Real Fit for Real Life
Featuring everything & anything to help you & your family live a fit, full, delicious, joyful life
Let me preface by saying, I began writing this post on October 1, picked it up again a couple days later, so if it sounds a bit bipolar in positivity and energy, that’s why…
Praise be, I’m 8 days post-op and finally feeling like the pain is manageable. I did hear that week 2 is the turning point, so I was mentally prepared for a difficult first week and it most definitely lived up to the hype.
Passing Out Like a Pro
I attempted my first shower on day 3, and it went badly. For the record, I am not allowed to take a bath for several weeks I think, so besides a wet wipe, I don’t have many options for cleaning of the body. I didn’t want my squeamish husband seeing me in that state, so I told him to just keep checking on me. I stepped into the shower and barely got my undercarriage soaped and rinsed before I knew I was going to pass out. The perk to having already passed out twice last week was gaining expert detection skills. Fortunately, at the same moment I turned off the shower, Hubby walked in to check on me. I said, “I’m going to pass out,” quite matter-of-factly, as he handed me the towel and tried to help me dry as I began to go weak. I think it was a mix of my babesia, the pain levels, the meds, and the pure shock of seeing my naked body unwrapped in all its bruised and swollen glory for the first time. He had me sit on the side of the tub, but I knew that wasn’t low enough in space— my body wanted me down to the ground. I briefly lost consciousness as he somehow managed to get my naked, wet, deadweight body onto the bed. It felt so nice to be on the bed— it’s the ideal spot for passing out, I must say. After a few minutes of letting the blood flow back to my heart and brain, I was able to gingerly, painfully get all my bindings back on. I hadn’t even washed my hair. I no longer cared to. New goal: see how long I can delay taking my next shower.
Pain Is the Worst
With the help of wet wipes and a pony tail, I was able to successfully delay said next shower until day 5 or 6— it’s been a blur. But this time I managed to not pass out. Progress. Managing the pain has been rough because many FL surgeons, including mine, avoid prescribing opioids. I was prescribed Ibuprofen 800 mg, Gabapentin (for nerve pain), Zofran for nausea, and Cyclobenzaprine (muscle relaxer). I was already on an antibiotic for my babesia. I’m also allowed regular Extra Strength Tylenol. For the extensive surgery I had done, it feels insufficient. But to be honest, I never really loved the times I’ve been on codeine— it makes me feel so fuzzy and disconnected- and I was able to stay fairly regular in the potty department, so overall, besides the tremendous pain, I would say the non-opioids were okay. One of the meds, I think the gabapentin, gave me a searing headache, which seemed like a cruel joke on top of all the other pain, so I tried to quit it early, but that was also a bad option because my body really needed the extra boost of pain relief the gabapentin gives to the Ibuprofen. So I chose the searing headache.
Adventures in Post-Op Appointments
My 1-week post-op appointment was a bit frustrating and disappointing. Firstly, the waiting room was pretty full for these Covid times— as someone with underlying health conditions, I take this Covid thing seriously, and I don’t take kindly to doctors not staggering their schedule to keep the waiting area population down. Apparently, plastic surgery is always busy. Even during a pandemic. My hubby had to basically just drop me off, so I sat alone, partially drugged, mask on, anxiety-ridden- when someone in the back stepped out front to announce that my surgeon was running 45 minutes behind. I was annoyed. I had carefully scheduled my drugs, my naps, my food intake, all around this appointment time. My husband had taken off work. And he still had to get my daughter to band practice. Feeling a bit dizzy, I did something unusual— I actually got up and advocated for myself. Walked up to the receptionist and apologetically said, I can’t wait that long. I’m dizzy. She said she would see what she could do, and after a few minutes I got called back. Doctor wasn’t ready for me yet but they could get me into an unused room with a broken bed and offer me water and a snack (which I declined because I had my own water and I was too queasy for munchies). She handed me the paper gown to put on, front side open, left the room for a second, and just as suddenly returned to find me tangled in the twisted gown, my bruised and battered boobs peekabooing while I fumbled to figure out where I had gone wrong. I felt bad she saw me like that— I didn’t want to traumatize her- but she untwisted it for me and got my pitiful arm in the correct hole then whisked me off to the next room.
There a PA came in, quickly explained a few things, then removed my steri-strips off my incisions. Now I really felt exposed. She left just as soon as she had entered but said she’d leave the door partially open so I could yell for help if I needed it. I sat and waited and waited. At one point, someone walked past and shut my door. Now who would hear me yell? Finally the surgeon came in, gave everything a looksy, said everything looked good, gave me a few instructions, asked me, any questions? I knew I had some. What had they been? Ummmm. And he was gone. I knew he was playing catch-up, so I understand. He was frazzled and busy. At one point I mentioned that I had passed out a few times already- just wanted some comfort from him, or to say, yes, that happens sometimes, or anything. He just kinda nodded, his mind already busy.
Later, I remembered all my questions:
Anyway, I had no intention originally of going into this much detail. The storytelling got away from me, but it leads me to a couple main points: 1.) Advocate for yourself. This has always been hard for me. I’m much better at advocating for others, especially my kids, than I am for myself. I’m too much of a people-pleaser, worrying about being high-maintenance or pushy. But I finally have learned at age 44 that I need to speak up for myself. Especially when no one else is there to speak up for me. Mamabear MYSELF. Take care of that frightened, hurting girl inside me. She deserves it. 2.) Plastic surgeons aren’t my favorite, based on my limited experience. My advice is to avoid them if you can. Not to be mean, but the nature of the field just makes them a little different. Generally, they aren’t warm and hand-holding. They view you as a mass of physical flaws they’d like to fix. And like I said, they are just as willing to put toxic implants into your body as they are to take them out. Actually, most don’t want to take them out because they don’t know how and because they find the result to be atrocious. The normal female breast, with its natural shape, sag, assymmetry is seemingly abhorrent to them. I’ve read countless stories of women consulting for explant and having the cruelest things spoken to them by plastic surgeons. That said, I’m grateful for the skill of my surgeon. So grateful! So I can’t complain about long waits and lack of warm fuzzies. At least he did great work on my body, and that’s why I paid him the big bucks. But I would love if these surgeons underwent the same procedures they’re performing. For them to feel the pain. To understand the recovery. To feel the emotional anguish of all these decisions.
As far as improvements, I am still cautiously observing them and not allowing myself to get too attached yet. I want to make sure improvements stick. Plus, I'm still dealing with a lot of pain, swelling, and bruising- so I don't yet have a clear picture. I have felt my babesia bubbling up-- sweats/shivers, face/skull pressure, muscle twitching, eye pain and yellowing-- the full moon and barometric pressure changes didn't help (trust me, I know this makes me sound like a loony-hippie-witch, but I've been doing this long enough to know these triggers are REAL and it makes sense seeing that our bodies are like 72% water). So I put myself back on the malarone for now. Hopefully that kills any babesia parasites that are currently active so that my body can focus its attention on healing. I have zero regrets about getting my implants out, because my surgeon DID do a beautiful job on making me look my best without them.
Long time, no post. Alas, I’m back because this topic requires a lengthier narrative than can fit in an Instagram or FB post. I’ve alluded to a big, scary decision and going under the knife. I’m sure most followers and friends assume it’s Lyme/babesia-related, and in a roundabout way, it is. But let me start at the beginning.
By 2010, I had birthed three babies, attempted breastfeeding all three (albeit each time got much shorter in duration, as I had some traumatic nursing experiences that made bottle-feeding much more appealing), gained 40-50 lbs and lost 50 lbs each time. After baby number 3, my cholesterol tested high and my doctor put me on a special diet that led to even more weight loss. Meanwhile, my fitness career continued to expand. I found myself suddenly in the best shape of my life, but my boobs had utterly deflated— just sad sacks of skin that I had to scoop into my bras. I could hide it with good bras, those cutlets you insert into your swim tops— but my insecurity in my intimate life was overwhelming. I wouldn’t let my husband even touch me there because it killed the mood immediately for me. I also began to consider bikini bodybuilding and knew I couldn’t get on the stage with my saggy, loose, empty boobs.
To be clear, my sweet husband always said they were fine, he loved me as is, but he finally said, if this bothers you that much, I will support your decision and pay for your implants. Also, I feel the need to preface— this was Utah County. I was surrounded by fake boobs. Moms would gather at the swimming pool, sharing plastic surgeon recommendations. Getting implants didn’t feel like an action only porn-stars took. It felt like what all the moms were doing. I had a few consultations, and most said I required a lift. Having a squeamish husband, I wanted to avoid a lift if possible because of the scarring involved. So when a plastic surgeon in Provo told me he had a method of placing implants so that I wouldn’t need a lift, I was ecstatic. When I “tried on” the implants, I kept asking for a smaller pair. I didn’t want to look fat. I was so lean at the time and fairly short-torsoed, I wanted to look proportionate. But he said he would need to see what size would best fill the skin.
At the time, I was told implants were safe. That maybe 1-2% of women get autoimmune issues. Just to replace them every 10 years. Ten years felt like an eternity, and I figured I could decide in 10 years if I wanted to keep replacing them. So in June, 2010, I fixed my pitiful breasts with Allergan silicone implants. I did feel they were bigger than I wanted, and not as high as I wanted. But they were a drastic improvement, and the best part— no visible scars!
Fast forward to September 23, 2020. I went under the knife to get my implants out, deciding not to replace them. Why?
1.) I don’t want to commit to having surgery every 10 years for the rest of my life. I hate it. It hurts. It causes immense anxiety. It’s not fun.
2.) I’ve had quite a few health issues over the years (not even including my Lyme/babesiosis) that have not responded well to medications ad traditional protocols. This has led me to wonder if my implants are the culprit. I have asked my allergist, ENT, pulmonologist, primary care doc, and functional medicine doctor all the same question: could my implants be causing this? And every single one replied, based on the recent literature, it’s possible. My functional med doctor went a step further and demanded I get the damn things out as soon as possible. I’m lucky. Not every woman suffering breast implant illness has supportive believers. I understand that disbelief enough with my chronic Lyme and babesiosis.
3.) Even if all my health issues are what they are and not caused by my implants, they have become a source of structural pain. My back, neck, and shoulders despise every bra I wear, leading me to not wear a bra much of the time. This has only made my boobs once again saggy, only now they’re just bigger. It’s always a pain buying clothing, because I’m a L or XL on top and a S on bottom.
4.) Above all, I want my daughters to know that they are perfect the way they are. I sit here, on day 3 of recovery, still in so much pain, and I feel a sense of relief that these things are off my chest, that my body is mine, that I am free.
That said, I did finally get that lift. Now that they’ve been stretched out even more by implants for a decade, I knew it would be necessary for me to still have some semblance of feeling good in my skin. I’ve done my research. I’ve read countless stories of women on the Breast Implant Illness FB group, and while some learn to love themselves completely, some with no breasts at all due to cancer, others struggle immensely with their self-confidence after explanting without a lift. Each woman has her own journey; each must make her own decision. I had enough tissue to warrant a lift; my surgeon recommended it, and I felt good about that decision. I will have to learn to appreciate the scars.
Additionally, my surgeon is a microsurgeon who specializes in breast reconstruction and another step he likes to do is fat graft in some cases. Fat graft, or fat transfer, requires liposuction from another area of the body to the breast to help prevent collapse of the chest wall, which can lead to looking concave. He recommended this for me. I did a lot of research, and at first was strongly against this. There aren’t long-term studies on this procedure, and the BII group advises against it. I rounded up all my research and concerns and went back to my surgeon via TeleMed. He explained his method in detail and how he prevents hard lumps from forming. He adamantly told me the benefits vastly outweigh the risks and that I was a good candidate. At the moment, I haven’t even taken off all the bindings. I’m swollen and bruised beyond belief. So I can’t say yet whether or not I have regrets about this part of my decision. In the end, I decided to trust him completely. Perhaps I should learn my lesson about trusting plastic surgeons, but I wanted to go in with him feeling I had full faith in his expertise— I wanted his best efforts and for him not to half-ass it, so I just told him before surgery, I’m putting all my faith in you and please, make me look good.
So, how was surgery with an underlying illness? Honestly, this has terrified me most. I was feeling really great for a few months but relapsed a few weeks ago and immediately went back on my meds. I was worried I’d have to postpone my surgery. Luckily my meds started working fairly quickly, and I actually felt better than I have in the past year. I did ask my surgeon if I could continue taking my antibiotics and antimalarials up until surgery day, and he said yes. With babesiosis, I have had a few moments of near passing out— my BP just plummets out of the blue. In the recovery area after surgery, the nurse was trying to get me to go pee. She seemed rather impatient, like they were all ready to go home, and I was the lingerer who wouldn’t wake up (I’ve always been a lightweight with anesthesia and have a history of them kicking me out before I’m ready.) One nurse tried to coerce me out of bed by telling me how much an overnight hospital stay would cost, about $10k. So I tried, but I kept saying, I might pass out. They thought I was being dramatic, and my nurse got me onto the toilet, but I couldn’t pee. I said, I’m passing out now and got off the toilet so I could pass out on the floor. In my comatose state, I was vaguely aware of her pulling the string and yelling for the nurses to come help her, that I had vagaled. I came to enough to stand and try walking back to my bed but passed out again in the nurses’ arms. My nurse kept saying, but her blood pressure was fine! How did it drop so fast? I kept mumbling, "I have babesiosis." But of course she didn’t know what the hell I was talking about, because most people in the medical field know very little about tick-borne illnesses. My nurse just kept saying, she vagaled twice! Twice! I guess I set a record. And I showed her. She felt bad, I could tell, and she began to actually take care of me, giving me oxygen, juice, Animal Crackers that I was too nauseated to eat.
Somehow I got home, where I broke out into that about-to-vomit sweat twice, but my emetophobia prevented the much-needed vomiting from coming to fruition. My retired nurse mom texted me that I needed to let my body vomit or I could vagal. So when it happened again right before bed, I Jedi mind-tricked my body into letting it happen, and I felt much better, except for a sore esophagus and throat. Pretty sure the last time I vomited was when I got my implants 10 years ago, that’s how strong my phobia is. I don’t think the vomiting was caused by my babesiosis, just my body’s hatred of anesthesia.
So day 1 wasn’t great. But day 2 was much better, just managing pain and sleeping a lot.
Have you noticed any immediate health improvements? Right after surgery when my husband picked me up, he commented on how white my eyes were. Every time I pass a mirror, I feel the same shock— how are my eyes so white?! My eyelids also look better— they used to look like I had purple eyeshadow on. My facial skin looks a bit brighter. Other than that, I’m still in too much pain to notice other health improvements. But after seeing my eyes, I have hope for more improvements! I have hope I can get my immune system back to help fight this Lyme and babesiosis once and for all.
Do you think every woman with breast implants will get sick from them? Actually, I don’t think all women do, or maybe they can tolerate them longer. But after reading countless stories, I can’t help but think we were all lied to, that implants, both silicone and saline, can wreak havoc on our health even in the tiniest of ways. We have to be in tune with our bodies. We have to discount all other possibilities. Obviously, we can have real health issues completely unrelated to implants. And we need to treat appropriately without jumping to the conclusion that it must be our implants. But when you’ve exhausted all doctors, all treatments, all options, it’s stupid to be in denial of the possibility. I will say, when I contracted Lyme and babesiosis from a tick bite, it was annoying to have people tell me it was caused by my implants. Because Lyme is caused by a bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and babesiosis is a viral parasite, and they both came from the saliva of the female deer tick that bit me. I had to treat appropriately. At the same time, I do acknowledge that perhaps my implants suppressing my immune system didn’t help me fight it as well as I could have. It's not fun going under the knife just for kicks. But it's also not fun to die with your killers inside your chest muscles all along. (Yes, women have died from BII.)
How did you find your surgeon? Not only have I been on the main BII page for years now, but I also joined the FL Implant Illness FB group to do my homework on local surgeons. What’s crazy to me, is based on the comments shared, my particular surgeon has been performing one explant every week (he only does surgeries on Wednesdays) for months. And most of us are paying much more to get them out than we did to put them in. That says something about how desperate we are to get them removed. Explant surgeons can charge more because they’re in demand and not many surgeons are qualified to properly explant. I chose a microsurgeon who does a lot of breast reconstruction who has done many explant surgeries already. It requires great skill to remove the implants en bloc (intact with the capsule of scar tissue still surrounding it). Many surgeons try to convince women that they can leave the scar tissue in. But I have witnessed on these BII pages how horrible that can be! They can become infected, filled with fluid, and contain all the toxic implant ingredients, so that even though the implant has been removed, the toxins still remain to sicken these women. Sometimes the capsule can be stuck to the ribcage. An unskilled surgeon will tell patients that it’s too risky to remove it, or they will cauterize it. A microsurgeon can scrape it off meticulously, even if it comes off in pieces. It’s crucial to remove all of the scar tissue with the implants. My surgeon offers photos and video to prove that he has removed them en bloc. (I might share once I get it.)
Sad but true, most explant surgeons continue to perform implants. It’s their bread and butter. I found it upsetting to go to my consultation and sit in a room with 2 pairs of implants staring at me from a shelf. There are a few surgeons in the US who exclusively do explants and have quit performing implants because they strongly believe in BII. But most feel it’s a woman’s choice, and hey, big money if they can put them in for $6k and remove them for $8-15k, which is the national average, depending on where you live. (I actually think my implants were less than $5k.)
Does insurance cover explant? Usually not, because we women decided to put them in. So if we want them out, even if they’re making us ill, it’s considered cosmetic. Some surgeons will try to work with insurance. Mine did not. If your implants happened to be recalled, the implant maker will only pay for new implants. Some women have to do Go Fund Me. We got a Care Credit Card to pay over 18 months and may have to dip into retirement. I feel awful about it. But my hubby’s take was that if I get healthy again, I can work and make money, so it’s worth it over the long haul. No pressure.
What did you do with your implants? I paid for them. I wanted to keep them. I wanted to hold them in my hands and see the state of them. I wanted to remember this choice I made. So I went home with them. They’re still in a bucket on my kitchen counter as I type. I’m sure I’ll find a better home for them later. They’d make a great stress-relief ball. Looking at them reminds me how relieved I am to have them out of my body and the weight and burden off my chest.
Okay, friends. That’s all I can answer for now, because I have a lot of healing to do. I haven’t even taken off my dressings to take a look at things! I’ll keep you posted if you care. I am sharing so much in the hopes that my story helps someone else. And because I figure the change will be obvious and I always hate when there’s an elephant in the room. So there. It’s all out there. No elephants. I control my narrative.
t’s funny. The number of times I had hiked, trail run, camped, done yoga barefoot in the grass— and not once did I ever get a tick bite. Because I took precautions. I doused myself in DEET. We sprayed our yard. We used tick preventatives on our pets. We did tick checks. But it was October 2017. I was doing a portrait session at The Garden of Ideas in Ridgefield, CT— dressed in tight jeans tucked into tall leather boots, a long-sleeve flannel shirt. I was excited for these photo sessions, my first as an amateur photographer trying to go professional, but I didn’t think about bug spray on that crisp fall day.
Later that night, I undressed and lotioned my arms. To my horror, I discovered the slightly engorged tick embedded in my right arm. How on earth did it get inside my clothes? All I could think was that perhaps as I kneeled down, it hopped from a low-lying tree branch down my shirt collar. Or perhaps it hitched a ride on my photography bag. I sufficiently panicked as my husband gently removed it with tweezers, then we placed it gingerly in a plastic baggie so I could drop it off to our health department in the morning. You see, we lived in tick country, and we knew what to do because it was heavily advertised. That should’ve given me a leg up.
I called my primary care physician and requested the prophylactic doxycycline, which is 2 pills taken within the first 24 hours of a bite. Supposedly it only provides a 15% improvement, but I wanted to be proactive. Mind you, the tick had only been embedded for maybe 6 hours. So after I dropped off my tick for testing, I completely forgot about the incident. I got no bulls eye rash. No sign I’d been bitten. I joked about it in my fitness classes that week, trying to calm myself, and everyone assured me I should be fine. The tick has to be embedded 24-48 hours. I took the prophylactic doxy. I did everything right. And I would be okay.
A week and half later, I chaperoned my daughter’s 7th grade trip to Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. On the bus ride there, I felt odd. Something wasn’t right. Luckily, and oddly enough, a student didn’t feel well and wanted his mom to come pick him up, so the bus pulled over off an exit. I, too, got off the bus so I could get some fresh air. The off-feeling seemed to dissipate, and I completely forgot about this moment, too. But by the following Monday, while I began to teach my Yoga class, I felt dizzy, woozy, queasy. It wasn’t familiar. Of all the times I’ve been sick in life, this felt different. When I got home, I had a voicemail from the health department, saying to check my email, which I immediately did. Attached was the official letter from the health department: my tick, a female Ixodes, tested positive for borrelia burgdorferi, and I should consult my doctor.
My doctor sounded doubtful on the phone, but said okay, she’d call in a prescription for 3 weeks of doxycycline, reminding me that just because the tick is positive, doesn’t mean that I am. I look back now and wonder why a doctor, in the heart of tick country, could be so hesitant to believe I had contracted tick-borne illness. By Tuesday, Halloween, I had developed fever, chills, nausea, body aches. By Friday, I was feeling a bit better, and deep-down, even I hoped my doctor was right. It was flu season after all. It could just be a virus. I was antsy. I wasn’t used to being sick longer than a few days. So I got dressed, even ventured to TJ Maxx. As soon as I walked in, I felt odd, woozy, weak. Luckily the display at the front of the store included a bench, and I quickly slumped down on it. I waited for the dizziness to pass. Then went straight back to my car and drove home, knowing that this was different. And that I couldn’t will myself all better.
I began to research Lyme disease. I read blogs that described my symptoms to a T. I knew that I didn’t just have the flu. I had to get subs for all my fitness classes— part of the reason I thought I might have gotten sick was that I had recently increased my class load and had been subbing a lot as well, teaching 2-3 fitness classes a day! Who was I, this health fanatic, to succumb to Lyme?
But I had faith in the doxycycline. Surely after 3 weeks, I’d be better. I didn’t know how I could survive 3 whole weeks of not working, of not feeling well. (What did I know then of chronic illness?) We traveled home to Utah for Thanksgiving. Our minivan died on the Van Wyck on the drive to JFK, and we had to wait hours for a tow and missed our flight, all the while I was terribly nauseated. We made it out the next morning, and I suffered the worst migraine of my life upon arrival. I was so happy to see my family, and yet it took every ounce of energy to try to pretend to be well. I had already lost 10 lbs in 3 weeks because of the constant nausea. Which at the time, I blamed on the antibiotics. Later I would learn it was also just part of the illness itself.
After that trip, I began to feel better. I had completed the 3-week course and by week 5, believed I was on the final upswing. I returned to teaching my fitness classes. But it didn’t last. I began to feel ill again. I called my doctor, who got me in for bloodwork. My Western blot only showed 4 of the 5 required positive bands. She said that if I did have Lyme, it was all gone. She tested me for vertigo, inner ear issues— I was fine. She said my blood didn’t show any co-infections. She asked about anxiety and depression, which yes, I had experienced, but I knew it was a symptom of the Lyme, not the root problem. She shrugged. She said, I’m sorry I can’t help you. Maybe try alternative medicine.
I left, defeated and upset. She heavily implied that it was anxiety. That this was in my head. So I stayed sick. For weeks and weeks. Untreated. I’d have days that I felt a bit better and could function, go out to eat— alternated with days of complete fatigue, body aches, wooziness, feeling vibratey and wrong inside my body. The best way I could describe it some days was simply, I don’t feel well. I tried self-treating with Biocidin, based on what I’d read online. But I continued to feel much the same— some days okay, some days miserable.
Then one night in January, I had the worst night of my life— shaking, sweats, tremors I couldn’t control, nausea. I thought, this is it. I’m dying. I hadn’t yet made it to my 42nd birthday. I had run 7 marathons, 10 Ragnar relays, birthed 3 babies., hiked mountains. And I was going to die from a measly tick bite. My Christmas gift from my husband had been a plane ticket to Utah to go out for my sister’s delivery of her baby. I sobbed and sobbed, knowing there was no way I could get on a plane that day. We were out the entire cost of that plane ticket. Just the first of many financial fatalities this Lyme journey would incur. But it was that turning point, when my husband asked me the next morning how I’d slept, and I responded with a broken dam of tears saying I want to die— it was then my husband said, find a Lyme specialist. Spend whatever. You see, we’d been avoiding the LLMDs because of their high costs and not taking insurance.
I wanted to see Dr. Philips in Wilton, but he wasn’t accepting new patients, that’s how busy he was. His partners were, but they were booking 5 months out. I couldn’t wait 5 months. I found Dr. Cameron in Mt. Kisco. My very good friend Kim Carone drove me the 45 minutes to his office and made sure I didn’t forget any questions I needed to ask. (I mention her by name, because these angels on Earth matter— they are the ones who get us through the journey. In my case, literally.) Dr. Cameron diagnosed me, based on my symptoms, with Lyme and babesiosis. Babesiosis caused the night sweats, dizziness, nausea, vibratey-feeling, lightheadedness, ear-ringing, headaches. Later, it would also cause head pressure, earaches, eye pain. He prescribed malarone and azithromycin. He said we’d go month to month. I would track symptoms, and I should stay on it until I no longer had any symptoms. He seemed positive, hopeful, like this was an easy fix, and that I would get better.
TO BE CONTINUED...
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!
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.