The weather forecast earlier this week called for back-to-back delicious December days: full sunshine with temperatures hitting a mid-afternoon high around 50 degrees.  Time to take action and put together a couple of substantial hikes.  On the Camino, every day will include a “substantial hike,” but for starters it seemed that two such days in a row were in order.  Way back in July I followed a 10-mile hike with a 7.5-mile one, but now it was time to up the ante.  With that in mind, I sent out an invitation to the WINNERS to see who might want to join me.

The WINNERS?  Yes, to the ever-growing ad hoc group of folks who had expressed an interest in taking on some hikes that were a bit–everything is relative, you understand…–on the “faster and the longer” side.  My initial “hiking list” included about 8 names; it’s now up to 26.  That’s a lot of folks wanting to get out in nature or at least hear about opportunities to do so.  For months we have limped along anonymously, loosely linked in my contacts under “hiking group.”  I decided it was time to come up with an acronym that might convey a bit about who we were, and I sent out a request for suggestions.

Here’s a quick recap of the names proposed:
KC  — Katy’s Crew
LAF — (Longer and Faster….   also could be: Ladies and Friends   or Laughter and Fun    or Lively and Friendly   or   Lost and Found   or   Leaping around Forests  or ….)
HH – Harmony Hikers
WEOH  – Walking Each Other Home
SOLAR SSTRS  (which I LOVED, but saying it made it sound like an all-women’s group)  — Sort of Long and Rapid, (but) Stop to Smell the RoseS; this name was submitted by Laurel who, during many of our summer and fall hikes, wasn’t stopping to smell roses but rather to gather edible mushrooms… picking up far too many ticks in the process…
Team SWIT — Some Walkers in Training or Team S_IT –Some Hikers in Training (good for a laugh and a release of tension, right?)
Team SWIFT  –Some Women (or Walkers) in Faster Training
HIP group  –  Hikers in Peace
THE  group — Trees Heal Everyone
SEEKERS   — not an acronym, but just a nice name
BOP —  Beauties on Parade
WEG — Women Exercising Group
FEF —  Females Exaggerating Feminism
POP FIT  — Pilgrims on Parade, Friends in Tow

But the winning acronym was…..

drum roll please…..

(The) WINNERS — Walking in Nature (Not Ever Really Slow)–proposed by hiker Terri.    Nickname: WIN  (Walking in Nature)….  Or The Winning Group…. Or the WINnies.  As I explained in an email to the group when announcing the winning acronym:

Tough choice from so many great acronyms offered.  This one covers the basics, though:  1) We ARE Winners when we are out getting exercise   2) We are WINNERS when we are out in Nature    3) We have all expressed interest in doing hikes that might be a bit longer and speedier than… than what …. than what our grandmothers did when they were our age, thus we aren’t ever Really Slow   4)  It’s easy to remember, and even if we forget all the words that it represents, it’s a good stand-alone kind of name that actually means something (WINNERS!  That’s us!)    5) It’s easy to pronounce (love those vowels)   6) It doesn’t imply anything about the group being all females.   W is for Walking, not Women .  Yes, the email list at this point includes 26 women and no men, but that may not always be the case.  And YOU are ALWAYS welcome to include your menfolk.
That email was followed by another in which I invited anyone to join me for a 10-mile hike on December 17th and a 13-miler (with a 10-mile shorter option) on the 18th.  Time to put the feet (and the legs and back) to what would be a real test for me.
A test that I passed.  Maybe not with flying colors, but that I passed nonetheless.  On the walk, my hips occasionally noticed the fifteen pounds I was carrying, but better the hips than the back, right?  Or, heaven forbid, the shoulders!  Upon returning home, my feet did a bit of complaining when asked to remain on duty while I folded the laundry and cleaned up the kitchen after dinner.  And the morning after?  The feet were asking for some empathetic TLC until a phone call requesting my immediate presence at a breakfast gathering a mile from home had me dressing quickly and dashing a mile–on human power, of course–to the designated gathering place.  My feet seemed to have become a non-issue.  Grateful!  Grateful!  Grateful!
In my hurry to tell you that the experiment, such as it was, was a success, I flew over the best part: the hikes themselves.  You’ve likely long since tired of my waxing poetic about the forests I’m lucky enough to live close to, but to not mention a few highlights of these lovely days would seem a shame.  Best of all: the WINNERS came on board, especially for the second of the two hikes.  To find seven interested women who were free enough one week before Christmas and willing to scrape the ice from their car windshields to arrive at the agreed-upon meeting spot by 7:30 am to walk at least 10 miles: that in itself is remarkable.

Sue, Liz, Eleanor, Barb, Gayle, Shari, pictured at our “lunch break” adjacent to the Hays Family Cemetery plot on the Grubb Ridge Trail (in the Deam Wilderness)

All smiles (and sun grins)!  We had a lot to smile about.  Like the way the sun gradually did both its warm-up magic as well as its enhancing magic when it made the creek down below us sparkle as it snaked its way through the valley.  Or the way the trail builders had created wonderful switchbacks so that, though the 13-milers among us climbed (and descended, right?) 147 “floors” in all, no ascents were steep enough to demand a catch-our-breath pause at the top.  Or the way there were almost enough strategically-placed stones to keep our feet mostly dry during the multiple creek crossings.  As ever, the patches of pine trees delighted the senses, as did the view from the ridge top of the white-boned sycamores lining a significant portion of the creek.  Conversation flowed.  Advice was given:  “come back in the spring to see the bluebells and the blue-eyed Susans”; “catch this trail when it snows”; “be sure to stretch to avoid muscle aches and cramps.”  Advice was sought, about hiking poles; about socks; about other good places to hike; about life.  The usual.  For all of us: a tremendous sense of gratitude for the blessing of being out in nature, “far from the madding crowd,” for blessings of health and energy which we recognize cannot ever be taken for granted.

You may be thinking: come on, Katy, it can’t ALL have been THAT good.  How about full disclosure?  Okay, so…  I’m thinking, I’m thinking…  There was mud, mud that even with the generous cushion of oak and beech leaves underfoot still oozed up in an attempt to envelope our shoes.  Um….  On the return trek, the sun was sometimes in our eyes making it hard to take in the surrounding beauty.  Let’s see….  I am already hearing-challenged, but to add insult to injury, one of my ears seems to be almost completely blocked with wax these days and so I missed some of the conversation and the bird songs (if, indeed, there were any…).  We didn’t see any soaring eagles or lolloping deer, no woodpeckers…; the wildlife pretty much gave us a wide berth.  And this: one of my little stumbles against a root had me on the ground ever so briefly, but I’m applying the three-second rule: if you are up within three seconds and your hiking mates didn’t even realize something was amiss, then it is not to be considered a fall.

I have a fun app (AllTrails) on which I can record hikes and then share trek statistics and photos.  Kind of fun for those who like that kind of thing.  So what the heck: if you are interested, check out either of the hikes at the links below.  The first is from December 17th (6 miles with Shari; 4 more on my own); the second from the 18th (10 miles with 6 others; the final three with 2 others)

Assuming you don’t feel moved to check out the above links, below is my favorite photo of the “double-footer.”  Yes, I am really standing up straight!  Yes, plenty of room!.  I might easily have spread my lunch out inside and enjoyed a picnic there. With at least one other person!

Come on in! Plenty of room for company!

One set of sort-of-long back-to-back hikes does not tell me that I’m ready to do as many as twenty-four such duos, but each little challenge met is a step in the right direction.  As they say in Spanish:

Poco a poco se va haciendo

(roughly translated as) Step by step one gets things accomplished

And of course we all know how a journey of a thousand miles begins.  Let’s get going!