Thursday, July 28, 2011

Photo of the Week

Some of you may have been wondering why there was no Photo of the Week despite the fact that I'm back. The answer: I was waiting until today for this picture...

My fresh tattoo. An Eastern White Pine Tree representing my love for the outdoors and the experiences I've had there.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains: Mary's Rock with my parents.

Due to the kind of person I am while living in New Jersey, it’s pretty obvious that I hate most people I come in contact with. So naturally, when my family decided to take a trip to Virginia, I was happy to get away from the crowds of loud, crass, stuck-up, and selfish folks. I have always been a “Southern sympathizer” as some may still call it. My father and I actually share a dream of one day owning a small house in the South that we can, “go onto the porch and take a piss while shooting a rifle.” Many areas of the South offer peace, quiet, relaxation, damn-good food, and open spaces. It certainly can’t get any better, right? Wrong. It gets way better when you see the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Sunset from Shenandoah Overlook in Shenadoah National Park.
My mother, father, and I went to Virginia planning to spend some time in Shenandoah National Park. Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful park that I personally didn’t hear much about until I began doing research. Shenandoah National Park is stunning and why it is not as well known as other parks is beyond me. It is also easily accessible to vacationers because of the location of the city of Front Royal. Hardly a city, Front Royal is a medium sized town that outside the town center is a historical rural community. Front Royal itself is located only 66 miles away from Washington D.C., yet the crowds, traffic, and homeless people stay there. If any reader decides to take a trip to Shenandoah National Park and needs a hotel, I suggest staying at the Holiday Inn Blue Ridge Shadows. The rooms were clean, the service was excellent, and the staff was very friendly and professional.

So being that I have outdoor experience, my father has basic outdoor experience, and my mom has none, it was up to me to plan a hike for us to do. I knew that the hike had to be somewhat easy, but I didn’t want it to be a walk over some hills with no views or points of interest. So I made the logical decision of finding a mountain and plotting a route for a limping Lyme disease patient, a 53 year-old man, and an overweight woman to hike up. It made perfect sense! (not)

The hike was from the Thorton Gap parking area to the top of Mary’s Rock. It was 1.5 miles to the summit, making it a 3 mile round trip. Distance-wise the hike was not long, but I made the mistake of underestimating the terrain. Although it didn’t faze me, my mom and dad struggled with the rocky nature of the trail and the incline. The weather also was against us in the beginning. When we arrived at the trailhead it began to rain. That together with the mountain breeze made it a bit chilly. I put my rain shell on and was fine, but because my parents didn’t have proper gear they put on sweatshirts and in my dad’s case a denim jacket. As we hiked, they quickly had to shed layers of clothes yet still find a balance where they could stay dry. About halfway up the mountain the rain stopped and left low-lying clouds that were at equal height to us. It made for very cool scenery to see clouds float between mountains and, at times, to hike through them. My goal of a scenic hike was partially accomplished before even reaching the summit.

Mom and dad at the beginning of the hike.

At this point the physical stress of the hike began to affect my parents. My dad pushed through and toughed it out, but my mom was angry and dehydrated. Having absolutely, positively, zero outdoor experience one of her biggest fears was peeing outdoors. Because of this, she was attempting to take in minimal amounts of water. Obviously a heavier person needs to hydrate more than someone of average weight, and she was not doing it which led to headaches, cramps, and frustration. I cannot say it enough, hydrate!

Dad taking a break on the trail.

Mom and Dad on the trail.
I scouted ahead for the trail that would take us to the summit while my parents slowly closed the gap between us. After about 20 minutes, I found the .1 mile trail to the summit; just in time for my parents. As we reached the summit the cloud-cover broke and the sun came shining through. Few things are more exhilarating than when the sun breaks through the clouds as you reach a summit. The view from Mary’s Rock was spectacular. It offered views of the ever-beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and the legendary Shenandoah Valley as a whole.

Mom and Dad enjoying the view.

Mom and dad at the summit.
In the end we reached the car and I felt I introduced what I love to do to my parents successfully. My dad expressed interest in maybe doing it again sometime and I feel my mom now has a better understanding of what I do out there, why I do it, and why I love it. My mom was proud of the fact that she climbed a real mountain once her anger subsided and I know it’ll make a good story for her to tell her friends. It was certainly a very good hike that I won’t soon forget, and hopefully neither will them.

Stay tuned for my family’s experience on the Shenandoah River!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Been away. News on whats to come:

Hey everyone! My apologies that I haven't been writing. I know that a lot of times I don't write for weeks at a time and I appreciate the fact that you stay involved. The reasons I haven't been writing are: 1) As I've stated, I'm getting over Lyme disease. I just did my first hike since the beginning of the ordeal last week so I really haven't had too much to write about. 2) I've been in the Shenandoah Valley on vacation with my family.

In the Shenandoah Valley (located in Virginia) I managed to get my parents in the outdoors. They both hiked and rafted on the Shenandoah River, so expect to hear about that in a little bit. I've also picked up a pair of trekking poles and the Camelbak M.U.L.E Maximum Gear. Reviews for both of those products will be posted as soon as I have put them through more trials.

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Photo of the Week

Sorry this is late everyone! I've had a lot on my mind from recovering from Lyme disease and helping to plan a family vacation to the Shenandoah Valley. A friend of mine reminded me to do it and as a result she's in this oh-so-flattering picture...

The classic "I'm so hungry I only look at my food" look we see on the trail  oh-so-much.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cover Up.

This is just a reminder about how important it is to cover up and take the proper precautionary measures against ticks.

Ticks are most often known for carrying Lyme disease, but do not be fooled. Ticks carry a multitude of illnesses, often infecting victims with more than one at a time. This results in an illness that is particularly hard to diagnose and to treat. Here's a list of the Center of Disease Control's tick-borne diseases with links to each one:

In the United States, some ticks carry pathogens that can cause human disease, including:
  • Anaplasmosis is transmitted to humans by tick bites primarily from the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the northeastern and upper midwestern U.S. and the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast.
  • Babesiosis is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) and is found primarily in the eastern U.S.
  • Ehrlichiosis is transmitted to humans by the lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum), found primarily in the southcentral and eastern U.S.
  • Lyme disease is transmitted by the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the northeastern U.S. and upper Midwestern U.S. and the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) along the Pacific coast.
  • Rickettsia parkeri Rickettsiosis is transmitted to humans by the Gulf Coast tick (Amblyomma maculatum).
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is transmitted by the American dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), Rocky Mountain wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sangunineus) in the U.S. The brown dog tick and other tick species are associated with RMSF in Central and South America.
  • STARI (Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness) is transmitted via bites from the lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum), found in the southeastern and eastern U.S.
  • Tickborne relapsing fever (TBRF) is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected soft ticks. TBRF has been reported in 15 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming and is associated with sleeping in rustic cabins and vacation homes.
  • Tularemia is transmitted to humans by the dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), the wood tick (Dermacentor andersoni), and the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum). Tularemia occurs throughout the U.S.
  • 364D Rickettsiosis (Rickettsia phillipi, proposed) is transmitted to humans by the Pacific Coast tick (Dermacentor occidentalis ticks). This is a new disease that has been found in
It is important that you seek professional help at the earliest time possible. If possible, save any ticks you pull off of yourself and send them to the proper professionals for testing. The results will tell if you should be tested for the infection.

The best way to fight tick-borne illnesses is to avoid getting bitten in the first place. Here are a few tips:
  • Where light colored clothing so ticks are easily spotted when crawling on you.
  • Where long sleeves and pants. Blouse boots or tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Tie back or braid loose long hair. Even with short hair, a hat or bandanna is recommended to cover your head.
  • Apply insect repellent to cuffs of pants and shirts. (DEET has been known to have adverse effects on synthetic fabrics)
  • When coming in from an environment that has potential ticks, throw your clothes in a drier on high heat. This ensures all ticks on your clothing will be killed. 
  • Conduct a tick check. Be sure to check your hair, ears, neck, armpits, groin, inner thighs, back of the knees, and everywhere else. A mirror is helpful for this if alone.
If a tick is found, remove it with tweezers promptly. Do this by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight out. You do not want to crush the tick. Do not burn or cover with Vaseline. This may cause them to borrow deeper or to regurgitate saliva, increasing chances of infection.

Do not take the tick threat lightly. They are more than an annoyance, they are dangerous. I am currently fighting Lyme Disease and I can tell you from experience, it is not fun. It has caused my right knee to become inflamed, which prevents me from walking or even fully extending my leg. I have a very heavy limp and am actually using crutches to get around to reduce strain on that leg. I have already had 90cc's of bacterial fluid sucked out of my  knee and it is again swollen to twice it's size. I have started the antibiotic treatment and am icing it everyday. In two weeks is my hiking groups departure date for a ten-day backpacking/canoe trip in Maine. Because of my Lyme disease and joint inflammation I am now unsure if I'll be able to go on this trip that I've been looking forward to all year. Needless to say, I'm heartbroken. We'll have to wait and see how this plays out. Wish me luck.