Real Fit for Real Life
Featuring everything & anything to help you & your family live a fit, full, delicious, joyful life
Getting to this hike is fairly easy-- just go toward Barlow Mountain and Scotland Elementary Schools (which are side by side). In Ridgefield, if you're coming from North St, turn right onto Barlow Mtn Rd. The turn-in is easy to miss! It is immediately on your right. If you've passed the lake, you've gone too far & can U-turn at the elementary schools. There are no facilities at this trailhead, though I did see a porta-potty across the street. I didn't check to see if it's permanently there for hikers. So I would make sure you've pottied first! There is decent parking here, and I've never seen it full. Immediately, you will get gorgeous views of Lake Naraneka. When I hiked it this most recent time, the leaves were in full color. In the summer, sometimes fishers will be here in their boats. It's utterly picturesque at any season!
You'll find the trailhead close to the water's edge, with a pretty hill on your right. The trail begins with a nice stroll around the right half of the lake. Look for families of ducks, even swans! In late fall, the trail is drenched in leaves. Pick up your feet as you walk & be mindful of hidden tree roots!
At .42, you hit the marsh grass & top of the lake. Here, you'll see a downed tree. The kids & I like to balance on it for a picture :) You'll continue, with the marsh on your left & a beautiful hill on the right. Now is the time to mention, if it's at all cold, you'll wish you had gloves & warm boots at this point! At least I did ;)
At .5, you'll reach a sign with trail maps. Your goal for this hike is the spot with the binoculars, which means scenic bliss awaits you!! Make sure you get on the orange-white then left to get on the blue. If it's leafy & you can't see the trail, veer to the right & look for a white marked tree to find the trail. Let me be honest and confess-- I totally lost the trail with all the leaves! And this was my third time hiking this trail, so I thought I knew what I was doing. Lesson learned-- the trail changes every time and with every season. Be humble, and be smart. Luckily, the moment I stood there absolutely confused, a friendly dog bounded toward me. I looked to her humans, two kind women who directed me back to the trail. So yes, this trail is dog friendly. I've even seen them off leash. But I digress . . .
Of course, you won't lose the trail, because you will have my very explicit instructions ;) On the white trail, step over the down tree around .7. Shortly you will hop on the orange-white trail. What have I said before?? Every good hike includes a wooden bridge. So here ya go- a short narrow wooden bridge about .85. This is a short stretch that takes you to the blue trail.
Once you hit the blue trail, the scenic lookout isn't far, but it can be pretty steep and precarious! This is the exciting portion of the hike-- hold onto those little ones! And only go as high as you are comfortable going. But if you can go all the way to the big rock-- no, not that first one, go farther to the next rock-- drum roll, choirs of angels, you've arrived!
One of the best views around!! And it only took about 1.2 miles to get there! This is a nice spot to picnic, hydrate, and take a lot of photos! Just be sure your kiddos don't get too close to the edge. This area at the top is breathtaking. Take some time to look around behind you as well, in the opposite direction-- in the fall, it is golden and red and simply splendid.
Now, prepare yourself for the descent. What goes up must come down, and it can be tricky navigating a few spots on the downhill. There's also one spot that comes awfully close to the edge, so make sure your kiddos stay to your left and take the trail seriously. I always give my kids three tips for tackling steep descents: 1.) Take side steps. This ensures you can't fall face first. 2.) Run fast. This is just you surrendering to gravity. Quick, short strides is the key. Or if all else fails, 3.) Get on your bum and scoot down. Trees also make good handholds, but be careful of bugs and spiders on the bark! It's a very short stretch that is steep and what they call "technical", so don't stress too much but do be careful.
You'll move faster hiking out than in. Once you get back to the wooden bridge, go right to stay on the orange-white trail! I missed this & ended up heading toward a street! Then at the sign, veer right to hop on the white. This trail isn't as well-marked as others I've hiked, so pay attention to landmarks-- you can even make it a game for the kids. Now that I think of it, that's probably why I kept getting lost this time around-- because I didn't have my kids! They are much more attentive to landmarks than I am-- I am easily distracted by a vibrant woodpecker or an intricate vine and miss the vital sights, like where to turn! But sometimes a solo hike where I literally lose myself is exactly what I need.
As always, share your own experiences in the comments! Happy hiking! I'm off to write a guest post all about late fall-early winter hiking tips for the fabulous website Macaroni Kids-- I LOVE this site and look forward to their weekly newsletters. Meghan the editor does an incredible job helping us parents solve the age-old question: What are we doing this weekend? And will the kids like it? I have somewhat older kids (ages 15, 13, and 10), and I still find this website wonderfully useful-- maybe because I'm such a kid at heart, too ;) It's awesome to live in an area with so much going on and available and to have one resource where I can see it all. Sign up for the newsletters if you have kids, or you're a kid at heart, and you live in the Danbury-Ridgefield area!
Training for the 2015 NYC Marathon has been challenging. I've felt slower than ever before; I've struggled with blisters on my left foot and have spent an exorbitant amount of time and money to solve the problem, only to realize the only solution lies in becoming a millionaire and having my shoes custom-built for my foot. I'm no longer accepting suggestions, so don't bother. I've tried it all, trust me!
I've struggled with heat, humidity, hills. Chafing, bonking, swelling. Pains of all sorts and sizes. But I keep going. Because I am running for a reason. I usually try to dedicate every run to someone I love who is in need-- that's my way of praying I guess, and it feels more productive. But this is the first time I've actually combined my running with fundraising for a charity. When I saw that there was a Team ALS, I knew I had to be involved.
Click the button below to hear my story . . .
The beauty of Topstone is that it is close enough and short enough to hike on a whim or do frequently as a gentle workout. Since it's so close & relatively easy for all ages and abilities, it's one we take our out-of-town guests to all the time to give them a taste of our CT beauty. I highly recommend you do the same ;)
It's easy to get to Topstone Road off route 7, just be sure to keep your eyes open and not pass the parking lot. Turn in (the turn will be on your right if you are coming from Ridgefield) and keep driving past the sign all the way toward the lake, where there is ample parking. Since this is also a life-guarded lake during the summer, you may be able to use restroom facilities, but they might be locked off-season-- alas, the lack of necessity thus far has prevented me to check on this very important tidbit of info! As usual, I make sure we all arrive with empty bladders! This hike is a loop, so you can start either to your left or right from this parking area. You can also explore the beach area first, where there is a playground for young kiddos. There are also basketball courts by the lake, if you bring a ball and want to shoot some hoops first. Talk about kid-friendly hike!
We always start on the trail head to the right for some reason, just a natural tendency. You'll begin with a slight downhill stretch & arrive at a wooden platform on the water. This is our favorite spot for yoga poses & snake-spying! Watch little ones here if you don't want them going for a swim! If the water levels are high enough, you can watch the water overflow down the man-made dam on your right.
Topstone is dog-friendly & even has a fenced doggie play area where the pups can run around off leash & even swim in the lake if they're brave enough (our Chloe doesn't love swimming, despite our attempts to throw her in our pool!) Plan for extra time on this hike if you want to enjoy the dog park, & of course scoop your dog's poop!
Shortly after the dog park, you'll see some fun exercise-playground equipment on your right. This is a definite must-do! The kids and I do tricks on the rings & practice the balance beam-- moms always think they're too old for this playfulness, but I say you're only as old as you move! So move like a kid ;) It's invigorating to hang upside down at any age!
The rest of the hike offers beautiful views of the lake, occasional streams over rock beds, ferns on the woods side & marsh grass & lily pads on the lake side-- maybe you'll get lucky and spot a frog on a lily pad or catch them flowering like a Monet painting come to life! It's really wonderful how compact this hike is-- so much to see & do on such a short hike! So take your time & take it in. To be truthful, I haven't mile-marked this one with my Runkeeper-- it's one we just go do. You could do it in 30 minutes, or have fun and play and spend an hour.
There are trails that take off into the woods area, but I have yet to explore these. I'll keep you posted!
What's also wonderful about Topstone is that you can enjoy it all four seasons. We've visited in the winter, spring, summer, & fall, & every time there's something new to observe & appreciate! Fellow hikers are always friendly, another reason why I love to take to the trails! It's refreshing to escape the angry people, all hustle & bustle & busy & thinking their schedules are more important than anything else in the world. I've had great conversations with lovely people out on the Topstone trail. So be one of those people. Show your kids how to be that kind of person. There's more to hiking than hiking, or even the exquisite beauty of nature. There's humanity. The simple truth that we share the trail, the planet, and the desire to feel peace, love, & joy.
And you thought it was just a hike.
For those of you new to my blog/Instagram/YouTube channel (yes, I've covered all the bases for helping everyone everywhere recover from their dieting addictions!), I wanted to use this entry to explain why I chose the name Real Fit for Real Life.
And to explain the why, I must first give my story, which honestly could be any woman's story, perhaps even your story, more or less. The story begins early, say when I was ten. Suddenly I grew this little Winnie the Pooh belly. It was the 1980s. I lived off of cereal, Pop Tarts, Kraft Mac & cheese, ravioli from a can. "Clean eating" hadn't yet been invented or coined as far as I was concerned. Sure, we ate salad often, iceberg lettuce doused in Italian dressing. When we ate out, we headed to Pizza Hut or a buffet-style steak house. Farm-to-table hadn't been invented either, at least not for middle class families. I took dance classes, rode bikes with friends, ran around in gym class. Still, I had my belly. It didn't fit with my stick skinny arms and legs, and I grew self-conscious of it, especially when one time at dance class, my dance teacher pointed it out to me & the entire class. Geez. Thanks, lady. I didn't know I had that roll there, so thanks for bringing it to my attention. I was ten. And I already disliked my body.
Fast forward to college. 1990s and all things Fat Free were the rage. We knew nothing about sugar. Just fat. And fat was the enemy. I had roommates who were active, so we'd go running together or hit the weight room. I had no car & walked everywhere. Finally, I slimmed down. My belly got a bit flatter, though still there, but I felt more confident in my body. I also found fitness as my new hobby!
I got married at age 20, 1996. Because I was in love. And that's what you did at BYU in good ol' Utah. You married young so you could a.) do the dirty legally, and b.) start multiplying & replenishing the earth. I was eager for A. But my emetophobia (fear of vomiting) kept me from B for a good four years.
And thus began the baby-making years & the true beginnings of yo-yo dieting. I still hadn't learned proper nutrition, & we were poor students. We lived off of Pasta-Roni. I got smarter and ate healthier with each pregnancy, but still, I easily gained 40-45 lbs each pregnancy. What I learned the hard way is that if it takes 9 months to gain, it takes at least that to lose it. Unless you're one of those disgusting girls we hate who zips up her size 4 jeans to leave the hospital.
My dieting post-pregnancy got smarter each time, too. After the first, I resorted to severe calorie restriction but knew nothing about macros or quality food. I ate whole grain cereal with skim milk for breakfast, 11 pretzels & a container of sugary low-fat yogurt for lunch, & whatever for dinner. I lost weight, but still wasn't lean.
After baby 2, I lost weight faster. First, because I was so busy figuring out two kids that I sometimes didn't eat. Second, because I tried the fad at the time, Metabolife, a very popular ergogenic aid that eventually got yanked from shelves after users began suffering heart palpitations & heart attacks! Yep. I got down to a size 4, the smallest I'd ever been, because I cheated. I was so desperate to lose the baby weight, I ignored common sense & swallowed the pill of ignorance, willing to try anything. When I began experiencing my own chest pains, I quit. When the news hit of how horrible Metabolife was, I wondered how much damage I had wreaked upon my body! I vowed to stay away from ergogenic aids ever after. I also never knew what was more effective-- that pill, or my own healthier eating & exercise.
After baby three, I got my cholesterol tested & got the frantic call from the the doctor's office once my results were in. 268?! They couldn't believe someone apparently healthy and young could be so high. I explained it ran in my family-- my mom had hit the 400s before gastric bypass surgery (she and two of her sisters had it done-- when I say I genetically gain, I'm NOT lying!) But the doc didn't care if 268 was stellar in my family. He put me on a strict old-school low-cholesterol diet. No more egg yolk, cheese, red meat, or butter. Lots of oatmeal. I stuck to it religiously, not wanting to go on drugs. And I lost the baby weight & then some! I shrunk down to a size 2 & at one point, even dipped below 120 lbs! I became the new teeny me. And I loved it. I had no butt. And I utterly lost my boobs. But I liked being tiny. That was such a novelty for me.
Once I trained for my first marathon, I began to bulk up (I see now that was nothing!), & I didn't like it. I hit 126 & thought I needed to go on a diet again. I decided to turn to a friend in the bodybuilding industry to give me guidance. She introduced me to the world of nutrition science & macronutrients. She put me on a plan that was ruled by numbers. I had to consume 50% protein, 35% carbs, 15% fat. I could only eat 11 grams of sugar with breakfast & none the rest of the day. I had to drink a gallon of water a day & take supplements. Initially, I was excited! I researched & took notes & felt like I was learning more about food & its properties. I spent days crunching the numbers & soon realized how difficult it would be to attain these macros! I had to cut bread out completely-- it wouldn't fit my macros. I had to cut certain fruits out of my diet because the sugar content was too high. I had to eat more chicken, turkey, fish, & hard-boiled egg whites than I'd consumed in my entire life! But I was dutiful & consummate. I obeyed.
And I began to get sudden sharp pains in my right abdomen, so stabbing that the first time, I thought I'd gotten stung by a bee! One day it was so severe, my hubby rushed me to the urgent care. I've found urgent care to be useless for me in most experiences, & this was another. At least they ruled out heart attack & appendicitis, but they had no answers for what it was. (Years later I would conclude with the help of a female hormone specialist that it was gall bladder attacks from the sudden change in diet & drastic increase in protein.) The pains eventually stopped when my body adjusted to the new diet, probably a span of a couple months.
The strict diet worked. I got back down to my magical 120, only this time with a bit more muscle. I also lost even more boobage. The empty sacs that remained were disheartening, so much so that I wouldn't let my hubby near them. He loved me as I was, but I didn't love me as I was. So he said if I really, really needed it, I could pursue plastic surgery options. And so I did.
Once I had my chest back, and I had survived that 6-week high protein diet, I approached my friend again and asked her if she thought I could compete even though I had stretch marks. She encouraged me to try, and thus began my first meal plan.
It involved following an exact outline of 6 meals a day, the same meals every day for 4 weeks straight, with one cheat meal a week. I bought my first food scale and learned how very little 2 oz of chicken really is! I ate broccoli for breakfast, exorbitant amounts of it, raw. With a side of hummus & hard-boiled egg whites. I made weird protein shakes that made no sense & tasted just as senseless. I looked forward to new meal plans just for a change, even if the new plan was worse than the previous one!
I also changed at a deeper level without noticing. A sense of superiority grew, knowing that my willpower was greater than everyone else's. But also a sense of jealousy and anger, that I had to sacrifice so much & work so hard for something others just had-- leanness. On the other hand, I gained confidence. Because I'd never done anything so difficult. Even running a marathon seemed easier than this. I also started seeing results, which led to a great sense of satisfaction. I also had many self-doubts. So it was a bizarre juxtaposition of feeling better, and worse, about myself than ever.
Despite achieving a leanness I had never before experienced, I didn't place in the two competitions I had registered for. It was upsetting because the field for one placed 5 of 7 girls! Not gonna lie, I'm a horrible loser. I stomped backstage, gathered my oil & tanner & 5-inch hussy heels & left as soon as I possibly could. Why had I sacrificed chocolate and bread and joy to feel so absolutely horrible about myself in public??
And yet, when I turned 35 and realized I could now compete in the Masters division, I decided to try again, this time on my own. I wanted to take control of my meal plans. I did my own research and wanted to create more enjoyable meal plans, ones I could stick to better, still meet my macros, but still achieve leanness & muscularity. I practiced posing more this time. I'd get a cuter suit. I'd have a better experience.
I showed up to compete in the Masters, & I was the only one. I thought, "Sweet! I get a trophy automatically!" But no. They cut the category. Instead I was simply in the general category, next to all the 20-somethings. I knew I didn't stand a chance but decided to just have fun. And it was okay. And it made me want to try again.
So I did one more. This time the masters category was so big, I knew I didn't stand a chance. My only hope was my height category which only had 5 girls, 3 of whom would place. I felt confident for once! My hair was amazing and all mine-- no extensions or wigs like other girls. My posing was stronger & not gimmicky. Sure, I had stretch marks, but my legs were the best up there! I had to place!
But no. Again, failure. Part of me thinks it's politics. I had no coach. I had no connections. I tried to compete on a budget. I thought it would be enough. It wasn't. Finally my husband, who had been as supportive as possible, asked me to quit competing. He saw what it was doing to me.
Between each competition, I immediately gained back a lot of the weight. I had difficulty transitioning to a normal, healthy off-season diet. I would eat perfectly all week only to cheat all weekend like a madwoman. My metabolism didn't know which way was up. I hated what I saw in the mirror and on the scale. I began to steadily see my weight creep into the 130s, & I was mortified.
I decided I'd try to compete one more time, but this time in figure. I figured I was better at gaining muscle. And I wanted to be stronger. And I knew figure girls got more calories. I started 18 weeks out because I wanted to do it right, & I returned to my trainer. This time she alternated the meal plans so that I could follow one weeks 1/3/5 & another weeks 2/4. Then we'd switch. The meals were more satisfying, & she worked harder to make sure I got foods I liked. It was going well. Until my back went out. And went out again. And life got stressful. And I just couldn't do it any longer. I had already started posing practices! But I made the choice to quit. It was so hard for me to not follow through on a goal. But I had to prioritize, and there were more important issues facing me at that time.
We took a job offer that moved us to CT... Of course, this story is in my first post. Blah blah blah, I gained more weight, hated myself, & discovered self-love, intuitive eating, and being Real Fit for Real Life. Long story short, or rather less long, I finally decided to stop dieting and start living. I chose self-love over self-hate. I chose a new attitude. Not necessarily new actions, but a new mindset for my actions. No longer would my every move be about a desired physique! It would simply be for the joy of it. I would eat what my body needed without judgment. I would exercise because I love it, with no regard for an aesthetic outcome, but rather for an improved quality of mobility, strength, flexibility, power, and mood. I didn't stop exercising and eating well-- I just altered my motivations & mindset. If I needed a glass of wine on a Wednesday, so be it. If a friend invited me to a weekday lunch, I didn't have to count that as a "cheat meal"-- it was just a meal. I no longer needed to track all my macronutrients in an app or stand on the scale every day or tape measure my waist and thighs. I was finally learning how to be a part of the rest of civilization! It was an enlightenment!
As a personal trainer, this epiphany went against everything I'd been teaching clients for years! At first, I was confused. I wasn't sure how to approach my plans for clients. But then I began to realize, this is a journey. I have a strong knowledge of healthy nutrition & exercise. So for me, the problem was diet and measurement obsession. But for others, they may still need the first stage, and that's education-- learning and creating habits of good eating and exercise/daily movement. There is a time and place for tracking and measuring-- that is all part of self-education. But then we MUST progress! This is not a stage to remain at! This is not a way of life! Babies can't keep crawling-- they must eventually get up on two feet and learn to walk. And then skip and run and dance! This is my new method of learning to be Real Fit for Real Life. I determine where a client is, then figure out the best path to getting to that point where he/she can eat intuitively, has a desire for exercise and activity, and achieves a body that brings confidence and a life of joy. Because a life of self-hatred is no kind of life. It's unacceptable. I'm angry at myself for accepting it for so long!
Life is too short. When I look back at these photos and remember how I felt about myself, all those negative emotions, and for what?! I looked fine. Today I'm probably at my "heaviest" but I feel my very best. I'm happy. I'm strong. I'm fit. I don't need to be shredded. I don't need to be stick thin. I need to be joyful, and I need to live life. That's what I want to give clients-- strength, confidence, joy, and self-love.
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.