Take me out to the ballgame

“Whooo!” my dad shouts, cheering loudly with the fans sitting next to him.  I look at him like any teenager looks at their parent when said parent does much more than breathe. A player for the Orioles has just hit a home run, bringing in the two guys already on base home making the score 5-2. The crowd, evenly split between Orioles and Red Sox fans, is a mix of cheers and groans.

I look at him strangely, questioning, “Wait,” I turn to my dad. “Who are you rooting for again?” From early childhood the Orioles have been my team. This game was sort of a peace offering. We haven’t attended a sporting event together in nearly 10 years… before I was even in high school.
His reply “I just want it to be a good game.”


I started playing organized baseball in the form of T-ball at age 5, but I’d been playing at home much earlier than that. My first T-ball stand was constructed from a wooden table leg. I got pretty good a whacking the ball because too many misses damaged the stand. I started league play at 5, was the only girl playing Little League at 8 and switched to softball to play on the high school team beginning at age 13, in 7th grade.  Baseball has always been a part of my life.


I’m on the bottom row all the way on the left. I’m a whopping 5 years old. And 12 years later, the boy on the top right would be my prom date. [Ahhh, the joys of small town life]

I have been a Baltimore Orioles fan and a baseball fan for as long as I can remember.  I’m not sure why Baltimore became my team as I grew up more than 500 miles away from Baltimore. While other girls had posters of the latest teen heart throbs decorating their childhood bedroom, I had posters of Cal Ripken, Jr, Brady Anderson, Mike Mussina, and a few of my favorite Cubbies too.

We didn’t have cable when I was growing up, and even if we had, I sincerely doubt Orioles games would have been broadcast in South Carolina. Instead, I listened to the games on the radio… WBAL to be specific [an AM radio station… I was still barely within reach].  When Camden Yards opened in 1992, I was ecstatic. It is [in my humble opinion] one of the best baseball stadiums in the USA.

I was determined to see a game during the inaugural season. As a youngster in the 1990’s, and by youngster I clearly mean teenager without a driver’s license, I saved up all my pennies [and I do mean pennies] in a cardboard box creatively called ‘The Baltimore Box’ and when I had enough for a baseball ticket, snacks, and transportation, I bought a round trip Greyhound bus ticket to Baltimore and treated myself to an Orioles game. I saw the Orioles beat the Detroit Tigers 12-0. I came and went in just under 24 hours. And it was awesome. [Oh, I was such a sneaky child. I look back on some of the things I did as a kid and am amazed that I did not die. In my defense, I said that I was running away; it’s not my fault no one actually believed me.]

In 1995, the streak captivated me.  I was glued to the TV every time I could find an Orioles game. [which wasn’t very often, mind you] How could one person play in more than 3000 consecutive baseball games is beyond me, but Cal Ripken did it.  I still remember watching the unveiling of 2131. That was September 1995. I watched it on ESPN. I was in awe. Even though for the past 15 years the Orioles have been one of the most laughable teams in the major leagues, they have still been the team I rooted for… kinda like a marriage… for richer, for poorer… and it’s been hard times, people, hard times.


We found our seats – right behind home plate. As a former catcher, I staunchly refuse to sit anywhere than behind home plate.  Maybe higher than field level, but sitting behind home plate is a must. A few drinks, hot dogs, and pretzels later, we  settled in, intently watching every pitch, predicting where all the fly balls would land, and analyzing strategy. For a few hours for two days, we had something to talk about. Something that we both loved; something that used to unite us. Sport– it this case baseball, a game that I know intimately.

I think it’s for this reason that I always seek out sporting events when I travel. I’ve been an athlete or fan my whole life, and I  know the power it has to unite [and divide] families, communities, and friends. Whatever the sport, even if it’s one I don’t truly understand, I find that I really get into it and really enjoy the passion and zeal of the fans and the strategy of coaches.

I’ve never been one to shy away from doing things on my own, but going to sporting events alone is hard.  I’ll still go, but it’s hard. Partly because sports remind my of my childhood, and partly because sports are a community event. I will go to sports pubs on my own to catch some games on TV when I’m out on my own because I think sport is fabulous insight into a community’s culture.

Minor league baseball can be awesome too: Greenville Drive

Sunday Snaps: Postcards from the Grand Canyon

Visiting the Grand Canyon is on nearly every travelers’ bucket list, and for good reason– it is simply amazing. It is one of those must-see places in the world. While not exactly nearby, it doesn’t require a passport, and it is somewhere I definitely should have visited before now. I combined my visit with a trip to Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite National Park, and San Francisco. I would have loved to have more time.  I would have loved to taken a helicopter ride or mule ride through the canyon or even white-water rafted down the river, but alas, all I managed was a 4 day hike.  Still… totally worth it.

along the north kaibib trail

scenes from the grand canyon

Not technically part of the national park, buy Kanab Creek is on the way if you are coming from Utah.  I highly recommend it as a side stop or if you have more time a day trip.

The scenery is amazing.  Trees grows sideways and the colors are fantastic.  It takes a unique environment in order for this to happen, but it’s a perfect example of ‘grow where you are planted.’

A friend of mine recently told me I needed to include myself in more pictures because otherwise they just look like postcards… so here’s one with me in it. You still can’t see my face, but it’s the best I could do without asking someone to take my picture.  Although I could have since one of my group’s members accompanied me on this afternoon stroll.

I prefer solo travel, but I hate having pictures taking of me posing in front of said tourist attraction. Nowadays, it seems as if you didn’t really go somewhere unless you have photographic evidence of yourself at that exact spot.  I suppose I could get a selfie stick in order to pose, but the actual scenery is much more interesting, at least to me, than having myself stuck in the middle of the photograph.

Chac– the most supreme Mayan God

Being in charge is no joke.  Sometimes at work I’m forced into that position, but it’s not a position I enjoy. It’s hard work being in charge. However, at least when I’m in charge I know there are things outside my control.  In ancient Mayan society, rulers were responsible for governance, organization, warfare, keeping the calendar… Oh, and CONTROLLING THE WEATHER. By claiming divine descent and direct communication with the gods, the elite was able to justify its power and obtain necessities like food, clothing, shelter, and status symbols from lower social classes in exchange for divine protection. Great temples were built to house bodies of dead rulers, who were thought to be part god themselves. A combination of rituals and offerings were used as appeals because the Maya believed that their gods rewarded sacrifice with blessings like prosperity, fertility, and military success.

Lubaantun Ruins–Belize

One of the most insatiable deities was Chac, the god of rain and lightning. Chac is often portrayed as being a snake-shaped being with a reptilian face, large round eyes, a down-pointing snout and fangs, and a lightning axe. Chichen Itza is often thought to be acoustically designed so that feet climbing the steps would mimic the pitter-patter of rain drops and please Chac who in turn would cause real rain drops to fall.  Not coincidentally, Chac is depicted all over the exterior of Chichen Itza.

Hello there, Chac

On the Yucatán Peninsula, rain wasn’t a guarantee, but it was absolutely necessary for survival; rulers were even known as supreme rainmakers in honor of their most important job. Rituals involved feasts, ceremonious smashing and burning of ceramic vessels, and even mass public bloodletting with stingray spines. Temples were also important divine pathways, and construction was often punctuated with rituals that left artifacts within the building’s structure itself.

During droughts, however, rituals just didn’t cut it.  During droughts, human sacrifice was a common practice, and young children were often the sacrificees.  Kids represented the same growth and development needed for growing crops that was necessary for survival. On the Yucatan peninsula, archaeologists have recovered the hearts of young boys. Their hearts were ripped out of their body and thrown in the area cenotes. While in the southern highlands, infants were dropped in springs and drowned.

A sacrificial human skeleton known as the Crystal Maiden was found in the dark zone of a cave and dated back to the ninth century, a dry and turbulent era for the Maya. The god Chac was believed to live at the bottom of caves, cenotes, and other dark places, with his pet serpents guarding the layers of water. Though remains are found in cave entrances from the Early Classic period, not until the eighth and ninth centuries were the priest elites venturing into the perilous dark zone with sacrifices like the Crystal Maiden. This may be evidence of a growing desperation to satisfy Chac and pacify an angry populace.

Unfortunately for the elite, the rain didn’t come, despite frenzied temple construction and increased frequency of human sacrifice. Wars and infighting rose, and kingdoms collapsed as the peasant class began to shift blame toward its rulers. Many of the elite were killed for failing to control the rain, and the established social hierarchy deteriorated until the population collapsed. But it didn’t die out, and modern Maya still worship Chac, sending offerings into the cenotes he dwells in.

At least today, no kids are sacrificed. No hearts are ripped from their bodies. And no one is expected to make it rain.

Happy Birthday USA

I am not the most patriotic person around.  I don’t know where all my ancestors hail from.  I know there’s some Cherokee [the original Americans], Irish, English, Scottish, and possibly German… What I do know is that my ancestors come from South Carolina, North Carolina, and Tennessee from as far back as the early 1800’s/ late 1700’s.  In spite of all that or maybe because of it, I do love history  and am often called a history nerd… History classes such Western Civ, US History, and even Spanish/New World Latin American history were always my favorite classes in school; I even wrote my senior thesis on Mayan Art and Architecture.  I love stumbling up hidden historical markers and visiting well known historical sites whenever I am out and about.

The USA is massive and each different geographic area boasts of a different history. For example, the southeast is completely different than the Pacific Northwest.  Almost as if they were different countries.  Yes, we’re all Americans and speak the same language, but culturally, politically, and historically, this two areas are as different as night and day. On this 241st birthday of the United States, let’s s explore some of the things that make the USA different from its neighbors and former ‘masters’. This is more of a Happy Birthday USA post than anything else, and with that I’ll leave you some of my favorite photos of historical sites.

First up:  America’s friendliest city and representing my home state, Charleston, SC

Historical homes on the battery at night.

Boneyard beach… on one of Charleston’s barrier islands

Charleston-Mount Pleasant bridge

And the famous live oak trees that populated the coastal south nearly everywhere

Next up:  Washington DC, the capital city of the USA and sort of the cultural divide between north and south

george-and-the-flag

Washington Monument and American Flag

US_Marine_Corps_War_Memorial_Iwo_Jima_Monument_near_Washington_DC

Washington DC, as the US capital, is one of the most historic spots in America has something photogenic at every turn.

And of course [although not my favorite] New York City

Lady Liberty and her island

The craziness of Times Square

And the Empire State Building viewing sites

Moving on to the West Coast…

Hello San Francisco…

Golden_Gate_Bridge_
Moving out to the west coast, it one of the more iconic bridges in the world… the Golden Gate Bridge painted in its infamous International Orange colour.

Hello, Las Vegas…

las-vegas-city-

The wonderment that is the Grand Canyon [Read my posts about hiking the Grand Canyon]

grandcanyonnp
One of the best natural features in the USA

Mount Rainier–outside of Seattle in Washington.

mt-rainier
and beautiful mountains

and awesome hiking trails on both sides of the country

My Favourtite European Cities

I have traveled a lot. Not as much as some, but a lot more than most of the people I deal with on a daily basis. I often get asked what’s my favorite city/country area, and it’s hard to say.  Sometimes it depends on my mood.  Sometimes it depends on the reason they are asking.  So, I’ve come up with a list to answer what’s my favorite.  OK two lists:  one for smaller cities and one for European capitals.

First up, my favorite European cities.

  1.  Kotor, Montenegro
  2.  Belgrade, Serbia
  3.  St. Petersburg, Russia
  4.  Krakow, Poland
  5.  Bwets-y-Coed, Wales
  6. Cardiff, Wales
  7. Quedlinberg, Germany

Next, my favorite European capitals.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that, in general, I don’t love large cities. Luckily for me, some of Europe’s capital cities are quite small.  Europe is so diverse and every country is so different that it is often impossible to make fair comparisons.

 London, England

 

I have been to London 5 times, but only in the last two years have I gotten out and truly explored the city.  I have barely cracked the surface, and there is so much more to explore. I am absolutely head over heels for it. If I could magically get a work visa and a job offer in London [not sure if the NHS hires foreigners or if I’d want to work there, but I digress], I would move there tomorrow; that’s how much I love it. I’ve never pictured myself living in a big city — until I finally explored London for the first time.

Things I love about London:

    • The variety — neighborhoods, food,  museums, parks, historical sites; they’re all here
    • The location — London is situated perfectly to explore Europe, which this traveler loves.  The only time I haven’t flown into London for a European holiday was when I solely toured Italy.
    • The Englishness — the Tube, the castles, the red  double decker buses, the black cabs, the pubs, the tea… it’s all so quintessential English!

Berlin, Germany

At the Olympic Stadium in Berlin

 

 

Berlin doesn’t get the attention than Munich or Bavaria does, but that’s OK by me…  I’ve never been one to fall for surface flashiness, and on the surface Berlin is grungy, but it’s OK.  I’m not ashamed to admit it: I am in love with Berlin.  You could actually say that it was love at first sight, as I felt an immediate connection with Berlin from the moment I arrived. I don’t know if it’s the alternative culture, the history, or a mixture of the two that draws me to Berlin. But there’s no denying that it’s a place I can see myself spending a lot of time in in the future.

Things I love about Berlin:

    • The history — from Nazis during WWII to the  Berlin Wall during the Cold War, Berlin has a fascinating (and very recent) history
    • The creative side — because I have a soft spot for hipsters and street art
    • The vibe — it’s a little gritty and a little alternative, but Berlin is evolving in a way that I find very  exciting.

Budapest, Hungary

August 2015–Danube River–basking in the summer moonlight

I never planned to go to Budapest at least not the first time, but a cheap flight  from Geneva on EasyJet had me landing there one  January afternoon, and my oh my was is bone-chillingly cold.  The capital of Hungary was a bit of a surprise for me — I never expected to like it as much as I did. But, whether it was strolling along the Danube, visiting the Semmelweis Museum, or soaking at the Szecheni Baths while watching snow fall,  I found myself loving everything about Budapest. It’s also seriously awesome ( and hot!) in the summer.

Things I love about Budapest:

    • The two halves of the city — the Buda and Pest sides of the city have completely different feels to them.
    • The bridges — which are attractive and offer up nice views of the Danube.
    • The buildings — from Parliament to Fisherman’s Bastion to Buda Castle, there’s plenty of amazing architecture here to view.

Edinburgh, Scotland

 

The capital of Scotland is one city that I probably will never tire of visiting. It’s not a large capital like the others listed here, but it still has a unique character all its own. Whether it’s roaming around the Old Town or climbing up to quieter parts like Calton Hill, Edinburgh is always enjoyable — even in that unpredictable Scottish weather.

Things I love about Edinburgh:

    • The architecture — with the gorgeous Victoria Street being my favorite example
    • The history — the entire city is recognized by UNESCO, which tells you something
    • The people– Scottish people are a treasure

Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Castle–Cardiff is home of the 2017 champions league and the Welsh dragon is guarding the trophy.

Cardiff, the smallest capital in the UK doesn’t get near as much attention as London, Dublin, or even Edinburgh, but it’s still pretty amazing. Only two hours by train from London, and 45 minutes to Bristol, you can easily get to a bigger city quickly if the small town feel of Cardiff starts to get to you.

Things I love about Cardiff:

  • The size–For a capital city, Cardiff is small.  And that makes it easy to navigate. And that makes me happy.
  • It’s location–Cardiff is perched on a river, quite close to the Atlantic Ocean, and on the Wales Coast Path.  Coastal Welsh weather is unpredictable, but on nice days, Cardiff is close enough to the beach to make an afternoon of it.
  • The Language–Welsh is a language I’ll probably never master, but I love that every single sign is in both Welsh and English.  The history and architecture are pretty great too.

It’s no secret that I prefer small cities to large ones, but this list is a good mix of both large cities and small villages.

 

SC State Parks | Stepping back in time

The region south of the Mason-Dixon line is dotted with historic antebellum plantations, but few of them have the history of Rose Hill Plantation.  Built in the 1830’s, Rose Hill Plantation was the home of William Henry Gist, the governor of South Carolina from 1858 to 1860.  Gist is most famous for his leadership of the south’s secessionist movement following the election of President Lincoln, a movement that led to the Civil War.

Rose Hill– shrouded by magnolia and oak trees

In 1860, the plantation reached its apex, producing nearly 300 bales of cotton and over 4000 bushels of corn.  These products would be floated down the adjacent Tyger River or, because the Tyger River is only navigable part of the year, transported by cart to the Broad River.  The plantation survived Union General Sherman’s destructive 1864 march because the flooded Broad River made the plantation inaccessible to his army.  After the war, Gist received a pardon from President Johnson, after which he returned to Rose Hill to lease the plantation to sharecroppers.  Gist died in 1874, and he is buried in a cemetery plot adjacent to the plantation house.

The Gist family headstone.

Today Rose Hill Plantation house sits on the 44-acre state historic site that bears its name, but most of the plantation grounds lie in Sumter National Forest, which surrounds the historic site.  Plantation house tours are offered at 11A, 1P, and 3P Thursday-Monday, but the plantation grounds are open during all daylight hours.  For hikers, two short trails tour the grounds: the 0.6 mile nature trail loop and the 0.94 mile out-and-back Tyger River Trail.  This hike combines both trails to see all the site has to see.

The Tyger River in the spring… water levels don’t get much higher than this

The town closest to Rose Hill is Union, South Carolina although Cross Keys, a dot on the map, has a little interesting history as well.  According to local legend, Jefferson Davis ate his last meal there prior to his final cabinet meeting as president of the Confederate States of America.

Cross Keys House

 

South Carolina State Parks | Jones Gap State Park

Well, that was unexpected

‘Oh thank God, I made it’ was my first thought when I reached the top of Rainbow Falls at Jones Gap State Park two hours after I started.  To be fair, I stopped a lot, took a lot of snaps, and played with all the friendly puppies that crossed my path.

upper rainbow falls

It isn’t the highest peak in South Carolina nor the most strenuous, but with 1200 ft elevation gain over a fairly short distance, it was hard enough.  Especially with humidity in the 90% range and temps in the upper 80’s.  I checked the weather forecast before I left and with only a 15% chance of rain, I threw a lightweight rain jacket in my backpack, packed myself a decent, trail-worthy lunch, filled up my Camelback with water and set off.

Walking the trail

And that was the last time my day went according to plan.  The main road to Jones Gap was washed out resulting in a 30-ish minute detour.  There was a yellow jacket advisory [which I should have paid more attention to].  The sky was overcast, but not threatening, and so I was off.  I hiked through rock beds.  I criss-crossed streams.  I crossed bridges. I navigated tree roots. I walked across a narrow board.  I went through boulders.

trail-to-rainbow-falls

Not 5 stinkin’ minutes after I reached my glorious summit, I heard a low rumble.  At first, I ignored it.  After all, I had a lunch of a deluxe turkey sandwich, trail mix, granola, grapes, and water to enjoy. I heard the low rumble again; this time is was just a little bit louder. I looked up.

storm clouds

And then I started to curse…loudly. As in F-bombs flying The last thing a novice/intermediate hiker wants is to be stuck on the top of a mountain when a thunderstorm comes rolling in. The very last thing I wanted was to get struck by lightening. Rain I could deal with; thunder and lightening, not so much. Not even two bites into my sandwich, I had to pack up. I barely broke into my granola, and I didn’t even get to eat one little grape! I was pissed at Mother Nature, but I didn’t want to inspire her wrath. As if I needed prodding, the low rumble rumbled again…this time a lot louder. I packed up my sandwich, pulled out my rain shell, and set off back down the trail I’d just made my way up. I hadn’t even rested good, yet! I practically ran down the trail, or at least as safely as I could manage, considering the rocks and roots. I didn’t even get to enjoy the small waterfalls that appeared sporadically on the trail.

Small falls

Trouble…just ahead

About 1/3 of the way down, I hit trouble. Raindrops so big and hard they stung as they hit my exposed skin. I also inadvertently disturbed a yellow jacket nest. I never saw it, but my God, they saw me. A small army flew after me, and at least a couple managed to find their way under my clothes. And that’s when the real fun began. Off came the backpack. Off came the rain shell.  And off came my t-shirt. The bees were still swarming. Off came my shorts. Luckily I was near one of the many creek crossings, and general safety and common sense be damned, I jumped into the creek. It was a part where there was a small plunge waterfall and a shallow pool. I screamed like a little girl getting her ponytail pulled on the playground. The water was icy cold. Icy may be a tiny bit of exaggeration, but 55 degrees still feels like the frozen tundra. Sports bra, socks, hiking boots were all that I had on as I submerged my head! and body! in this shallow pool. Might I remind you, it is 1) still pouring 2) thundering and lightening and 3) I’m still about 1.5 miles or so from my car.

small falls at jones gap

Bees stung me 5 times; once on the neck, once on the leg, and 3 times higher up the leg in a slightly more delicate area.

yellow jacket sting

After drowning the bees and freezing my ass off in the water, I resumed my descent still faster than I’m comfortable with because now, as a soaking wet thing, being struck by lightening was still a very real possibility. I successfully navigated the boulders, the steep decline, and the roots. My God, the roots. They always seem to be out to get me. I have a fear of falling. This is a real fear, not just one that COULD happen.  I HAVE actually broken bones while trail raining:  two to be exact [a wrist and an ankle], sprained an ankle multiple times, required stitches, and have cut, scraped, and bruised myself way  too much.

DSCF1176

But I keep coming back. Because there is beauty in nature. I find answers to the questions of the universe when I am in nature.  There is peace in nature. Even when Mother Nature shows her ass and reminds us mortals who’s boss, a day in the woods is better than a day cooped up in a building any day.

rainbow falls

Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.

I’ve been doing a lot of hiking lately some local, some a little further away, and hiking, especially alone, is always introspective for me. I’d gotten away from it lately, but having covered nearly 30 miles on foot over the last week on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon and the Wales Coast Path, I’ve realized that it’s as essential to my well-being as a good night’s sleep.

I haven’t been hiking much lately because I lost my main hiking partner last May, and as much as I like traveling by myself, I don’t love backpacking by myself.  Maybe it’s because all the quiet and solitude gives one ample time to think and with ample time things you’d rather not think about come bubbling to the surface.

It’s been nearly a year; I should have forgiven him by now. People make choices in their lives and those choices sometimes affect other people.  And his choice profoundly affected me.  In ways I hadn’t noticed until quite recently.  Until I was sitting on top of that huge granite slab looking out over the beautiful aquamarine lake.


I can hold a grudge like a champ and in some cases have been doing so for years.  Some things are my fault, and those things  I have to take responsibility for; however, some things are not my fault and I need to recognize that too. I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. I suck at forgiveness. I want people to know that they hurt me and to be sorry, and like most people I have a hard to admitting when I have hurt someone. I’ve been going back through situations where I have felt slighted – situations where I was sure that I was the innocent one – with a new perspective and often times seeing that I am not completely blameless.

So while I’m back to hiking solo, and backpacking solo, I do it with a clean conscience.  I’ll probably never know the real reason this person dropped out of my life.  This person will probably never know how much pain they caused me, but that’s OK.  We recently met for lunch and that helped provide closure.  He was still oblivious to the pain he’d caused and I realized that he always probably would be.

I have forgiven this person.  We lead different lives now and I have moved on. If I did see the person again, and most likely our paths will cross since we live a mere 7 miles from each other and have mutual friends in common,  I don’t want to dive head first into the muck of the past but instead I’d like to start fresh… even if we could never get back to where we once were as friends. I’ve learned a lot of lesson from that friendship, some were painful but necessary.

So, why did this failed friendship trouble me so much? I think it’s because I had not forgiven myself.  Only recently did I realize this and I have been able to scoop myself up like a loved one and remember that just because this friendship didn’t work out doesn’t mean I’m incapable of having real friends… that just because this situation has brought up a lot of negative feelings doesn’t mean I am not a good person. I am human. I make mistakes. It is how we grow.

The only way I have been able to move on is through forgiveness. .. forgiveness of self and of others. Forgiveness is a powerful tool and I am using it in other relationships that gnaw at me.

Forgiveness of self doesn’t need to be saved for big things like the end of relationship but we should practice in all aspects of life. It is OK to forgive ourselves when we forget the keys, eat the extra bowl of ice cream, or spend a little too much on an evening out.

As humans, we will never not make mistakes. That is  part of our design. Yet, we’ve been given this great gift of forgiveness so that we can see our mistakes as blessings. It’s remarkable when we forgive others but it is astonishing when we can forgive ourselves. It’s the glorious acceptance of who we are and that who we are is enough.

Hiking on the PCT… Mt Hood in the background