Meeting people from the internet... they weren't axe murderers

  ...or at least as far as I'm aware.

This weekend I had the fortune to try something completely different! A friend I used to work with has a food/life/everything in between blog called Real Fit Mama: Diary of a Wanna-Be Health Nut (which you should check out, by the way).  She had really wanted to attend the healthy-living blog convention, but was unable to, so she set up one of her own! While I wasn't sure my blog at first applied (I figured I needed to be a food blog  or a marathon runner), Maria convinced me that indeed, my blog IS about healthy living! While I don't hike for health reasons (I walk at my own pace, whether it be fast or slow that day, and take far too many pictures, scenic breaks), it is one of the primary reasons I think my health took a turn for the better over the last couple years. Hiking and eating better helped me lose nearly 40 pounds over the last four years. Not only do I have more energy, I am more independent than I've ever been and have more self-confidence.

   We met on Sunday at Pi Pizzeria in the University City Loop area. Quite a few people had said they were going, but in the end it was just three: Maria, myself, and Hannah, from the blog HannahViolin (which is amazing, by the way). I admit at first I was a little nervous, as I figured I should have done some research and found out who was going and checked out their blogs first, it wasn't awkward at all. I hadn't had much of a chance to hang out with Maria in ages, and meeting Hannah was brilliant.

We ate plenty of pizza (deep dish Berkeley) and I had a small caprese salad, both of which were amazing (I also drank lots of diet coke; soda is a weakness of mine I have not been able to give up).  We talked about our lives, our blogs, and everything in between! It was a really nice experience, one I'd be glad to repeat.

Pere Marquette State Park - camping & hiking

  This weekend I finally took my first step towards doing something more than hiking. A friend (who is much more experienced in camping and backpacking than I am) and I drove into Illinois to Pere Marquette State Park. Our plan was to camp overnight on Friday and then pack up and do a day of hiking. A few experiences in car camping should give me an introduction before I start trying to backpack. I haven't done any camping except for one night camping for a float trip, and girl scout camp when I was a child (though I slept in A-frames for that).

We arrived later than planned, so after driving to the campsite (which was busy but not overcrowded) we had to use my car lights and headlamps to set up camp. Having only set up the tent (which I borrowed from my father) once, in a living room, this was a challenge, but I got it done. Then we built a fire in the fire pit, which was difficult with the wind but we got a pretty good sized fire going, and made s'mores. Don't judge, I hadn't had them since I was a kid! They were delicious! After the fire was out and dead, I got in some AMAZING star gazing. It was more stars than I've seen in a long time, and it was mesmerizing. I could have stayed out there all night, it was so clear and the stars were so bright. But instead I laid out my father's Therm-a-rest prolite 3 and sleeping bag  (I had to borrow an outdoors sleeping bag from the friend I was with) wearing plenty of layers and a hat and fell asleep.

Aside from an absolutely terrible sinus headache that woke me up and kept me awake for about 2 hours that night (thank goodness for the first aid kit with plenty of painkillers stashed inside!), I was warm and cozy despite a drop to about 47 degrees and wind. In the morning, my friend and I built a small fire so we could have coffee and tea, packed up camp, and went to explore the trails.  Camping was amazing. The stars, the feeling of being in my own tent listening to the sounds of the woods as I fall asleep (while there was some noise from the other campsites and nearby RV campsite, the noise died down at a fairly reasonable hour), I just loved it.

I don't know why I hadn't tried out the trails at Pere Marquette before. They are well marked (the visitor's center has a very helpful map as well) and very well varied as well. We decided to connect a couple different trails to make one of the longest loops we could. We started at the Goat Cliff trail (1.5 miles) which leads mostly up to McAdams Peak, which gave us a beautiful overlook of the River. We then took the Hickory trail (we did a bit less than the full .5 mile it runs) to Hickory North tail (we did a bit less than the full 1 mile it runs), to the longest trail in the park, Fern Hollow (2.5) miles, then back to Hickory South trail (1.5 miles), for probably a total of around 6.5 miles. Parts of the trails were very uphill and more difficult, others were more level. We saw bluffs, rocky areas, wooded secluded areas, with some trails fairly well traveled and other (mostly Fern Hollow) much more secluded. My friend is an avid birder, and she was loving all the birds there were to hear and see. It was a gorgeous hike that we took our time on, stopping for lunch and pictures and snacks.

This was a fantastic first camping experience for me, and I loved the trail system at Pere Marquette. I definitely would do the drive to visit again.

Classes and updates...

I attended a backpacking basics talk at my local REI, as well as attended a book tour of a woman who walked 1,000 miles around Lake Michigan, also at REI.  The backpacking class gave me a lot of really good information for an amateur starting out, and I even learned how to tie a new knot and about the Pacific Crest Trail bear bag hanging technique. I am also excited because being short finally comes in handy... I can get a sleeping bag for much cheaper because I can fit into a child's size, and it is more appropriate for me to use one anyway because of the issue of too much room at the bottom of the bag during colder weather.

Tonight I go to Pere Marquette State Park just over the river in Illinois for my first car camping experience! It will drop slightly below 50 degrees tonight, so I hope the gear I am borrowing from my friend help me with that! I'll let everyone know how all these went soon.

Lone Elk State Park revisted

  I revisited Lone Elk State Park this weekend with a friend, Molly, who moved back to St. Louis after finishing up her graduate work in Virginia (the friend I visited Shenandoah National Park with in August). I haven't been there to Lone Elk in nearly two years, but it was far better than I remembered. We hiked the trail going the opposite direction this time, and without leaves all over the ground the trail was very easy to follow and well marked -- I remember last time I went I found the trail nearly impossible to follow in the fall, so this was a huge improvement.  Parts of the trail are VERY overgrown though, it is obvious it hasn't been maintained in quite a while. We ran into Elk on the trail and had to go around them at one point, but other than that the trail was beautiful and a really great 3 mile walk. I really enjoyed this trail a lot, especially since it had been so long since I had walked it.

I seem to have misplaced any pictures I took during this hike, but the old blog post from 2009 can be viewed here.

St. Francois State Park

  This weekend I visited St. Francois State Park (or "St. Francis" as it is pronounced in Missouri, as all French names are butchered) with my friend Tanya. I was excited to go here because it was new, and the drive wasn't all that bad, about an hour or a little more. We chose the Mooner's Hollow trail, which runs about 2.7 miles. This is an absolutely beautiful little trail that we drove right past when we entered the park, but eventually found our way back.

   I really liked this trail. The woods were cool and you follow water for a great deal of it. While not overly difficult, there were a couple climbs here and there that at least kept your heart working, and it was nice to watch the stream following the trail, dipping in and out of sight as the trail works its way through the woods. My favorite spot on the whole thing is where the trail crosses the water. It's a beautiful crossing, with a pool just upstream where people were swimming and wading, and the water flows down over the smoothed rock bottom creating a small waterfall effect. It was incredibly peaceful, and I wish that I had spent more time there.  The rest of the trail is a little more meandering, going up and down through the woods, and even a few glades. A lot of the trail was very rocky because of the creek it follows, but with good shoes it wasn't too much of a problem. There were even wildflowers to still enjoy even this late in the summer. This was a gorgeous short hike, and I would definitely visit the park again to try out the other trails.