Hike: Ash Loop Trail at Smithgall Woods State Park

GPS map of Ash loop Trail

Greg and I are on day 3 of a week-long vacation. Keeping to a typical Sunday ritual, we left out early this morning to hike at Smithgall Woods State Park outside of Helen, GA. There are several options to choose from, but today, we decided to go on the Ash Loop Trail.

Covered Bridge at Smithgall Woods
I love the covered bridge at Smithgall Woods State Park

Scotch was the lucky corgi who got to go on the hike with us today. He’s getting older, and arthritis is starting to affect him. However, he’s been doing really good with his meds and it’s been a long time since he’s gotten to go hiking. We chose the Ash Loop Trail because it isn’t too strenuous (only a 615 ft elevation change). Clocking in at just a hair under 4 miles (3.96), it is long enough for the humans to feel like we accomplished something and short enough to where our buddy boy Scotch could make the journey without injury.

Purple flowers with blurred background
Purple flowers along Tsalaki trail near the wetland area.

From the visitor’s center, we hiked down Tsalaki Trail (the paved road that runs through Smithgall) to the southern trailhead for the Ash Creek Loop. We prefer hitting the south end first because you do have to wade through the creek at one point on the trail, near the northern end of the trail, so we like to keep it for later in the trip.

It’s rained here a little bit the past couple of days. Enough to settle the dust a bit, but not much else. It hasn’t been helpful with the heat or the humidity. This morning, while not miserable, was sticky. I’m glad we were on the trail by 8am and finished by 10am. Much later and it would have been uncomfortable, even in the woods.

Clearing on top of a hill. A corgi runs in the bottom left corner
One of the clearings on the trail.

Oddly enough, we didn’t see a single other (human) soul during our time at the state park this morning. Only one other car was parked in the parking lot as we were leaving. Smithgall is usually a more hopping place, especially with Octoberfest activities going on in Nearby Helen.

While we met no humans, we did see and come face-to-face (literally) with several spiders and a couple rafters of turkey.  (Yup, a group of turkeys is called a “rafter.” I totally had to Google that one.)

A Corgi in a creek, lapping up water
Scotch taking a quick dip and drink in the Creek

One of the things about the trails at Smithgall that make these hikes interesting is that on several of them, you have to ford one or more creeks. On Ash Creek Loop, you have to go through two. The first one (if you start from the south) is tiny and if your boots are water-proofed, you can just splash through it no problem. The second one, though, it deeper than it looks. The first time Greg and I did this trail, we were unprepared. We hiked up our pants, took off our boots, and waded across barefoot with two corgis swimming beside us (Twinkie and Scotch). This time, we were better prepared.

Greg sitting by the creek, putting his boots back on
Greg sitting by the creek, putting his boots back on.

Zip off pants – Check.

Watershoes to change into – Check.

Folding tripod trail chairs to make changing shoes easier – Check.

Soon after wading through the creek, we returned to the paved part of Smithgall Woods and made our way back to the visitor’s center parking lot.

A fun way to start our Sunday. Afterwards? Nachos and vegging on the couch. Sundays afternoons are made for relaxing and re-energizing.

More Pictures from the trail:

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Hike: Slaughter Gap – AT – Jarrard Gap Loop

Map showing the Slaughter Gap to AT to Jarrard Gap Loop at Lake Winfield Scott

Today, Greg and I took Beans the Hiking Corgi up to Lake Winfield Scott to hike the Slaughter Gap to Appalachian Trail to Jarrard Gap Loop. Just shy of 6 miles, this hike is a goody.

At the trail head for the Slaughter Gap Trail

We pack up our gear last night so that we could get an early start this morning. We were out of the house by 7:10am and on the trail by 8:10. It was 54 Degrees when we got out of the truck. The chill felt so good, a welcome tease of fall, but the day warmed up quickly. It took us a smidgen over 3 hours to do the 6-mile loop, stopping for a 15 minute break near the half-way point.

This was only the third time we’ve done this hike, but it was the first time for Beans. It was also the first time that we’ve done it without getting lost — the first time was going the opposite way, the trail head for the Jarrard Gap end is kinda hidden… and the sun was in our eyes… and… you know. Stuff. The second time was also starting from the Jarrard Gap end. There is a spot about 1.5 miles in where the trail seemingly forks. Word to the wise – Take the right fork. The left fork will get you there, but it’s a bit more of a climb and a longer trek up a gravel road.

Blood Mountain Wilderness sign on the AT

We had no hiccups this time and Beans enjoyed herself, she even got to play in several of the streams we had to cross.

And even though it was an amazing day, we hardly met any other people on the trail. Early on, we passed a group of very polite young men (possibly scouts), with a couple of chaperones, and then didn’t see anyone else for a couple of hours. Eventually, we came across a few other people (4 in total), and three other pups.

Beans the Hiking corgi playing in a mountain creek.
Beans cooled herself off by taking quick dips in the various creeks.

I love this area, and I love how there are so many trails that interweave with the Appalachian Trail around Blood Mountain.

There were several points on the trail where I just stopped and took a deep breath, letting the fresh mountain air rejuvenate me. There’s nothing quite like hiking through a hilly forest on a cool, low humidity day. I’m ready to tackle this upcoming week.

As the weather cools, we will be hitting the trails more and more around North Georgia.

Gif of Greg and beans the Corgi on a fallen tree
Beans and Greg taking a quick sit-down break on a fallen tree

More pictures from the trail:

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Flow vs. Deliberate Practice

Flow is nice. Flow feels good. Your body is doing something, but your mind is free to wonder or focus on other things. Some people run to feel a flow. It’s calming, it’s soothing, it gives you a since of mastery and accomplishment. This action has become so routine, that I don’t even have to think about it.

Flow certainly has its place. But it isn’t growth or progress. The state of flow doesn’t lead to improvement.

In order to truly improve yourself, you must be deliberate in your practice.

I have anecdotal evidence that supports this hypothesis. For years, I’ve used my recumbent bike for exercising. It’s an easy way to burn calories.  I hope on, set my resistance program and start peddling. My body is working and burning calories,  but my mind is elsewhere.  I’m reading, playing a video game, or watching tv. I get into a mindless flow. My biking doesn’t improve.  I don’t burn more and more calories. I don’t go faster or further. I’ve maintained a similar rpm the entire 10 years I’ve been using that bike.

Onward! I think.

On the other hand, when I run, my entire focus is on running. I’m deliberate when I run because I want to improve my speed, stamina, and my overall cardiovascular fitness.  I don’t listen to music. I don’t listen to audiobooks. The only thing I pay  attention to is me and what my body is doing.  I constantly remind myself that I am growing and growing hurts. Improvement comes from stress and being focused and deliberate.

And I am improving.

I started only running for 30 seconds and then walking for 1 minute. As of this posting, I’m running for 1:25 while still only recovering by walking for 1 minute. My goal is to consistently be running 10-12 minute miles by the end of the year. Right now, I am hitting around 12:55, my fastest being 12:05 so far.

I’m killing it.

So when you set a performance goal for yourself, whether it be physical, creative, mental, or whatever, be deliberate in your practice.

And always be moving…

ONWARD.

 

Out of Whack

Sometimes you get out of whack. Your stars misalign, and everyday tasks and the world in general seem to get bigger. Less air exists.

You tread, tiptoeing to rise above the water line, each teeny shuffled step bringing you closer to the safety of the shore, but the tide is still rising. The undertors constantly pulls at you, sweeping away the sands beneath your feet.

Yet you move onward.

Onward.

I’m not sure if I’m out of the ocean of uncertainty, yet, but I can take full breaths again.

Nothing bad or tragic happened. I didn’t have a flare up of my mystery illness, I simply lost focus and direction. Things got fuzzy.

This summer has been pretty good l, actually. Greg and I have done several kayaking trips and have gone on a decent number of hikes. Getting outdoors is great for resetting one’s mindset and focus. We even got a hottub this summer, which has been amazing after those longs days of hiking, kayaking, gardening, or just sitting around.

A couple of big events have happened. We passed the one year anniversary of Waffles’s passing, both Beans’s birthday and gotcha day, and my own birthday (oh, hello 34).

I’ve started running, well, sorta running. I’m interval training, slowly building up my endurance and speed. I started earlier this summer doing intervals of 30 seconds of running and then one minute of walking. I’m up to 1 minute and 20 second runs. My starting pace was around 15 minutes per mile. Today, I ran my fastest so far, hitting 12:05. My goal is to consistently be in the 10-12 minute range by the end of the year.

To help motivate myself and kick my training up a notch, I have signed up for my first 5k in October.

So here I am, hitting the reset button once again.

Focus.

Breathe.

You got this.

ONWARD

 

Spring in North Georgia

My heart is alive again, for I can be outdoors once more.

I start my mornings meditating outside on my deck, listening to the world waking up around me – the frogs, the crickets, the stream in my backyard, the lazy morning moos from distant cows, and even the hum of 6am traffic from ghe highway beyond even that. It’s a mindful peace that I can find without having to delve into mysic. I prefer to meditate to the sounds of my backyard and forest. It feels more honest to me.

I spend my lunch breaks outside, walking laps around an oh-so-familiar graveyard, now accompanied by the caws of crows and the calls of hawks, the atmospheric tumbling whirl of a lopsided wind ornament. My spirits rise as i can now truly take it all in, instead of retreating into layers of clothing and protection from the bone chilling wind that leaves me exhausted after only a few minutes. Now. My walks are once again uplifting. Soon, the my seasonal companions, the graveyard grasshoppers, will be wildly bouncing about.

My backporch view

And when I get home in the evenings, I can spend hours on my back porch, enjoying the symphony of color and sounds that accompanies twilight in the woods. I may be reading, writing (like I am at this moment), or just being at peace with myself and my surroundings.

I am so grateful for the return of Spring in North Georgia.

 

My Happy Place: Kayaking

A beautiful day on Lake Burton

I like cooler weather. There’s nothing quite like getting up early in the morning, bundling up in layers, and going for a brisk hike to the top of a mountain. Greg and I have some of our best hiking adventures in the middle of winter, when icicles dangle from the jagged scars of fallen trees and magnificent mountain views are revealed from the leafless forests.

But I have so missed getting out on the water in my kayak.

Greg and I picked up kayaking last year. We did the research, saved up, and bought us a couple of peddle-driven Hobie kayaks. (Blessed be the Mirage Drives)

It’s said that you should spend money on experiences rather than objects. This is one of those situations where purchasing an object has lead to some amazing experiences. I love these kayaks and the adventures we’ve had in them.

Cabin fever got the best of us Saturday, and hearing that it was going to be a decent day, we got up early and then… waited until the afternoon to head out to the lake.

What? It was a cold morning!

About two minutes after unloading the kayaks at the boat ramp, I managed to hurt myself. While wading in the frigid lake water, trying to get my kayak set up, my foot slipped off a rock and landed hard on the edge of another rock. I didn’t feel to much at the time, because my foot, being in said frigid water, was relatively numb. Afterwards, in the boat, I felt the boo boo more.

First aid kit to the rescue!

Luckily, it didn’t bother me much. After a bit of a rough start, we were on our way. The wind was cold, the sun was warm, Greg kept taking off his jacket and then putting it back on, and finally used it as a snuggie (too bad I didn’t get a picture of that). And I had a smile on my face the whole time.

I was in my happy place.

And even though I have a sunburn on my legs now (rookie mistake), I can’t wait to get back out there again.

Kayak selfie on the Loeby Hobies

I am grateful for all the adventures I get to have.

 

What I’ve Been Reading: The Energy Bus

The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon is probably the most sappy self-help book I’ve read so far, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Different folks need to different paths and scenery on their journey to contentment and self-actualization. I tend to lean towards the grittier, self-empowering, do it your own damned self type of growth, but this book definitely has an audience and place in the growth and empowerment world.

The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy

Gordon’s book is a lot more upbeat, and his whole argument is presented as a parable-type narrative. The main character, George, is having a rough time of it. His career is in the crapper, his marriage is suffering, and to top it all off, he has to put his car in the shop and use public transportation to get to and from work.

But his life begins to change soon after taking a few rides on the Energy Bus, driven by the aptly named Joy. She and the other passengers present George ten rules to help him be a more positive person.

It’s a fun, quick read (or listen) and can be inspiring.