Real Fit for Real Life
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This wondrous hike actually allows you to explore both Hemlock Hills & Pine Mountain-- honestly, this was a bit accidental, but I find the best journeys are often those unplanned ;) My original goal was to find the high point with the lookout, which I had been told was off of Pine Mountain Road. The day was foggy & cloudy, so I knew I wouldn't get the best view, but at least I could scope out the hike before bringing the kids next time. (It's always nice when I'm not lying to them, "We're almost there-- it's not that steep!" when really I have no idea! We moms are notorious liars.)
So I found the small parking area up Pine Mountain Road, and when I say small, I mean small. I'm lucky no one else was there that day. There are no facilities either, so be sure to potty first! (Which I did, but I still had to relieve my full bladder in the woods, another reason I was grateful for no other hikers around! It's tough to be a girl.) Now, here's where I went wrong but oh-so-right: I took the obvious trailhead. The one right in front of me next to the big sign.
The trailhead, by the way, is stunning. Not all hikes are gorgeous right out the gate, but this one was. It's the yellow trail and it begins with a very gentle downward slope. On a quiet fall morning you can hear the echoes of acorns dropping like mini cannonballs. Don't take it personally-- I had to convince myself there were no maniacally-laughing squirrels up in the treetops just hurling acorns at me. I knew the woods wanted me there. So I continued.
Right at the start you will see some beautiful rock formations and curlicue trees, and immediately, you will know this hike is special. It is one you will want to return to again and again-- magical and mysterious. Movies should be made here. Seriously.
At .22 you'll arrive at a little wooden bridge-- stand here & listen. It is otherworldly. If you disagree, you have lived in CT far too long & take it for granted. Open your eyes and ears a little more, & you will recognize the fairy-tale-likeness of this spot. I have added it to my Favorite Spots on the Planet List.
At .32 you'll have to traverse large boulders! Be careful! Adventurous kids will love this part, but be sure they are cautious. Also, while dogs are allowed here, if your dog tends to be a puller (like mine), I'd leave him/her home, simply because dogs are more agile than we are & forget that a 2-footed clutz is behind the leash! On the other hand, pullers are great to have on steep climbs ;) And a steep climb is upon you at this point of the hike!
Once you arrive at the blue-yellow fork, stay on yellow. Also keep your eyes on those trail markers-- they can be spaced far apart. At .5, it gets swampy-looking. In the summer, I'd be sure to have generous amounts of bug-spray on. It's not swampy for long, as you arrive to what almost looks like a landscaped set of stepping stones. At .64, you have the option to go left onto yellow-blue toward Lake Windwing or go straight onto Blue. But for this hike, turn around at this point, because you still have the grand finale to get to, and that's at Pine Mountain!
I actually did go down both trails for a bit before I realized I was heading into a much longer hike than I anticipated that day. If you are hiking without kids, you should definitely explore these longer trails. The blue trail will eventually take you towards Miry Brook, where you could hop on the orange to the parking lot on Ned's Mountain. Had I continued on the yellow-blue (the online trail map has this as a brownish orange line, very confusing to a girl alone in the woods!) I would have ended up down by Lake Windwing on the first Hemlock Hills hike I blogged about! See, I'm beginning to get my bearings & see how all these trails and parks connect! But the internet was quite confusing.
Anywho, go back, staying on the yellow trail. If you're lucky like I was, you'll run into James & Ray, mountain bikers who I coincidentally ran into also on last week's Farrington hike! Great minds think alike I suppose. They were the ones to kindly tell me I had missed my intended trailhead! I asked how long the hike was to the looking point, and they said I could do it in 10 minutes. So once I made the return trip to my car, I dropped off my backpack, retrieved necessary provisions for being a girl in the woods who has to pee very badly, and crossed the street, where right behind my van was the trailhead I had come for! The true trailhead was a bit down the road with a wood sign, but I took what was closest and was also clearly a trail, though it had no marking. So it'll be a bit before you see the official yellow trail markings.
Luckily the mountain bikers were right-- the Pine Mtn. Lookout (also known as the Ives' Cottage location, though no cottage exists there & now I want to know the history here) was not too far. But it is a very good climb! Be patient if you have small hikers with short legs-- this is a sweat-inducing hike. But when you tell them it isn't that far, you are not lying ;) This hike isn't nearly as pretty as the Hemlock Hills, but the view is spectacular once you arrive! Rest here, take a lot of photos. I've heard this is one of the highest points in Ridgefield-- it's definitely the best vista I've found so far. On a clear day, you can see the Long Island Sound. But I didn't get a clear day. Still, it was incredible to be above the treetops. I can't wait to return when the leaves change color even more!
Had I only done this hike, I would've continued along the yellow to see the chimney ruin and do the loop. There are red trails that connect to this as well, which lead to Bennett's pond or even Wooster Mountain State Park. I love the infinite possibilities of these trails so close to home! Because these trails all connect, there can be a lot of confusion as to trail names. This Pine Mountain hike has also been called Bennett's Pond because it eventually connects there. However, it is pretty far from the actual Bennett's Pond & Bennett's is another hike (off Bennett's Road) that I have yet to blog about that I did with the kiddos. It wasn't my favorite, but it's worth exploring.
For this hike, the lookout is your summit, then you will return down. In total, this Pine Mountain portion is just .9, so add that to the Hemlock Hills portion (about 1.3), and that gives you a perfect 2.2 mile hike. Because you'll want to take a lot of photos and give your kiddos some breaks on that climb, plan for 1.5-2 hours. This really is my favorite so far!
As always, wear good athletic shoes, bug spray, and pack plenty of water & snacks! It may be wise to bring hiking poles for the steep downhill stretches, but they're not mandatory. Feel free to share your own experiences in the comments!
I say new blog, because I've blogged before. Like pretty much every bikini/figure competitor out there, I blogged about the experience. The weeks leading up. How I felt on my meal plans. What the competition was like. Why I did it. What I never blogged about was WHY I gave it up, the bodybuilding competition scene. I only did 4 bikini competitions, never placing, then attempted to train for a figure competition before life got so crazy & stressed that I had a breakdown and made the difficult decision to quit an endeavor that I had already begun and invested in.
I struggled with severe lower back issues for months, later to learn from X-rays that I had degenerative discs in my L4-L5. A severe episode would land me on the floor for a week! I'd have to get subs for my classes, pop some muscle relaxers, and wallow in self-pity. As a trainer who prides myself in body awareness and functional fitness, it was an embarrassment to be laid up like that. Besides the fact that not much is as frightening as that lightning zap of pain that suddenly and severely stabs you in the back quite literally! Only people who have experienced this understand the unique and terrifying sensation-- when I meet someone who completely gets it, I want to hug that person! Obviously, these episodes put a kink into my figure training schedule-- the last thing I could do was lift!
On top of that, we made some huge life changes. My husband accepted a job promotion that would move us to CT, thousands of miles away from what we now considered home. Utah. I said I'd never raise kids in Utah (it's a bit of a bubble), but once most of our extended family ended up there, and we ended up there, and we both had jobs going well there, I thought we were settled for good, that our moving days were far behind us. We'd been in Utah 11 years, the longest either of us had lived anywhere in our entire lives, me growing up a Navy brat & my hubby also moving often as a kid. Let's just say, the move was difficult. It was a tearful good-bye, and arriving to live in a hotel for 66 days with 3 kids and a dog in a hide-a-bed didn't make the transition any easier.
Basically, I had been working so hard to build muscle, then life got stressful (cortisol levels up!), and I needed a bit more wine than usual! So I gained weight. The weight I had said I would never ever gain again. We all know how difficult it is to lose weight after having babies! To be honest, mathematically speaking, I shouldn't have gained weight as rapidly as I did. I still worked out extremely hard when my back was in decent shape, & I ate well the majority of the time. But genetically, I'm a gainer, so it didn't take much.
I was a bit embarrassed applying for a fitness job in our new home state. I wanted to say, "I'm usually leaner! Picture me 5-10 lbs lighter-- that's the real me!" Luckily I had a great resume and landed a teaching job right away. It was my best stress relief, teaching classes. I was living in a hotel, schlepping 3 kids to 3 different schools every weekday, then lying in bed watching HGTV because there wasn't much else to do "at home"-- no chores, minimal cooking, no where to sit. I worked out. I went for a run or a hike. I did laundry with quarters. I drove.
When we finally got into our house, it was a massive project! My HGTV-watching served me well, because I was ready. I knew paint colors, walls I wanted to knock down, carpet I wanted to rip up. I got busy. So busy I hardly ate. You would think the weight just melted off. But it was slow progress. I began to get frustrated. I considered getting back on a meal plan, measuring every week, returning to that rigid lifestyle. My negative self-talk was at a peak. Of course, it had peaked before, every time I put weight back on after a competition. Even during the process of leaning out, because I wasn't leaning out fast enough. I began to realize, I'd been worrying about my physique for far too long. And I had been berating myself for years. And that instead of TRYING to lose weight, I should instead try to LOVE MYSELF where I was at. I had never attempted that before. I had always had a goal to reach, and while I believe having a goal is great, I was never fully present or content in my own skin because I was more in love with who I would be minus 5-10 lbs later. It was an incredibly sad epiphany.
So I changed my goal. Instead of going on yet another diet, I opted to go 30-days without standing on the scale and without saying (and trying not to even think the words), "I'm fat." "I wish my thighs were smaller." "I wish I was leaner." etc. And a miracle happened. In this 30 days of no eating rules, no weighing, no tape measuring, I leaned out some. The scale stayed roughly the same. Lo and behold, I did not gain 20 lbs by not plugging everything into myfitnesspal! I began to eat more intuitively. I had fewer cravings. I still chose to eat clean most days with plenty of veggies, fruit, & protein, but I didn't feel bad at all if I had a Prime Burger or some pizza (lots of good pizza places in town!) or a glass of wine or Ross's (bakery-cafe) chocolate chip bread pudding (which played a large role in our choice to move to Ridgefield, not gonna lie!) I didn't go crazy. I didn't binge. I didn't treat my weekends like the end of yummy eating for eternity (I did this often previously!) I just LIVED. It was shocking to me that there are probably a lot of people out there who live this way-- just LIVE. I wondered what had held me back from this wisdom for so long! But I'll save those ponderings for another post . . .
Basically, we worry way too much about things, that in the end, mean very little. For years, I worried constantly about leaning out, leaning out, leaning out (this means skinny but with muscle-- a rather difficult feat for most humans!) Which meant I worried about every bite I put in my mouth-- was it high enough grams of protein, low enough fat, best fiber, weigh exactly 3 ounces, and so on. I believed so passionately in properly fueling my body-- which is a good thing for health, energy, disease prevention-- but still, it was detracting from the act of living. It's a delicate line that separates living your passion and not really living. It comes down to this, and the answer depends on the individual:
If today was your last day, would you be happy with the priorities you made? Would you regret more that you ate that cookie or didn't eat that cookie? That you spent an extra hour at the gym, or in bed, or talking to a friend?
There isn't a right or wrong answer here-- there's just a right or less right for YOU-- what do YOU value most? I'd guess if you're dying of obesity-related disease, you'd regret eating the cookie, as well as a lot of other foods you probably shouldn't have shoveled in! But if you're super lean and have been depriving yourself for months, you may very well regret that you didn't enjoy one final cookie! We are each on our own journey and at different places in life. Figure out what your priorities are right now and stop worrying so much about everything else. This was tough for me, but as soon as I figured out that for me, attaining & maintaining a bikini body wasn't top priority, I began to finally love myself, live my life more fully, and be less frustrated with things beyond my control. This isn't giving up or giving in-- this is breaking through.
My goal as a personal trainer is to first, help clients establish healthy habits, but then, help them to LOVE THEMSELVES and get off the diet roller coaster! At some point, you have to learn how to LIVE. And constantly seeing yourself as a "work in progress" means you never appreciate and love where you are right NOW, in this moment. As soon as you learn to love yourself, you will let go of emotional eating, guilt-driven eating, and over-eating. And that is just truth.
So welcome to my blog about LIVING a real life. Being real fit, whatever that looks like in your own life. Seeking real joy. Creating real meals. And making your real fit life a family affair. I plan to post: Hike of the Week (kid-friendly), Menu Ideas, Fit-Philosophizing, and whatever else strikes my fancy or readers request ;)
As always, feel free to share.
This week's hike was actually solo for me, and it was nice-- nobody whined or asked, how much longer?? ;) But as I hiked, I did consider just how kid-friendly each trail was. So here goes . . .
Finding Farringtons Park (or Farrington Woods as the little wooden sign says) is a little tricky. It is located in Danbury, very close to the NY border-- in fact, at first I passed the entrance and had to U-turn, crossing the state line twice to get there! Basically, heading east on 202, look carefully for an obscure entrance that appears to be a private drive. In fact, you will have to drive past a few private properties on a gravel road before locating the parking lot on your left. It's small and has no restrooms, so make sure you've all pottied beforehand! There's a Starbucks nearby just in case ;) From my research, this park is still under construction, so they should be adding restrooms and more marked trails by Spring!
I will say right off the bat, this isn't my favorite hike I've done in the area, simply because it is so close to 84 and you can hear the traffic noise for much of this hike. That said, it had some pretty views that still make this a worthwhile hike, and some city-folk are comforted by the sound of traffic, knowing civilization is not far away! Also of note: this is a great site for mountain bikers! In fact, I felt it was geared more toward bikers than hikers, with several options of bike trails.
Hikers will want to start on the right of the sign, stay on the white trail. The initial stretch of trail is really pretty, flanked by ferns and tall marsh grasses. At the fork, go straight on the wider, rockier path. (I read that the trail is so wide because of decades of jeeping! So that's a plus for kids who don't like the woods to touch them at all while hiking-- very wide trails!) This is a gentle climb with some interesting old rock property lines. At the fork, take the red trail (about .27) This takes you onto the soft dirt trail and continues a gentle climb. It does begin to get steeper but not for too long. Veer left at the top around .73. You'll notice on the right the remains of a chimney, which I assume is all that remains of Isabelle Farrington's residence. I couldn't find much info on the history of the land, only that the city of Danbury purchased it in 2010 to turn it into a recreational haven, which in my opinion is always a great cause! Anywho, if you'd like to capture a pic of the chimney, you'll have to go off-trail, so be sure you have long socks & pants and always be mindful of where you are stepping! Also be aware of how best to get safely back to the trail.
Continue your hike, & at about .85 you will come to Sanford Pond, which is a very serene sight, especially in the fall-- the blue of the water & sky accented surrounded by green with accents of reds, oranges, and golds is just exquisite. Here is where you will finally lose the traffic noise, too. The trail by the pond wasn't yet marked, but you will notice bright pink and orange ribbons tied around trees, designating the bike paths. At this point, the trail fizzles out a bit currently. But having hit the 1 mile mark, I decided to backtrack and hike back in, for a nice one-hour hike.
On the way down, there are stretches where the rocky terrain can be sketchy. So with kids, hold hands or use hiking poles. Otherwise, it's an easy hike for the entire family & you can head to Trader Joe's after for some healthy treats :)
This past Monday, the kids had off school, & the weather was utterly perfect-- a crisp, cool fall morning, the first long-sleeve weather day of the season. So we ventured off to find Hemlock Hills, one of many hikes on my To Do List of hiking. I wanted to hit one of the high points of elevation while sticking to a do-able mileage for my kids (typically 1.5-2.5 miles for a one-hour hike total). So here are the details . . .
Drive toward Ridgebury Elementary School on Bennetts Farm Rd, then turn onto South Shore Dr. This will bring you to a baseball field, where you can park. Here is where this particular hike begins. As always, bug spray & sunscreen up, and be sure to pack enough water for all hikers, depending on heat/humidity.
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.