Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

The best date June 25, 2017

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 8:03 pm
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BT_plane62017

This pilot can’t quite see over the controls!

I admit it’s been a long time since I’ve gone on a date that truly excites me. It’s been some time since I’ve sat across from a guy who likes me as much as I like him, or vice versa. Dating isn’t easy, especially when you have a good idea of what you want, and, maybe more importantly don’t want, in a relationship.

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So it was a fun, refreshing outing today with…..my handsome, funny, goofy, smart, talkative nephew. 🙂 (sorry, family, for the tease.) I try to take my nieces and nephew on outings throughout the year, and also try to spend time on individual activities. It was my 8-year-old nephew’s turn so I picked him up for a special date. I love exploring the outdoors and being active with the kids. You may have read my other blog posts about our previous adventures in the woods, geocaching and more. I decided today we would explore the outdoors in the city…..we headed to downtown Detroit to wander through the Michigan DNR Outdoor Adventure Center.

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I visited the Outdoor Adventure Center a few years ago when it first opened (read the

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Learning how to keep forests safe.

blog), and it was BT’s first visit, so I looked forward to it. Plus, it was a gorgeous summer day, which added to my plan to walk Detroit’s riverfront after the center.

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The Outdoor Adventure Center basically brings all of Michigan’s awesome outdoor fun indoors to the city for residents and visitors to learn about and explore. There are hands-on activities, exhibits and simulators. There are also tons of interesting facts throughout the center to learn about Michigan’s outdoors, as well as protecting the environment in general. It’s fun for all ages!

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We checked out some live fish, relaxed in a yurt, “reeled in” a walleye and pike from a fishing boat (great simulator!), walked through a mine shaft, and wandered behind an indoor waterfall (Michigan has more than 150 waterfalls!). We laid down in a small tent to discuss the pros and cons of sleeping in a tent and what happens if it rains, then I watched BT climb a tree and slide down. We discussed the awesome ability of beavers to build such cool dams, and I delighted at his laugh upon seeing a hibernating bear inside of a den.

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Eek! Black bear behind us!

He loved the second floor of the center, where there are numerous hands-on activities and simulators. We discussed recycling and energy conversation inside a small mock kitchen and bathroom. Then we tested each other on the sounds of various frogs and birds. He refused to hold my hand across a suspension bridge (um, I wanted it for MY comfort) but did sweetly come back when I was mid-way to “help me.” He piloted a very small plane used by the DNR to monitor hunting and trapping, and I discovered I might stick with commercial airlines for a while!

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We kicked butt as a team in a hunting game, and I almost bounced out of a dune buggy that he drove (seriously, wear a seat belt!)! His huge smile while driving a snow mobile warmed my heart, and he actually congratulated me when I barely won a mountain bike race (he can be a little competitive). On the third floor, we talked about bald eagles, climbing trees and protecting nature.

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Back on the first floor, we sat around the campfire again while we discussed our next

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Love our time together!

plan. With a decision made, we grabbed some sunscreen, snacks and water from my car and headed to the river. I love walking Detroit’s riverfront! Much work and improvements have been done over the past few years. Many people were using the ride share bikes, as well as sitting on benches and standing along the railing. We wandered a bit, then found a shady spot along the river to eat our snacks, watch the many boats coast by and talk. We discussed summer vacation plans, third grade, his book recommendations for me, when I might get married, Canada, birds, the Coast Guard’s duties, sailboats, Corvettes, his dog, my favorite candy, why I don’t like sour Skittles and much, much more. I truly have an adorable, charming, silly, sweet, intelligent, fun nephew (I’m not being partial, it’s the truth!).

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I knew the day was a success when, as we walked along the river front, BT took my hand and shared how much fun he had with me. And then added with his charming smirk, “My sisters are going to be pretty jealous.” Ah, yes, a successful day.

 

5 favorite activities that spring brings May 7, 2017

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Love hiking in the woods!

The spring weather is slowly trying to make a steady presence in Michigan. The temps have been a sporadic but I’m grateful for the days filled with sunshine and mild temperatures. I’m loving that the days are staying lighter longer. More time to play outside after work and on the weekends!

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With spring comes opportunities to participate in some of my favorite activities. Here are few that I enjoy. What are some of your favorite spring/nice weather activities?

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Biking. I love being on a bike. Whether it’s my road bike or mountain bike, I enjoy the ability to explore the area on a bike. From the physical rush to the mental clearing of my mind to great views to the simple joy of feeling the strength of my legs, biking is definitely a favorite activity. Our mild winter let me get several rides in even during traditional winter months, but it’s much nicer to bike in sunshine and warming temps!

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Hiking. Nothing chills me out faster than spending time on the trails, surrounded by trees, plants and friendly animals. It’s such great physical exercise and mental relaxation, but rarely feels like either since I’m usually enjoying myself so much.

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Logged this geocache find!

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Geocaching. This GPS outdoor scavenger hunt is a fun past time to do with friends, family, or alone when I have some time to spare. I especially love taking my nieces and nephew on this treasure hunt and also logging a cache when I visit new places.

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Gardening. It’s not quite warm enough to plant flowers but it’s soooo close! I’m getting excited to plant bright flowers in my new pots and put them on the porch and deck. Flowers always bring a smile to my face.

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Grilling. Yes, I know that many people grill year-round, even in the snow and cold. But…..I don’t! I have a great new grill that will be often used to make yummy vegetables, burgers, chicken, and much more to enjoy while eating on the deck.

 

Wine and food fest offers taste of California wines April 27, 2017

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Cheers to wine country!

Sunshine, blue skies and warm temps greeted us on our second day in San Francisco. After an awesome first day of exploring, I woke happy and ready to see more. And I was not to be disappointed. My friend and I enjoyed a brisk walk through the streets of SOMA (South of Market), then a quick breakfast at a local coffee shop (the restaurants were crazy busy this morning!). It was time to get the car from the parking garage and head north…..to Napa Valley. Our destination was Calistoga.

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While San Francisco is a busy, condensed city, the land north opens up to rolling hills and mountains as you cross the Bay Bridge (or Golden Gate Bridge if you come from the coastal area) to Napa. Northern California has experienced a lot of rain (terrible flooding at times) so the scenery was green and blooming for us. And while I loved wandering the city streets of downtown San Francisco, I also melted at the sight of the mountains and open space greeting us as we drove. Not much soothes my soul more than time in nature. The beauty just makes me smile and relax.

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We arrived in downtown Napa by late morning. It was busy but we scored a parking spot

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Yummy mimosas and snacks.

by the Oxbow Public Market. I love this place! It’s an indoor market lined with small shops selling natural products, baked goods, spices, books, flowers, fresh fruits and vegetables, plus several restaurants and more. The energy of the crowd was addicting. I’m pretty sure I smiled like a silly fool the entire time we wandered through. Something about the place just struck me. I enjoyed it. We of course worked up an appetite and thirst after walking through the shops so grabbed a spot at the bar at the Oxbow Cheese & Wine Market. They were serving blood orange mimosas so we ordered two along with an amazing cheese, nut and fruit tray. It was a great place to enjoy our snacks and drinks while taking in the ambiance and energy of the place.

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We left Napa to journey along the Silverado Trail Road with our destination of Calistoga in mind. The drive was delightful as we passed winery after winery, each one’s vineyards filling rolling acres showcasing beautiful examples of architecture (serving as their tasting rooms, event locations, production facilities or other). The mountain landscape provided an inspiring backdrop and I was tickled to see so many cyclists pedaling along the bike lane.

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So relaxing.

Calistoga is a wonderfully quaint small town. The shops remind me of those small businesses you might find in Traverse City, Saugatuck and Grand Haven (for my Michigan readers). There were plenty of dining and drinking options and a small grocery store.

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We stayed at the Calistoga Spa Hot Springs. The room had modern touches, along with a small kitchenette, space to unpack clothes and a spacious shower. The highlights are a lap pool, geothermal mineral pool, large adult only covered mineral spring hot tub and children’s pool. The outdoor area had plenty of lounge chairs, plus multiple lovely landscaped areas with small tables and chairs – perfect for enjoying drinks and food (which we did!).

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Our plan was to spend the rest of the day at the Calistoga Food and Wine event held at Solage Calistoga. It was a nice walk from our resort. The event was held under tents on the lawn and in the barn. The ambiance was fun and we met many great people, both from the wineries and restaurants as well as other patrons.

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More than 40 wineries were at the event, meaning we tasted some wonderful wine! Some of my favorites included Sebright Cellars, Twomey Cellars, Tom Eddy Winery, Next Door Wines, Olabisi, Jones Family Vineyards and Huge Bear Wines. The food was outstanding as well! We had salmon cakes, steaks, cheeses, fresh vegetables, chicken, and delicious desserts. Add in awesome jazz and beautiful artwork by Tim Howe placed throughout the event, it was a wonderful evening.

 

Riding into spring April 2, 2017

HHBike32017It was a long, physically tiring week. I pushed my leg (with a titanium rod) too much and the days of rain didn’t help. I felt exhausted enough that I assured my body a weekend of rest if I could get through it. And I had very good intentions to honor that assurance. Except then I didn’t. Because it was SO beautiful this weekend! Sunshine, warm temps, no rain, soft breezes. How can a nature lover be expected to stay indoors and not be active?? I needed some fresh air to clear my mind anyway.

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And Ruby needed some loving. Um, yes, Ruby my bike. It’s been a few weeks since we shared a ride so today seemed like a wonderful day to get fresh air, test Ruby’s gears, and stretch my legs. The great news is that despite my leg aching all week (I mostly blame this on the ongoing rain and chilly temps, not the heavy lifting), it felt fine while riding. No pain, no ache. And I didn’t completely beat myself up….I stuck with a shorter ride of 10 miles. I didn’t even wear my cycling shoes so there wouldn’t be any pressure on my leg when I unclipped from the pedal (although my brain must be wired to clip now when I ride Ruby because I caught myself doing the motions every time I came to a stop! I’m sure I looked funny to passing cars).

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I recently discovered a nearby neighborhood and school are great for biking. The school is empty on the weekend and has a large parking lot and straightaway so I like to do some loops as I practice higher speeds, turning quickly and clipping/unclippping (not today). The neighborhood is usually fairly low on traffic, which makes it safer for biking. It was wonderful to see so many people outside enjoying Michigan’s spring weather. Neighbors were doing yard work, children were playing basketball and riding bikes, dogs were lounging on the lawn. I love this time of year when people start venturing outdoors and become a community again.

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It’s supposed to rain again this week so I’ll be sure to give my body some rest time. As long as Mother Nature doesn’t change her mind……

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What fun activity did you enjoy this weekend?

 

A weekend of hiking and biking November 13, 2016

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Hiking in fall is the best!

Another good weekend for the outdoors is in the books! I spent quite a bit of time in the woods hiking at the local nature center trails, and then biking through one of my favorite parks (if you missed my recent post on my new road bike, check it out here). We were fortunate to have two nice days land on the weekend!

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Last week was a long one. Between some friends fighting cancer, another diagnosed with the stupid disease, work projects going awry and the presidential election results, my head was filled with emotions and thoughts that were leaving me weary. When I need to clear my head, my go-to places are outdoors in nature.

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I’m so tickled that Michigan’s mild temps continue to let me play outdoors. I’m usually forced indoors for activity once the weather gets crappy due to the titanium rod in my left leg. Can’t risk falling and injuring the leg. But the weather hasn’t been crappy, so I promise that I am enjoying every minute in the fresh air that I can add to my schedule!

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It’s been a while since I was in the woods. Since I bought my new road bike, I’ve been antsy to ride it to get comfortable. Plus it’s so much fun! But I do love hiking in nature so when I had a small window of time yesterday to get some outdoor exercise, I grabbed it and headed to the local nature trails. It was a bit breezy so my thought was that the tree coverage would block some of the wind. And, yes, that might have been the case…. a few weeks ago when there were leaves on the trees! Duh. The beautifully colored leaves filled the trails, but the wind wasn’t too bad once I got deeper into the woods. I used my hiking poles since the leaves can make the trails a bit slick. The nice thing about hiking this time of year and in the late afternoon when I went is that there weren’t many people on the trails. I saw a few of my deer friends (no pun intended!) and some wild turkeys, but otherwise it was quiet and peaceful. Just what I needed. Since the trail system at this nature center isn’t very extensive, I looped a few times to get some miles. I felt awesome when I left.

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Cheers to sun and fun!

This morning I woke again to sunshine. It was high-40s w hen I left my house for Stony Creek Metropark with my bike, but felt much warmer with the sunshine (and even warmer once I started riding against the wind!). Stony Creek in November is much different than in June. During the summer, the park is filled with people enjoying the beaches, boat rentals, hiking trails, bike routes, picnic tables, golf course and more. In November, the parking lots are sparsely filled and you encounter a fellow cyclist or walker every so often. It’s kind of perfect!

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Today I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about how fast I biked, how far I rode or anything but simply enjoying being on the bike. I didn’t want to set goals. I wanted to relax. And I did. Okay, I admit I turned on my Garmin and glanced at my speed and distance several times, maybe even saved the ride. But since I didn’t have a goal in mind, every mile was an accomplishment and good enough for today. At the end of my ride, I sat for a while in the sunshine, eyes closed, listening to the wind in the trees, feeling thankful for these moments.

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What are your go-to activities to clear your mind?

 

10 things to love about Alaska August 16, 2016

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 4:00 pm
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Alaska is beautiful!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve encountered several friends and acquaintances who mentioned they are planning to visit Alaska. It brings back memories of my amazing trip several years ago to this great state. I was fortunate to have two friends move to Alaska and extend an invitation to visit. Never one to turn down the chance to travel and create new adventures, I took them up on the invitation (along with my friend, Marie) to visit our biggest state!

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My friends lived in Anchorage so we decided to spend our seven-day trip exploring that area, as well as traveling south to Kenai National Forest and Seward. We weren’t disappointed as this area is breathtaking, full of great places to explore and wonderful people to meet. The natural beauty of Alaska stunned me every time I turned my head.

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As the 49th state of the United States, Alaska has the largest coastline (over 6,600 miles) with more than 3,000 rivers and 3 million lakes! Of the 20 highest peaks in the U.S., 17 are in Alaska (Denali is the tallest in the U.S. at 20,320 feet above sea level). Alaska was always the state that I’d love to visit because I love the outdoors but admittedly it wasn’t high on my list (and I can’t remember why!). Until the opportunity to visit arose and I realized what a great experience this would be! Everything kind of fell into place for our trip and soon we were heading to Anchorage. We traveled to Alaska in mid-August when the weather is fairly mild and daylight extends until close to midnight (which was a bit weird to my body that couldn’t figure when it was time to sleep).

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There were so many moments that I loved. It’s hard to describe the beauty and respect you feel about the land unless you’re standing in front of the water watching a bald eagle catch a fish or a moose eating alongside the road or looking down into a valley from atop a glacier field. Alaska reminds you that the world is so much grander than what we truly know. It reminds you that nature is awesome and should be respected, and man can appreciate it and live in it.

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There is so much to remember about that trip so I thought I’d share some of my favorite things about Alaska:

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Close but not too close!

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1. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (Portage): This center offers a permanent home to orphaned and injured animals that can’t be released into the wild. You can see animals, such as bears, moose and eagles in up-close, natural environments. Special programs let you watch certain animals be fed (we watched the black bears eat…..definitely don’t want to encounter a hungry bear!). This center provides a great opportunity to learn about a variety of animals.

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2. Camping in Kenai Fjords National Park (Seward): Alaska hosts more than half of our national park lands with 17 national parks. Kenai is one of the beauties. We started the day with a boat tour. While we didn’t see the whales we were hoping to, we did see a lot of wildlife and a few glaciers. More than 50 percent of this park is covered in glaciers! We pitched our tent along a river with views of glaciers – certainly don’t get those views in Michigan!

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Hiking the glacier field (with my bear bell!).

3. Exit Glacier hike (in Kenai Fjords National Park): It was still light at 8pm when we set up camp in Kenai so we started a hike to Exit Glacier, which is part of the Harding Icefield. A series of trails start at the Exit Glacier Nature Center that allow you to check out different views of the glacier. We were able to get close enough to the glacier to hear it shifting. At one point, we saw cracks forming as the ice shifted (we were safely away; it was so cool!). This was an eye-opening hike as there are signs along the trail that mark the glacier’s recession over the past 120 years. It is glaringly obvious that the ice is quickly melting away.

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4. Flattop Mountain Trail: It’s no surprise that this is Alaska’s most visited peak – the location near Anchorage makes it easy to access and the beautiful views are addicting. We hiked to the top and it was worth the views. The trails are busy though, with some steep drops down the side, so don’t be in a rush (although in a beautiful place like Alaska, you shouldn’t be in a rush!). Some of the trails had an abundance of blueberries but, while we sampled a few fresh fruits, we left the bulk for the bears to eat. Better to let them eat the food way up high rather than wander into the populated towns.

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5. Alaska Native Heritage Center (Anchorage): I love learning about the history of places that I visit so was happy that we found this cultural center and museum focused on Alaska’s indigenous people. There were some great exhibits featuring five different local cultures. We were able to watch some live programs and see hands-on demonstrations.

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6. Alaska SeaLife Center (Seward): This is another great opportunity to see Alaska’s animals up close and personal. We saw lots of marine mammals, fish, birds and invertebrates. You also get to learn about the research and conservation being undertaken in the state. When we visited, there was a fascinating, albeit sad, exhibit on the long-term effects of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. We really need to appreciate and protect our natural habitats more than we do.

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Hiking part of the Iditarod trail!

7. Winner Creek Trail: One of the best parts of this trail in the Chugach Mountains is that you hike through the northernmost rainforest in North America…while in Alaska! The trail begins behind the Hotel Alyeska and is a fun hike because of the cool vegetation and experiences. First, you cross a wooden bridge over the Winner Creek Gorge. Then you get to a hand tram where you get inside a metal cage and pull yourself over Glacier Creek, more than a hundred feet below! I’m not going to lie – this took guts for me to do (I dislike heights, especially in a rickety-feeling metal cage!), but it was awesome (once over!)! This trail is also part of the Iditarod National Historic Trail, Alaska’s only National Historic Trail. At the end of this hike, we stumbled upon a great little coffee and book shop.

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8. Seward Highway: This 125-mile highway goes from Anchorage to Seward and is worth noting because the drive is So.Darn.Beautiful. The highway runs through the Kenai Peninsula, Chugach National Forest, Turnagain Arm and the Kenai Mountains, which caused me to turn my head in pretty much every direction, exclaiming, “oh how beautiful” every 90-seconds. Or hang my mouth open in awe over the views!

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9. Seafood: I wasn’t a big seafood fan until I visited Alaska. I guess it just wasn’t fresh enough. Our friends welcomed us with a delicious scallops dinner, then we were introduced to several friendly Alaskans at a neighbor’s dinner complete with fresh grilled salmon (and Alaskan craft beer!). I indulged a few more times on fresh seafood during my visit. And I haven’t tasted it that good since the trip.

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Portage Glacier field

10. Portage: When the Great Alaska Earthquake occurred in 1964, the ground sank below sea level causing a ‘ghost forest’ of trees. These ghostly looking trees are very eery and amazing. Some of the original buildings can still be seen. Definitely worth a stop to explore the past. The wildlife conservation center and Portage Glacier are popular spots to visit here.

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This trip was also a great reminder that the people you travel with can truly make or break a trip. I had an amazing trip, mostly due to the wonderful friends who shared the experience with me. Even when we hit our exhausted phase due to the time change and busy schedule, we spent most of the day laughing and being silly rather than cranky (who likes to be cranky on vacation?!). We giggled while swapping stories every night before falling asleep. When I got frustrated because my titanium rod forced me to turn around on a slippery glacier trail, my friend soon had me laughing and focused on all that I was accomplishing while I reciprocated in her moments of needed humor.

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Alaska is one of our country’s treasures and I highly recommend you visit!

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How often do you see moose on the side of the road?

 

7 reasons to take a hike in the woods May 21, 2016

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Mother Nature is finally starting to love us in southeast Michigan. The weather has been mild to warm temps, the sun shining and the breeze blowing just right. The birds are chirping, ducks and geese are having babies all around me, and even the deer are making appearances (considering I live in the suburbs, it’s so fun to see all these animals on an almost daily basis!).

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This time of year is one of my favorites because it means I can get outside to hike and bike. The titanium rod in my femur prevents me from having too much fun during the winter when we have snowy, slick conditions so I’m usually pacing the living room waiting for the weather to break (by January!). I love to be outside, whether hiking on the trails, biking, walking, relaxing in the backyard, hanging with friends and family on the deck, chilling at the local park, or wherever – I love the fresh air, gentle warm breezes and animals talking. I’ve always enjoyed nature, but it became a necessity after spending multiple stretches of 6-16 days in the hospital during 13 months of cancer treatment. Upon discharge, my parents would take me home and I’d sit outside with our Sheltie, letting the stress emotions seep out of me.

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Hiking has been my preferred form of outdoor exercise the past few weeks. I love walking into the woods, feeling like you can escape the world for even for a short bit. I enjoy the wonderful nature center and trails near my house – perfect distance to stop by after dinner or early on a weekend morning to wander in the woods when I don’t have a lot of time to go to the larger parks. An added bonus is I also feel safe hiking there alone. The trails aren’t super long but if you lap a few times, it’s a great workout for the body and mind.

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If you haven’t tried hiking or been on the trails for a while, here are some reasons to take a walk in the woods:

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Anyone can do it. The beauty of hiking is that it doesn’t matter your gender, age, race, economic status, or education – anyone can enjoy the outdoors! You don’t need fancy, expensive shoes or clothing. Shoes with good treads and simple workout clothes will suffice to get you started.

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You might learn something. Many of the local and state parks have trail signs throughout the route to share some knowledge about the land, animals living nearby or history. Take a moment to stop to read these signs. There’s some interesting things to learn!

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Clear your head. Lately, I’ve been heading to the trails on my own more than with others. There’s a lot going on in my head and sometimes I need to slip away without my phone or people to think about things. There’s something about stepping onto the trails, hearing the rustle of the leaves and chirping of birds above you, and the absence of cars. Moments like that are what feed my soul.

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Get exercise and burn some calories. Hiking is great exercise without the tedium of the indoor gym or machines. A few summers ago, I hiked some of the local trails 1-2 times a week with a group of friends. After a few weeks of doing this (and having a LOT of fun), I happened to glance in a mirror that I walked by in my bedroom after a shower. I paused, backed up and thought, “Wow.” My legs had become very toned from the variation of the trails, distance and regularity of hiking. I was especially excited because it’s been tough to tone my left leg after surgery cut and moved so many muscles in my thigh. I was working out without really paying attention because I was enjoying it so much!

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Quality time with friends and family. Some of my best conversations have been hiking on the trail. As I mentioned earlier, for the most part, differences tend to be irrelevant when hiking (and camping) so it’s a great opportunity to share some of yourself and your likes/dislikes (I have discussed pizza, politics, craft beer, cancer, horses, work, fertility, sports, life goals, bucket list destinations, favorite colors, books and so much more!).

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Stage deerYou gain a better appreciation of nature. It’s so important to protect our environment as it provides much benefit to us, not just for enjoyment. The more I’m in the woods, the more I notice variations of trees, plants and flowers. I watch animals build homes, care for their young and forage for food. I try to take my nieces and nephew on the trails as often as we can so they too develop an appreciation and understanding for the environment. It’s a commitment all of us adults need to pass down to younger generations.

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You never know who you may meet in the woods. When I meet other people who also enjoy hiking, I know I’ve met some like-minded people. I’ve joined several hiking groups over the years to meet people with the same interest, and I’m fortunate that many of these people are still friends. The other day I hiked with seven deer, three wild turkeys, a dozen or squirrels, two rabbits and….three people!

 

 
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