Five days trapped inside due to Snowzilla. Two snow days off work. One day of jury duty. All of this strange, indoor, boring time left me claustrophobic and tense. So when Tippa messaged me on Wednesday to ask, “When are we hiking again?” My response was, “Now.”
Of course, “now” wasn’t actually possible. It was still the middle of the week, and we had a few more work days standing between us and Saturday. For me, that also meant being a responsible citizen and heading to the DC Courthouse for jury duty. Thankfully, I thought ahead and brought 60 Hikes within 60 Miles: Washington, DC (this is an affiliate link, learn more) with me to stave off the boredom and find inspiration for our next trip.
By the time I moved to DC in August 2010, I was done with winter. It’s funny, the winter of 2009–2010, one that brought Snowmaggedon to the DC metro area, wasn’t even that bad in Massachusetts. But after six years of New England winter, I couldn’t take another nine-month stretch of cold weather.
In retrospect, I grew up in an endless summer. I thought we had seasons in North Florida, but I had a limited reference point for understanding real seasonal changes. I knew moving to Massachusetts for college would give me a winter experience like I literally never had before. But I’m from a family of Floridians, I had no idea what that meant. I was pretty helpless those first few months up north. I had no idea that I didn’t own enough socks. I had no understanding of correct layering techniques. I didn’t even fully grasp that snow was wet.
My first real snowstorm of my first real winter was this one. It started fast and furious on January 22, a very memorable date since it also happened to be my 19th birthday. I remember being nervous and scared as the cloud ceiling dropped so low that I could almost touch it – and then the first snowflakes began to fall. We planned ahead and managed to get Chinese takeout before the snow and one of my more enterprising friends scored giant tubs of ice cream from Usdan’s cafeteria. My friends and I hunkered down together in the Cable 2 lounge and when more than a foot of snow had fallen, we ventured outside for a snowball fight and my first snow angel.
Thirty-six hours after this was taken, I was in urgent care getting diagnosed with a staph infection.
A few months ago, I had an unfortunate and unforeseen accident while hiking. To make matters worse, I also broke one of the cardinal rules of being an outdoors lady: I went on a hike unprepared.
When you choose to hike you also choose to take on the responsibility of being prepared for anything that might happen while you’re out on the trail. Sure, some circumstances might be beyond your control, but there are steps that you can take to mitigate those risks. And I didn’t take any of them.
No one in my group had a first aid kit.
None of us were ready for a worst case scenario.
Sometimes, I wonder what the first settlers of what’s now Gainesville, Florida, thought when they stumbled across Devil’s Millhopper. I imagine they were strolling through the woods, minding their own business when suddenly – bam! The nice, flat land gave way to this gaping maw in the ground stretching 500 feet across and 120 feet deep. It must have been startling. One minute there was serene woods and the next a giant hole leading into the netherworld.
The setting for Devil’s Millhopper is beautiful and lush. There are ferns, pine trees, needle palms, and oaks. There’s the constant sound of birds chirping and the echo of water flowing from the rim to the bottom of the sink. And in the midst of all this peaceful beauty, there’s this feeling that you’ve stepped into something otherworldly.
Over the decade plus that I’ve lived outside of Florida, I’ve learned that most people associate my home state with sunshine and beaches, Disney and golf. Few and far between are people who know anything about the northernmost parts of the state and even fewer who have visited the city I call home.
When I think of Florida, I think of Gainesville. I think of Florida football, the 34th street wall, the Hippodrome, the spring arts festival, Paige Beck, Publix, the music scene, and nature.
So much nature.
In the city, sometimes I feel untouchable. Not always. There are moments, especially with our latest crime wave, when I think, “wow, what if I become an unlucky bystander?” But in general, with the dozens of law enforcement agencies operating in DC, I feel safe.
…and then this week’s horrible events in Beirut and Paris unfolded, and I’m reminded that in any city, even in this beautiful one I call home, we’re vulnerable.
My natural coping mechanism when bad things happen in the world, in addition to being sad and praying for peace, is to obsessively watch and read the news. It’s a pretty terrible way to deal with things and usually results in some quality time hanging out in the fetal position. Whether I was willing to say it out loud or not, I needed to be away from the city, and, thankfully, I already had a hiking trip planned with some of my friends.
This mud was earned.
When the hash was first brought up, my immediate response was, “no, that’s not my scene. I don’t do the drugs,” which I imagine is a pretty normal reaction for hashing initiates.
It was January 10, 2015, I was visiting my friend, Alyssa, in Grenada, and I was about to embark on one of the best hiking adventures of my life. Not just any adventure, but the one that sparked my current obsession with hiking.