The Lost in Florida Series – The Tosohatchee Wilderness

The swamp has featured heavily in this blog recently. House flood and storms. But at a particularly low point, intrepid hiking friend S found a 30,000 acre wilderness – the Tosohatchee Wilderness Preserve – where we could try to escape the urban grind we’d all found ourselves in.

I was in a particularly sour mood. When you can’t even find your hiking poles you know you are at difficult point. Things started to look up when, after 45 minutes of driving through what can only be described as redneck Florida (I mean that as charitably as possible) we reached the entrance to the wilderness area. There was an ominous sign stating a hunt was in process, but we never heard any gunshot and presumably the hunters were carrying out their activities elsewhere. After all, it is 30,000 acres.

We picked up a map at the entrance but didn’t look at it until much later, relying instead on the black and white map S had printed off the internet. Turns out that made a difference, as you’ll see later.

We’d chosen a route that was part of the Florida Trail, a 1,000 mile path that runs from Miami to Pensacola almost continuously (well, except for 300 miles). Somehow it doesn’t have the cachet of the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails. Nonetheless, we’re from Florida and it’s ours, damn it.

The trail was quite well marked, in stark contrast to the Rock Springs Preserve where we spent hours tromping around the wilderness in no apparent direction. See Lost in the Woods – A Florida Hike. And, where it was dry, it was a nice, well maintained path.

You hear the key words – where it was dry. After meandering through a spectacular shaded forest of palm hammocks and live oaks, interspersed with open sections of slash pines, we ended up in a literal swamp. The trail simply went right through it. We could only assume that it was the remnant of a huge storm earlier in the week, because surely no one would route a trail through a swamp, would they? The water varied from a few inches to quite a bit deeper – and was remarkably clear. We soon discovered that if we aimed toward the clumps of grass there was a good chance it would be shallower – although you did risk the possibility of a suction like effect from the mud and muck. I simply chose not to think about snakes.

We alternated between swamp and patches of dry trail, and eventually emerged into what truly looked like a fairy glen. An open, almost circular area with wildflowers poking through coarse green grass. A spot where you could easily imagine the little folk engaging in their fairy festivities. And a good spot for some yoga. It’s also the spot where I realized the reason my pack was sloshing around and seemed so heavy was that I had forgotten I was carrying around about 10 pounds of water from my last training hike!

And, lest I forget – the flowers! Spring has sprung in Central Florida, and wildflowers were running amok. Wild iris (that sure look a lot like the Apostle Iris we paid good money for!), periwinkles, daisies, Florida style blue bells, thistles.

After a brief respite in the fairy glen, we were back at it. But by then we’d looked at the color map. As we studied the next section, we realized that the trail we’d just walked along didn’t run through the green part- it went straight through a whole lot of blue! In other words, this was no left over from a storm – the trail simply went straight through the swamp. S said he thought he’d sensed a current. I almost titled this post “Fording the Florida Trail” (M’s suggestion).

Armed with that information and having learned trails really do go through swamps, we selected what looked like a more reasonable – or at least drier – way back. But after walking for a while down a dirt road and arriving at Second Cut Trail – we saw it went straight into and along a canal, with no end in sight. Back to the road.

We turned off onto the next possible path back through the woods and went about ten minutes. At that point it became clear that even though well-marked we were basically bushwhacking through overgrowth and stomping through a mixture of mud and pond – and we hadn’t even reached the blue area on the map. Back to the road again.

Ultimately we reached a horse trail that was relatively above water. While longer, I’m sure we made better time.

After 9 miles and about 5 hours – this was slow going – we were back at the car. Someone had stopped us just before we reached the parking area to ask for directions, and S, Good Samaritan that he is, gave them the color map, assuming there would be more back at the entrance. There weren’t.

Guess that means we’ll have more unexpected trips through the blue areas. We definitely plan to go back. After all, where else do you start for a summit but in the swamp?

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Training Twists and Turns on the Way to the Balkans

My “about me” page of this blog, which I wrote back in 2014, describes me as a “mid-50s” person. Born in 1961 and about to turn 58, I’m hoping I still qualify. But one of the things I’ve noticed as I take this journey from swamp to summit – which started when I was 50 – is the subtle or not so subtle changes in my training activities over the ages. Some due to sheer boredom. Some, unfortunately, due to years, painful as that is to admit.

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When I first embarked on this journey, I was a regular yoga attendee, both Bikram and what I call “regular” yoga, two to three times a week. Then we decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in 2011 for my 50th birthday and it became clear yoga alone wasn’t going to get me to the top of that mountain.  Hence, my now famous office building stair climbing regime. That’s the one thing that’s remained constant, even though my office has moved to a different floor and side of the building, which mysteriously is one extra floor in height.

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But the rest of it? Not so consistent. After our experience climbing Mt. Elbrus, I realized I needed way more heavy duty cardio. (See Steps on the Summit for our adventures on Europe’s highest peak.) Thus, I swallowed my disdain for running and embarked on a regime of a long (I worked my way up to 6-7 miles) run once a week, combined with a treadmill 5K at least once a week. But then my Wednesday yoga class was pushed to an earlier time and it became well nigh impossible to fit in a 5k between work and yoga. And then, after Stok Kangri, I realized I was all out so bored with running I couldn’t stand it, not to mention I was starting to obsess over my pace to the point it was becoming really stressful. Thus, my invention of the walk – run.  Letting Up the Pressure – Running and Walking Through the Holidays – memorializes this latest training technique!

Bikram fell victim to the closing of the studio (which probably wasn’t helped by Bikram’s own fall from grace). Although I still love it, and there are a few classes here and there, the times are terrible, so I rarely make it. Instead I’ve picked up Barre to accompany my yoga classes. Of course, I do it at the Y, so there’s no real barre and we have to use chairs. I can only imagine what we look like to onlookers as we plié and relevee clinging onto the backs of our chairs.

Weights have been an off and on thing. Right now they are on – I learned after Kilimanjaro that the only way to strengthen your knees is to strengthen your quads and I think there is going to be a high need for strong knees in Albania’s Accursed Mountains.

But my newest invention is a treadmill variation that I discovered while watching mountaineer and photographer Cory Richards’ training regime on Instagram. He put the treadmill on its highest 15% setting, strapped on a heavy pack, and proceeded to walk uphill for hours at about 2.8 miles an hour, not holding on. At that incline, if you tried going any faster without holding on you’d probably fall off. Now, my dirty little treadmill secret had been that I was a “holder”. I reasoned it was all about the legs, right? But when I tried Cory’s technique , sans pack, no hands, I suddenly realized I was actually using a whole different set of muscles – and they were the ones you use on a real live mountain.

So I guess the whole point of this is ebb and flow and just go with the tide, to keep the metaphor going. Training is going to change depending on your age, the boredom factor, and where you’re going. I tend to be a creature of habit; at least I’ve learned a bit of flexibility on my swamp to summit journey.

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Throw Backs and Forwards – The Swamp and the Horses and Namaste

So this weekend has had enough unusual experiences to delay, yet again, my stories of Delhi. Because how often does one revisit activities that were very important in years gone by – and then push them forward into the future?

That was this weekend. It started last week, when my long time Bikram yoga teacher Joe posted he was going to be teaching at a local studio on Friday afternoon, following his most recent trip to Australia. I hadn’t taken a Bikram class for at least 18 months. I left work early on Friday just to get there.

And oh how I’d missed it! You talk about mindfulness. When you are in a Bikram class your entire mind and body is focused on following the dialogue and moving each muscle in accordance. There’s nothing else there but that moment in time, in the hot sticky sweaty spot that is an interstices between the then and the future – the now.

The next day started with our raincheck horseback riding experience. A few weeks ago, husband J and I realized we’d ridden horses – poorly and only on trail rides – in places ranging from Hawaii to the Caucasus Mountains, but never in Florida, where we’ve lived for the past 29 years or so. Time to change that.

So we ventured off, a good 55 miles away, to Forever Florida, a combination cattle ranch and ecotourism preserve. There are zip lines, horseback riding, and lots of alligators. It’s truly a throwback to old Florida. Lots of the horses are Florida cracker horses who have to be DNA tested to show they really are descendants of those brought by Ponce deLeon. But the first date there was for a 2 pm ride. We should have known better. It’s Florida in the summer for heaven’s sake, in the days of global warming. We were totally rained out.

Hence, our trip back yesterday on one of those beautiful Florida bluebird days – an azure sky decorated with white puffy clouds, like mounds of whipped cream splattered onto the sky.

But what we didn’t know about the ride was that a lot of it was underwater – it was truly swamp. We went through multiple Florida ecosystems- prairie to slash pine forest to palm hammock – and into the Bull Creek slough. That’s where my very short horse and I got quite wet – water up to my thighs and his chest. I suppose I could have pulled my feet out of the stirrups and pulled them up high as others did – but I felt a lot more balanced staying in the stirrups – and frankly, the dank brown water felt remarkably refreshing in the 90 percent humidity. It wasn’t that hot – but, boy, it was humid.

It was probably 2014 when I was last on a horse – way back when I started this blog.   Horseback riding in Russia, following the Mt. Elbrus ascent. https://fromswamptosummit.com/2014/07/11/a-wild-card-day-or-summits-dont-end/

That was Saturday. Sunday was supposed to just be my regular – as in 15 years or so regular – 2 pm yoga class at the Downtown Y. But as I walked in, I was told that teacher E (she’s ok) had just gotten into a car accident and wouldn’t make it and there was no instructor but we could have the space. So I was going to practice regardless – about 20 of us were still there and someone asked if I would lead the class. So I did. We all got into a circle (or a version thereof) because I didn’t feel qualified to act as though I were a teacher and somehow a circle is less authoritarian. But I must say – the dialogue from my Bikram class on Friday and the many years of yoga kicked in and I was amazed at how natural and good it felt to lead a class. Not sure how everyone else felt but I’m hoping it was ok. I’ve frequently considered taking teacher training but most recently have thought I should just recognize I’ll only be a participant. But now I’m wondering if my initial instinct was right – and I really should do the teacher training. Some food for thought on a Sunday.

Pretty wild weekend of revisits and moving forwards. Namaste.

20,000 Feet of Fear – Stok Kangri and Other People’s Blogs

IMG_0069We leave for India, more specifically Stok Kangri, in just under 4 weeks and it’s time to stop. Time to stop reading other people’s blogs and trip reviews.

You know you’ve read too many over the top accounts of bad weather, deep snow and almost vertical walls when you find yourself repeatedly googling whether the steepest gradient is really 40 degrees (according to the one and only detailed trekking guide I’ve found) or 75 degrees (according to anecdotal accounts by multiple trekkers at varying levels of inexperience). The next clue you’ve gone too far in internet research is when you start googling all the mountains you’ve previously climbed for comparison purposes to see where they rank in this doubtless highly imaginary world of guessing gradients to try to determine if that will give you a clue as to whether you can do this. And that is followed by a good dose of wondering just how good your training can actually be when you live in Florida and a feeing you better rapidly add even more stairs to the stair climb in the office, not to mention increase the distance of your runs.

I guess fear can be a great motivator – for a bit. But I think I’ve hit the point where reading more about this trek/climb is about to backfire. I need to spend these few last weeks getting my head ready to focus on the present moment and the here and now. That’s what it’s going to take get up that mountain. One foot in front of the other; one at a time.

It’s the opposite of the planning and strategizing and analyzing I have to do in my day job lawyering. Sure, there are the logistics – the gear check, travel arrangements, picking out your GU selections – those are fine. But trying to psych out the mountain beyond a certain point – that’s no good. On a trek, typically the guides will not even tell you what the next day holds until the evening before. I’ve figured out the reason for that. You need to focus on where you are and what you’re doing – not where you’re going to be and whether you can make it.

Right now should be a yoga practice. I need to take the space created on the mat…and let that sense of the present be my guide for these last three weeks. And not read any more first hand versions of “how I survived Stok Kangri.” Namaste.

Musings on a Run – DIY

 

DIY Beer - Lake Ivanhoe Brewery
DIY Beer – Lake Ivanhoe Brewery

Since the cancellation of my 4 pm Saturday Bikram class, my Saturday training has turned into a five mile run with the present goal of picking up speed. The last run was a break through – all five under 12 minutes and mile 3 was 11:01. Not much for you real runners out there but for me – something to be proud of.

But occupying one’s mind is a huge part of running, at least for me. And as I pushed along on this glorious blue sky day in Central Florida – here are some miscellaneous thoughts.

Uber is becoming a huge deal here, with pro and con views circulated in the local paper, facebook and all other sorts of places. I was devoutly glad of Uber last night, however, when daughter number 2, home for the holidays, and her friends all wanted to go downtown at about 11 pm. The husband and I had arrived back from a colleague’s party only to find six or so cars parked in front of our house, together with two large SUVs double parked with two men outside talking on their cell phones, waiting to transport the various and sundry party goers at our house into downtown. But the daughter and friends weren’t driving themselves – and for that I was glad!

And somehow Uber makes me think of Airbnb. It’s really the same concept – rent your spare room, avoid hotel taxes and regulations – and why shouldn’t you? In fact, I look at  my own house with its private entrance to the guest suite, and I would have  a perfect set up. So why shouldn’t I?

I get the pros and cons and I understand all the arguments about requiring cabs  to service poor neighborhoods etc.  But aren’t Uber and Airbnb really  stemming from the same mentality? The do it yourself, organically home grown business model? (I guess that would be true, except for the fact Uber, at least, is a multi million dollar company.) And at its heart, isn’t that the same drive that’s caused me to plant my own vegetables and herbs and has made the husband brew his own beer?

As residents of the tail end of the baby boom – born in 1961 –  it’s interesting  to observe some commonalities with the millenials. Don’t they say everything skips a generation? Now I just need to retire so I can finally get my own chicken coop.

Summits are Not Symetrical and the Pearls in the Peanuts

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Mountains do not rise up from the earth like isosceles triangles.  And most things in life don’t have that perfect equilibrium either.  Like this week  – everything just a little off.

It started when I unpacked a gigantic box containing a keyboard that had belonged to an uncle and now had wended its way to Central Florida. In reaching down into the thousands of styrofoam peanuts that surrounded said keyboard in order to ensure we had located all its bits and pieces, the husband pulled out a carefully wrapped plastic package. I cut it open, expecting a plug or some similar piece of equipment, only to find – a string of pearls! A visit to the jeweler the next day confirmed they weren’t real, but now I still face the task of contacting UPS to see if they there is any report of missing pearls in peanuts.

That set the tone for the rest of the week.

One of our elderly Westies continues to be profoundly deaf and is proving not very capable of learning sign language.  His brother has decided he can only eat dry dog food if scattered on the floor outside of his bowl. And the ancient cat continues to believe he is a mountain lion and to attack dogs.

My dearly beloved ten year old car blew the same fuse for the second time in six weeks. Who knew the same fuse that controls the radio controls the ignition. But combined with a very leaky convertible top, the prospect of having to change fuses on the side of the interstate while driving to an out of town meeting on Monday was enough to cause us to finally buy a new car.

At least events of tomorrow should determine my schedule sufficiently that we can actually book our Cotopaxi trip.  At yoga last Wednesday night the moon was full but for a slice off one side, teetering against the black sky. I’m hoping that this next week – with the next summit firmly chosen and set – restores equipoise.

Yoga and the Art of Climbing

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I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time. Certainly, when I have been training for various climbs and treks, adding cardio to my work out was an essential component of success. But much of climbing or trekking is the sheer grit of simply keeping on going even when every part of you is saying stop right now. And that’s where yoga has made all the difference – and here’s a shout out to my many, many yoga instructors over the years, whose voices were in my head on so many of these hikes. Elbrus on the long slushy slog on the way down. Mt. Hood, where the 60 mile an hour winds were blowing me into the mountain and I couldn’t see because the blinding snow had totally occluded all vision.

I remember my first Bikram yoga class in 2007 or so. At that time, Bikram Yoga Orlando was located next to an elevated expressway in an small old strip center (and I mean old – circa 1960s) next to a pet grooming place. That’s the reason I had seen it – I had dropped off the dogs (who are now 14!) and picked up a schedule from the pile outside the door. I’d been doing yoga for a long time and had heard of Bikram, but had never tried it. But I was then working long hours on an arbitration – the precise contours of which have long escaped me – and I thought, maybe this is just what I need as a break.

Bikram is supposed to be practiced at 105 degrees and 40% humidity – and at the new studio it is. But at that old place down on South Street I swear you could see clouds forming overhead and I am sure there were a couple of times rain drops actually came down.

After my first class – and I didn’t leave the room nor did I lie down, despite the heat – I thought – Ok, I’ll try this every other week. But the next week I was back. And, although I’ve kept “regular” Wednesday and Sunday yoga classes, pretty much every week I’m also at Bikram. For someone whose job is comprised of making decisions, to be in an environment where there is no decision except the one to go on is an incredible luxury. I follow what the instructors say; I know the dialogue; and each class I feel my body respond and become stronger. And there is a particular moment where listening to the dialogue and your own physical presence merge and become one – and for once, you can be in the present – no decisions to make except for the one to keep going.

And I don’t want to dismiss my so-called “regular” yoga classes either. Where else have I learned the ability to literally stretch my body into shapes and places it wouldn’t normally go. The beauty of Bikram is that it’s the same every week – but the beauty of the other yoga is that I’m challenged to see where I can move my body in space and create that extra last dimension around me and fill it with movement.

So why does this relate to summits? I’ve learned to control my breathing. On the mountain, I think – breathe normally, in slowly and out even longer. On Elbrus I recited the Bikram dialogue in my head. I went into that quiet place of the present that allows you to take those last few steps that lead to the summit – and just as importantly – that allow you to descend.