose some weight I can forget about finding certain hiking clothing that will fit me*. And of course, one of the biggest problems is finding a shelter that works.

Hiking Training Plan: Week #17 Recap

Week: October 8 - 14 (7 Days)
Miles Hiked (Week): 6.97
Miles Hiked (October): 8.80
Miles Hiked, (October Goal): 30
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 79.73
Pounds Lost (Week): 2.6
Pounds Lost (Total):  19.8
Weekly Goal Met: No
Nights Camped (Week): 1
Nights Camped (Total): 8
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 1

This week was a big week for my hiking training plan. Not because of the mileage, which wasn't enough to keep up pace for the monthly goal. It also wasn't because of the weight I lost, which was welcome after last week's setback, even if I didn't reach my perhaps overambitious goal. No, it was a big week because for the first time in over fourteen years I camped only with what I could carry on my back.

Granted, this backpacking trip wasn't exactly a backcountry climb into the mountains. It was a 1.6 mile hike over mostly flat ground at Newport State Park in Door County, Wisconsin. Still, the campsites were fairly primitive, and very private, with only the sounds of the wind and the waves from Lake Michigan. It was definitely a backcountry experience, even if the you really weren't that far from civilization.

As I said above, I didn't get as much hiking as I would have liked in during the weekend. On Saturday, I spent much of the time driving to the state park, getting there in the late afternoon as it was raining. Because of a lack of experience with the heavy pack, and being extra cautious because of the wet rocks and roots on the trail because of the rain, it was almost dark by the time I reached the camp site, so I only got the 1.6 miles in that day. The next day I had intended to do more, but the 1.9 miles I walked back*, plus the .6 mile walk through sand at the Newport State Park beach and the 2.86 mile hike through a boreal forest took its toll (and time). I had intended to walk part of the Ice Age Trail near its eastern terminus, but I didn't get to Potawatomi State Park until late in the afternoon. I did get a picture of the terminus marker, and walked up a 75' observation tower. to get a beautiful view of Green Bay, Sturgeon Bay, and southern Door County. Unfortunately, the walk up and down the tower stairs was not enough to count as a hike.

All in all, it was a pretty good week. I'm hoping to get some miles in this weekend, and am hoping this week will be even better, even if it won't match the backpacking experience of this past week.

*I took a different route that extended the hike back to my car by about a third of a mile.

Friday, October 11, 2013

America's Best Idea Shut Down

By now, I'm sure many of you are sick and tired of hearing about the Government shut-down (and being sick and tired of the shut-down itself is an understatement). With many "non-critical" parts of federal government being furloughed, a lot of Americans are wondering what this means for our country now and in the long run. I'm not going to get into political speculation here; no, this blog post is instead about a major part of our government and our identity as a nation that too has been labeled as non-essential - the National Parks.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Hiking the Lists #7: Mirror Lake State Park Northwest Loop Trail

Hike: #7
Title: Northwest Loop Trail
Location: Mirror Lake State Park
Hike List: Wisconsin
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate (Hot weather makes it mostly moderate)
Duration of Hike: An hour or two of mostly pointless up and downs
First completed: 08/25/2013

Judged solely by the difficulty of the trail, the Northwest Loop at Mirror Lake is not too bad. There are some steep uphill and downhill climbs, but they are very short. In fact, the two steepest inclines (which are still fairly short hills) can be skipped by taking easy shortcuts. This trail only approaches a moderate difficulty because there are so many ups and downs.

However, the day I actually hiked the trail was one of the hottest of the year, which certainly added to the difficulty of the trail..I never reached the point of heat exhaustion, as I drank water every 10-15 minutes or so, but I ended up covered in sweat. Much of the trail is in the shade, so it wasn't as bad as the prairie portion, although it was still warm.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hiking Training Plan: Week 16 Recap

Week: September 30 - October 7 (8 Days)
Miles Hiked (Week): 1.83
Miles Hiked (October): 1.83
Miles Hiked, (October Goal): 30
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 70.93
Pounds Gained (Week): 4.8
Pounds Lost (Total):  17.2
Weekly Goal Met: No
Nights Camped (Week): 0
Nights Camped (Total): 7
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 0

I think there might be something wrong with my scale. Seriously, it fluctuates in a way that just seems suspect. I don't know if I'm stepping on different, which might cause variation, or not.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Hiking Training Plan: Week #15 Recap

Week: September 24 - 29 (6 Days)
Miles Hiked (Week): 6.49
Miles Hiked (September): 30.49
Miles Hiked, (September Goal): 20
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 70.93
Pounds Lost (Week): 5.8
Pounds Lost (Total):  22.0
Nights Camped (Week): 3
Nights Camped (Total): 7
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 0

After two weeks that weren't so great (at least as far as the weight loss portion of the plan goes), this past week effectively cancelled them out, as I am back to where I was on September 9. Now that I have negated those two weeks, I think I can move on and start a winning streak.

The biggest reason this was a successful week was almost certainly that 6.49 miles of hiking. That hike, which I did with my brother, my cousin, and five friends from high school, wasn't necessarily hard, but it was by far the fastest pace I've hiked, with only one real break. Those 6.49 miles is the farthest I've hiked in one session since I did the Lake Mingo trail last year. It was a beautiful day for a hike, part of what was mostly a great camping weekend. At least until the rain came Saturday evening*.

Beyond that, I'm a little surprised at how well I did. I did mostly OK during the week before the camping trip, and I suppose I didn't overdo it on food and beverages outside of a few meals. Also, I crashed pretty early on Sunday evening, thus skipping out on dinner and only having one real meal. In addition, I'm pretty convinced that my weight last Tuesday was an anomaly.

This week begins a new month, and a new commitment. In addition to keeping up my monthly hiking goals (which jumps to a ambitious 30 miles this month), I'm also going to add weight goals. These won't always be the same amount, as I will adjust up or down depending for circumstances. For example, if it is a week where I plan on hiking both Saturday and Sunday, I might adjust it up to 4 pounds. On the other hand, for Thanksgiving week, I might be content breaking even. Most weeks it will be about 2 pounds.

*Stay tuned for a subsequent post about the camping trip, as well as a "Hiking the Lists" entry for part of the hike we did on Saturday.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Hiking Training Plan Week #14 Recap

Week: September 17 - 23
Miles Hiked (Week): 8.51
Miles Hiked (September): 24.00
Miles Hiked, (September Goal): 20
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 64.44
Pounds Gained (Week): 4.8
Pounds Lost (Total):  (16.2)
Nights Camped (Week): 0
Nights Camped (Total): 4
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 0

I know I ate poorly over the weekend, but good lord I didn't think I did THAT bad. After all I did hike 8.5 miles, some of which was consistently going uphill and down. I'm hoping that this an anomaly, that for some reason the scale was off by a couple pounds, and it will be back to normal the next time I get on it.

However, anomalous readings can't account for everything. There is little doubt I got off my plan this past week. I've yet to figure out how to get myself up to exercise before I go to work, which makes it much easier for me to hit my daily exercise goals. Also, I got off schedule on the nutrition side, in part because of a messed up schedule and stresses from work.

Still, those are all excuses. A plan isn't worth much when it is easy to keep to it. No, the problems start when things start making it hard to fit your plan into it. Obviously you have to be flexible, but that flexibility means sometimes making other things flexible to fit to the rigidity of your plan.

There really isn't anything I can do other than continue to improve and do better. It's not all bad, as I passed my September hiking goal with a weekend to go. This weekend I should tack a few more miles on, and perhaps I'll be able to right things. I've done it before, so I'm confident I can do it again.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting back to Real Hiking

As readers of the blog know, I have been plugging along with my Hiking Training Plan the last fourteen weeks. Most of them have been pretty good weeks, especially when it involves getting out to hike. However, most of those hikes have been missing...something.

That isn't to say I haven't had some workouts, or seen some great sites. I've walked up several hills, a few steep inclines, and done more than four miles in one hike multiple times. I'm proud of what I've accomplished, on days both perfect for hiking and some that weren't quite so perfect. Still, there has been a significant lack of challenge in the hikes I've done.

Part of this was intentional. Considering I had been out of hiking practice for several months at the beginning of this, I figured it would be best to start off with easier hikes. Jumping straight to hikes like Blood Mountain or the hundreds of stairs at Amicalola Falls would not end well, and perhaps discourage me from continuing. In addition, for a couple weeks my back was kind of tender, limiting what I felt was doable. As such, I stuck mainly to hikes that never ventured far beyond an easy to moderate difficulty level.

This is why I enjoyed my hikes this past weekend at Pictured Rocks. Now most of them were comparable to previous hikes. For about 90% of the time the path was flat, the footing was good, and the weather was great. It wasn't much of a challenge, although it most certainly was tranquil and scenic.

However, the other 10% was plenty challenging. Because of the nature of Pictured Rocks, the Lakeshore trail can greatly vary in difficulty. You can go a long distance on flat ground, either along the shoreline of Lake Superior or high atop the escarpment, without much of a change in elevation. However, going from one zone to another you can travel climb or descend over 100 feet in a very short distance.

In some places (like at Sable Falls), the descent is done on a nice, even stairway. This is somewhat strenuous, but the nicest way to make that descent as you don't have to worry so much about footing. When making the ascent, there are several landings to stop at and catch your breath, or take a seat and enjoy the nature around you.

In other places, such as the end of the connector trail from Sand Point to the North Country Trail, the ascent (or descent, depending on your direction)  also goes up and down stairs. However, these don't niceties like even and stable steps, or handrails to help you along your way. Most of the time, these steps are larger than a regular step that you would take, or the trail at the bottom of it has eroded somewhat. These can give a great workout, and are not for the faint of heart or the weak kneed. Still, they break up the grade and are better than a dirt path going straight up or down the hillside. These can be actual wood or stone stairs, water bars to control erosion, or just large roots and/or rocks in the trail.

The worst type of descent is when the trail just goes straight over the hillside. I say descent here, because it can be difficult to ascend, but downright problematic going down. This is where trekking poles (or a good walking stick) is essential.

It was the descent of the third type that I encountered between the Logslide Overlook and Au Sable Lighthouse. For some stupid reason I didn't take my trekking poles with me, so I had to overcome the descent by moving slowly and stepping carefully. In one place I was extra cautious, sitting down and scooting on my posterior. Other than a dirty seat of my pants, this worked out well. In another place, I sat down and put my feet over the edge of a steep step, turning it from a difficult step down to just standing up.

As annoying slow as this could be, it was still enjoyable, as it showed I was still up to a real challenge. In addition to the descent, there were several downed trees along the way. Some were easy to step around, or step over. But one required me to sit on the downed limbs as I swung my legs over. Had I not kept my balance on the three limbs, I could have got caught in them, which would have been the lamest search and rescue situation ever.

A little bit later along the trail, I had to take my pack off, get on my hands and knees, and crawl under a downed tree. This was a challenge that only applied to those who were tall and/or not a skilled at doing the limbo. Those who were shorter could likely have bent down and got under. Not me, however, I had to get on my knees to get under it.

Although I was glad to finally reach the Lighthouse, where my parents were waiting*, a part of me wanted to just keep walking. Granted, I knew I didn't have the supplies or equipment to continue hiking much farther, I was having a lot of fun. I had met the challenges, few though they may have been, and succeeded. Perhaps that sense of accomplishment is one of the reasons I enjoy hiking, despite the heat, the bugs, and so many pointless ups and downs. It doesn't hurt when the you look to one side of the trail and see views like this.

* After we had parted at Logslide, they had driven to the Au Sable trailhead and walked the mostly level path from the parking lot to the lighthouse.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

(Belated) Adventures in Camping - Elephant Rocks, Taum Sauk, and Johnson's Shut-Ins

Note: This post is a joint post by Andrew and Erin. Andrew will introduce the post and give his impression of some of the places we visited on our camping trip, and Erin will join in the middle to talk about her hike at Taum Sauk State Park..

For me, the second weekend in August was a chance to do something different. After several weekends spent in Wisconsin's glacially molded terrain and the beautiful north woods, bogs, and rock formations of the UP of Michigan. However, this weekend he'd be going the other direction, south to the St. Francois Mountains in the Ozarks of Missouri. The rocks, animals, and plants would be different. Unfortunately, so would the climate.

However, the most important thing about this trip was that I would not be doing it alone. Although I was curious to check out Elephant Rocks, Johnson's Shut-Ins, and the views atop the St. Francois Mountains, my main reason for the trip was to visit with my sister. The last time we had camped out did not go so well, so I was hoping this time would be better.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Hiking the Lists, #6: Springer Mountain and Benton Mackaye Legacy Loop

Hike: #6
Title: Springer Mountain and Benton Mackaye Legacy Loop
Location: Springer Mountain and surrounding land, Chattahoochee National Forest
Hike List: North Georgia Mountains
Difficulty: Moderately Difficult
Duration of Hike: A few tough hours

This marks the first of the hikes in this feature to already have been written about before. There isn't much in the way of specifics to add to her tale. In short, the hike is well worth your time, is moderately challenging, and lets you say you were a section hiker on two different long distance trails on the same day. Since time has passed since that hike, I thought I would add a few additional thoughts.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hiking Training Plan: Week #13 Recap

Week: September 9 - 16 (8 days)
Miles Hiked (Week): 7
Miles Hiked (September): 15.49
Miles Hiked, (September Goal): 20
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 55.93
Pounds Gained (Week): 1.0
Pounds Lost (Total): 21.0
Nights Camped (Week): 0
Nights Camped (Total): 4
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 0

Well, looks like I didn't have to worry about getting some hiking in this past weekend. Turns out I was able to get two separate hikes along the North Country trail at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, as well as two short hikes on boardwalks on Friday. All in all, I ended up walking more this weekend than last weekend, although it was over two days as opposed to one day. Save for a steep downhill from the rock escarpment to the lower land around Au Sable lighthouse, a few tricky places where trees blocked the way, and about 150 steps to the base of Sable Falls, it was mostly easy walking. Although I walked about 2 miles by myself from Logslide to Au Sable Lighthouse on the North Country Trail, they made it from Hurricane River to the lighthouse (over three miles round trip), and both traveled the stairs with me as well. In addition, my dad walked with me from the Visitors Center near Sable Falls to the Falls parking lot, about 1.2 miles. This, coupled with 1.5 miles of hiking on boardwalks (and a very short walk in the woods at Horicon N.W.R.) on Friday meant we all walked at least five miles.

As for the other part of the equation, well, let's just say it was good we got all that walking in. I suppose we didn't do that bad, particularly when it came to snacks and breakfast. Still, it's hard to get back into the swing of things with so many weekends centered around travel.

This upcoming weekend I'll be out of town again, but once again it will be a weekend chock full of hiking. I plan to check off at least two more trails on my Wisconsin sixty, and maybe a third (depending on how long and arduous the other two are). Between the preparations for the trip to the UP and a crazy week at work, I kind of fell out of my walking routine. This week's challenge is getting back into it, as well as trying to get a handle on my eating so I can really take this to the next level.

* The shipwrecks were covered by the waters of Lake Superior, which was much higher than the last time I visited.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Introducing the Red Faces, White Blazes Good Hiker Guide

If you look up in our blog's header, you should notice a link below the banner link. It's a link to our brand new Good Hiker Guide. This is a list of things we here at Red Faces, White Blazes consider the basis for being a good hiker.

Right now the list in very short, with only two guidelines (OK, one guideline and one steadfast rule). However, this is a work in progress, and we'll be continuing to update the list. If you feel we are missing something, please feel free to let us know, and we'll try to add it. Also, if you happen to disagree with something on the list, or think it needs clarified, you can just go jump off a cliff feel free to discuss it in the comments of either this post, or the actual page with all the guidelines.

Hiking Training Plan: Week 12 Recap

Week: September 3 - 9 (6 days)
Miles Hiked (Week): 4.30
Miles Hiked (September): 8.49
Miles Hiked, (September Goal): 20
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 48.93
Pounds Lost (Week): 4.6
Pounds Lost (Total): 22.0
Nights Camped (Week): 0
Nights Camped (Total): 4
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 0

Week 12 was a course correction, getting back on track after the disruption of Labor Day weekend. I didn't get as many hiking miles in, but I did do a better job of watching what I ate. All in all, it was a good week.

I ended up getting only one hike in, but it was a good length. It was a hike at the University of Wisconsin Madison's Arboretum. I'll have more about this hike when it's time comes up in the "Hiking the Lists" feature, but the short story is that it it's a pleasant hike through some beautiful trees, over a big spring, and around a historical tall grass prairie.

We'll see how much walking I'll get in this week. I have another trip coming up this weekend, this time returning to Munising and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore with my parents. It won't be a complete weekend of hiking, but I hope I'll get some of it in this weekend.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hiking the Lists #5: Grand Sable Dunes and Logslide

Hike: #5
Title: Grand Sable Dunes and Logslide
Location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Hike List: U.P. Michigan
Difficulty: Easy
Duration of Hike: 30 minutes

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a great place to hike. Not only is the scenery stunning, it has a great variety of trails, in terms of length and difficulty. From short, flat trails less than a mile, to a rugged 42 backpacking trail that is part of the North Country Trail, there is plenty for everyone to enjoy.

Today's hike is certainly not a long one, and it is fairly easy. There isn't much to it, just a walk from the parking lot to a sand dune and an overlook of Grand Sable Dunes and Lake Superior. At least if you stick to this trail.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Hiking Training Plan: Week 11 Recap

Week: August 26 - September 2 (8 days)
Miles Hiked (Week): 6.05
Miles Hiked (August): 15.39
Miles Hiked (September): 4.19
Miles Hiked, (August Goal): 15
Miles Hiked, (September Goal): 20
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 44.63
Pounds Gained (Week): 1.2
Pounds Lost (Total): 17.4
Nights Camped (Week): 0
Nights Camped (Total): 4
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 0

Stupid holiday weekends, with all the things to eat and drink. I'm sure it didn't help that the cookout was the day before I weighed in, but I still could have done better. Fortunately, this is the last holiday weekend until Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, there are going to be a few more weekends that will effectively be short vacations. I just have to be smarter, and keep going out on the trail.

Speaking of the trail, it wasn't a complete failure of a week. I made it out to Forest Glen on a warm Saturday to walk the Old Barn Trail, clinching my goal of 15 miles for August. In addition, I went up to Kennekuk County Park on Monday and walked the Windfall Prairie and Collins Area trails. All in all I walked over six miles for the long weekend, getting a good start on my September hiking goal.

This week will just be a pretty standard week, with this weekend being a good chance to rack up some miles on the trail. I'm planning on hiking in WI and northern IL, hoping to knock out at least a couple of hikes for "Hiking the Lists". Hopefully it will go as good as this past week in terms of hiking, while improving upon the "getting into shape" part.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Hiking Training Plan, Week #10

Week: August 19 - August 25
Miles Hiked (Week): 5.28
Miles Hiked (Month): 13.53
Miles Hiked, (Month Goal): 15
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 38.58
Pounds Lost (Week): 0.8
Pounds Lost (Total): 18.6
Nights Camped (Week): 1
Nights Camped (Total): 4
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 0

So this week is going in the right direction, if not as quickly as I'd like. Still, any progress is good progress. I'm now slightly less than 1.5 miles away from my goal for the month, with one hiking day left to go. Unfortunately, it looks like this Saturday is going to be a warm one. However, it won't be that much warmer than this past Sunday, and I walked over three miles that day. As long as I stay out of the sun and take enough water it should be fine.

As you can see in the running totals, I spent a night camping this weekend. This time it was way up in Northwestern Wisconsin at a campground high above the Eau Galle Reservoir. It was supposed to be two nights, but the threat of storms (and the incoming warm front) led me to break camp on Saturday and hole up in a hotel. It was a nice campground, quiet and secluded, with a nice shower and restroom nearby. The trails are pretty limited, although it was a fairly steep walk down to the shoreline and back. I actually had fun making my way back up on a very steep trail. Now, if the trail had been longer, or had it been the end of the day rather than the beginning, I doubt I would have enjoyed it so much. Still, that is a rare thing for me to enjoy walking up a hill.

Although I did stay in the air conditioned and pizza filled comforts of a hotel Saturday night, I made up for it on Sunday, walking the most difficult trail at Mirror Lake State Park.* I'll share more about this eventually, as it is one of the hikes that will be part of my "Hiking the Lists" feature. Suffice it to say that it wasn't overly difficult, but it sure had plenty of ups and downs. Though short, they got kind of tiring, particularly since most of the trail was without anything approaching a view of the lake. Still, two down, 58 to go in Wisconsin.

So once again, I am trying to hit my exercise and calorie goals this week. Saturday is the last day I have to hit my hiking goal, and I'll be down in Ridge Farm, so it will likely be Forest Glen that I'll be attempting to do that. Next month the goal number goes up by another five miles, so I'll have to get at it to hit that for September.

*According to the park.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Adventures in Camping - Table Rock Lake

You know you're going camping with a good coupla people when the first thing you do, gearing up for the four hour car ride, is blast "On the Open Road" from a Goofy Movie.

Yes, a couple of coworkers and I were headed four hours south of St. Louis to Table Rock Lake in Southern Missouri, where we hoped to have a relaxing weekend filled with camping, scuba diving, and s'mores. We'd spent the last couple weeks planning this adventure and couldn't be more excited - the days at work leading up to the big trip were spent with high fives and random shouts of "WE'RE GOING CAMPING!". No WAY our other coworkers could have been annoyed.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Hiking the Lists #4: Garden of the Gods Observation Trail

Hike: #4
Title: Observation Trail
Location: Garden of the Gods Recreation Area
Hike list: Illinois
Difficulty: Mostly Easy (a few uphills and downhills, and some awkward rock steps)
Duration of Hike: A short walk amongst interesting rock formations

Between the 320 million year old rock formations, and the panoramic views of sizable hills, Garden of the Gods feels hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away from the flat prairies and fields that cover most of the state. Although short, the quarter mile loop is a good workout with plenty of odd looking rocks and scenic vistas.

Because much of the path is stone, it can get slippery when wet. The most recent time I visited here* parts of the walk way were slippery, but nothing too hard to deal with. After a short uphill climb (or a longer one, if you go clockwise from the parking lot), you come to the rock formations. These sit high above the valley below, so mind your step. Plenty of the boulders and rocks can be accessed without equipment, so if you are looking for a chance to do some boulder hopping, this is a good place to do that. 

Many of the rock formations have names, which I did not write down at the time I walked it. I recommend that if you are looking for a weekend trip from St. Louis or Chicago, or are traveling through Shawnee National Forest and are looking for something to do, to make time for Garden of the Gods. There's a campground nearby, and many other trails in the area if you are looking for a longer, more challenging hike. 

*The only time I've visited as an adult.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Hiking Training Plan: Week 9 Recap

Week: August 13 - August 18 (6 days)
Miles Hiked (Week): 0
Miles Hiked (Month): 8.25
Miles Hiked, (Month Goal): 15
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 33.30
Pounds Gained (Week): 2.4
Pounds Lost (Total): 17.8
Nights Camped (Week): 1
Nights Camped (Total): 3
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 0

As expected, this week was my first week in a while that things went the other way. Eh, what can I say, it was a birthday weekend, and hiking and healthy living were not part of the plan. Instead, it was a weekend of beer, cheese, and driving through the glacial features of Central and Southern Wisconsin. Along the way we crossed several trails, most of which appeared to be trails for hikers, walkers, joggers, and bikers. At least one brewery (Central Waters in Amherst) was just a short distance off of one of the trails, which would make for an interesting day of bicycling and beer.

And so, this week it's back to business. I'm going camping up in Wisconsin this weekend, the first time I'll be doing it two days straight.. Well, assuming the first night goes OK. I have three weekend days left to go to get that 6.75 miles, and I hope to at least get 4 of those this weekend. Hopefully I'll have more good news next week. After all, it isn't the weekend gone astray that kills the plan, it's failing to get back on track.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Further Thoughts on Hawk Hill at Forest Glen

It's not the longest incline I've ever walked. It's not the steepest, and certainly isn't the worst footing, or most dangerous incline. Heck, it isn't even the highest or steepest climb at Forest Glen. All of that given, why does Hawk Hill (a.k.a. the path to the Vermilion River and the tower), give me such fits?

I've written about this little trail before, and how it humbled me after a few hikes which had given me confidence in my abilities. With even more distance, I continue to take a positive outlook, and have accepted that what's more important is getting to the top of that hill, even if it takes one (or more) stops to get there.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hiking Training Plan, Week #8 Recap

Week: August 5 - August 12 (8 days)
Miles Hiked (Week): 7.25
Miles Hiked (Month): 8.25
Miles Hiked, (Month Goal): 15
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 33.30
Pounds Lost (Week): 2.6
Pounds Lost (Total): 20.2
Nights Camped (Week): 1
Nights Camped (Total): 3
Nights Camped (Backpacking): 0

So after a down weekend last week, I got back on track with a fun weekend in the St. Francois Mountains southwest of St. Louis with Erin. None of the hikes were too strenuous (I bowed out on the Mina Sauk Falls trail once it started getting too rocky), although there were a few climbs. It was interesting how much better I took those inclines than I would have two months ago. It appears the daily uphill walks up the ramps at the parking garage at work have paid off. The picture above is one of the rocks that give Elephant Rocks its name.

Because I didn't get back from the trip until mid-morning on Monday, this week was one day longer than normal. Having eaten breakfast and a couple snacks before getting back up to my apartment, it didn't make sense to weigh in then. As such, the upcoming week will be one day shorter. I'm going to try to keep up the progress, but this upcoming weekend may cause a temporary setback, seeing as I'm taking a trip for my birthday that will involve very little hiking. As long as I get back to it next Monday, I'm not too worried.

As you can see, I've added some additional statistics. This includes the number of nights I've camped out since starting my hiking training plan. Counting this past Saturday at Silver Mines Campground in Mark Twain National Forest, that brings it up to three nights for the year. I've yet to do a backpacking hike, but my goal is at least one or two nights before winter. Stay tuned for more details about that trip, when it happens.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A record breaking week on the AT and the PCT

At 7:20 PM EDT this past Wednesday, Matt Kirk reached the summit of Springer Mountain, better known as the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. With his final step on that trail, he became the record holder for the fastest self-supported hike on the Appalachian Trail. During his 58.4 day hike, he dealt with the wetter than normal summer along the East Coast, a twisted knee, and a pace that averaged over 37 miles per day. Even if the trail was graded like it is along the B&O Towpath for its entire distance, that would be a tough undertaking. And as anyone who has walked more than a few yards on the AT knows, it is rarely flat.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Shark Week (and Reflection on Hard Work)

I know it's almost over, but I've been meaning to write SOMETHING in honor of Shark Week. It's been really busy at work, and I've come home every day absolutely exhausted because -no lie- at least 2 hours of my shift has been dedicated to dancing around in a shark costume.

I have never felt more fulfilled in my life. 

Hikin' It Easy: Anna Ruby Falls

Hike #: 2
Name: Anna Ruby Falls
Location: Chattahoochee National Forest, Georgia
Distance: 0.8 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Moderate

I'm not going to lie, the walk up to Anna Ruby Falls is fairly steep. It's not hiking up to Blood Mountain, or even as bad as the walk up to the top of Clingman's Dome, but you are definitely walking up hill. However, the walk is short, the path is paved (and thus easy footing), and the view at the end is well worth it.

The neat thing about Anna Ruby Falls is that it isn't just one, but two creeks that make up the falls. From one direction comes Curtis Creek,, and from another comes York Creek. Both make their short journey from Tray Mountain, before going over Anna Ruby Falls. Below the falls they come together to form Smith Creek, which continues on its way to the Chattahoochee River, and eventually the Gulf of Mexico.

Unlike DeSoto Falls*, Anna Ruby Falls is frequently busy, even in the winter. It is up a short road from Unicoi State Park, which has a large campground and a lodge. In addition, it is just a short drive from Helen, a popular tourist town that is kind of like a North Georgia Gatlinburg. When I went it was February, so it wasn't packed, but there was plenty of company.

There are many great falls to see in the North Georgia Mountains. Some require considerable effort to reach, but many do not. Anna Ruby Falls should be on any persons list of Appalachian water falls, especially considering how easy it is to reach. Provided you don't mind a bit of an uphill walk.

*This may make this feature, although it will also be in "Hiking the Lists"

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Hiking the Lists #3: Volo Bog Nature Boardwalk

Hike: #3
Title: Volo Bog Nature Trail and Boardwalk
Location: Volo Bog State Natural Area
Hike list: Illinois
Difficulty: Easy
Duration of Hike: Half hour walk

Before I begin, I have to declare something, in the interest of full disclosure. Volo Bog is not a bog, at least not in terms of how a bog is defined. To be a bog, a wetland must get its moisture solely from precipitation, which is why bogs are so nutrient poor. However, there is at least one inlet into Volo Bog, and at least two outlets, which means water flows through here. Thus, it is actually a "fen" and not a bog.

Sure could have fooled me. It definitely looked like a bog, with the sphagnum moss, tamaracks, poison sumac, and various other water loving plant species to be found. Like bogs, this is a place where carnivorous plants live. I'm pretty certain I saw a few pitcher plants hidden beneath the tamaracks.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hiking Training Plan: Week 7 Recap

Week: July 29 - August 4
Miles Hiked (Week): 1.00
Miles Hiked (Month): 1.00
Miles Hiked, (Month Goal): 15
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 26.05
Pounds Lost (Week): 2.2
Pounds Lost (Total): 17.6

Well, this week was certainly a mixed bag. I did fairly well in regards to hitting my calorie goals, but not so much with the weekend hiking. In fact, only two trips around the Volo Bog Nature Trail and Boardwalk kept this weekend from being another shutout. I guess they can't all be like last weekend.

Although this was always going to be a down weekend, I had no intention for it to be this devoid of hiking. Most of this was caused by me tweaking my back while getting ready for work Wednesday morning. It is feeling considerably better now, but it kept me from doing too much walking until the weekend. I have slowly started working my way back up, but I don't think I'll be pulling off 40 mile hikes any time soon.

I'm hoping to add to that hiking total this weekend, as I go down to Missouri to visit Erin and camp out in Mark Twain National Forest. Here's hoping I can keep up the momentum, and that my body continues to cooperate.

Friday, August 2, 2013

In Rememberence of BioWeekending.

So, let's talk about college. I'm not going to lie - I kind of miss it. But I miss it for the nerdiest reasons imaginable; I miss going to class. I miss the procrastination of putting off an essay or project (although I guess I can simulate the experience by putting off posting on blogs...). I miss doing kickass stuff in class and thinking "Damn, I have the best major ever." And while I still have yet to turn those things I learned into a viable career, at least for now I have some good memories and some solid wisdom to lean on.

How is this relevant to wetlands? Simple. My last semester in college, I took a course called Water, Wetlands, and Wildlife. I camped in a biological station near Gainesville and went shinin' for gators, had an awkward encounter with a Cottonmouth in the Everglades, and adopted a Crawdad in the Hillsborough River. Oh, and then there was the tour of the Tampa Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hikin' It Easy: John Muir Memorial Park Loop

One of the big reasons I enjoy hiking is to see things you just can't see from the road, a pulloff overlook, or a parking lot. Sure, some of those things take a long time, or require considerable effort. However, many great natural places and experiences can be reached by short hikes. "Hikin' It Easy" are posts that share these short and/or easy hikes. All of them will be less than 2 miles long, and most will be either flat or mostly flat. A few might have some stairs and may require a little exertion, but these walks will be very short distances.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Little Piece of Swampy Heaven

To celebrate Andrew's and I's Wetlands Week, I'm going to gush on reason #532381 that I love the Saint Louis Zoo: the Cypress Swamp (or, Erin's Thinkin' Place).

The 1904 World's Fair Flight Cage is the one of only two standing structures left from the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (yes, it's true! The World's Fair Pavilion in Forest Park wasn't built until 1910. The Art Museum is actually the other building). The people of St. Louis loved the aviary so much that it was purchased from the Smithsonian and handed over to the Saint Louis Zoological Society (which was, and still is, municipal supported) and became one of the cornerstones of the Zoo as it is today.

In 2004, the walk through aviary received a major facelift and became the Cypress Swamp. Missouri and Southern Illinois are part of the Mississippi delta and boast some of the most beautiful wetlands in the United States; the Cypress Swamp is a beautiful ambassador to the majesty of these rapidly declining wetlands.

The thing is, before people realized wetlands were really great at keeping upland places dry and biodiverse, they were basically seen as mosquito factories with no applicable value (a detrimental thought process that proved to be a huge mistake on Florida's part, which I'll write about later this week!). However, because wetlands are great places for nutrients to gather as groundwater gets recycled, when drained the land becomes excellent farmland with nutrient-rich soil. As agrarian as the Midwest (and North America in general) is, one can see how it is that wetlands themselves are on the verge of extinction. 

Today we know so much more about the necessity, both inherent and applicable, of watersheds and wetlands and yet the public perception surrounding the importance of these places still has a long way to go. The Cypress Swamp is an excellent retreat as well as an essential educational tool.

Boasting a variety of  native Facultative (can do equally well with or without water innundation), Obligate (must be inundated at least part of the year), and Upland (don't do so hot being submerged) plants, the Cypress Swamp greets you as an oasis of green. Upon entering, the sights, sounds, and smells of a Cypress Wetland surround zoo visitors while various North American native birds go about their business in the aviary.

Egrets, Ibis, Green Herons, Night Herons, Canvasback, Ruddy, and Wood ducks are just some of the birds encountered swimming in the water, walking on the boardwalk, or watching from the trees. One of my favorite species of bird, the Double Crested Cormorant, even has a few locals taking up residence. It's amazing how many people living in Missouri and Southern Illinois had no idea that these interesting birds lived in the area - often I hear "are they from Africa?" or they assume these came from China, where other species of cormorants call home. The three cormies in the Swamp have especially big personalities and are found most often sitting near (or on!) the boardwalk as if they themselves are just passing through on a leisurely visit. 

By far, the most colorful birds in the Cypress Swamp are the Roseate Spoonbills. Although only found once in a blue moon in the Midwest, these pink birds are very common in southern wetlands. I remember being excited at seeing one in the wild when I moved to Tampa for college - previously, I had only seen them at the Zoo! The Spoonbills are probably one of the best named birds (can you see why?). They use their spoon-like bills to scoop up aquatic insects, crustaceans, and small fish from shallow water and gain their pink plumage the same way flamingos do - caratenoids from their diet. Currently, there is a pair nesting in the Swamp. The morning is my favorite time to be in the Swamp - the birds are active, the shade is plentiful, and the air is cool. It's a very peaceful time and maybe one of the most serene experiences found at the Zoo. 

Of course, 16 or so species of birds and various species of plants an ecosystem does not make. To compensate for the lack of biodiversity within the Cypress Swamp, there are interactive exhibits and signage that weaves a tale of how wetlands provide homes for a variety of different kinds of life. Pressing a hand to a sign, one can hear the call of a Bald Eagle, or feel the heat generated by a patch of Skunk Cabbage, find a Swamp Rabbit, or watch an Alligator Snapping Turtle blow bubbles in the water (not adequately represented: the fact that they facilitate oxygen through their cloaca, i.e, breathe out their butt). The Cypress Swamp wouldn't live up to its name if it didn't represent the pneumataphores (knees) of cypress trees sticking up out of the water (these knees help plants, like cypress and mangroves, to take in oxygen despite being rooted underwater). There's a soft groundspace to stand on, where one can feel what a wetland's soil is like standing on top of. It's kind of bouncy because the soil is so inundated. And the smell! The smell of wet, decaying plant matter, although offensive to some, is earthy and refreshing to me. 

People think I'm crazy that a swamp - one of those icky, nasty, bug filled stink factories - is one of my favorite places to be, but really I'm just simulating the experience of the grandeur of a real swamp until the time comes when I have the time and income to explore the wild wetlands of the world myself. I love educating people about the importance of wetlands* and I urge, for my sake, for your sake, for the sake of these beautiful, mysterious, and oh-so important ecosystems, that you go out and explore a swamp as soon as possible. Take pictures. Wade in the muck. Look for birds, and mammals, and dragonflies, and try to figure out which plants need to live in water and which ones don't. Explore. And if you can't do that, you're always welcome to visit me at the Zoo. You know where to find me. 

* There is another part of the Zoo, on River's Edge, that is supposed to be a Missouri Ozark cabin. It talks about the importance of wetlands and how flooding can be alleviated by wetlands (which act as a natural sponge for rainwater and flooding), but rarely is used to its full potential. It's on my to-do list.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hiking the Lists #2: Horicon NWR

Hike: #2
Title: Horicon National Wildlife Refuge
Location: Horicon NWR, near Waupun, WI
Hike list: Wisconsin
Difficulty: Mostly Easy
Duration of Hike: Walking straight through takes about an hour. Longer if you linger on the floating boardwalk looking for birds.

You can't go many places in Wisconsin without encountering somewhere affected by a glacier. When most people think about glacially influenced topography, they look up towards the eskers, kames, and moraines. However, it's not just rocky ridges that the glaciers influenced. Kettle lakes, bogs, and other wetlands were created by the retreating glaciers.

The wetlands of Horicon National Wildlife Refuge are the remnants of an ancient glacial lake. It one of only 22 wetlands in the United States that is considered a "Wetland of International Importance". It is home to thousands of birds living in its wetlands, prairies, and small tracts of woods, as well as temporary respite for many more thousands of migratory birds. If you are a avid bird watcher, this is somewhere you've probably either been, or wish to visit some day.

Horicon would be a great place to visit if wildlife viewing was all you could do there. However, there are several hiking trails to be found, especially near the auto driving tour on the north side of the refuge. It was here that I hiked three loops: Redhead, Red Fox, and Egret. 

To some, it may have been too dreary of a day to hike. For me, however, it was perfect, as the temperatures were in the low sixties and the sky clouded over, keeping the unshielded prairies from becoming too hot. A normal July day, this trail would not have been too fun to walk on, at least not the prairie side.

The prairie section of the trail, which was most of the Redhead and almost all of the Red Fox, teemed with wildflowers of many colors. Unfortunately, I have yet to learn the names of most of these plants, but the flowers were predominantly purple and gold. Alas, what made the day so enjoyable to hike also made it hard to get good pictures of the flowers. Overhead several types of birds, mostly tree swallows, darted down and around the tall grass, going into the small stands of trees or diving close to the water's surface in the marsh areas.

Without a doubt the highlight of the hike was the floating boardwalk, which let you walk out onto the water and see all the birds and animals that hang out there. Of course, there were plenty of Canada geese around. What a surprise to see them in their natural habitat, instead of sitting in ditches at a sewer plant or along retention ponds. Several terns floated in the water, or sat atop posts on the boardwalk. I'm pretty certain i saw a few gulls who may have made their way over from Lake Michigan, and at times saw larger birds flying farther out. Apparently in the summer White Pelicans hang out at the refuge, although I didn't see any. 

After the boardwalk, about half of the walking remained, but it couldn't match just being out on that water. Had I the time, i probably would have sat out there for a few hours, just to see what I might see. Instead, I had a three hour drive awaiting me, and a hike to finish. Unbeknownst to me, the actual length of my walk was longer than what the book said it was, mainly because they had forgot to add the boardwalk's distance to the total. Except for a few short climbs up prairie hills or down towards water (either the wetlands or the Rock River), it was a fairly flat trail. However, the back part of the Redhead trail had some weird footing which I found a bit difficult to deal with. The pitch of the path was pretty steep, as they had just mowed a path along the hillside.

Before I had read about this hike, I had no idea this place existed. I am glad that I found it, as I will be going back again. So far I've walked 2 of the 58 trails on the Wisconsin list, and can't wait to see what other natural wonders those Cheeseheads are hiding up there.

Hiking Training Plan: Week 6 Recap

Week: July 15 - July 21
Miles Hiked (Week): 8.02
Miles Hiked (Month): 17.51
Miles Hiked, (Month Goal): 10
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 25.05
Pounds Lost (Week): 5.2
Pounds Lost (Total): 15.4

Week 6 was a good week. I hit my monthly hiking goal, lost weight, and save for dinner on Friday and Sunday did pretty good overall. I hope to have more weeks like this one than the previous week.

The biggest part of that hiking was done on Saturday. I walked at two different places in Wisconsin, the loop around the John Muir Memorial State Natural Area and three loops of varying sizes at Horicon NWR*. Neither were too bad as far as terrain or footing goes, and it was a perfect day for hiking. I capped off the weekend with an easy 1.5 mile walk to and from the Fox River at Chain-O-Lakes State Park in northern Illinois.

Because of my hiking, and because of an overall moderation of food, I actually lost a small amount of weight over the weekend. Hopefully I will be able to make it two weeks in a row. This will be the last weekend in a while I won't be going somewhere or doing something, so I need to be careful that I don't wreck it with junk food and sitting still. There are plenty of places close to Schaumburg I can go to hike, so I'm not too worried.

*Both will be featured in their own posts as part of Wetlands Week.

Monday, July 29, 2013

It's Wetlands Week on Red Faces, White Blazes!

Wetlands are a crucial and endangered part nature. They help prevent catastrophic flooding, clean up water, and provide food and shelter for countless animals that either live there or use it as a stopover during migrations. They can be found at almost all latitudes, from boreal bogs in colder climates, to sweltering tropical swamps teeming with life. Wetlands come in all shapes and sizes, from the soggy grassy areas around your subdivision's pond, to the massive sea of grass known as the Everglades.

As crucial as they are, they are some of the most threatened ecosystems on our planet. Eradication of wetlands is not a new thing, as we have been draining swamps and channeling waterways away from wetlands for centuries. In the United States alone, areas such as the Everglades, the Mississippi River delta, the sloughs along the lower Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, and the bogs and marshes of Northern Michigan are a fraction of what they used to be. And of what is left, much of it is threatened by overdevelopment, pollution, and often just general carelessness on our part.

However, all is not lost. Over the past century, we have begun to learn how important these lands are to ecological balance, and have worked to preserve and protect what is left. In many places, we've even begun to reclaim wetlands, and have seen amazing comebacks of some of the most threatened residents, such as the American alligator, the beaver, the bald eagle, and the Canada goose.

Even if they were just ecologically important, wetlands would be worthy of discussion on this blog. However, they are also great places to visit, provided you don't mind wet boots and a "few" mosquitoes. Many of them have great hiking trails and boardwalks to explore. In addition, they are great places to take a canoe or kayak and explore. And above all, they are a great place to just go with your binoculars and field guides, and watch for animals large and small. Just mind you don't go to near an alligator or that water moccasin over there.

Because of the ecological, scenic, and recreational value of wetlands, we here at Red Faces, White Blazes have decided to make to name this week "Wetlands Week" in their honor. Both of us will be writing posts about wetlands, including our experiences hiking through and around them. So put on your best watertight boots and come join us to celebrate Wetlands Week. Just be sure to watch where you are stepping when walking through a bog. Otherwise, you might find yourself neck deep in peat.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Nature and City Livin' - a Nighttime Observation

I just cannot keep myself together. THIS week, since I got off-topic last week and talked about animals and weather, was going to be about wetlands. Then I got depressed because I spent my day off job searching, as my zoo job will be coming to an end in a couple short months. You know what I need? I need to go outside.

That's why I'm sitting on the "balcony" of the second floor overlooking the street - sure, it's not green space, and the sun has gone down, but in the distance I can see the last bit of sunset dimming in the horizon. Frogs, cicadas, and crickets are making a spectacular chorus, and my street has lots of trees on it - I can see the outline of the trunks and leaves in the dark. A bat just flew over my head, and there's a cool breeze courtesy of this very lovely weather we've been having recently in St. Louis. I can even see a few stars shining in the sky. Even in the middle of the city, I'm surrounded by those comforting sounds and smells and sensations of nature.

It's easy to forget that these urban areas are ecosystems all in their own. My roommate hates the squirrels that come into the yard and eat the garden, and he is irked by the carpenter bees that have made homes in his deck (and I promise, that pollinator post IS coming!). I'm tempted to put a bird feeder in the backyard, but then I'd just be adding to a local food chain -attracting cats and hawks and all sorts of things that would very much like to eat the buffet of song birds caught off guard.

Ironically, my neighbors, who probably are drinking wine on their balcony enjoying the night ambiance, are probably more than a little annoyed at the fact that I've come outside and am illuminating the space 20 feet away from them with the light from my lap-top and the incessant "tick-a-tap-tick" of my typing. Sorry, neighbors. I'm just enjoying the grandeur of our little urban paradise in my own way.

Quiet, introspective moments like these are one of my favorite things in life to experience. It's also a good time to remind myself that life is a balance of progress and natural order - that if I want to maintain these comfortable, small segments of time and experience them again, I need to bring that balance to my own life. Recycle, conserve, observe, enjoy the awe of the little things that make this so very urban and yet Midwest (and I say that in the most loving way possible) all at once. And I love that St. Louis seems dedicated to maintaining this balance, as well. Community gardens are not uncommon, at least in this neck of the city, and the Zoo and Botanical Gardens are two of the top attractions (as well as major players in conservation and education, of course). Many of the neighborhoods are old but look like they're straight out of 1903. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside - the history, the nature, the progress, even the work that still needs to be done -it all adds up to this beautiful evening that I'm writing about now.

So what if the 757 flying overhead on its way to Lambert Airport harmonizes with the choir of frogs? Of course it isn't a perfect balance yet, but in this moment, on my balcony, it's pretty close.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Darn...and Hooray!

Just got the 2nd Edition of 50 Hikes in the North Georgia Mountains, and two of the hikes I walked in the 1st Edition were cut, with none of the new ones being trails I've hiked. Oh well, I'll still be writing about those hikes, and both books are valid in my "Hiking the Lists".

Also, I just discovered that the L.P. Michigan book has 60 hikes, like the Wisconsin one. So instead of 317 hikes, it's more like ~335 hikes.

Just means more hiking for me, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Hiking Training Plan: Week 5 Recap

Week: July 15 - July 21
Miles Hiked (Week): 0
Miles Hiked (Month): 9.5
Miles Hiked, (Month Goal): 10
Miles Hiked (Yearly Total): 17.03
Pounds Lost (Week): 0.6
Pounds Lost (Total): 10.2

Sometimes it is good to just take a weekend and relax. I had intended to make it out to Forest Glen while I was home visiting my family, but rain and lethargy kept me from it. Considering this, and how poorly I ate over the weekend, I'm a bit surprised that I ended up losing weight for the week. I've gotten pretty good at figuring out how to keep at it during the week. Weekends, however, are still a problem.

So, here I sit, with only one weekend left in July and a half mile left to hit my monthly goal. I suppose now would be a good time to share what constitutes a hike. Basically, any amount of walking that is either done with a pack on my back, or is done on a surface that isn't paved, or is a trail in nature. In other words, there is some leeway. For example, road walking at a state park or forest preserve would count as hiking, but walking along a road in my neighborhood does not. Basically, if I'm doing it after work, it is walking, not hiking. As such, I only really have two days to hit that goal. I think I can hike half a mile either Saturday or Sunday.

With the significant loss of weight, I've been noticing my clothes fitting better. I've also noticed an increase in energy, and an improvement in how I handle inclines and strenuous terrain. Instead of being absolutely spent when I go uphill, and I'm now only mostly spent. It's a small but noticeable improvement.

Hiking the Lists #1: Au Sable Lighthouse

Hike: #1
Title: Au Sable Lighthouse
Location: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Hike list: U.P. Michigan
Difficulty: Easy
Duration of Hike: A couple leisurely hours

It started with a book I bought in the Fall of 2010 titled 50 Hikes in the North Georgia Mountains, by Johnny Molloy. Once I had read a few entries in the book, I decided I would start keeping track of them all, hopefully at some point finishing them. I didn't get all of them in when I lived in Chattanooga, but I did get several (and got another couple later on).

Now it's 2013, and I still have that book to complete. However, those 50 hikes have been joined by 160 more from three different books in the same series. There are 60 hikes in Wisconsin, and 50 each for the Upper and Lower Peninsulas in Michigan. In addition, I have a big book of Illinois day hikes, which isn't part of that series, but is still a worthy book to go through and check off hikes.

Every so often, I'll be sharing my adventures following the trails from these books. For hikes that I've yet to hike, I will share those tales shortly after I check them off. For the many I've already hiked, well, that's what off weeks are for. We start today with the mostly easy, yet scenic, out and back along the North Country trail to the Au Sable Lighthouse.

Save for a nerve-wracking (at least for me) descent down sandy stairs, and a few tricky sandstone outcroppings on the beach, this wasn't the most challenging trail. However, it had plenty of great views of Lake Superior, shipwrecks, and the lighthouse on Au Sable point. The walk was mostly level along both the beach and the trail, and the trail footing was mostly gravel, as it is also the access road to the lighthouse.

Although I just walked this about a month ago, this is actually the first one of these hikes that I ever walked. You see, this was one of the walks my family and I took when we went to the U.P. in the 1990s. I remember the lighthouse and the shipwrecks, but I didn't remember having to climb over small rocks and a few sandstone outcroppings out on the beach. We must have only walked along part of the beach, as there are few real ways to access the beach from the trail.

All in all, it was a perfect day to be out there. The sun was shining, and the lake and the sky were beautiful shades of blue. It wasn't cold, but it wasn't hot either. The only part that wasn't really enjoyable was walking down the "stairs" from the lighthouse to the beach. The stairs were basically waterbars across the sandy hillside. The wooden bars were not really conducive to standing upon, and when you stepped in the sand behind them, it would shift down the hill. If you weren't careful where you put your feet, they could get trapped under the bar. Not wanting to hurt myself, I was extra careful on this part.

Considerably more fun were the parts of the beach that weren't sand. Although I had to be careful that I didn't turn a knee or ankle on them, it was kind of fun making my way through the small and medium sized rocks found at several points. It was also a nice challenge figuring out the best way across a sandstone outcropping, which eventually resulted in me having to get my feet a bit wet in the cold waters of Lake Superior.

I imagine there are times when the place is pretty busy (although I doubt it is ever as busy as Miner's Castle), but that day was not one of them. Except for a family that arrived as I was heading down to the beach, I had the lighthouse area to myself. Walking back along the beach I only met one group of people.

It wasn't the longest (although definitely not the shortest) hike from these lists, and it wasn't arduous, but it was a good way to stretch my legs, and the views (at least at the lighthouse and along the beach) were well worth it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

It's hot and I wish I had ossicones (or at least a pool)

For my first post back at Walk With Nature, I was going to talk about the importance of pollinators. I've really grown to love our backyard friends, especially the little understood native bee species that help our gardens and fields look amazing and grow amazing food.

However, I became sidetracked last night about 5 sentences in and then today I was flat out too hot to do anything worthwhile on the internet. For someone who loves the outdoors and nature as much as I do, I was ready to curl into a ball in the freezer and curse the sun for the blazing hot madness that is the inside of my apartment. I believe the heat index hit around 105 today.

I know what you're saying. "But Erin! You went to college in central Florida! You've spent many summers in the Midwest! At least its not a drought like it was last year!". You, my protesting friend, are absolutely correct. That doesn't change the fact that when it gets really hot, it gets miserable.

Do you know what kangaroos do to cope with the extreme heat of the Australian Outback? Other than being primarily active at night, they spit on their forearms and rub that spit on their faces, then face the wind and as the spit evaporates, it cools them (much like sweat does, only without the gross part where it secretes from all over your body). They're already built for that heat, though - it can get to be 120 degrees in the Outback. At my job, we simulate the 'roo experience by having kids put "kangaroo spit" on their hands and hold them up to the breeze. Think it might smell like hand sanitizer? Well, now you know where hand sanitizer comes from.

We are not kangaroos. Nor are we camels. Camels have specialized blood cells that are more oval as opposed to our own circular ones. That means they can have adequate blood flow even when substantially dehydrated because their red blood cells are streamlined even when the vessel is constricted. We totally can't do that. I feel like I would do a lot better in the heat if I knew I had some leeway before, you know, death.

Sadly, we don't have ossicones like giraffes, either. You know, those little horn thingies on their heads that may help with thermoregulation (because they actually have blood flow through them). Too hot? Just pump that nonsense right out of your permanent doodle-boppers.

Ultimately, it's those privileged few who have the luxury of accessing a swimming pool that really stay cool during the blistering heat. You don't even have to swim; just stand there and enjoy the shade. One thing does bother me, though; do tigers wrinkle if left in the water too long? With a heat index of 105 degrees, it doesn't really matter. I don't think I'd EVER leave. Unless, of course, I was sharing my pool with a tiger. Then I'd feel as though I've overstayed my welcome. Better yet for our tigre amigo? He doesn't even have to get out to get himself a nice cold tasty drink.

No, sadly, I do not have any of these things at my disposal. Sweating is just the worst because it smells awful on top of being uncomfortable - really, ossicones were the way to go, I think. Which is why I'm sitting in a dark room, drinking frozen cucumber water (since we don't have an ice maker and I have used up the completely frozen ice in the ice tray) and lamenting what feels like an inevitable fiery-yet-humid death.

I know I'm being a bit melodramatic; hey, at least I'm not out on the trail, right?

I have absolutely no experience with heat when it comes to camping; somehow, all of my misadventures in the wilderness involving temperature are with cold weather (refer back to Grand Canyon camping 2012). I'll have to do some research into how to stay cool during a particularly warm night on the trail.

Andrew and I are going camping in Southern Missouri next month, and then a week after that some of my coworkers and I will be camping. It'll be a good way to find out how, exactly, one doesn't sweat to death over night. Since hiking the Appalachian Trail is still on our to-do list, I think this is the kind of knowledge that REALLY matters. Stay tuned for part 2 (coming after said camping adventures) where I discuss what I've learned.

Here'a picture of a totes relaxed kangaroo, just rubbing in the fact that he can tolerate the weather better than myself (who, from his point of view, probably looks like some poor human who has succumbed to some sort of sweaty zombie-ism). Stay cool, everyone!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Journey: My Hiking Training Plan

As the handful of longtime readers may know, I started a "regular" feature called "The Journey". It was an attempt to share my triumphs and tribulations as I worked to lose weight and become a better hiker. Although I made several posts and lost some weight, I never kept up with it as regularly as I would have liked, particularly after I fell down walking in June of 2012.

After about a year of no real forward momentum in my efforts to lose weight and get in better shape, it was time for a change. Starting on June 17 of this year, I began a hiking training plan. The goal is within one year to be in good enough shape to tackle a multiday backpacking trip. In two years, the goal is to be good enough shape that I could hike a long-distance trail such as the Appalachian Trail.

There are two parts to my weekly plan, the weekday part and the weekend part. Because I have to work during the week, the weekday part is mainly built around hitting calorie goals and walking at least 60 minutes every day (sometimes fewer, if I'm taking a rest day after a weekend). I've been using to keep track of my calories and my exercise, and it has worked out pretty well. I have a clearer picture of the caloric cost of what I eat, and have made better decisions because of it. I don't always hit the goal, but I usually come pretty close, at least during the week.

On weekends, it becomes a different story, as I use most Saturdays and Sundays to get out on the trails. Starting with 10 miles in July, I am setting a mileage goal every month. Although that is a fairly low goal, it will accelerate sharply as I go through the next few months, until tailing back off during the winter.

In addition, I've also been camping to get used to sleeping in a tent. My goal for this is about one or two nights a month through October (maybe November if I find somewhere to the south a bit to camp). As of right now this is car camping, although I am hoping to spend at least one night this season on the trail. It hasn't gone that well so far, at least as far as getting myself to sleep. However, with enough time I am confident I'll get used to it.

Starting next week, I will make updates about my hiking training plan a regular weekly feature on here. So please come back every week, and feel free to leave comments.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Back on the (Blogging) Trail again

Au Sable Lighthouse, from the beach along Lake Superior. Not Pictured: The sandy hell that was the walk down.

If you look at the previous post before this one, there hasn't been much activity here at Red Faces, White Blazes. A lot of that was because real life had intervened, as I took a new job and moved. Because of this, as well as a rather stubborn winter up here in the north, I didn't get a good start on hiking until this summer. Thus, I really didn't have much to write about, so I didn't write.

I am happy to say that this won't be the case for much longer. Since last month, I've had a chance to hike several places in the upper Midwest (MI, MN, WI, IA, and Northern IL), including Pictured Rocks. I've also started a concerted plan to get myself into hiking shape, so I can actually enjoy hiking long distances. I will be sharing my thoughts on these hikes, as well as keep you updated with my plan's progress.

In addition, you'll be seeing more of Erin around here. Of course, her posts are an even rarer occurrence than mine, but she has a lot of thoughts on nature, ecology, and hiking to share with us, and I can't wait to read what she writes.

Please check back often!