Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Night in the Gas Chamber





After Mel and I pitched our tent, we decided to sit down in the sun and celebrate.  The previous night we were going through all the gear and trying to keep our packs down to a reasonable weight; it can be tricky deciding what is really  necessary and what isn't.  I had to laugh a little when Rick told Melissa not to pack the Top Ramen because it was too bulky, so she just smashed it up and packed it anyway. (that's what I call inventive problem solving)  After our packs were done, I sheepishly asked Mel if she thought it would be worth it to pack a flask full of a little 'somethin'-somethin' to toast our accomplishment the night of our hike.  I thought she might think I was a lush, but instead she informed me it was already packed. (guess we were on the same page with that one!) 
I really debated about writing about that part or showing the video, because I know there are those who believe you can't be serious about loving God if you also drink alcohol.  I understand that viewpoint, because I once held it myself.  But the longer I walk with God, the more He's convincing me of something I think the apostle Paul was also convinced of...it's not about 'the rules'.  This is what I'm talking about:
 
Let love be your only debt! If you love others, you have done all that the Law demands. In the Law there are many commands, such as, "Be faithful in marriage. Do not murder. Do not steal. Do not want what belongs to others." But all of these are summed up in the command that says, "Love others as much as you love yourself." No one who loves others will harm them. So love is all that the Law demands. (Romans 13:8-10)

I understand I need to be careful with alcohol because it has the potential to do much harm, nobody would deny that.  But whether I drink it or don't drink it does not define my heart towards God or others, that's how I see it anyway.  I'm learning to not worry so much if others see it differently or if they judge me, because ultimately it is God who is my judge, and only He really knows my heart and is able to change it and make it loving.  I sure am thankful for that.  So, after the sun went down and the Jack Daniels was gone, it was time to explore the area as much as possible before it got dark. Unfortunately, when we got up from our little rest we found our butts to be quite wet. 

Ugh--and it was getting cold fast!  We had packed some extra clothes, so we switched our pants and put on anything extra we had.  I must admit, I was not looking my cutest. I think Mel referred to this as my "clown outfit"--and it makes me wonder if  "What Not to Wear" would consider doing a hiker special.
 
After we made dinner we headed to what I will refer to now as the gas chamber. Poor Melissa, I don't know what was in that dehydrated teriyaki dinner, but I really don't think it was compatible with the human digestive system.  (not mine at least)  Normally I try my best to encourage Mel to quit smoking, but that night I was begging her to light up "just one more", because even though I'm not the biggest fan of cigarette smell, anything was better that the toxic concoction that was spewing out of me.  Somehow we survived the night, but I'll have to write about that next time.  I promise to wrap it up then.
(PS...sorry, no video...I couldn't manage to retrieve them from our broken down computer. Maybe that's a blessing ;)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Chain Lakes Part 2



I’m sure most people reading this did not grow up with digital cameras.  (you’re all stinkin’ old like me!  Have you ever had your kids ask you if TV’s were around when you were young?  Or even better—cars?  I really think my youngest thinks I got around in a covered wagon or something, because afterall…I didn’t even had a cell phone! )  So I’m sure you remember how we used to take pictures discriminately, because we only had 24 or possibly 36 frames, and then we were out of film.  What a difference digital combined with gigabytes of storage has made.  As Mel and I hiked Ptarmigan Ridge, we probably stopped every five minutes to take a picture.  “Oh, look how pretty this flower is…take my picture with it.  Take a picture of me on this rock—now with muscles…”
 
not exactly what you would call an aerobic workout.  Needless to say, Mel starts to feel like we are not working hard enough and proclaims, “Ok, it’s time to get serious” (what is not serious about a photo shoot?  Does she not watch Top Model?) and quickens her pace…which immediately makes her foot slip so she falls smack on her “asking for it”.  Debbie, if your reading this, I’m sure you can guess what a compassionate response this elicited from me.  (for those of you who know Debbie Snow, ask her about our letterboxing experience) 


But in my defense, you have to understand I’ve watched every episode of America’s Funniest Home Video’s for the last 20 years…how can I help but be programmed to laugh at someone’s pain?  Falling, getting smacked in the head, getting something stuck in your eye—this all translates to ‘hysterical’ in my messed up brain.  But I’m grateful my friends all have a sense of humor, and usually don’t get too angry with me for laughing at their misfortune.  (my kids on the other hand…well, I’m saving up for their therapy) 


Thankfully Mel wasn’t really hurt or upset, and we eventually made it back to our packs and headed to find a place to pitch our tent.  The Chain Lakes…how to describe them?  Breathtaking—literally, Mel gasped when she came over a ridge and saw Iceberg Lake; I seriously thought she had twisted her ankle.
(I was 20 feet behind her, like usual)  It felt like we were in some wonderland where fairies would come out to play at any moment.    Mel was a little like Snow White; she actually had birds eating out of her hand at one point. 

Then we came to another fork in the road—and even though it had a sign saying “campsites this way, chain lakes trail that way”, my extreme navigational powers were able to transpose them.   So essentially we were headed in the opposite direction we wanted to go.  After about 20 minutes (straight up of course) Mel says,  “umm…this doesn’t seem right, does it?”  Baffled, we decided to go back to the sign.


Once I figured out how stupid I was to not even read a sign correctly, I figured it was time to sit down and have a compass reading lesson.  I pulled out our official “Green Trails Map” and three pages of instructions I printed out on how to use a compass with it…and then pretended it all made perfect sense—no worries, now we know what to do if we get lost.
(I’m a pretty good actor, huh Melissa? :)
 Now that we were going in the right direction, we finally make our way to the most remote campsite available.  (passing up two inferior sites…we had a feeling the last one would be the best, and we were right)  But it looks like I’m going to have to stretch this yet again to a whole nother post…amazing how much blabbering I can do about a single 24-hour period; imagine what 50 days is going to produce! 
video

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chain Lakes Loop Part 1



When Mel and I arrived at Artist Point, my stomach was in knots.  I’m not really used to doing things on my own—I was married at 18, so I’ve never really known anything about self-reliance.  But here I was…not exactly the lone ranger, but not with someone I expected to take care of things either. I don’t think Mel would be insulted by me saying that…clearly, neither of us knew what the heck we were doing; but that was kind of the beauty of it.  There was such a wonderful feeling of mutual uncertainty / excitement / misgiving…but a desire to prove ourselves as well.  Not one leading the other, but both of us wanting this experience as equals; that’s what I appreciated the most.  But when we stepped out of that car and it was frickin’ freezing, I was really wondering if we had made a serious mistake.  We looked at each other with the same thought on our faces—“This is a lot colder than I expected”.  We put on every extra item of clothing that was in the car. (thank you Jamie for forgetting your coat the week prior)

I was trying so hard to be ‘prepared’… I thought it would be a good idea to hide an extra key with the car—just in case.  As we set it on the front bumper, it fell down into who knows where—oblivion apparently, because we never found it.  (So typical…and not exactly something to instill confidence)  But we headed out with much apprehension anyway. 

We discussed gear for a while…her gear that is, because everything I was using belonged to her family.  To my benefit, her husband had not learned hiking lesson #2, which is:  go ahead and buy the more expensive piece of equipment you really want, because you will only be ending up buying it later anyway.  This will be a lesson I’ll be sure to fail, because I’m as cheap as they come. (as everyone who knows me will attest)  But thankfully Rick (Mel’s husband) is slow to learn it as well…and that means they have a lot of extra equipment to loan out.  (thank you Rick!)


Eventually me and Mel got to the fork in the road where we were going to hide our packs and do part of another trail (Ptarmigan Ridge, for anyone who cares) when we bumped into another pair of hikers who were speaking, of all things, Dutch.  Being a proud person of Scandinavian decent, Mel seized the opportunity to strike up a conversation. (in English, thankfully) We asked questions, they asked questions, and ultimately we ended up getting a couple of great pieces of advice; one of them being to cheat on the last 2 miles of our hike and hitch a ride back to our car.  I love him for planting that seed in Mel’s head…because her ‘you have to do it the hardest way’ brain would have never accepted this idea otherwise; and we never would have make it home in time to pick up the kids from school if we hadn’t. 

This little interaction with the Dutch couple is what I call ‘the community of hikers’, and it’s what I most look forward to when/if I do the Appalachian Trail.  When I read people’s stories (here is a great journaling website of people who are hiking: http://www.trailjournals.com/journals.cfm …the “Canadian Geese” are thus far my favorite; what an adorable couple) this is what they say they love most about their experience—meeting people.  What a beautiful thing.  I’ll finish up our hike next blog…I’m going to drag this thing out like nobody’s business.  (I have all winter with nothing else to talk about, remember?)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Wild Banshee Round Up


This is not a blog about hiking, so it doesn’t really count. (I know I promised to write about my over night hike…like anyone cares…but I am seriously lacking inspiration)  I was visiting my friend Gail yesterday and sharing some thoughts and she asked me to post them, so I figured why not. 


I was sharing with her about my “break through”—for as long as I can remember I was trying to control my emotions, believing my thoughts would then change, only to recently discover that I had to control my thoughts first in order to gain control over my emotions.  I was feeling so confident and victorious when I shared that with Gail, but not so much anymore.  It’s not that I don’t think the Holy Spirit is teaching me and guiding me in changing and gaining advantage over my wretched thought life…but I don’t think I can count on my emotions to be so easily tamed.  Not that controlling my thoughts is easy…it’s harder than I ever imagined!  I’ve never paid that much attention to them—they just run around my head like wild banshees, and I always figured they weren’t doing anyone any real harm. 


Now that I’m noticing the things I think (egad, they can be dreadful)
I’m realizing how hard it is to ‘take captive’ these messed up thoughts and get them under control.  I’m giving these thoughts constantly to God and asking Him to change them, and I am seeing some real change and it’s getting a little easier. (I told Gail I would picture a wild horse, and then Jesus would be riding it and calming it down and getting it under control…maybe that’s a little weird but it does really comfort me)  Only problem…even so, my emotions have taken a total nose-dive.  I really thought if I could gain victory over my thoughts, I would have victory over my emotions as well.  I’m quite discouraged…and trying so hard to ignore the emotions and still keep my thoughts in check.  But when my emotions are bad, my thoughts are even worse and even harder to quiet down.  But I have to keep having faith that God is capable of changing me, and I have to be patient and continue to trust.  So here is my list I use to assist me in my prayers when my mind is being so unruly…it’s five ‘surrenders’ and five ‘helps’.  (I do them on both my hands…it just helps me remember them)
 
1)      I surrender my mind and will to you, and trust you are able to subdue them.
2)      I surrender my need for approval and praise from others, and trust that only you deserve praise.
3)      I surrender my desire to change others, and trust in your power to change them.
4)      I surrender my despair over my powerlessness to change myself, and trust in your power to save me.
5)      I surrender my thoughts of judgment towards others, and trust in your judgments.
6)      Help me accept your grace and see value in myself.
7)      Help me give the same grace to others, and see them as valuable.
8)      Help me think on things that are lovely.
9)      Help me accept suffering and not grumble.
10)  Help me believe you can do all things.

There are so many more I could add if I only had more fingers!  I hope anyone reading this is helped by it…I hope my daughter reads it and makes her own. (“Help me not worry about money and trust you can take care of me”…actually that’s one I really should add myself!)  And Gail, if your reading…thank you for being such an encouragement and listening to me ramble. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Not Just Whistling Dixie


So, I’ve decided to write a little about Phyllis and our one hike together.  Phyllis is one of those people who continually shocks me with her life stories, mostly because I’m so apt to categorize her in my ‘mom box’.  (in other words, I think she’s spent her life changing diapers and cleaning toilets like me, with no great stories to tell except those that involve poop)  And she always just nonchalantly throws these bits of information about herself out there like it’s nothing much to talk about… “oh yeah, I backpacked through Australia”, or “well, when I was nine months pregnant I caught a 265 pound halibut”…that type of thing. So of course I was excited to go on a hike with her in hopes of hearing one of these offhand stories come leaking out. 


We chose Anderson Lake trail, a five-mile hike up in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest.  This was back in 2008, when I was even more clueless about hiking than I am now, but I did at least have a description of this trial.  What I didn’t realize is that a description is not super helpful if snow is covering everything.  (who would of thought there would be snow in the middle of July?  Ummm…apparently smart hikers who know to check trail updates do, but I was quite surprised) Fortunately Phyllis was cool as a cucumber and comfortable just sort of ‘feeling it out’, which we did and eventually found our way ok.


Our only point of real panic was when we heard what sounded exactly like someone blowing a whistle, which was the oddest thing to be hearing out there in the middle of nowhere.  We couldn’t figure out why anyone would be blowing a whistle, unless they were trying to call for help.  We were searching for the source of the sound, (the thought of coming across some bear maimed body was really staring to make my stomach turn), when the whistling culprit finally came into view.  I knew what a marmot was because we came across them often when we used to camp at Lake Chelan (I’ll confess I thought it was a beaver when I first saw one—until I noticed it had no tail) but I had never heard one whistle!  So now I know there is such a thing as a ‘whistling marmot’, and if you like a little trivia it’s rumored that is how the town of Whistler in B.C. got it’s name. 


But anyway, back to our hike.  After this little scare of having to possibly rescue someone, one of Phyllis’ “Are you serious?” stories started spilling out.  She told me of a friend of hers who was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and decided to take a little ‘short cut’ that was off the main trail.  This person starting seeing scattered hiking equipment (a sure sign someone had taken a spill) when they stumbled upon this person.  Except this person was now just bones.  Yes—bones!  That’s where I say, “Are you serious?” and yes, Phyllis was not just trying to spook me with some forest ghost story.  She told me of how the fallen hiker had wrote a ‘last will and testament’ explaining how he had broken his leg so badly he couldn’t move, and because he was off trail nobody had come across him to send for help.  The note went on to add if the person who eventually came across his remains would please contact his family so they could know what had happened to him and give him a proper burial—which of course is what Phyllis’ friend did. 


Now I ask you, what kind of crazy fool, after hearing that tale, then becomes interested in a multi-week hike alone in the wilderness?  Realizing this is quite possibly the time when the seed was planted in my brain makes me wonder—do I have some sort of weird death wish?  I have to conclude that on some deep level I very well may, especially when I recall an exchange with my friend Hilary when we were talking about my Appalachian plan.  She asked me, “Aren’t you afraid of being eaten by a bear?” to which I replied, “It beats getting cancer and suffering for months, possibly years, and then dying. How long can it take to get eaten by a bear?”  So, these are the ghastly thoughts I was so eager to share…next posting will be on a lighter note, as I finally describe my overnight hike—with tales of fart filled tents and illegal fires.
  

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Congratulations...You've Conceived!


I know I keep talking about this “one night” backpacking trip like it’s such a big deal, but let me try to explain why.  It’s easy for me to talk big about doing these 50 days of hiking, only because I have 7 or 8 years before it actually becomes a reality. (if it ever does, I don’t want to sound too presumptuous.  I’ll explain why I’m not sure about the 7 or 8 years later)


In your first month of pregnancy your not too nervous about that delivery room, because it’s still so far off it does not even seem real.  Except, (in staying with this analogy) before this one night hike I was only considering having a baby.  Thinking about getting pregnant is a lot different than actually getting pregnant, right? (or as Mel would say, “eh?” —she actually thinks that sounds cooler…Canadians.)  So, to me, this “first time” over nighter was like getting pregnant. (sorry if that’s taking the analogy too far…but Mel was very gentle ;)  I really didn’t know if I would come away from the experience and never want to backpack again. (I do have some back issues, and seriously wondered if a heavy backpack would cause a bad flare up)  But finishing that two-day hike, even as tame as it was, (not nearly extreme enough for Mel) gave me permission to really believe “I can do this!”


So my eight years of pregnancy has begun!  My plan now is to increase my backpacking trips by one extra day per year, so that by the time I’m fifty I'll have at least a week on the trail under my belt.  Which brings me to explain my quandary over 7 or 8 years before I leave for the East Coast.  If I’m true to my ‘theme’ and do the 50 days in my 50th year, that means I should do the trip when I’m 49—because technically that is my 50th year of life. (think about it, when you turn one you have already lived a full year)  I like that idea, only because it means I get to do my trip sooner, and I’ll have one less year of wear and tear on this already starting to fall apart body.  (whoever said “40 is the new 30” has a personal trainer and a nutritionist…I don’t know how people used to feel when they were 40, but if it’s anything like me, I’m guessing they were also good friends with the ibuprofen bottle) 


But not waiting until my 50th birthday also feels a lot like jumping the gun and cheating.  Anyone reading this can go ahead and tell me their thoughts. (hitting the microphone… “is anybody out there”…the sound of crickets in background) So, next time I will actually write about my trumped up first overnight hike…(I know I’m dragging this out, but I’ll have the whole winter with nothing to talk about)…or maybe not.  I have some thoughts about my hike with Phyllis several years ago that I may need to express.  Stay tuned! (all my 0 followers!)

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Are you a Golden Retriever or a Poodle?

I usually like to look up some information about a hike on the web before I do it, but luckily I just said "sure" when Mel called and asked if I wanted to do the Oyster Dome Trail.  (because if I would have read the following quote beforehand, I would have said no) So here is the review I read afterward, and I must say I agree with it:


"It climbs and climbs AND climbs for 1.8 miles to the first tee in the road and then it climbs some more...This trail is rated as "moderately difficult"...not for the faint-hearted, for sure. However, having finally successfully traversed this route, we felt it was more difficult than moderate!"


Only about 15 minutes into this hike and I am DYING, and feeling like a real loser--especially when Mel informs me she had a 28 pound pack on last time she did it. I'm slugging along thinking, "I sure hope it's not this steep all the way up" when two hikers came down jogging along merrily. Now, anyone who knows Mel knows she's as competitive as a pit bull on crack, so when she sees people jogging this trail all she can think is "Me too! I can jog it too...maybe even backwards!" (which ironically my husband told me he did when he hiked down this trail years ago...not because he's a show off hiker of course, but because he's a far superior rock climber...who has no option but to hike up pitiful mountain trails so as to then be able to climb up sheer rock faces; and jogging backwards is simply the fastest way down. Yeah, Mel has nothin' on Ken when it comes to one-upping) 


So, Mel excitedly turns around and shouts (because as usual, I'm about 20 feet behind her) "Hey, we should run!"  Ummm...does she not hear me sucking air like Darth Vader down here? I'm about 2 seconds from starting to crawl up this thing, and she's thinking about running? But I know that's just Mel--there's always a way to do something better, harder, faster or more extreme. It's what I love and what I hate about her. (I love her enthusiasm and passion...I hate trying to keep up!) So I brought up the subject (when I had enough breath to speak) and confessed my insecurities over what I sometimes judge in myself as "laziness".  I shared how at one of those low times when I was wondering what was wrong with me, and why I wasn't more driven, when God brought something to my attention. I was watching two dogs on the beach with their owner--a poodle and a golden retriever. The retriever was a boundless wiggling mass of energy..."please throw the stick, I just want to get the stick...please, just throw it one more time..." and over and over that dog jumped and swam and delighted in chasing that stick. The poodle on the other hand gladly sat on the master's lap with utter contentment just to be loved for keeping her company. God gently whispered to me, "Do you think that master loves both her dogs just the way they are, even if they are so different...and maybe even especially because they are different?" 


So, I'm learning to except God's love for me and not be so hard on myself all the time, and I know that Mel and I can make a good "pack", even if we are not the same. But let me tell you, we could sure use a blood hound to join us, cause wouldn't you know we managed to get lost again? But no biggie...that's why you hike with a cell phone. And the meandering around the mountain was well worth this beautiful view from the top. (as well as my theme picture--it really was magical hiking through that foggy forest and then coming to the clearing at the top) Next I'll write about our first over night trip...where even our best attempts at getting ourselves lost where thwarted by...A MAP!  (ta da! I finally learn my lesson!)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Torture Trail

My husband scoffed a little when I told him of my inspired 50 themed hiking dream...but not without reason.  When we went to Disney world a few years back I would have to take my cell phone with me when I left the condo--even to just get something out the car--because chances where I would get turned around and be eventually knocking at a stranger's door.  (those condos are like mazes, and they all look the same...you have to give me that)  Another time we took a trip to Vancouver and I got insomnia and snuck out of the hotel to find sleeping pills...hours later I came thundering into our room sobbing hysterically because again, I got completely turned around and ended up wandering the streets thinking I'd never find my way back.  So how can I blame my husband for thinking that trying to find my way through the wilderness for 50 days has got to be the craziest idea ever?  (I told you I was advanced at crazy) 


So now I will write about my first hiking experience with Melissa...one that proves my husband's fears are all well founded.  I don't remember the name of this trail, only what my daughter now refers to it as..."the torture trail".  First of all, I didn't have a map or even instructions about the hike, (hiking lesson #1...just because a web site says "easy loop", that does not mean there are not endless connecting trails that anyone can easily get off course on.  ALWAYS bring a map or directions of some kind.  When you read about me and Mel's next hike, you'll see I did not learn lesson #1...ugh)  so as you can imagine we got completely lost in a stinging nettle and mosquito infested hell.  (and when I say "we", I mean me and Mel and five young children...double ugh)  The three youngest kids were FREAKING OUT...I mean, every time they would get stung by a stinging nettle they would cry out as if being shot...and I'll confess, I was getting seriously concerned.  (not that we'd get out--I knew we could turn around and find our way back.  But I did think I might actually kill my drama queen daughter if I had to listen to another second of her amped up cries and pleas for deliverance) 


It was at this time of utter despair when Melissa called out a SOS to God, "Please help us get the heck out of here!" (seconded by a very pathetic yelp from my daughter, "PLEASE GOD!")  I'll say this right here, I absolutely believe in prayer.  Not in some magical "God will do what I want if I just ask right"  type of thing, but a real "God is always watching and God will do what is best in every situation but enjoys when we ask and involve Him so He can be real in our lives" kind of thing.  And you know, that's just what He did.  I knew we didn't deserve to be rescued out of there, and come to think of it, maybe I would have learned lesson #1 better had we suffered back the way we came...but being that my daughter's life was in danger by my own hand, I'm so glad God had mercy!  To me it was an absolute miracle we suddenly stumbled upon a neighborhood (it really felt like there was no civilization for miles!) and a kind man who had a big enough rig to haul us all back to our minivan and safety. 


I knew God was smiling, and I was smiling too.  We were all smiling!  No more mosquitoes and stinging nettles for us--just ice cream at a local store and some fun pictures at Deception Pass Bridge.  (I'll try to post those later)  God is good!  But that doesn't mean we are done getting lost...Oyster Dome Trial is next, and it doesn't help my husband's faith in my directional abilities one bit.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Explaining My 'Theme'

I suppose I should start out by saying something about why I'm even wanting to do this hike; especially since I'm not even really a hiker.  (doing a few 3 to 5 mile hikes a couple times a year does not a hiker make--I realize this)  Living in Washington state, I heard about 'The Pacific Crest Trail' and wanted to learn more about it.  In that process, I came to learn there are three 'through the country' trails, and as I read more about the east coast's Appalachian trail, I was utterly intrigued.  When I read the story of the "ked's lady", a light went on..."bing"... and all I wanted was to be a crazy old lady like that! (here's the link if you want to read about her:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandma_Gatewood but basically she hiked the thing at age 67 wearing just keds sneakers...here's a quote, ""Make a rain cape, and an over the shoulder sling bag, and buy a sturdy pair of Keds tennis shoes. Stop at local groceries and pick up Vienna sausages, most everything else to eat you can find beside the trail.")  I figure I'm already pretty far along in the crazy department, and the old part is coming along nicely too...so this seemed like a very doable feat.  All I needed to work out was the hiking; something I love, but really don't know much about.


Now, I'd love to call myself a dreamer, but my realism gets in the way. (some people call it 'pesimism'...how negative is that?)  I'd love to think I could do the entire 2,168 mile trail (what they call a 'thru-hiker'...oh, the glory of it!) but really?  My dreaming just does not stretch that far...I could stretch my realism brain to imagine maybe 3 months on the trail, (the thru-hike taking an average hiker 6) but then another "bing" moment alighted my mind--"50 days when I'm 50"--I mean, how cool is that?  And then I did the math, and lo and behold, 500 miles should fit easily into 50 days.   And as I looked at the map, I could see that 5 states were within the 500 miles, and it all seemed like destiny. 


Now all I needed to do was haul a 30 pound pack and spend the night out in the wilderness and see if I survive and if I ever want to do it again.  Oh yeah--and find someone who will let me use all the equipment I need since I don't even own a backpack.  I hope that doesn't sound like a sought Melissa out just to use her stuff, because that's not how it happened...I met Mel before I even came up with this cockamamie idea.  But God works in mysterious ways, and beautiful Melissa has turned out to be my ticket to the glorious outdoors--and a great friendship to boot.  I'll post about our first hike (not the over-nighter...yet) tomorrow.