We are pleased to introduce our participants and guest bloggers to tell you their experiences of our recent camping trip for women 50 and over, Susan, Barbara, and Marlene.
“Blooming & Still Lingering: Turning 60 in the Woods” by Susan P.
Turning sixty felt a bit more difficult to me than other birthdays and I started preparing mentally for it at fifty-seven. When my sister Barbara suggested that we mark it with a trip together, I started planning a ten-day present to myself doing the things I love with the people I love.
Barbara met me in Memphis for our road trip to Atlanta where we would spend weekdays exploring the city, precede it with a camping trip in Northeast Georgia with Sure Foot Adventures (my son’s business), and follow it by joining my husband for a contra dance weekend in Huntsville.
Having placed my trust in Jonah for three days on the Appalachian Trail a number of years ago and feeling confident, I had a few worries this time related more to my age, namely bugs, joints, and being cold and wet, and to how it would go for my sister.
Our little group of over 50’s led by Jonah and his wife Dana and including Dana’s mother Marlene headed to NE Georgia late Friday morning stopping for some good southern cooking in Rabbittown. Paring down for packing in is a great lesson for letting go and creating freedom from things that encumber us at this stage of life. Still, my hip hurt from carrying the pack after only a short walk to camp. But beautiful weather and landscape and ease of setting up camp were exhilarating. We were soon ready for our first adventure with Sure Foot – hiking to the Chattooga River and swimming to South Carolina (the opposite bank).
It took awhile to get ourselves into the cold water and the current ran stronger than some of us expected but with encouragement and sometimes help from Jonah and Dana, we were all able to make it across and back. We discovered that our physical balance isn’t as good as it used to be. At one point the “three little old ladies” were up to our waists, holding on to each other, navigating slippery rocks and sinking sand. At the same time, this experience and the whole weekend, tapped the inner balance and strength that we have been developing over our lives.
Back at the campsite we gathered wood, built an amazing pyre-style fire, chopped vegetables by headlamp, ate a delicious gourmet camp meal of tortellini with tomato parmesan sauce, and fell into bed feeling satisfied and successful and grateful that Jonah and Dana had outfitted us with the deluxe camping pad set up.
“Simple Joys & Wonder” by Barbara P.
My home is in the Arizona Sonoran desert. Compared to Tucson, the physical contrast of Georgia is extreme. Dana and Jonah drove us to a prime spot in the foothills of the northeastern Georgia mountains to celebrate my sister Susan’s 60th birthday — into an abundance of green and softly majestic woods, near breathtaking falls, spilling into an awe inspiring river. A choice campsite was chosen next to a brisk creek that both served as our refrigerator and soothed my sleep. We spent some portion of each day exploring the river and our surroundings.
While I love spending time in a relatively cushy mountain cabin belonging to my friends in Arizona, I last “tent-camped” with my sister when she accompanied me on my move to Tucson over 19 years ago. I approached the Georgia trip with some very heightened nerves and an equal amount of positive enthusiasm. How would this 50+ women’s/family Sure Foot excursion turn out with predicted intermittent thunder and lightening storms, persistent low back problems, achy joints, a 30 lb. pack, not to mention a few extra pounds of my own? Even a quarter mile pack in hike sounded hard to me.
But I thought, who better to share a tent with than my sister, and what a chance to take a look at our lives now. What a great way to get to know Marlene, Dana (new family) and my nephew Jonah, who I have only gotten to know on rare occasions. I decided to keep an open mind and put trust in Jonah and Dana, very experienced wilderness leaders, after all—this was also an opportunity for me to slowly usher in the idea of 60, which for me is a short year and a half away from Susan’s current transition.
Jonah readjusted and tightened up my heavy pack before we took off, and I realized that not only was I in good hands, but the state of the art of wilderness equipment is designed for more comfortable distribution than I remembered. In the last twenty years—the up to date, compact weightlessness of tents and equipment, with ease in assembly, etc. is quantifiable. The feather light trekking pole provided my “third leg” on the trail, and boosted my confidence. Jonah and Dana set up home-like surroundings at our camp and showed us how to “leave no trace”. Their system of planning, sorting and packing, clothes, food and equipment and storing food in the woods was impressive. I found the pack list on the website to be very helpful in pre-planning my part. At our campsite, a huge tarp-covered area that Jonah created was room enough for all of us to sit under, and in our heavy storm it kept all of our wood, our packs, our equipment, and us dry. We never missed a meal due to weather.
I soon remembered how being immersed in nature could make me feel so alive and comfortable at the same time. This was largely due to the detailed arrangements that were made for us by our high-spirited guides, who continued to create a safe and appealing environment for us, throughout our weekend.
Saturday morning’s campfire breakfast included coffee/tea, fresh free-range eggs, and bacon and toasted French bread. After breakfast we took a short hike to a calmer part of the Chattooga River, to a sandy beach area with deeper water. Dana and I stayed ashore talking, while Susan, Marlene and Jonah swam across to South Carolina (again) to a sturdy sandy ridge on the opposite shore. One hundred yards further downstream, to a shelf of rocks that spanned across the river, they later encountered a friendly group of kayakers, and walked the rocks back to the Georgia side. All three took the shoreline trail back to the beach, and we resumed our hike together.
Back at the campsite, a strong smell of rain was in the air; the rumbling thunder began. I unconsciously must have known that my tent was where I wanted to be for the storm—even though the others were hanging out closer to our camp tarp area, playing games, having lunch and eventually waiting it out. I relished being cozy in my soft, warm sleeping bag, dozing in and out between loud cracks of thunder and the lightening. I felt held by the earth, loving the sounds of the rain pouring down on my tent and all around me. After an hour or more, I put on my rain gear and decided to join everyone for a few more games of Quiddler, a fun card and word game, under the tarp.
Late afternoon the rain stopped and around four p.m., we headed into the woods again after a rather lazy day, and agreed that we could enjoy hiking until dark. On return to camp, we all gathered to chop vegetables and help Jonah prepare a hearty African groundnut stew. The meal was very satisfying, followed by an extravagant camp-out cheesecake, chilled in our creek, and aptly prepared by Dana. Jonah lit a match and we all sang HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Susan.
We had clearly come to the end of another meaningful day of simple joys and wonder—cleared inner space integrated with the closeness of others. I found myself feeling courageous and without the worry that I would somehow not be “up to” everyone’s level. The trip was in fact, a safe zone for making choices in accordance with individual desire. While there were definitely moments where I could not “move and groove” as fluidly as I did in my 30’s, I soon learned that adjusting to my personal limitations was not hard and self-acceptance came easy. The whole venture included both the depth and the liveliness that I needed and wished for on this very special outing. Thank you Sure Foot Adventures!! Thank you Jonah and Dana! Thank you Susan and Marlene!
“Adventure with a Capital S” by Marlene G.
After spending most of my childhood summers at camp, I had looked forward to going into the wild with Dana and Jonah for their special “54+ Moms and Aunt” weekend, especially getting to know better Jonah’s mom Susan and his Aunt Barbara. Now these two brave women and I had just spent two days in the woods with our lovely adult children who encouraged us and protected us as we body surfed the rapids, swam across the Chattooga to South Carolina, and hiked the woods near Dick’s Creek near Clayton. As we hiked, Jonah had introduced us to the flora and fauna– wildflowers, some with tongue twisting names like pipsissewa, others exotic to the ears and a feast for the eyes– delicate trillium, hemlock “popcorn,“ rattlesnake plantain, blooming mountain laurel everywhere, and gorgeous ferns blanketing much of the forest floor.
Early morning day three, I woke with a tinge of sadness that our little adventure would soon end. The air was slightly chilly after the downpour the day before, so I checked out the fire ring for possibilities. It was still a little wet, but there was dry wood under the tarp (good planning D&J). Soon a one-match fire reminded me of that great sense of accomplishment–that “I can do anything feeling”– that I had felt nearly 40 years before as a camper (of course it helped a that Dana puffed some strategic breaths on the dry kindling). .
Sitting next to the fire, warming our toes, munching toasty bagels and sipping coffee, reading, chatting–it was the perfect start to another glorious day. Then after a short hike back to the river, we broke camp, a process that has changed so much over the years for the better. I am so impressed with how camping equipment has morphed, especially waterproof tents that fit into impossibly small light-weight bags and sleeping bags that scrunch into other tiny bags. D&J were careful not to overload our backpacks coming or going, but we were feeling strong and capable after our mountain adventure.
It had been a weekend of bonding with two wonderful adventurous women and our guides, having more fun than I could imagine, relearning that we could hike, swim, cook, play and survive very well, thank you, in the wild (even pee and sleep on the ground!). The weekend certainly had been full of many Sure Foot AdventureS (with a capital “S). When do we go again?