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The Melon Report

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It’s 8 am Saturday morning (hour 3 of Xtreme Hike) and I’m slogging up a muddy trail, in sodden socks…with 15 pounds of fruit on my back.

This year’s 27+ mile hike involved a watermelon. I toted it for 7.2 miles. Me & the melon shared Moonstomper trail and Homestead together. We stood atop the rocks at Bear Cliff Overlook — where there was nothing to overlook. Just fog.

But I wasn’t tramping alone with grocery store produce. I partnered with Craig, one of our hikers, and of course, Maisie the Wonder Dog. Martin and 38 other Xtreme participants were scattered along the trails as well.

To back up, my Xtreme Hike 2016 book report begins on Friday morning, with our 4 1/2 hour road trip to the mountains near Blacksburg, Virginia. Along the way, we stopped to grab energy bars and drinks.

And browse the clothing racks.

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Mike Johnson snagged some reading material.

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When the 5 of us (me, Martin, Annie, Mike and Maisie) finally ascended the mountain road to our destination, “Mountain Lake Lodge,” we could barely see the resort through the fog. (Or “clouds,” as Martin kept saying.)

Fog, clouds, whatever. The hotel and its cottages were blotted out by hazy white. But we had the details: Mountain Lake Lodge is an old resort, dating back to the mid-1800s. And it is best known as the filming site for the 1987 movie, Dirty Dancing.

Hence, the watermelon. Movie fanatics should be familiar with the scene: Jennifer Grey (“Baby”) and Patrick Swayze (“Johnny”) meet, and Grey awkwardly explains her presence in the staff quarters by saying, “I carried a watermelon.”

This spurred Dave Lemen, Xtreme Hike participant and committee member, to create a secret fundraising challenge, which he revealed Friday night: an extra $1,000 donation to the team willing to tote a 15-pound watermelon from start to finish.

Folks weren’t exactly clamoring for the honor. Everyone just glanced around the room. I caught the gleam in Mike Johnson’s eyes and we volunteered “Team Brynn” to ferry the fruit… to the relief of others (and the dazed astonishment of those at our table.)

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Fortunately, I was reminded that Craig Connolly was part of our crew. Not only is Craig a veteran of this event, but he’s speedy. Xtreme Hike isn’t a race, but he has finished in front the last three years. (Staff from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation chart each participant’s time through the hike, to keep track and account for everyone involved.)

After dinner on Friday, we readied our packs. And Saturday morning came way too soon. We convened at 4:30 am.

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All of us at oh-dark-thirty

Craig volunteered for Leg 1 of melon transport. And as it happened, Maisie and I kept pace with him for those first 7 1/2 miles. Our headlamps bobbed in the dark and we paused periodically, to snap the light sticks hung the previous day, to guide the way.

In the early morning light, we reached the rest station first. And after a quick snack, we transferred the watermelon into my backpack.

During the first leg, I’d asked Craig about the added weight. He claimed, “It isn’t that bad.” He even said, “Sometimes, I forget it’s there.”

Well, when it was my turn, I did not forget it was there — a solid, 15-pound orb riding my spine. We departed at 7:35 am, and I felt every bulky minute and every weighted incline, until 10:30 am, when we completed the 7.2 miles of Leg 2.

Two sections down, two to go.

I was downright giddy, freeing that fruit from my pack, and I happily left it for the next volunteer (or victim) from our team.

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Ready for the handoff

Melon-free, I was energetic and recharged. Maisie, Craig and I blazed through Leg 3. We didn’t discuss the fact that we were leading. Because Xtreme Hike is not a race. The goal is to finish, not to win. But silently, we were thinking: we’re in the lead.

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The old golf course; a respite from the mountain trails.

We took a longer break before the last section, propping up our feet. I fed Maisie beef jerky. Then we began the most difficult portion, with the steepest, lengthiest climbs. As the front runners, we had cracked the light sticks in the dark, and adjusted ambiguous signs for those in our wake, but on Leg 4, we suffered a setback:

We were sent out in the wrong direction.

The rest stop staff and volunteers realized the error when the next set of hikers arrived, and questioned the route. They were sent the correct way, while we were radioed to turn around and start over. Stunned, Craig and I retraced our steps as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, our detour tacked on 2.5 additional miles and wasted time. At the rest stop — our start-over-again point, we learned that the two hikers who had trailed right behind us all day, had a 30-minute lead.

We had 6.5 miles to make up the difference.

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And that’s when we abandoned our fake, blase attitude about when and how we finished. Though exhausted and sore, we speed-walked at a ludicrous pace, half jogging/half stumbling when we hit rocks and roots. We barely talked — we were too winded — and around each turn we peered ahead for the leaders. When we didn’t see them, we wondered how long we’d sustain our crazy pace.

The hikers ahead of us — nice people, who’d maintained a consistent pace all day — would’ve finished first, had they not been pursued by demented, excessively-competitive maniacs.

At some point along the mountain trail, we caught up with them. They kindly yielded to us on the narrow path… though they had little choice with Maisie trotting behind them, panting heavily and practically nipping their heels.

So, extra miles aside, Maisie, Craig and I were first to hear the cow bell and whooping and clapping at the finish line. That was at 4:23 pm. Afterwards, we shed our socks and shoes, sat down, and cheered the other hikers as they celebrated their final steps. Included, were our teammates who’d heaved the watermelon over those grueling miles to the bitter end.

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Our melon carrying crew

My thanks to every hiker who hoofed so many miles this past weekend, despite aches, pains and blisters; and also thanks to the volunteers who kept everyone fed, hydrated and motivated.

Finally, my deepest gratitude to the supporters who contributed to Xtreme Hike and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. You’ve taken a step, as did we, in helping Brynn and others with CF.

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Cramming for my Hiking Exam

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I’m not lost, I just don’t know where I am, I think as I study my map, which is tattered from sweat and refolding.

The problem is blue and white.

Why are so many stretches of Sugarloaf Mountain trails blazed blue or white? There are way too many trees painted blue.

The other problem is that I’m stuffing 3 months of training into 2 weeks. I’m cramming for an exam — a 26.9-mile hike — by hitting the gym, and bolting up and down Sugarloaf Mountain.

This is not an optimum conditioning plan. But it’s all I’ve got.

I hike at day’s end when the sun is setting. I speed-walk up and down the mountain, propelled by fear, since the trails are virtually impossible to navigate in the dark. (Ear buds and music blot out my irksome panting and gasping.)

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Well-timed hikes yield this view

Under normal hiking situations, Maisie acts as personal trainer, circling and barking. But on these evening marches, she just trots ahead. I imagine her thinking, It’s dark, let’s get the hell out of here.

I’ve gotten lost on the mountain. The great thing is that other people get lost, too. And they ask me for directions.

Getting lost has advantages. It guarantees extra mileage. And last Sunday afternoon, the fact that I spent hours pondering my possible location, distracted me from my swollen, itchy foot.

Sidebar here: European hornets are the largest vespine [that’s “wasp”] in North America. They are attracted to light at night — porch lights, for example…. or indoor lights… accessible through a broken screen door.

Sidebar to that sidebar: European hornets camouflage quite well against an Oriental rug. And the pain from a sting –hypothetically speaking — lasts for hours; the swelling…about three days.

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But enough about that.

Last Sunday I eventually found my way off Sugarloaf.

I hope the same for all those people who asked me, “Is this the right way to the parking lot?”

My frantic, torturous mountain marches are winding down as exam day nears: Xtreme Hike, our annual fundraiser for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, is Saturday. I’ve blogged about this before, like last year. And I’ve accosted many of you, via email or in-person, to donate. My deepest thanks for every contribution. You will get your money’s worth: I’ll tackle 26.9 miles in a day, and these funds help Brynn and others with CF.

If you’ve been spared my pitch and you’d like to contribute to this GREAT cause, it’s not to late to donate. Feel free to check out my page for Brynn.

That’s it, I’m hitting the “publish” button. I’m late for my Sugarloaf sunset dash.

The Scoop

It’s been a month since my last confession… or my last post.

I don’t know the proper penance for blog neglect, so I’ll just say “sorry” and move along.

Here’s a book report on my absence.

I tackled the Vineyard in a prior post, but this is my photo book report. I’m kick-starting it with a sunrise shot from the island.

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photo by Mike Johnson

 

Things are pretty loosey-goosey during beach week. We sneak the dog along; everyone eats junk food; the grown-ups booze it up; the kids stretch their artistic wings.

And any canvas is fair game.

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Sadly, all vacations must come to an end.

Back home and a week later, a stranger deposited a car on the farm. Unfortunately, the delivery method obliterated two sizable sections of our pasture fence. Wood shards, mangled wire, and vehicle shrapnel laid in the car’s wake.

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Said vehicle did not fare well, either.

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The driver was not present when Martin discovered the car “parked” in our pasture. Thankfully, the horses were not in that field that night. The sheep were, but they avoided impact and didn’t have the sense to capitalize on their nocturnal freedom.

The police documented the scene and the tow-truck driver removed the car and gathered most of the mangled, scattered car parts.

Let’s see…what else happened?

Well, I tried to make sense of our cluttered kitchen. It wasn’t as disastrous as the vehicular damage above. But the outcome was lackluster.

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Foxhunting kicked off a little early this season. (The first weeks are focused on legging up horses and hounds). Brynn and Hadley made it out a few times — of course, with me in tow.

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I rode Jazz in a horse show at the Maryland State Fair at the Timonium fairgrounds. Jazzy was surprisingly tolerant of the carnival rides and the fair’s freakshow environment.

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Tempting and allegedly famous, but no pork sundae for me.

 

Amidst all these events — right when the kids went back to school — my mom decided to downsize her living arrangements. And when she makes a decision, she’s off to the races. In an instant, I was catapulted into 4 days of sorting through 150 years of family records, photos, documents and momentos from my father’s side of the family — in preparation to show the house and move on. (No time to shop for school supplies; the kids went to class with pencils in sandwich baggies and IOU notes for supplies later.)

Much of what I’ve earthed is boxed and stored. I’ve had scant time to review anything but here’s a sampling. This photo dates back to 1877 and the faint scrawl on the back is in Hungarian.

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Other photos are well marked, like this one of my father and grandparents after the war. Their years of DP camp living were history; in 1951 they were happily living outside Philadelphia.

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There’s lots to peruse, catalogue and label, when time allows.

Back to daily farm life.

Frog the cat disappeared in late-July. Although I hoped she’d found better digs, after a five-week absence, I feared the worst. But then she reappeared — dirty and scrawny but alive. I rehabbed her in Martin’s office. (“Why is Frog living in my office?” he asked as I set up a litter box. “Because she’s filthy and might have fleas or something else,” I said. “I’m not putting her in the house, for Pete’s sake!”)

Fortunately for Martin, Frog recovered quickly. Now we feed her far from the barn bullies.

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There’s more I could add to my book report. For example, Rocky, our beloved pony, had eye surgery last week. But it’s late and that story can wait.

And I’m not closing with a picture of a cancerous tumor bobbing in formaldehyde.

I began with sunrise and I’ll close with sunset. We have some fabulous ones here. My photos sell them short, but this one will have to do.

 

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Sorry, one closing journalistic sidebar: I planned to call this post “The Down-Low.” (Later, I realized that I confused “down-low” with “low-down.” But you get the idea… I wanted to give readers “the scoop” or “what’s new.”)

Anyway, I checked “down-low” to confirm that it’s hyphenated, and I spied the definition: down-low: pertaining to men who secretly have sex with other men. “What?” I thought. “WTF?”

So I looked up contemporary definitions and the results weren’t much better: a discreet activity or relationship, or men who identify as heterosexual but secretly have sex with men, particularly African American men who want to avoid the stigma in their community.

Wow, well there you go. You learn something new everyday!

Now that I’ve got the low-down on the down-low, I’ll just dish dirt, share the latest, or tell it like it is.