Mammoth March in April 2023

From Swamp to Summit is back! There’s been a long hiatus, not because I haven’t been thinking about you, dear readers, but the flotsam and jetsam of ordinary life has simply gotten in the way. But now I’m close to pulling back the curtain on our plans for 2023 – which begin Independence Day – and no, that’s not a coincidence.

But for immediate purposes – this past Saturday, April 29, was the scene of the Mammoth March. I signed us up, over J’s protestations, in January, telling him that was all I really wanted for my 62nd birthday.

Mammoth March is a sponsored 20 mile hike that you are supposed to finish in 8 hours. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? A 20 minute mile pace? But you have to consider the terrain. It’s Florida jungle, out there in the Charles Bronson forest (see Lost in Florida – Staring Down Charles Bronson); it had rained last week and about two miles were nothing but mud.

Not only that, the night before the event, the sponsors announced it was really 21 miles, and by the way, everyone with a fitness tracker was convinced it was more like 22. The last couple of miles were on an asphalt road, and it was brutal. Shin split city. Not to mention the fact the wind had whipped up, was blowing in our faces, and it was clear the heavens were about to open – which they did, about 10 minutes after I crossed the finish line.

I was going to do the entire damn thing in 8 hours if it killed me. We had met some great folks out there – PAC man and Ken (turns out PAC man and I had a friend in common) and multiple other people who were equally pleasant and fun. There was every age group, gender, body type – pretty hard to be more diverse unless you were a cellular phone ad. And everyone was pulling for everyone else.

Until next time. We could all do a lot worse than model ourselves after folks who just decide they want to walk 21 miles cooperatively with fellow hikers. Ready for the 2024 event.

Mile 20

Lost in Florida – Surprises at Sabal Point and How I Got A New Trail Name

On the trail

It started off as an innocent seven mile hike. S assured us that we wouldn’t have to wade through miles of swamp water, and on that point, at least he was correct.

The Sabal Point trail is a surprising natural gem buried amidst a large conglomeration of apartment buildings, houses, and condos of the same name. It’s hardly the place you’d expect to find an untouched spread of palm hammocks, marshes, and oaks. But there it is: the trail head innocuously placed at the end of a dead end street. You do rather feel as if you’ve been invited over to someone’s house.

Our goal for that Saturday was to work on carrying weight and to that end we’d all loaded our packs. M and S have had the brilliant idea of using bags of charcoal so they can burn it once done with training. Since I believe training should never end I’m carrying around a gallon of water, my old weight vest, and various bits and bobs to add up to 25 pounds. Need to get up to 35.

The trail itself is an old railway bed, elevated a few feet above very swampy forest. We are in Florida spring and the trail was dotted with what looked like bluebells, pink star shaped flowers, and red berry bushes whose Christmasy aspect seemed out of place.

Christmas berries?

One of the things about training is to check out your gear and M quickly realized the Osprey pack she’d bought was not for her – too rigid in the waistband and an odd shape that causes your arms to stick out at the side. Fortunately REI has a good return policy so she’s now trying my fav – a tried and true Gregory (I have 3, in all different sizes).

Enough of the gear talk. How did our hike deteriorate into something more sinister? As I was blithely walking along, chattering away, S suddenly yelled out, “You stepped on a snake.” My immediate reaction was, “Oh no, is it Ok?”, to which S (somewhat insensitively I thought), said, “No, it’s dead; you stepped on its head.” Not sure he realized that sounded like the middle verse of a rap song.

I could barely bring myself to look, but as J and S inspected said creature, S looked more closely – and said, “It’s not just a snake; it’s a water moccasin!”

Water moccasin

At that point my guilt over the execution quickly by evaporated and instead I decided I was the hero of the hike. I mean, perhaps I saved countless lives! I don’t know much about snakes, but even I know water moccasins are BAD.

After the excitement of the snake we were looking forward to reaching the river, promised at 3.5 miles. But after a mere 1.75 (according to my trusty Fitbit) we encountered a forbidding metal gate plastered with no trespassing signs warning of prosecution if violated. Whoever posted them looked like they meant business.

So since training called for more miles we simply turned back, hiked back to the cars, and then hiked the same trail all over again to reach our 7 mile goal. The snake was still there the second time around – not unsurprisingly in the same position as before.

Not quite what we’d expected. But it was a beautiful Florida day, we carried our weight, and I now have a new trail name – Snake Stomper.

Be careful where you tread

A Retrospective – The Summitless Year of 2020

2020 – learned how to hang my bike in the office parking garage

Not sure summitless is a word, but why not. Everything else was turned topsy turvey by the pandemic, so why not add a non word to the mix.

A year ago – 2019 – we were looking forward to adventures in Maine and a trip to climb Mt. Katahdin, which is the northern end of the Appalachian Trail, with daughter A and now fiancé N. (Yes, for those of you who read this blog, as of December 30 boyfriend N is now officially future son-in-law N)!

Had to include a pic – A and N in the Balkans, 2019

But the summer Covid surge and Maine’s quarantine rules put the kabosh on that plan. In fact, the unused camping permits for Baxter State Park are still sitting on my desk.

So we have trundled through the year with a mixture of Florida swamp hikes and multiple urban hikes. Turns out when there’s a lockdown (I hate that word) looking in closed store windows becomes its own treat. We also experimented with a lot of outdoor lunch places to give city walks a little more flavor.

One of many swamp hikes with friend M and S

And I did manage to walk the three miles to work at least once a week – to the point that the crossing guard by a local daycare asked where I’d been when I took a different route on one of my walking days. Another unexpected lockdown benefit was that the reduced traffic meant I actually rode my bike to work several times without fear of losing life and limb.

Of course, like everyone else my in-office days were severely curtailed – reduced to 2 or 3 during the summer surge and I had only just worked up to 4 in December when I had to quarantine again in order to socially distant visit family. I’m back now, but I may never work in the office on Mondays again. I never knew Sunday nights could be so relaxed.

Another 2020 development has been learning to substitute on line yoga, barre and fitness classes for my thrice weekly Y classes. That experience was a little soured when my favorite on line yoga teacher suddenly died (remember, it’s 2020), but I’m still discovering YouTube videos she’s posted that I’d never done.

We were lucky to have an amazing week with daughters S and A and fiancé N in the Blue Ridge mountains and a beach week in Oak Island in July that even included my parents. That allowed us to escape Florida, then the Covid capital, for the relatively unscathed grounds of North Carolina. Of course, that state is now giving Florida a run for its money, but not to be beaten, in typical fashion Florida is pulling ahead again.

Oak Island, NC

In any event, I’d love nothing more than to be dreaming about the next big adventure. But given that I appear to be toward the bottom of the barrel in the vaccination race it’s hard to count on anything overseas. Not to mention the fact that court calendars are so messed up it is impossible to know when any of your cases might go to trial, just to add another complication to the mix.

I really didn’t intend this post to end up as an extended whine but that’s certainly what it seems to have turned into. I am really hoping for some domestic travel at least – I’ve never climbed a 14er in Colorado and Big Bend in Texas looks highly inviting. But I have the feeling it’s all going to have to be a bit last minute and I’m missing the joy of anticipation.

2021 is here, though. And my resolution – despite my Type A tendencies – will have to be to take it one step at a time and let things evolve as they may. After all, the tag line for this blog is steps, stairs and summits. Happy new year, y’all.

Closing out 2020 with this fine fellow on Lake Ivanhoe

New Orleans – Down in the Swamp

Audubon Park with Loyola University in the background
Audubon Park with Loyola University in the background

The name of this blog isn’t FromSwamptoSummit for nothing. Occasionally, it’s important to come down from the summit or to allow yourself to be side tracked from the attempt to reach it, and enjoy a good wallow in a swamp. And what better place to wallow than New Orleans!

The husband and I have a long history with this city. When we got married in the spring of 1986, we planned to use the frequent flyer points I had garnered over a year of “fly outs” – as we then called the interview trips paid for by law firms to lure prospective summer associates – for our honeymoon. The only problem – all my points were with the now defunct New York Air. Besides Boston and New York, where we respectively resided, New York Air flew only to Detroit and New Orleans. The choice was not difficult.

Hotel Villa Convento - not sure where the ghostly light came from. Perhaps something to do with the House of the Rising Sun?
Hotel Villa Convento – not sure where the ghostly light came from. Perhaps something to do with the House of the Rising Sun?

Back in 1986, we stayed at the Hotel Villa Convento on Ursalines Street. In those pre Internet days we found it through a budget travel guide that I am sure we consulted at a bookstore without ever purchasing. The small family owned hotel has the dubious distinction of being across the street from a convent and is supposedly also the original house of sin made famous in the song, House of the Rising Sun. It had a certain moldy, faded glory, and we loved it. We’ve been back numerous times, including visits with children, parents and friends.

This trip – to visit daughter #2 – was assisted by the budget hotel vendor, HotWire, and the winner of this particular lottery was the Clarion Grand Boutique Hotel on St.Charles Street, the grand dame of all of New Orleans’ many boulevards. We knew we wanted to stay on St. Charles and this location is just about a mile above the Central Business District on the way uptown. We feared things might be off to an odd start when we checked in only to find a completely unknown credit card number associated with our reservation, together with a San Francisco address. After some detective work (oh, that legal training), we realized the address was that of HotWire itself – and who knows what the credit card was but we checked in anyway.

The daughter had made dinner reservations for us and several of her housemates at Martinique, a nice restaurant off Magazine Street with a pretty garden room where we were seated.  The menu was most notable for its desserts – in particular, chocolate rye cake with beet chutney. I was somewhat surprised when the husband – who hates beets – said he’d try a bite. He was equally surprised when what he thought was a raspberry topping turned out to be beets.

The food extravaganza continued on Saturday. At least we started the day with a four mile walk from the hotel up St. Charles Street to the daughter’s house on the far side of Tulane – one of our favorite walks anywhere.  Most cities have only a narrow strip of historic homes – New Orleans has blocks and blocks that run deep. The houses are often very close together, yet are huge. Many of them appear to still be single family residences. They are grand, with ornate columns and details, small front yards, and the dark, large front doors suggest a secret world closed off to all but those whose families hail from New Orleans’ early days.

We picked up sandwiches at the St. James Cheese Company, a small cafe selling gourmet – what else – cheese, and had a picnic lunch at Audubon Park, New Orleans’ answer to New York’s Central Park. We were barely off St. Charles Street, but our lunch companions were multiple types of ducks and turtles lazing in the sun.

An island of turtles - look closely....
An island of turtles – look closely….

Drove down to the French Quarter and poked around for a little bit. Bourbon Street as tacky as always, but the side streets as charming as I remember. Lots of Halloween ghouls peeking over the balconies, contemplating the various spooky characters below.

Zoom in for the Halloween hosts -
Zoom in for the Halloween hosts –

Dinner at GW Fin’s. I was amused to see that New Bedford sea scallops from Massachusetts were on the menu, together with gulf coast pompano. The daughter and husband both had “scalibit” – it’s a piece of halibut with scallops baked into the top of the fish and tastes as decadent as it sounds.

A trip to New Orleans wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Sazarac Bar at the Roosevelt Hotel.  And following that a visit to the Marigny to hear music on Frenchmen Street. But who knew that there were two such streets in New Orleans – or one street that is disconnected in the middle….I knew something was wrong on our Google maps when we found ourselves on the interstate, ending up at a Frenchmen Street that dead ended into the city bus parking lot! All I can say is the white SUV in front of us had apparently made the same mistake since it made the same u-turn and trip back to the city.

Once we finally got to the right place we listened to some retro sounding jazz at the Apple Barrel and finished with blues by the Smokey Grenwell Band at Club Bamboula’s.


A final travel note – we ended our stay with a leisurely breakfast at Coulis and a drive through the Fly – also called Avenger Park. It’s the riverside part of Audubon Park where you can see the tugs pushing long lines of barges down the Mississippi. It’s a favorite hangout for the daughter.

And it was particularly leisurely because we thought our flight left at 2 pm. We got to the airport early – and fortunately so, because it turned out the 2 pm on my calendar was eastern time – and the plane was leaving at 1 pm Central! But New Orleans gave us that one extra hour to enjoy without worry – just another one of the gifts of slow time and ease  that the city offers. We all need to spend more time in the swamp.