Along the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, long distance hikers call them “trail angels” - those kindhearted souls who appear out of nowhere and offer trekkers a ride to the nearest town, or fresh baked cookies, or the use of their home shower.
The best memories from my Appalachian Trail hike involve the trail angels who greeted me at road crossings or trail intersections at the exact momentwhen I needed someone the most - when I was sick, hungry, lonely, lost. You never forget the people who help you on your journey.
Trail angels can be found on all types of trails - from single-track dirt to two-lane pavement.
The sound of shredding metal is an excruciating sound, especially when it comes from the area near your front right tire as you drive down a remote road in Minnesota.
“That sounded really, really bad...” I said to my friend in shotgun.
“We lost something big and metal,” my friend added.
“I imagine it was probably important too,” I said, turning my 1986 Toyota Escaper RV (named Taterbug) into a gravel farm drive.
Last Friday when I left my parents’ home in Indianapolis for my home in Martinsdale, I knew taking Taterbug on an 1800-mile maiden voyage was destined to be an adventure.
Tale of Two Taterbugs
Every trusty vessel needs a name. I dubbed my new-to-me 1987 Toyota Escaper RV, “Taterbug.”
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of things on a whim. Right around the time I invested in my mini home/ office on wheels, I also signed up for a 30-mile run called, “The Taterbug.”
The moniker, “Taterbug,” stuck to my Toyota like bugs to the windshield. Not only does my new ride resemble a potato bug in looks, it also moves down the road about as fast as an insect come autumn.
So far (knock on wood), forking over the entry fee for the race is the only Taterbug-related purchase that’s given me second thoughts.
One evening after an unusually invigorating but very short run, I decided that it was time I set myself another goal. I spent a few hours on the computer, surfing the hundreds of ultra running websites. That’s when I stumbled across the Taterbug Ultra in southern Indiana.
To be honest, I fell in love with the cute name. A Taterbug run sounds so sweet and innocent, doesn’t it?
A Dog Day of Summer
Even though I haven’t used a public pool since I was a child, I usually feel a pang of sadness when Labor Day arrives and the pool closes for the season. A concrete pool drained of its water is a cold, lonely sight - a sign that summer is definitely a thing of the past.
But this year was different. I was excited for Labor Day and the last two hours of the season at the Monon Center water park near Indianapolis. Of course, I didn’t want summer to be over, but I couldn’t wait for that rare opportunity to take Chloe, my water-loving corgi-springer mix, to a pool party just for dogs.
My friend, Shannon, has been taking her Flat-Coated Retrievers to this special event for the last 2 years.
“It’s totally insane,” she warned me. “Hundreds of dogs and their owners all together in the same pool. The dogs go crazy - they love it.”
The Great Escaper
Looking for a “good deal” in the Classifieds is one of my guilty pleasures. Even though I have everything I really need, I just can’t seem to pass up my favorites - the pet and recreational vehicle sections.
During high school, I worked at a veterinarian hospital. On a house call, Dr. Brown and I visited a farm to remove the dew claws from a litter of Irish Wolfhound pups. That was the first time I ever met the elegant, affectionate giants - I fell in love. I decided then and there I wanted a female. I’d name her Fiona.
I’ve had many dogs since that trip to the farm. The majority (all but two) have been my all-time favorite type - mutts.
Yet still after 25 years glancing at days-old want ads I grab off coffee shop tables, I open the paper thinking, “Maybe today will be my lucky day - ‘SWEET IRISH WOLFHOUND- FREE TO THE RIGHT HOME’.”
Or maybe I’ll spot my dream ad in recreational vehicles: “OLD ROUND SILVER CAMPING TRAILER. $500 OBO.”
This summer I was excited to grow a small garden at my new home in Montana. But as things often happen, life whipped me around and sent me off on a totally different path.
I spent my summer in Indiana with my family, trying to do all I can to help my mom through cancer surgery and treatments. There is no place I’d rather be right now.
“Might as well just grow that garden while I’m here in the hot and humid farm belt,” I thought to myself as I filled my shopping cart with seed packets, tomato baskets, and plants.
“What did you do for fun this summer?” a friend recently asked me.
“Well... I’ve been going to the dentist,” I replied. “And going to hear live bluegrass, and trail running...”
“Seriously... the dentist... fun?”
Labeling the dentist as a recreational activity is a stretch, I know.
The painful fact that the price-tag for my decade of oral neglect equaled the purchase of a drift boat or a mountain bike or a good horse forced me to kid myself into believing that I’d much rather spend one afternoon a week at the dentist than tooling around the Martinsdale Reservoir in a new kayak.
The small wooden treasure chest stored in my childhood closet holds a collection of fossils. Whenever I’mhome, I pull the heavy box from the shelf, dumping the contents across my bedspread to find my favorites.
My first few years out of high school, I was crazy about crinoids. I spent my days off of jobs at the local veterinary hospital and hardware store traipsing the shallow streams of southern Indiana with my dog, searching for the columns of round “buttons.”
I know very little about fossils. But when I stumbled across my first crinoid while on a hike, I was drawn to their “perfectness.” The stems of crinoids have a dependable shape; I trained my eye to find the fossilized discs interlocked tightly together like a stack of coins.
When you have no idea what to do with your life and all else fails, I discovered that crawling creekbeds on your hands and knees searching for a fossilized sea animal well over 250 million years old can give you a purpose - and hope.
Illness Tests Limits of Human Endurance
I am a “dabbler” in endurance sports. But not until 3 months ago when my mother was diagnosed with
Uterine Carcinosarcoma, did I really begin to understand the true meaning of endurance.
When I was a little girl, Mom and I often watched all of the big marathons - Boston, New York City, Olympic - on television. From the starting line to the finish, we marveled at the runners, especially the women, who could cover such distances with amazing speed and focus and desire. Track and Field sprints didn’t interest us - it was the people who go FAR who captivated and excited us. “How can they do that?” we’d say to each other, inspired by such endurance.
Inside my journal, an old, overexposed, black and white photograph of five beautiful dogs, all lounging in the grass and looking up at the camera, acts as a bookmark. Every time I look at the picture, I’m so thankful that my longtime girlfriends and I decided to pause our hike that day for the quick family photo.
In the snapshot, Kirby, my Catahoula-mutt; Kara, Shannon’s German Shepard; Cami and Pero, Shelly’s two Italian Spinone’s; and Alex, Brenda’s Corgi all lay and stay, waiting for the “free dog” cue. That was over 15 years ago, a long dog’s life; all five have since passed on. We still speak of them like they’ll come running out of the woods at any moment.
When I study this dark photo, I don’t just see the sparkling brown eyes and goofy expressions and wagging tails of the dogs we adored.
The picture reminds me of everything: the cool little house along the river where Shelly raised a family and our dogs once explored, the veterinary hospital where we all worked. I think of boyfriends we’d rather forget - Steve and Rob and Lester and... you get my drift.
A cold, wet Montana spring always bring back a memory - a bone-chilling one.
In the early 1990’s, I moved from Indianapolis to Missoula to attend the University of Montana. After my first winter in the west, I couldn’t wait to partake in the delights of spring in the mountains. Eventually, the daylight hours grew longer, the rain subsided, and the angry rivers calmed.
It was 80-some degrees, blue skies, and sunny the June day my friends and I rented giant rubber inner-tubes from a local gas station. Ian, David, and I strapped the awkward vessels down to the back of my little red pickup and headed to the Blackfoot River.
All three of us slathered our skin with the first sun block of the season. As I settled into my inner-tube, the blistering black rubber burned the backs of my bare legs and arms. I welcomed the sweltering midday heat - it had been a long winter.
Our friends floated this same stretch the previous day. It’ll only take a couple of hours, they told us. I was relieved by the day’s clear forecast; giant inflatable donuts don’t provide much storage space for precautionary gear.