Real Fit for Real Life
Featuring everything & anything to help you & your family live a fit, full, delicious, joyful life
As an avid hiker and lover of the outdoors, I guess it was bound to happen, living here in CT. Ironically, I wasn’t doing barefoot yoga or trail running in my itty bitty running shorts or scaling rocks in the woods when I was bit by that blasted tick— I was practicing my new hobby/side job as a photographer. I was wearing
It’s been a minute since my last blog, but someone asked me what I eat usually, and while I do not subscribe to a one size fits all approach, I do think my balanced way of living and eating can be a helpful model for other women who have gotten sucked into a lifestyle that is simply a series of diets. A diet mindset is an unhealthy one. It implies that you, by nature, will make wrong choices and do not know how to feed and fuel your body, that you are a sinful eater in need of repentance. Hence the constant guilt. Hence the hiding in your pantry shoving an entire jar of Nutella and box of Oreo cookies into your proverbial pie hole.
I’m accurate because I’ve been here- lived that way for years, even as a fitness trainer and competitor (more so because of that). It’s a tough and long journey to escape that way of thinking and living and being, but it’s so worth it to break the chains!
So here is what my typical day of eating looks like now, and my body (and mind and soul) is happy and healthy, my physique still strong and healthy-level lean!
Even though I don’t believe in rules, I find myself still preferring a bit of consistency, so you’ll notice most of my meals are “this or that”— it’s not that I couldn’t or wouldn’t eat something entirely different, it’s just that I’m a creature of habit, and those are the meals I typically WANT.
coffee with a splash of almond milk
my healthy French toast (this is in my recipes and instagram, but it’s just 6 slices Eureka bread dipped in egg whites and one egg and almond milk and cinnamon cooked on the George Foreman- a serving is 1 1/2 slices, topped with plain Greek yogurt and fresh berries)
a bowl of plain oats topped with plain Greek yogurt, almond milk, berries
Post Workout/Mid morning
a Quest bar (white choc raspberry or choc chip cookie dough), lots of water
egg white with one egg and veggies omelette and toast with coconut oil spread (1 slice if easy workout day, 2 if hard workout day), maybe a side of fruit
OR dinner leftovers OR salad if eating out (because restaurant salads are always better)
AND a piece of dark chocolate
plain greek yogurt (Fage 0%) with warmed bananas, walnuts
OR a Gala apple with almond butter or peanut butter
OR a bowl of “healthy” cereal with almond milk
OR whatever my kid brought home from baking class (parental duty, lol)
OR fresh pineapple or other fruit
AND maybe a piece of dark chocolate
Varies a lot! Some of my go-tos for my family:
turkey loaf with roasted green beans & sweet potato slices
spaghetti (ground turkey, organic marinara, brown rice pasta) and salad and rosemary bread dipped in olive oil and balsamic
chicken stir fry (garlic, ginger, Bragg’s liquid aminos) over basmati rice or quinoa
chicken fajita salad (or in corn or flour tortilla), homemade guacamole
chicken enchiladas made with plain Greek yogurt, salad
roast chicken with root veggies, salad
When I eat out, I gravitate to the salads or salmon or gourmet meals I am not confident enough to make at home, red wine or sangria, and I help myself to the bread basket!
sometimes nothing but usually something
see afternoon snacks
If I’m craving dessert, I may have a bit of something like brownies, apple pie, or choc chip cookies- but it has to be bakery quality, not something I concocted with black beans and avocado (although I’m not opposed to healthy treats, I’ve learned that I eat less when it’s full of all the butter and sugar- I’m satisfied with a very small serving and I enjoy it more).
Disclaimer: I workout intensely for 1-2 hours a day. This might be way too much food for someone who has a desk job or only exercises 2-3 times a week. Age, gender, and metabolic function all play a role in how much you can eat. But if you eat intuitively, you will know this!!
Eat until satisfaction, NOT fullness. Eat when you are hungry, NOT starving and shaky. Your body knows!! As long as you haven’t demanded it to be silent for years!
Now, your friend lost tons of weight on Keto or intermittent fasting or Ideal Protein or whatever. Those are all effective ways to lose weight. My goal is to help people find an effective way to LIVE. If you can live on these programs, great!! If you just need them to get you going, perfect. But if you’re ready to move on with your life, if you want to stop worrying constantly about calories and macros and tracking and weighing and measuring and chastising- then you’re ready for Real Fit for Real Life.
The second I stopped judging myself and my food is the moment food no longer had power over me.
Your day of eating does NOT need to look exactly like mine! These are the foods I love, that feel good to my body and give me energy and feed my soul as much as my body. Find the foods you love that are good to your body, mind, and soul- and go eat them! That’s it.
So it's been awhile since I last blogged to my Fit Philosophies, but today I'm mulling over an interesting dialogue that occurred, and I want to defend myself.
I got tagged. Tag, you're it. I got tagged in a friend's status update in which she ponders whether or not she should compete in a bodybuilding competition. She didn't tag me; another friend, a person very close to her who loves her very much, did, knowing I have some experience in this arena and that I could possess helpful insight and wisdom. I appreciate when I'm considered someone who could be of help. I'm a helpful person. Obviously. I give all my workouts away for FREE on social media. I post recipes here on my website. I don't consider myself the owner of fitness ideas or exercises-- why shouldn't I share? (Clearly this is why I am also not rolling in the dough, as are the creators of certain fitness trademarks. I'm an idiot. I taught barre exercises over a decade before Booty Barre came to be and actually met my husband at a Latin-dance club and never thought to invent Zumba?! But I digress.) The point is, I do like to be helpful when possible. And so I piped in with an unpopular opinion.
Several people had already commented positively, yes, do it! One of those things, like having a baby, that you're so eager for someone else to do. I wasn't sure if any of these commenters had actually competed or knew everything it entails. So I guess I was in the mindset of, "Whoa, Nelly-- slow down there!" I suppose I came off as the Negative Nelly. (wow, Nelly sure is a popular name in idiomatic speech!) But I felt it my duty to warn, yes warn, that stepping into the bodybuilding arena could damage not only your metabolism but also your head-space, your mental-emotional well-being, for weeks, months, even years beyond the competition date. I really wish someone had told me this, instead of just repeating, "You can do it!"
I have watched fellow competitors suffer similarly to myself. These women gain weight easily post-competition, then panic. We don't know how to eat intuitively anymore-- we need meal plans. Forever. If we can't afford a trainer to give us meal plans, we create our own. We flounder when faced with food choices. We return to what we know-- old meal plans, or tracking macros. We convince ourselves we are okay-- this is our new lifestyle, and it's healthy. But we are also continually weighing in, tape measuring, and taking progress pics, whether or not we have an impending competition. We weep at the sight of ourselves in the mirror-- what happened to that girl on the stage? Some women end up with adrenal fatigue, one friend I knew began losing her hair. Most of these competitors are also fitness trainers or instructors or have social media accounts. So it's important to appear strong, well, happy, and healthy. They continue to post selfies, often with the preface, "Well, I'm still in progress . . ." or "I'm not as lean as before, but it's okay . . ." trying to demonstrate that they are mentally okay while clearly showing me at least that they are not, otherwise they wouldn't be trying to convince themselves so hard. I know this, because I've been one of them.
So when I shared my warning, I was also sharing my story. My experience. My struggle. I made myself vulnerable. I fully acknowledge that perhaps it was just my experience, but because of so many observations, conversations, and heart-to-heart confessions, I know I am not alone. This is NOT just my story. I have Instagram heroes who share my story, like @blogilates and @madelynmoon. I am not merely a bitter loser, as was implied in the commentary reply. I was told that this person's friends who compete had wonderful experiences, maintained successful personal and professional lives, and were so positive. Basically, he implied that my experience wasn't valid, that my experience was unique because I am obviously a negative person who didn't go about the process in a healthy, proper way.
I played nice. I simply stated that this is a major life decision, one that my friend was right to research and gather varying insights on, weighing both pros and cons. Because alas, knowledge is power. I never meant to be a dream-crusher. But sometimes you need to know every possible outcome, the truth, as pretty or ugly as it may be. I've heard of women going in to have a baby, never having been told about the afterbirth, or the ice-pack undies. Perhaps ignorance is bliss, but I prefer to be mentally braced for such things.
"Warning people, though well meant, before they've even entered the arena gives credence to them failing." Hmmm. I actually have spent some time pondering this statement, because it is well-delivered. But after some thought, I don't think warning is anywhere close to saying, you are destined to fail. I'm reminded of the London subway announcement, constantly repeating, "Please mind the gap. Mind the gap." And yet, I don't think she is saying, "You WILL fall in the gap." And yet, it's a valuable warning. Because I dare say, if one were to fall in the gap, it could end ugly. Warnings are warnings. They are made from a place of love and concern and often wisdom and experience. So I do not retract my warning. I think every man or woman (but especially woman) who contemplates competing in bikini or figure or another category of bodybuilding should be given this warning. It should be right at the beginning of the How To manual!
I ended with this: It is best to know both pros and cons before jumping into any huge decision, and this is definitely a huge, life-altering decision. Plus, it's helpful to know if she does do it and struggles, that she's not alone, not a failure, not worse than everyone else who does it, but that she's in good company, that she IS normal. I think it's wonderful that she has a great support system-- I had that, too, for the most part, and it was very helpful, but it doesn't eradicate the voices in your head that tell you you're not enough, not lean enough, not muscular enough, not symmetrical enough. Again, everyone is different, but it is the nature of this sport to compare your body to others'-- that's the sport period. You can say it's all about the journey, but once you're standing, nearly naked, in front of a table of judges, and they scrutinize you from head to toe, you want to place. You want your hard work and sacrifice to be acknowledged, and if it isn't, which is a likely outcome, the devastation can be difficult to overcome. Even the most positive people, and all who know me know I am one of those overly positive people, can be crushed. Everyone can say, at least you tried, at least you got up there. But that doesn't ease the disappointment. Obviously, with any sport, losing is never fun, but this hurts on a unique level. This isn't to be negative but to be fully transparent. It's also a very *expensive sport, so you're very financially invested as well as emotionally.
Honestly, we all must live our own lives and make our own decisions. Some people are more metabolically and genetically suited to compete. It is always hard, but it is less hard for the right bodies. Not to take anything away from those who compete, but it is true-- it all goes back to the whole mesomorphs, endomorphs, ectomorphs. Some bodies struggle to lose fat, others struggle to put on muscle, some bodies can shift readily. The girl who placed first at one of my comps was actually pregnant! We chatted about our prep-- mine was a full 12-weeks (more if you count the work I did just to get to that start point). Hers was 3 weeks. I exclaimed, "Wow, three weeks?" And she replied, "Well, I eat healthy and exercise all the time." I actually was too taken aback at that insult to give a reply. My point is, for those genetically-blessed who can prep in 3 weeks, honestly, bodybuilding is your sport. You'd be dumb not to. But for those of us prepping for 3 months, 6 months, the likelihood of negative consequences, metabolically and emotionally, is a real thing!
Warnings are warranted! Body image disorder is real! How can you compete and try to return to normalcy without some level of body image disorder?? I dare say, it's impossible. One can never achieve a state of contentment while participating in this sport or still entrapped in the mindset of this sport. It is simply against the rules of the sport. To imply that I was too weak, too negative?? I've birthed three babies, run 7 marathons, 9 Ragnar relays, and overcome the body image disorder created by my four bikini (one figure attempt) bodybuilding competitions. And you want to tell me I simply was not positive enough to take on the bodybuilding arena? Well. I will chalk that up to us being strangers. And I will forgive the audacity.
Whether or not my friend chooses to compete, I am here as a resource and support. If she chooses to do it and succeeds, I will cheer her on. If she chooses to do it and fails and struggles, I will be here to help her recover. If she chooses not to do it and continue to work out merely for the joy of it, I will definitely encourage her. Above all, I will continue my quest to help women (and men) learn to overcome body image disorder, live joyfully, eat intuitively, and love themselves, all versions and sizes of themselves.
*I mentioned that this sport requires a financial commitment. Bodybuilding competing can be very expensive. Protein sources are expensive, as is organic produce, which you are eating in bulk. Each contest and category has a fee, membership to the particular organization has a fee, the suits have become increasingly more elaborate and cost hundreds, if not up to $1,000s, professional tanning, hair, nails and make-up. And let's be honest, plastic surgery is almost necessary for women, especially mothers (stretch marks, saggy, fat-depleted boobs), to be competitive in the line-up, more specifically for bikini.
From Ridgefield, take route 7 north towards Danbury. Tarrywile is fairly easy to find with Google maps. This spot is near & dear to my heart because when we first moved here a year and a half ago-ish, we spent 66 nights at The Residence Inn nearby, and so this was the first hike I discovered. I took my girls, then my entire family, then I went alone for a trail run/hike. I got to know it a bit-- Tarrywile was like my first new friend. I found a lot of solace & comfort on these trails as I worked through the emotions of missing my Utah home & wondering what the hell we were doing moving all the way across the country to a place we couldn't afford. Alas, I digress. Let's just say, it was nice to return to Tarrywile & let her (because Mother Nature is female) know I was okay, that it all worked out & that I'd found my place in my new world.
The past couple times I've hiked here, I parked in the parking lot near the silo. This time I parked near the greenhouse, more by accident and Google maps leading me astray than for a specific purpose. There is ample parking at both lots & a porta potty at both lots- hallelujah!
I started by walking beneath the grapevine arbor on the left toward the old stone structure and the vista lookout. I realized as I looked down that I was above the silo & other entrance, so I got my bearings & walked back toward the rear of the greenhouse, where I stopped to use the portapotty before going down the steps that I knew would lead to the trails.
Initially you'll follow a wide trail that climbs gently past a meadow. At .35, You'll arrive at Parks Pond, a peaceful spot to picnic & let the kids run around in the grass. This is also a great spot for birdwatching and duck watching. The nice thing about Tarrywile is that it's a little more popular, so you will come across walkers and runners and not be all alone, like some hiking spots. Continue past the pond & you can follow the main Ives trail or hop on the white trail closer to the pond. I opted for that way today to start. I spent some time just watching a gaggle of geese swim gently across the pond before continuing on. At .4, you will come to a boardwalk that will help keep your feet dry as you circle around Parks Pond. The nice thing about the white trail on the pond is that you will occasionally see benches, a perfect spot for your little ones to rest. I also came across a triangular sign with the letter C, apparently designating camping sites. Perhaps I should check out the campsites someday!
At the top of the pond loop, you will reach a wooden bridge crossing and then come to a tree marked white, blue, and with the Ive trail markings. For a short hike with little ones, stay on the white to loop the rest of the pond; to increase distance go ahead and take the blue trail. On this day, I wanted more mileage, so I took the blue at .75.
As you begin the blue trail, you will notice some gorgeous bouldery on your left and beautiful moss-covered rocks in the streambed on your right. The trail gently rises but is an easy hike. When you see the blue marker with the number two, turn right. There are marked trees on the left as well, so that can be confusing. You will know you have gone the right way if you cross a little boardwalk bridge.
Here the blue trail is a bit narrow and begins to climb. At mile one, the blue trail goes both left and right with some boulders in front of you. I checked the trail map and could not explain this… I opted to go left, which turned out to be the right choice because it took me to where I wanted to be, the option to continue straight on the blue or to go right on the green. For a shorter hike (and the one I had originally planned on), go on the green and then loopback around on the blue. A fellow hiker told me the best views were another mile on the blue, so I ditched my original plan and decided to go on.
At 1.63 I reached the junction to either stay on blue to Back Pond or get on yellow for Beacon. I knew the great lookout would be the climb up beacon, so I dutifully hopped onto the yellow. First, it's calm, a small bridge & gurgling stream, then it's go time. The hiker I passed was not lying when he said it's pretty vertical! But he said to try it if I want to work out, and who am I to pass on a workout?! Even though this hike is definitely too much of a climb for little kids, I would recommend it for older kids. Stop and take breaks when you need to, but it is totally doable especially if your kids are athletic! And the view is the best I have seen in Connecticut so far! I could see an entire town! Another hiker came by, and I asked him to point out to me all the sites I was looking down upon. Luckily he had hiked this many times before and was familiar with the area, so he could even point out Lake Candlewood in the vast distance! Seriously worth the climb. Such a reward!
The hike down yellow is treacherous-- I followed the loop down (rather than backtrack) & with wet leaves and tree roots and rocks, you have to be very careful! There was a spot I sort of shimmied down backwards, but for the most part, it is doable to get down with a hike or jog. I would not do this stretch with little ones-- it would give me too much anxiety! FYI, hiking poles would've saved my knees here, but I didn't have any, so I had to buck up and deal with a little knee discomfort all weekend.
You will celebrate when you finally get down the yellow loop, but then you have to hop on blue and it starts with a really steep climb! The reward at the end of this final climb is a sweet little field atop a hill that makes you want to sing some Sound of Music. You'll finish this trail on more of a dirt road that comes out by the water tower. Just a hike back to the parking lot and you can celebrate a job well done! Total mileage for this hike logged in at 3.82, and with photo stops, it took me roughly 2 1/2 hours. Definitely not a quickie, but not too long considering the epic views!
A little background: I relocated here from Utah. Hiking in Utah is very different. It lacks the lushness of CT woods, the mystery of trees upon trees creaking in the wind. But instead, it offers vastness and height and plenty of climbing and switchbacks. So I searched online to find a nearby short hike that offered the climb of a mountain, and I finally found one. I didn't quite achieve the vistas I wanted, perhaps had I hiked farther, but I was a slave to time last Friday morning, as I had the plumber coming "sometime around 11." Of course the one time you want him to be late, he arrives 15 minutes early and you have to run down a mountain! My life. But I digress . . .
So this hike is actually just a short snippet of the 20-mile Ives Trail. You can find a few online sites that describe this long hike, but who has the time for a 20-miler?! So I had to do some research to determine a stretch of this hike that a.) had parking and b.) offered somewhat of a destination and c.) fulfilled my 2-mile requirement. I learned that Moses Mountain is the 222nd highest mountain in CT at 971 ft. I know, not that impressive, but still. It's a mountain. And it's five minutes from my house. I'll take it.
You have most likely driven past Moses Mountain many, many times without realizing-- it's on the right side of route 7 heading north into Danbury. There is a noticeable parking area off of Route 7, just past the Elks Lodge. It's a decent size, possibly 4-5 cars, and as usual, no facilities at this trailhead. Quick note: this is a mountain. If your kids are weaklings or whiners, they might not love this hike! The tip with kids is to stop frequently for breaks on the way up. Remind them that the way down will be very fast and easy. Use hiking sticks/poles for this one. Or leave the kiddos home & use this hike to get a workout!
Walk straight into the woods and look for the Ives Trail marking-- a cute red and yellow sign with a music note for the trail's namesake, composer Charles Ives. They're pretty easy to find, so immediately hop on that trail heading north. Wear long pants, as you might have some thorny foliage to walk through to get on trail. Obviously you will get a lot of traffic noise here as well as gunshots from the nearby Wooster Mountain shooting range, which can be mildly terrifying. You might also get planes overhead flying into Danbury airport. So it's not the quietest hike I've been on, but still, it's worth it for the climb :)
You will quickly cross a stream and see a very pretty meandering waterfall. Cross carefully! I came the morning after a good, heavy rainfall, so the waters were probably deeper than usual! The key to water crossings is searching for some sturdy large stepping rocks. I found some a little higher up from the trail and crossed fairly easily. Take some photos here-- it's really beautiful. And to think that I drive by that almost everyday and never knew there was a waterfall there!
Again, this is a mountain, which means good incline and it starts right away! Be cautious when the ground is covered with wet leaves. I knew that for the hike down, with these wet leaves, I should find a decent walking stick, so when I came upon one alongside the trail, I grabbed it, stripped some of the bark, and it was perfect! Finally, a hike with switchbacks, just like my favorite hikes back in Utah. At .28 it veers to the left, so watch for the trail markings. At .62 the trail begins to descend some. So it's not all uphill!
In mid-November the ground is so covered in leaves, if it weren't for the trail markings you could easily get lost. Whenever it gets steep on the down, I just jog it. Better to go with gravity then to fight it! At .8 for you will land in what appears to be a dried up streambed. This ravine is beautiful in the morning. Take some photos here, then continue up until you see a tree with a box attached to it-- inside, you will find a visitors log that began in 2008. Of course, I added my own note, with this website and the date ;) I love that I could be a part of this time capsule marking 7 years' worth of hiking adventures! You could make this your final destination, but I continued to the 1-mile mark, hoping that there would be a scenic view. I even scrambled up some bouldery off trail, but there wasn't much of a view from there, and it was a risky move for a solo hiker. I try to be cautious when I'm all alone, following this simple rule: Don't be dumb.
So despite following the trail markings, according to my Runkeeper, I did not follow the trail map. Either my GPS was off, or the trail has changed somewhat since being published online. I wish I could've continued farther to determine if a greater destination spot lay ahead. I had to get back, so I turned around after my failed rock scramble.
For the first time in a long time, I came across fellow hikers. It was a large group of about 10 people, older people, who are part of the Appalachian Hiking Club. All I can say is, I am glad I was not popping a squat when I saw them! I also saw a giant frog or toad moving in the leaves that scared the bejeezus out of me. Even though I know these woods belong to the critters, I rarely see them! When I do, they break the silence in such a dramatic way as to startle me every time. At 1.68, keep your eyes up because the trail veers to the right and curves down and around. I know I always say a loop beats an out & back, but there is something to be said for seeing a trail in the reverse order. There are new sights to behold on the return trip-- what was first at your back is now open before you, and I find I take my Nikon out just as often, if not more frequently, on the return trip. So enjoy the hike back. It's a quick return, so engage your core, land softly and watch your knees. I actually prefer the uphill to the down, as uphill works the muscles and downhill jars the joints.
I plan to return to this one, journey a bit farther, and also find other stretches of Ives Trail to share with you! Enjoy!
Saugatuck has been on my To Hike list for awhile, but it got bumped up in priority after I saw my friend's Instagram pics from a weekend hike there. I knew I had to go ASAP! Even the drive there was pleasant-- from Simpaug Turnpike to Marchant to 53, I passed an old one-room schoolhouse and a few quaint farms. I had read it's best to park at John Read Middle School across the street, but school was in session- I opted to park right at the entrance even though it was a small space. Luckily (as far as parking goes), I was the only visitor there this morning. Not until I left did another human come. And it was pretty much a 2-vehicle maximum. There are other entrances-- perhaps some of them have better parking. As per usual, there are no facilities at the trail head, so potty first and/or pack some toilet paper! This trail is dog-friendly and wheelchair accessible according to the sign, though it is limited how far a wheelchair can go.
The trail head is easy to spot-- there is a sign and a map. I immediately took a picture of the map, since I had not found one online beforehand. I decided I'd try a loop this morning, so I mapped out a plan to take the Falls Trail to the Power Line Trail to the Oak Trail to the Hemlock Trail and back toward the entrance. A loop offers double the eye candy, double the adventure, double the variety than an out & back.
The entrance trail takes you past some educational signs-- I'm sure the middle school makes great use of this area-- that are great for the kiddos and adults alike. Also, to the right, I noticed a large square slab that seemed to be a closed up well. If your kids are anything like mine, they might hop on top and use it as a little stage. I know I wanted to perform a monologue, but I stayed focused and continued. You will arrive at a good-sized wooden bridge that spans the Saugatuck River. Both sides are quite scenic. From here, take the Falls Trail, which is marked white. This is a nice flat trail and would be easy for trail running, but very short!
You'll turn right around .2-- at this juncture you will hike past a small meadow and there's a sign about bird-watching. You will cross a small wooden bridge right before you see the sign for Hemlock Trail. Keep going straight because we are hiking first to the falls. The meadow might seem boring, but do look out for birds. After you pass the meadow, here is where the beautyand excitement begins. On your left you will see some high rocky ridges covered with moss and bejeweled in ferns and trees. I caught sight of at least four different bird varieties within one minute or entering this haven. There is some traffic noise here, & that's a shame, because it might make you miss all the birdsong.
Around .5 you will see more of the Saugatuck on your right-- it looks more like a pond. The cool thing about the traffic, despite it being loud, is that it vibrates this little pond, creating a magical shimmery surface. I stopped for and excessive amount of photos! It goes without saying, but I will mention it anyway, be cautious hiking along the water with little ones! Obviously a hike can be ruined if a kid falls in!
At about .82 you will be able to hear some waterfall. This inlet of water flanked by gorgeous trees and rocks is epic beauty! Everything is covered in moss, adding to the magic. The terrain is very technical here, so watch those little ones and go slow. The trail here is more like a scramble over large boulders. I would not go on a rainy day as the rocks might be slick! One mile in is where you will come across the falls, and it requires climbing to get there. It's totally worth it! Between the beauty of the falls and the moss covered rocks and trees behind you, you will be surrounded 360° by sheer majesty. Stop here to take photos, picnic, meditate. The sound of the waterfall is so calming. But be warned, it may lead to the urgent need to pee. (No problemo if you're prepared, ladies!) Now, you could opt to simply do an out and back and return from whence you came. Just be careful climbing down those rocks! I opted to explore a little more. Like I said, a loop trail provides more variety than an out and back, and if I can get a 2-mile loop, I'll take it.
If you opt to do the loop, you will go a bit beyond the falls, then you'll go hard left to stay on white around 1.1. Hop on the Power Line trail to your left. You'll have a good climb that'll get your heart rate up, but it's short. As soon as you come to the sign for Oak Trail, hop on that one. It will be on your left. Oak Trail is marked blue, and in the fall, inches deep in oak leaves. So follow the blue marked trees. This trail is meandering with gentle climbs.
At about 1.6, you will hit a fork with Knapp Trail to your right and the sign for Oak Trail on your left-- veer left. Technically that becomes Knapp trail, so you are back on white. You will stay on this stretch for a short distance, and it is a gentle descent. But watch your step. There's a lot of acorns in the fall that you can easily roll on and biff it! Of course, I paint these worst-case scenarios that never actually happen, but in the event that you, dear reader, are a clutz, it could happen, and you've been warned. Being a transplant here myself and used to Utah desert, I am still shocked by the copious amounts of acorns and leaves here!
As soon as you see the sign, hop onto Hemlock on your left. Hemlock Trail is also mostly a decline through tall hemlocks. This is a pretty stretch. Look for the dried up stream bed on your right with, you guessed it, moss-covered rocks. (Again, the moss is still a stunning novelty to me! I'm sure I mention it all too often, but at least I remind you to recognize the beauty you might take for granted.) You might even see a little bit of water if it's been rainy. At about mile 2, you will return to that small wooden bridge you crossed near the beginning. Simply follow it back out to the main entrance, and you got an epic hike with a variety of terrain, scenery, and wildlife. Admittedly, I got very little wildlife-- but isn't that a relief when you're all alone in the woods??
Please be sure to do this hike soon! It is incredible!
I've hiked Seth Low quite a few times from the main entrance by Lake Naraneka, so I wanted to explore this state park reserve from a new angle. If you use the hiking map from the website, you'll notice there's a northwest parking spot. That's where I set my sights this morning for a little solo hike without the kiddos, who have the misfortune of having to be in school on such a beautiful fall day!
You'll drive right past the usual entrance and go to Twixt Hill Road. You will soon arrive at a teeny parking lot at the junction of Twixt Hill & Knollwood, 1-2 car capacity, so park politely! Despite the miniscule size of the parking lot, there is a large sign for the park, & you will immediately see a tree with white markings on the right side, red on the left, designating the trail heads. This hike is the white trail, possibly to the blue if you're up for it, short & sweet out & back to a nice clearing with a view or to the official lookout point. I came on a November day, trail covered in leaves, so I had to really watch for trail markings!
This hike begins with a field of marshgrass on your right and nice little downslope with rocky terrain that leads to a little wooden bridge. (So giddy when I get my wooden bridge right off the bat!) I was gifted right away with the biggest bluejay I've ever seen, sending it's call through the leafless trees. I love when the wildlife comes to welcome you :)
Now, before the bridge, stop and look to your left. You will see a very interesting man-made cave. I decided to wander off trail to check it out-- inside were a couple old folding beach chairs! Brilliant spot for kids to have a magical picnic! Obviously it's always wise for parents to scope out sights like this first, to make sure it isn't littered with anything, ahem, distasteful. Or dead. Or alive. Or gross. But today, it passed inspection, and I know had my daughters been with me, we would've spent quite some time playing and imagining all sorts of cave-set scenarios.
After enjoying a little playtime at the cave, return to the trail to take a picture of the wooden bridge. Follow the white trail markings. It's a gentle climb that will give you enough of a workout but is doable for the kids! Somehow I lost the trail & ended up on yellow. Leaves get me every time! My mileage was off because of backtracking to relocate the white trail! I realized my mistake-- white veers off to the left, & I had stayed straight. So here's a tip for you late-fall hikers: watch for the tree with 3 white marks. Go left there! You will know if you've lost the trail when you find yourself in the middle of the woods and cannot find any more marked trees! Also if you're standing in the middle of thorny bushes, you have lost the trail! But do not freak out. Always backtrack to where you came from to the last marked tree you remember. Then you will be able to find the trail again!
If you were smart, followed my tips, and did not get lost, you will come to an intersection at .14 for the yellow, red, & white (note: your mileage will be off if you spent time off-trail playing at the cave). A well-marked trail will have three stripes rather than just one anytime you have reached a crossroads. So look around and see what your options are, and check your map to be sure you choose the trail you intend to hike. I love this Choose Your Own Adventure aspect to hiking-- there is no wrong. But if you've set out with a plan, you want to follow it, simply because you have estimated mileage, difficulty of terrain, time it will take, etc.-- all vital details when hiking with kids!
So for this hike, stay on white for now! You will get some good incline the closer you get towards the top of the hill. On the day I went, a large chunk of tree had fallen across the white trail so I had to work my way around it. It was easy to get over, but on the return trip, I noticed an off-shoot trail that would've helped me bypass it altogether! Oops ;) Going to be honest, once it starts getting steep and the trail is covered in leave,s it can be tricky to navigate especially with young kids. So if you begin to lose confidence, just go back and play in the cave a little longer :-) But if you continue, you'll be rewarded with some cool sights.
The white markers can be tricky to locate up the hill, but follow the rocky path & you'll be okay. You'll see a sort of lean to on your left at the top of the hill at .4 mile. This is a fun spot for a water break. Soon the white trail turns sharp right. Follow it but first take some pics at this high view area. The white will take you straight to blue, or you could turn right again to follow white at this clearing. But stay on blue another .3 to get to the lookout. The blue is a more challenging stretch, dropping down a ravine before climbing back up to the lookout. Only venture this with older kids and consider using hiking poles. For a shorter hike, stop in this clearing at the top of the ravine to picnic & watch airplanes.
With how leafy and precarious it was going down the ravine alone, and because I had to pee and hadn't brought toilet paper (bad hiker preparation!), I opted to rest for a bit, take photos, talk to a chipmunk, then head back the white trail. Solo hiking requires erring on the side of caution! It was a gorgeous morning, so it was nice to just sit in the sunshine and take it all in.
The return trip is always faster, but with stopping to enjoy the cave, the lean-to, and the wildlife, this hike can easily take over an hour, despite its somewhat short total distance. I say this every week, but this may be my new favorite hike for kids ;)
As always, let me know if you do this hike and how it goes!
Getting to this hike is fairly easy-- just go toward Barlow Mountain and Scotland Elementary Schools (which are side by side). In Ridgefield, if you're coming from North St, turn right onto Barlow Mtn Rd. The turn-in is easy to miss! It is immediately on your right. If you've passed the lake, you've gone too far & can U-turn at the elementary schools. There are no facilities at this trailhead, though I did see a porta-potty across the street. I didn't check to see if it's permanently there for hikers. So I would make sure you've pottied first! There is decent parking here, and I've never seen it full. Immediately, you will get gorgeous views of Lake Naraneka. When I hiked it this most recent time, the leaves were in full color. In the summer, sometimes fishers will be here in their boats. It's utterly picturesque at any season!
You'll find the trailhead close to the water's edge, with a pretty hill on your right. The trail begins with a nice stroll around the right half of the lake. Look for families of ducks, even swans! In late fall, the trail is drenched in leaves. Pick up your feet as you walk & be mindful of hidden tree roots!
At .42, you hit the marsh grass & top of the lake. Here, you'll see a downed tree. The kids & I like to balance on it for a picture :) You'll continue, with the marsh on your left & a beautiful hill on the right. Now is the time to mention, if it's at all cold, you'll wish you had gloves & warm boots at this point! At least I did ;)
At .5, you'll reach a sign with trail maps. Your goal for this hike is the spot with the binoculars, which means scenic bliss awaits you!! Make sure you get on the orange-white then left to get on the blue. If it's leafy & you can't see the trail, veer to the right & look for a white marked tree to find the trail. Let me be honest and confess-- I totally lost the trail with all the leaves! And this was my third time hiking this trail, so I thought I knew what I was doing. Lesson learned-- the trail changes every time and with every season. Be humble, and be smart. Luckily, the moment I stood there absolutely confused, a friendly dog bounded toward me. I looked to her humans, two kind women who directed me back to the trail. So yes, this trail is dog friendly. I've even seen them off leash. But I digress . . .
Of course, you won't lose the trail, because you will have my very explicit instructions ;) On the white trail, step over the down tree around .7. Shortly you will hop on the orange-white trail. What have I said before?? Every good hike includes a wooden bridge. So here ya go- a short narrow wooden bridge about .85. This is a short stretch that takes you to the blue trail.
Once you hit the blue trail, the scenic lookout isn't far, but it can be pretty steep and precarious! This is the exciting portion of the hike-- hold onto those little ones! And only go as high as you are comfortable going. But if you can go all the way to the big rock-- no, not that first one, go farther to the next rock-- drum roll, choirs of angels, you've arrived!
One of the best views around!! And it only took about 1.2 miles to get there! This is a nice spot to picnic, hydrate, and take a lot of photos! Just be sure your kiddos don't get too close to the edge. This area at the top is breathtaking. Take some time to look around behind you as well, in the opposite direction-- in the fall, it is golden and red and simply splendid.
Now, prepare yourself for the descent. What goes up must come down, and it can be tricky navigating a few spots on the downhill. There's also one spot that comes awfully close to the edge, so make sure your kiddos stay to your left and take the trail seriously. I always give my kids three tips for tackling steep descents: 1.) Take side steps. This ensures you can't fall face first. 2.) Run fast. This is just you surrendering to gravity. Quick, short strides is the key. Or if all else fails, 3.) Get on your bum and scoot down. Trees also make good handholds, but be careful of bugs and spiders on the bark! It's a very short stretch that is steep and what they call "technical", so don't stress too much but do be careful.
You'll move faster hiking out than in. Once you get back to the wooden bridge, go right to stay on the orange-white trail! I missed this & ended up heading toward a street! Then at the sign, veer right to hop on the white. This trail isn't as well-marked as others I've hiked, so pay attention to landmarks-- you can even make it a game for the kids. Now that I think of it, that's probably why I kept getting lost this time around-- because I didn't have my kids! They are much more attentive to landmarks than I am-- I am easily distracted by a vibrant woodpecker or an intricate vine and miss the vital sights, like where to turn! But sometimes a solo hike where I literally lose myself is exactly what I need.
As always, share your own experiences in the comments! Happy hiking! I'm off to write a guest post all about late fall-early winter hiking tips for the fabulous website Macaroni Kids-- I LOVE this site and look forward to their weekly newsletters. Meghan the editor does an incredible job helping us parents solve the age-old question: What are we doing this weekend? And will the kids like it? I have somewhat older kids (ages 15, 13, and 10), and I still find this website wonderfully useful-- maybe because I'm such a kid at heart, too ;) It's awesome to live in an area with so much going on and available and to have one resource where I can see it all. Sign up for the newsletters if you have kids, or you're a kid at heart, and you live in the Danbury-Ridgefield area!
Training for the 2015 NYC Marathon has been challenging. I've felt slower than ever before; I've struggled with blisters on my left foot and have spent an exorbitant amount of time and money to solve the problem, only to realize the only solution lies in becoming a millionaire and having my shoes custom-built for my foot. I'm no longer accepting suggestions, so don't bother. I've tried it all, trust me!
I've struggled with heat, humidity, hills. Chafing, bonking, swelling. Pains of all sorts and sizes. But I keep going. Because I am running for a reason. I usually try to dedicate every run to someone I love who is in need-- that's my way of praying I guess, and it feels more productive. But this is the first time I've actually combined my running with fundraising for a charity. When I saw that there was a Team ALS, I knew I had to be involved.
Click the button below to hear my story . . .
The beauty of Topstone is that it is close enough and short enough to hike on a whim or do frequently as a gentle workout. Since it's so close & relatively easy for all ages and abilities, it's one we take our out-of-town guests to all the time to give them a taste of our CT beauty. I highly recommend you do the same ;)
It's easy to get to Topstone Road off route 7, just be sure to keep your eyes open and not pass the parking lot. Turn in (the turn will be on your right if you are coming from Ridgefield) and keep driving past the sign all the way toward the lake, where there is ample parking. Since this is also a life-guarded lake during the summer, you may be able to use restroom facilities, but they might be locked off-season-- alas, the lack of necessity thus far has prevented me to check on this very important tidbit of info! As usual, I make sure we all arrive with empty bladders! This hike is a loop, so you can start either to your left or right from this parking area. You can also explore the beach area first, where there is a playground for young kiddos. There are also basketball courts by the lake, if you bring a ball and want to shoot some hoops first. Talk about kid-friendly hike!
We always start on the trail head to the right for some reason, just a natural tendency. You'll begin with a slight downhill stretch & arrive at a wooden platform on the water. This is our favorite spot for yoga poses & snake-spying! Watch little ones here if you don't want them going for a swim! If the water levels are high enough, you can watch the water overflow down the man-made dam on your right.
Topstone is dog-friendly & even has a fenced doggie play area where the pups can run around off leash & even swim in the lake if they're brave enough (our Chloe doesn't love swimming, despite our attempts to throw her in our pool!) Plan for extra time on this hike if you want to enjoy the dog park, & of course scoop your dog's poop!
Shortly after the dog park, you'll see some fun exercise-playground equipment on your right. This is a definite must-do! The kids and I do tricks on the rings & practice the balance beam-- moms always think they're too old for this playfulness, but I say you're only as old as you move! So move like a kid ;) It's invigorating to hang upside down at any age!
The rest of the hike offers beautiful views of the lake, occasional streams over rock beds, ferns on the woods side & marsh grass & lily pads on the lake side-- maybe you'll get lucky and spot a frog on a lily pad or catch them flowering like a Monet painting come to life! It's really wonderful how compact this hike is-- so much to see & do on such a short hike! So take your time & take it in. To be truthful, I haven't mile-marked this one with my Runkeeper-- it's one we just go do. You could do it in 30 minutes, or have fun and play and spend an hour.
There are trails that take off into the woods area, but I have yet to explore these. I'll keep you posted!
What's also wonderful about Topstone is that you can enjoy it all four seasons. We've visited in the winter, spring, summer, & fall, & every time there's something new to observe & appreciate! Fellow hikers are always friendly, another reason why I love to take to the trails! It's refreshing to escape the angry people, all hustle & bustle & busy & thinking their schedules are more important than anything else in the world. I've had great conversations with lovely people out on the Topstone trail. So be one of those people. Show your kids how to be that kind of person. There's more to hiking than hiking, or even the exquisite beauty of nature. There's humanity. The simple truth that we share the trail, the planet, and the desire to feel peace, love, & joy.
And you thought it was just a hike.
Mother of 3. Fit-philosopher. Showing my kids how to be fit via living life to the max. Newbie photographer. Simplistic cook who shares easy, healthy meals. Lover of kid-friendly hikes & getting outdoors & unplugged.