A Memorial Climb to Remember Carrying the Memory of Airborne Ranger & AT 2000 Miler Zachary Adamson up Mc Affee’s Knob, VA

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Steve Adamson leaned on his son’s Appalachian Trail hiking poles with every step that he took. He leaned on his memory of Zachary, needed his help to get up the mountain.  Swore he saw him, swore he heard him in the woods, “You can do this Dad,” and he could, despite his two bad knees and extra weight he carried with him. One step at a time, taking breaks. It wasn’t just the physical challenge of the four mile climb up to Mc Affee’s Knob on this Memorial Day weekend, but the emotional drain of the event as well.

Steve’s son, Airborne Ranger Zachary Adamson (“Shady”) became a 2,000 Miler on the Appalachian Trail just last year. He left Springer Mountain, Georgia only four months after returning home from Afghanistan and the conclusion of four years in the military as a Special Operations soldier.  He got the idea from his good friend, another Ranger, Eric Hario, who had a dream to hike the entire AT once he got out of the military. Eric died on his first mission. So Zachary carried Eric’s dream forward and hiked the AT for him and for himself in 2013.

No matter who you meet from the Class of 2013, everyone repeated the same mantra. ..Zach was a friend to all. There wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do for anyone. His fun-loving spirit brought joy to everyone’s life. There wasn’t a human being that didn’t fall in love with Zach.

But four months after reaching the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine, Zachary died from a gunshot to the head and rocked the whole Appalachian Trail community as well as thousands of friends and family.  It is a heart-wrenching tragedy for a parent to lose a child but especially one that brought so much joy to everyone’ s life.  The cause of the gunshot wound may never be determined- self-inflicted, inflicted by another, an accident, or a combination? Not knowing the truth is horrific to any parent and loved one and inhibits forward progress and acceptance. Nothing can bring back happy Zach. Still, closure needs to occur. The climb up to Mc Affee’s Knob was perhaps orchestrating  that to at least begin.

We began the day of Zachary Adamson’s Memorial Climb up to MC Affee’s Knob in the parking lot on top of the pass in Virginia. Travis Johnston, best friend of Zach who served with him in Afghanistan as Machine Gun Team Leader, orchestrated this eventful day.

To help Travis with his grief of losing his friend and to aid in healing from what the war has done to his spirit, he too decided to hike the entire Appalachian Trail in Zach’s memory. Travis got the brilliant idea to honor their fallen Ranger brother on this important weekend, had a 150 pound granite stone made, fly Zach’s family from Ohio, gather friends and family and celebrate Zachary’s life on top of Mc Affee Knob- Zach’s most favorite spot on the entire 2,150 mile trail. Zachary’s best friend, Sean Reilly, another Airborne Ranger, has joined him here in Virginia and will accompany him to Maine (and will finish the southern section afterwards).

The gorgeous polished granite memorial  stone that Travis had made held two photos of Zach- one serious photo while on deployment in Afghanistan, the other bearded and smiling with backpack on his back on the AT. Travis and Sean, as well as Zach’s brother, Jesse, carried the stone across the busy highway to the trailhead leading to Mc Affee’s Knob.  Everyone in the group received a lit votive candle and we filed across to the stone, spoke to Zach, and placed the candle there for him and then began our climb.

While the group took the trail, I stayed on the parallel dirt fire road with Zach’s parents, a shorter and less strenuous tread way to the summit. We would join together for the last 1 /2 miles to the viewpoint.

It was a day of reliving memories. In only four ascending miles, the walking stimulated many waves of past good times. Steve Adamson told me stories of taking the Adamson kids hiking and backpacking, of storms they got caught in. We’d stop to sob and hug , we’d stop to look at photos in Steve’s phone, as I believe every highlight in his son’s life was on his phone for quick reference.

There is nothing like a steady climb when you are out of shape to remind you that you are should get yourself in better shape. Steve spoke of this and the beautiful fact that he feels his son here in the woods as he hiked more than anyplace. He wants to return, time and again to visit with his son. He also said he needed more joy in his life. He and Zach’s mom, Rebecca, felt like they had been drowning in their sorrow. In four months since Zach’s death , they both gained a lot of weight, felt like they were becoming reclusive and certainly very, very sad. Steve said, “Maybe there are lives being saved here today.” Indeed.

Up top, with exceptional visibility and magnificent views across the valleys, Travis and Sean laid out momentous of Zach on the rock. A bottle of twelve year Jamison, a favorite drink of Rangers, was passed around in tiny plastic cubs for a toast to Zach. Songs were sung accompanied by a guitar. The American flag was folded over Zach’s mementos  and photo.

Each family member- Jesse, Zach’s brother and Ashley, Zach’s sister, his parents Rebecca & Steve,  as well as Sean & Travis, all took turns speaking about what Zach had meant to them. They spoke of  how they were planning on going on with their lives, wanting to be more like him, embracing life, living large, spending time in nature, etc. Mom Adamson said to us all, “You all see a hiking friend, I see my little boy,” and broke up. There was crying going on and off all day, intermittent with sobs. It was a day of releasing. Every step forward up that mountain, brought up emotions that needed to come out, from everyone’s hearts.

Sean spoke of his memories with his best friend and Travis shared a story of how impressed he was at Zach’s funeral- how Zach’s hiking “family” came from states far and wide to pay their respects and show their love. Many in the military, especially a tightly bound group like the Rangers or the Marines or the Seals, but all military, believe that nothing can touch their “band of brothers” allegiance. ..until they experienced thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Zach had his “hiking family” and now Travis and Sean had theirs. Indeed, over twenty of them had left their thru-hike and arranged to get themselves  north to Mc Affee’s knob to be there to support Travis and Sean.  Travis spoke of how his thru-hike and his hiking family was hugely helping him heal from his loss and his nightmares and horrific memories of war that still plagued him.

On the way down the mountain, Travis and I spoke about his future dreams, his current struggles, his concerns for his future, because life doesn’t get “fixed” just by hiking 2,150 miles and you don’t heal entirely on a 6 month walk in the woods. It is a beginning. It is a way, a place to go to encourage more and ongoing healing. And you have to change your life, redesign it, because it is not realistic to continue hiking full time.

When we reached the trailhead as the sun grew low and evening descended, we were hit with the intense beauty of Zachary’s stone sitting there at the trailhead, flickering votive candles bringing his image alive.  And Travis sat down by it and began to tell me of that horrible day in Afghanistan, that day that became the worse nightmare of he and Zach’s life, the images that still cause nightmares, making his mind reel with questions, “should I have done it differently,” struggling with mistakes made,  and on and on with the mental torture. I asked him,

“Have you forgiven yourself yet Travis?” and he replied, “I don’t know that I can.”

And I told him, “Work on that. Spend the next 1700 miles working on that. “

And I stood up and kissed his face and told him, “You are a wonderful human being. You are on your way and you will be ok.”

The thing that Travis Johnston doesn’t realize is that contrary to many suffering veterans, he has chosen to open his heart to love. He knows he’s still fucked up and might be for life to a degree, as are tens of thousands of our returning veterans but he has chosen to expose his vulnerability, to understand that he can be a tough strong Ranger man and still cry and still hug and work hard at loving. That was the single overwhelming emotion at this entire Mc Affee’s Knob event- an out pouring of love and support. Healing can’t happen in our “safe” little homes, behind closed doors and sturdy walls that we have constructed around our hearts, alone with our demons and memories. Our veterans have to stick their necks out- go on a walk, embrace, as do all their family members like Steve and Rebecca Adamson.

I spent the entire five hour drive home crying, reliving each memory shared, each word spoken, each moment when someone broke down and sobbed, and there were countless. And the crying isn’t over just because we all made a successful climb to Mc Affee’s Knob, even though the Adamsons promised to turn a page and begin to seek more joy in their lives, even though I expect Travis and Sean to successfully reach Katahdin in the fall. It is a start.

Travis Johnston orchestrated an event that will have so many positive ripples, out into all our lives, just like the life of Zachary Adamson touched so many lives. Travis commented on Mc Affee’s Knob with the exquisite backdrop of the valley, towering tall with clouds behind, feeling like heaven was right there. “Zach did not practice the concept of ‘Leave no Trace,’” for everywhere he went he left his residual love and huge spirit.” May we all continue to walk in his light.

to see related photos of the epic dayhttps://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10202203104218755.1073741853.1224015243&type=1&l=59e2d7b227

 

In Memory of fallen Airborne Ranger & 2000 Miler, Zach Adamson

On Friday, I am heading to southern Virginia, to Damascus Trail Days to speak to fellow long distance hikers. Along the way, I am picking up Sean Reilly, best friend of fallen Airborne Ranger, Zach Adamson (see below). Together with Travis Johnston, another Airborne Ranger, we will talk about walking off war in a workshop, or NOT , in Zach’s case who thru-hiked last year, for a 2,150 mile hike did not quiet his soul. I will go on to hike with Travis & Sean all week and will hear their story, Zach’s story, all veterans’ story so I can write about it and share it with the world. THEN, on May 24th, we will join Zach’s family, whom Travis is flying in from Ohio, and Sean’s family, and climb up to Mc Afee Knob- Zach’s favorite spot on the whole trail- with his 125 pound memorial stone that Travis had made. They want to walk right in Zach’s footsteps, suffer for him, not take an easier parallel dirt road. Sean will be wearing his brother, Zach’s gear as he thru-hikes with Travis- all the sweat and body molecules of his best friend will be rubbing off onto his back as he carries his memory north. .. and I can’t tell you what an extreme privilege it is to be part of this, to be WELCOMED, to have these boys want to have Zach’s story told, in hopes of healing, in hopes that one more veteran does not feel he has no other choice but to take his life to quiet his soul. I hope and pray I can do Zach justice.

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How Can a “FREE” Trip to Sri Lanka be just “OK?” Confessions of a Travel Writer

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Sri Lanka Airlines was indoctrinated into the ONE WORLD alliance of airlines a few weeks ago. It was a big deal for this tiny country- an island off the tip of India. They are now rubbing shoulders with the big guns like American Airlines, British Airways. It is the first time an airline from this part of Asia was welcomed in. To celebrate, they brought in hundreds of travel writers from around the world to bear witness and write about it, including me. There were hundreds of dancers and drummers dressed in gorgeous costumes at the airport- all pomp and circumstance and it was a privilege to be there.  We were all put up at a Five Star Hotel.

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The next day, the writers were flown across the country to a wildlife national park where the greatest concentration of leopards are. I however, began to have extreme abdominal pains on the bus to the airport. Doubled over in pain, breathing consciously to maintain control, sweating profusely, I got out of the bus and begged for a toilet. I could not get into the airport because we had not yet secured our boarding passes so I was directed across the street to the public bathroom. I looked in every stall and they were all squat toilets. Whatever. There I squatted for half an hour, exploding and writing in pain. It was a good thing I have strong calves. There was no toilet paper. I missed the flight. I went back to the hotel and stayed in bed for 6 hours.

By the time the other writers returned, I had recovered and everyone was going home. I did not want to fly around the world for a mere two days so the airline secured a travel company to host a 5 day tour of the country for me. I was excited.

It would be just me and the driver/guide, who spoke English.  If any of you recalls my blog about my experience in Mauritius, you will remember that the same thing occurred there but it turned out to be very positive experience. cindyrosstraveler.com/…/why-would-an-american-want-to-come-to-mau

I visited some very nice places in Sri Lanka- an elephant orphanage, climbed a fortress that held an ancient palace on the summit, saw some cool archaeological sites and Buddhist cave temples. That was all good. But I ate every meal alone. I only had breakfast in my package so I had to eat the bananas from my welcome fruit basket and steal croissants from the breakfast buffet to get me through lunch and dinner. These 5 star hotels were not usually anywhere near a food store to buy food. And the food at their restaurants was beyond my budget. Also, 5 star hotels do not have any other clients who want to make friends. They are there with their own peeps- couples, people celebrating, vacationing, not looking to meet single American women who happens to be an extrovert and in need of a friend.

My driver was not interested in being friends. The more days that went by, the more he would drop me off places and tell me he would see me later, even when he was supposed to be guiding me or teaching me things. I could deal with that. Except when we went to a Buddhist temple. (He was a Buddhist). But he swept me through so quickly, I was looking around at such a speed in order to grasp it all, while he is rattling off information. And he says to me, rather condescendingly, “I don’t believe you are listening to me.” And I assured him that I could listen without looking straight at him and it was more important for me to look around WHILE I was listening, but he was clearly offended and held it against me for the rest of the trip.

What I also couldn’t deal with was his driving. I had to drug myself daily to fight back the nausea as he drove. And I thought I would die every day on the road- he passed every vehicle – every vehicle- no matter the size- long buses, big trucks- on blind curves, topping hills- never mind that he could never see around them. It didn’t matter how many times I gasped or asked him not to. They did not all drive like that. It was as if he had a death wish.

I resigned myself that I may never get home to see my family. That I would die in Sri Lanka. Seriously. My daughter would have to work to get my book published about using the world to teach and raise them.

Then the monsoon season started. I became a prisoner in my 5 star hotel eating bananas and stale croissants. I read 5 books, wrote three magazine articles, edited my book manuscript and longed for someone to share my hours with. One time, one time, I went down to the beach in front of the hotel when the rains broke to watch the sunset. There I found a 21-year-old local boy who was graduating from the university any day. He told me that every day he came out to the beach to witness the sunset and I thought that was marvelous. We chatted awhile and it was one of the best parts of my whole Sri Lankan experience, because I had connected with a human being, on such a very small level but nonetheless.

On our way to the airport after my trip concluded, my driver raced 130 kilometers per mile, was passing another driver and suddenly there were 3 stray dogs standing broadside in the middle of the highway. I thought it was over. So close to getting home. He almost hit two other vehicles on the same drive and admitted, “I did not see them.” No kidding.

My driver could not look at me when I said good-bye. I regret giving him such a nice tip.

I have decided. I do not want to travel alone. Being with other writers on a press trip is fine. I can usually easily make friends. They become my family while I am away. But it is a good thing to know yourself. I am an extrovert. I thrive on exchanging with people, especially in a foreign country where I long to get to know them and their culture. Traveling in an insulated bubble is not good, esp for the story, esp for me. I did however, manage to distance myself for a particularly painful experience in my life and made great progress towards healing with that. Granted, traveling around the world will do that.

So my trip to Sri Lanka was just “OK.” I am not sorry that I went. I know this part of the world a little better. I will make $75 for the magazine story that I will write. (Gone for 12 days… worth it?)

“Walking Them Home” with Harp Therapy

Barbara Ann Greim has some pretty sensational stories about her “magic” harp, River House PA’s newest addition to our team of amazing helpers. Stories of noticeable, significant change in a patient’s breathing pattern, heart rate, blood pressure- just by Barbara going in and out of the hospital room where the patient lay as she played her harp. A surgeon made Barb do this test without her knowing why and they were all amazed at the results.

 

“It was a moment for me,” Barbara Ann admitted, even though this Master Harp Therapist has recorded thousands of healing hours in hospital, rehabs, hospices and private home sessions. Barbara has her Masters in Music and pretty much plays every instrument, but primarily the harp, acoustic guitar and flute. She taught music 20+ years and is a Hospital Certified as a Trauma Informed Care trainer utilizing music therapy into the area of Trauma Care.

 

Barbara visits hospitals in the Reading, PA area and plays for patients at least one time a week. She often focuses on the oncological center where cancer patients are being treated. She often just walks the halls

and gets invited in to play privately. One particular young man had a difficult surgery and his parents came to Barb later and said, “When you arrived in the doorway and played for our son, we all knew he would pull out of this. Everything changed, our whole attitude shifted and there was huge hope.”

Surgeons sometimes ask Barb to sit with them and play for them as they get ready to go into surgery. They understand that the mind/body needs to be centered and calm.  The medical profession is realizing that alternative therapy can work wonders.

Playing for the dying is probably the most moving experience , “To be invited into that sacred space, to be allowed by the families to participate is so humbling,” Barb shares. “I really feel like I am walking them home.”

Playing a large harp physically affects all people who hear it , but being close to the actual harp has an even greater effect. Small portable harps where the sounding board actually sits against your body sends the vibrations right into the person’s heart. Barbara Anne explained that we humans are made of so much water, and that when the soft sound waves of a harp enter the body, they actually rearrange and change the water molecules in a positive way. They relax and soothe the body.

We at River House PA have big plans for Barb’s harp therapy. We want to design nighttime walks outdoors in nature with harp players  placed along the path, resonating off the trees and the breeze. Also, using harp therapy for super relaxation after yoga for trauma sessions; harp playing instructions or just the opportunity for our veterans to play the harps themselves or sit by Barb’s side and absorb.

Barb will take her gifts and her big heart and head up River House’s Music Therapy program encompassing many ways to help heal through music. We believe Barb and her harps can truly help our vets heal and get back home to who they once were.

Here’s a related harp therapy story …

http://pearlriver.patch.com/groups/goodnews/p/harp-healing-woman-uses-music-therapy-for-hospital-patients-pearlriver

The Port Clinton “Beach” gets a Facelift

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As I pulled the rusty bedspring up from the “beach” along the Schuylkill River in Port Clinton, the metal coils kept catching on the rocks imbedded in the trail, yanking my arm back like it was dislocating from its socket. My other hand held a heavy, unruly garbage bag of crap that was unearthed from the land around the beach. It twisted and slipped, the yellow ties digging into my gloved hand, cutting off my circulation, whacking my calf with a sharp metal protruding piece that punched through the plastic.

We’re on a riverside clean-up with the Schuylkill Headwaters Association, the non-profit that my daughter Sierra is Outreach Coordinator of. We’re cleaning up a notorious trash hole across from The Rock- a graffiti-decorated rock that inner-city Reading folks come to recreate on and under throughout the warm summer months.  “The Beach”- a gravely wide bank that has more glass shards than stones sits across from this jumping-off point.

What were they doing with a bed down there? Actually, I pulled three coiled box springs up this morning, and parts of a television. Did they drag them down to the river one summer night- and perhaps a generator to watch TV- a ¼ mile from the road with the roar of a highway nearby? If they were merely looking for ease in ridding their lives of trash, a convenient steep-roadside bank would have served better.

I stayed up by the Appalachian Trail trailhead for the first half hour to direct late stragglers to the river site. In the meantime, I cleaned up the pull off and steep bank of the mountainside where the trail switchbacks up. Condom packages, take-out containers, beer bottles, very few aluminum cans thanks to the recycled program. A diaper loaded with contents that appeared as though the baby ate an entire box of graham crackers.  I handled that one by a tiny corner.

I went up the steep slope, sliding backwards in the loose wet soil to grab a bottle- Once I lifted the first, more and more appeared buried in the soil under a rock. The hole had to be excavated in order to bury them- so much work besides struggling to get up here. There is a Wawa gas station with trash receptacles right down the street as well as a huge recycling headquarters opened 24-7. I don’t get it.

Down at “The Beach” a group of beach-goers moved in with their stadium chairs, tent (no camping allowed) and half a dozen garbage bags of stuff/gear!? We hoped as they watched us bend down and pick up, fill bag after bag of trash, they would choose to take all of their stuff out with them when they left. Maybe it would make believers out of them, one at a time.

Hauling the crap up to the road, I found myself wondering about the people whose cast-outs I struggled with. Who they are, what are they like, what are their homes like? Do they trash their homes like they trash the natural world they are guests in?

We hauled 50 garbage bags up that trail to the road, where Penn DOT will come and pick them up. This was left over trash which Sierra’s clean-up crew could not get last November- they filled 50 bags then too. It was exhausting work .

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We managed to keep a few trash bags of bottles separate so we could at least recycle something and prevent everything from ending up in a landfill. People in developing countries make their living from picking trash like this, we reminded ourselves. Sierra and I talked about what possessed people to trash like this. We thought of North Philly where Bryce lived – I’ve never seen any place that trashed outside of a developing country like India or Katmandu, Nepal. Do you become insensitive to it? Do you stop even seeing it?  I drive down to Bryce’s apartment and find myself aghast and exclaiming, “How can you live in this environment and not want to do something?” He is just managing to get through art school. Is everyone JUST managing in North Philly with no energy left to dispose of their trash the right way? Is that the case with every poor person who trashes their world, whether its North Philly, the Beach at the Rock, India or Nepal?

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(Katmandu, Nepal)

 

When we were cycling the Yucatan Peninsula, we stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch. Trash and empty plastic bottles were strewn around the perimeter of the open-air café. When we were finished our meal, I asked the owner where I could put the bottles. He motioned for me to toss them onto the ground. I refused to. So he extended his hand for me to give them to him. Without breaking my gaze, he tossed them into the air so they landed on the ground at his restaurant.

I felt disheartened after a day of cleaning up a dump in nature. Sierra said she felt good- for the good work that they’ve done, for the students who contributed and made a difference, for the fact that forever she will be grateful when she sees a clean stretch of road or trailhead or riverside beach and never take it for granted. She is right. We can become insensitive and blind – whether it is to trash or to cleanliness. Or we can appreciate the lack there of.

“You’ve Been Sleeping with Her, haven’t you?”… It’s Spring time and it’s time to F__K!

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The water in the little pond in our backyard is boiling with wood frogs, the surface literally roiling with activity. Male wood frogs jockeying for time “on board.” You can tell the females from the males. First off, she is buff colored, pinkish tan, pretty. And she is on the bottom, struggling for her life, or so it appears. I only see one female but the surface is covered with males- dozens and dozens- their legs outstretched, wanting “a piece”.  I counted six on top of one female, her little legs clawing as she struggles . It seems like excess to me.

They’ve had a rough winter, these boys though, pretty much frozen in the leaf litter. They can actually sustain having 70% of their body’s liquids freeze before they experience permanent damage. The temps can go as low as -6 and they are still okay. And they can stay frozen for up to a month. Their livers release high levels of glucose to sustain them while cardiac function stops, and blood ceases to circulate.

The pond often still has ice and snow in it when the wood frogs dig their way out of the surrounding woods and make their way to the pond. As soon as the temperature rises high enough in early March, they fill the night with their croaking and begin to antagonize the females. This lasts for a few weeks until the warmer shallow side of the pond is filled with gelatinous green transparent egg sacks.

When the FED EX man or the UPS man comes during wood frog mating season, they immediately get out of the van and say, “What in the heck is that sound?” It is so strange and so loud. It can keep us awake at night.

My very young children learned about sex from the wood frogs ONE of the lessons) . They wanted to know what was happening to that poor frog of a different color. My 90 year-old grandmother did not approve of my birds and bees lecture. I asked her what she thought I should tell them instead of the truth and she said, “Tell them they are playing.”  Even to a five year old, they didn’t look like some of them were having much fun.

When it comes to sex education, I much prefer the story of the praying mantises, especially for my daughter, Sierra.  The males can never be sure when they have sex with a female if they will get out alive. She has been known to eat her mate, afterwards or even during the act. She may begin by eating his head off, while his body continues in the love act signaling to his body to release its sperm. With his head gone, he cannot “reason” whether this is a good thing he is indulging in or not. He wants it still. The protein from the male sperm is a requirement for the female to produce more eggs and it is a way for the male to keep from leaving prematurely.  It also makes sense for the males to offer himself up as food for he can’t pass on his male genes if she starves to death.

This behavior is more often seen in praying manteses who are in captivity- under stress and maybe not given enough food to eat by their keepers.

There was a crack-up carton on the one science website- the female was talking to her headless husband and she commented, “You’ve been sleeping with her, haven’t you?”

Exploring Ligonier

 

FOXLEY FARM

 

When you stand on the grassy hillside above Foxley Farm in the Laurel Highlands and see Chestnut Ridge flanking the sky behind you and the rolling fields of timothy and clover at its feet, its clear why this gorgeous Ligonier Valley would draw farmers to its soil way back in the early 1800’s.

 

The farmers came to till the rich earth and then travel the two miles to the village of Ligonier to trade, for here was an important stop on the newly built Pennsylvania Turnpike. It linked Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and a town grew in this beautiful spot in western Pennsylvania.

 

PJ and Maggie Nied have continued in that long tradition with their Farm to Table B&B, Foxley Farm. My son, Bryce and I are staying with them while we explore the Ligonier area.

 

The 60-acre farm is the happy home of nine Longhorn cows and three pure-bred Scottish Highland cows, as well as a handful of calves. Their long strawberry blonde bangs blow in the breeze, obscuring their eyes like a teenager badly in need of a haircut. The feature is to help them keep flies out of their moist eyes. The Nied’s also have forty-five pigs that are pasture raised that they will butcher and serve at their marvelous Farm-to-Table dinners.

 

From our perch on the hillside, Bryce and I watch the six horses run and play with the cows, sharing the same pasture. The property is outlined in post and rail locust fences. Foxley Farm offers horseback riding for their guests. The local Rolling Rock Hunt Group organizes the hunts twice weekly that often run through their farm September thru May.

 

Maggie takes Bryce and I on a tour of her extensive organic garden where she single-handedly  raises 250 tomato plants, 200 pepper plants, 100 assorted cabbages, to name just a few of the many veggies she harvests to satisfy her guests appetites, all started from seeds.  We gather the fixings for a salad and she introduces us to her meat chickens that she also raises to feed her guests.

 

“We’re eating Bob tonight,” Maggie announces.

 

Bob isn’t a family pet, fortunately. Every one of the cows that they raise and butcher for their guests is named Bob…keeps it simple and impersonal.

 

The original house is an 18th century frame farmhouse with additions built on either side. The former owners, the Todd family, had a grand two story ballroom and library attached with six stately columns that were recycled from the historic Bedford Springs Hotel. The Todd’s ran an import/export business out of their home and Mrs. Todd was a sculptor.

 

Although the Neid’s have only operated Foxley Farm for three years,  they are not new to the hospitality business and continue to also operate the extremely popular and successful, Ligonier Country Inn in town.

 

www.ligonierfoxleyfarm.com

724-238-3916

 

 

THE TOWN OF LIGONIER

 

Bryce and I went into town for the day to explore the shops and galleries, indulge in its eateries. The center of life revolves around the Town Square, which was set up back in the town’s birth. Four blocks radiate in each direction set the town up in an easy grid. Pots of geraniums decorate the brick plaza and American flags dress up the brilliant white and green painted gazebo, the source for many an enjoyable  summer evening concert.

There’s the cool equestrian shop, Equine Chic to buy unique gifts for your horsey friends. Then there’s Martin’s- a historic sporting shop which is over 100 years old and operated by the same family. It’s fun to look at the old Woolrich signs and posters and wicket fish baskets hanging about the store’s walls.

More neat stores include Nearly New, a great second hand store; On the Diamond Antiques, Second Chapter Books is a wonderful used book store, the eclectic Allegory Gallery, and a wonderful place to enjoy lunch- The Kitchen on Main. In the warm sunshine, we dine on delicious burgers and sweet potato fries as we take in the local happenings of Ligonier village. For dessert, Bryce and I head to Scamps Toffee and Sweets, where two friends create amazing toffees right on the premises.  This wildly successful business is only two years old and already the demand if up to 50 pounds a day. That tells you something about their tasty treats! After dessert, we head to historic Ligonier Fort which is conveniently located right in the downtown area.

 

 

FORT LIGONIER

 

 

The historic Pennsylvania turnpike road through Ligonier, was originally created in 1758 with the sole purpose of moving supplies for the British Army out to the Forks Of The Ohio, during the French and Indian War. The road had to be constructed right over the crests of the imposing Laurel Highlands. Here in Ligonier, a garrison fort was constructed that became a staging area for British troops and served as a supply depot. It was the base camp for General John Forbes and his army for the final attack on Fort Duquesne. Many fortifications like Fort Ligonier were constructed along the route, using whatever materials were at hand, such as wood and earth as is the case here in Ligonier.

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Fort Ligonier is located on the edge of the town of Ligonier. In fact, the north side of the fort has not been reconstructed due to the town being in close proximity. Route 30 skirts the outer retrenchment of the fort and you can see cars and red lights and modern day businesses while you stand inside the 18th century fort. It is a very strange juxtaposition of time periods.

 

Jeffery Graham, the Reenactment Coordinator and Historical Interpreter for Fort Ligonier, meets Bryce and I, dressed as a British Officer of the 60th Royal American Regiment. As we walk, he explains that the fort originally encompassed 11-12 acres but today’s fort is only on eight. The Fort Ligonier Preservation Society was responsible for completely reconstructing the fort, which began back in 1954, from only an archeological footprint in the ground. They reconstructed buildings from original plans which served as officers’ mess hall, barracks, quartermaster, guardroom, underground magazine, commissary, and officers’ quarters. Visitors can stretch out on a straw mattress and try it out. The hole for the powder magazine is original for it was actually discovered during the forts reconstruction.

 

The inner fort is 200 feet square, defended by four bastions and accessed by three gates.  An outer retrenchment, 1,600 feet long, surrounds the fort. Outside the fort are a hospital, a smokehouse, a saw mill, bake ovens, a log dwelling, a forge as well as lots of canons, guns and wagons.

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Jeff tells us that each man’s daily rations consisted of 1 lb. of meat, 1 lb. of bread, 1 lb. of dried beans, rice or oats. Rum was a treat to whet their whistle. Clay beehive ovens baked their bread that has been reconstructed on the site. For the march on Fort Duquesne alone, 1500 head of cattle had to be smoked and jerked.

 

Guns were laid across fascines – long, cylindrical bundles of sticks, placed one on top of the other and staked fast.  These bundles were wrapped in vines that are crisscrossed to create a strong yet flexible basketwork, creating a lining that prevents steep slopes from collapsing.

 

The museum houses three original George Washington artifacts: his saddle pistols that he carried at Valley Forge and during the Whiskey Revolution when he was president; his original manuscript of remarks where he vividly recollects his military experiences on the Pennsylvania frontier- perhaps the only autobiography ever written; and a portrait of him painted by Pennsylvania artist, Rembrandt Peale, portraying him in his youth.

 

At its peak, the soldier population of Ligonier Fort swelled to 6,000. In addition to soldiers, several hundred women and children camped around its walls as well. These women provided services like nursing and washing. Four women could handle the laundry of forty men.

 

Since todays population of the entire town of Ligonier is 1500, it is difficult to imagine that many humans stuffed inside this now open and expansive fort.  But Captain Jeff, in his authentic-looking costume, his vast store of knowledge, and his lively stories, has the ability to take us back to 1758, at least for an enjoyable few hours.

 

www.fortligonier.org

724-238-9701

(a version of this appeared in the March/April issue of Pennsylvania Magazine http://www.pa-mag.com

 

 

THE BLIND LEADS THE BLIND ON A TRAIL NAMED PERSEVERANCE

(an archive article- posted here as a tribute to Bill Irwin- the first blind man to hike the Appalachian Trail and Bob Barker- a three time thru-hiker with MS)

Appalachian Trail hiker and author Cindy Ross accompanied Bob Barker and Bill Irwin on a trail hike on the A.T. near Harpers Ferry.  After two days, they had covered only five miles, but no one had billed this hike as a marathon.

If you saw Bob Barker and Bill Irwin hiking down the Trail, you, too, would wonder at their chutzpah.  There they were, both loaded down with full packs and accompanied by Seeing Eye dogs.  In addition to the obvious obstacles, Bob was using a crutch and trying to ignore the multiple sclerosis that had crippled him.  He had hiked the A.T. before, with the aid of his crutches, but near-blindness, due to glaucoma, was a new impediment.

Bill, who thru-hiked the Trail in 1991 with the aid of Orient, his Seeing Eye dog, had convinced Bob to get a dog.  So, here were the two men and their dogs, out on the Trail for a trial hike.  I was invited to join them for companionship and my sight.

All the bases seemed to be covered.  Bob had been training for half a year by walking 30 miles a week, rain or shine.  The section of Trail we were hiking was near Harpers Ferry, W. Va.  Bill could use his cellular telephone to call friends at the Appalachian Trail Conference headquarters if any problems arose.  We were planning to hike as far as we could in four days.

Bob left his second crutch home.  He’d need one free arm to hold the harness on Cheetah, his Seeing Eye dog.  The pair had worked together before, but not climbing over rocks and up and down steep terrain that we would encounter on this hike.  Nearly all of their training had been on roads, where Cheetah was well behaved.  Once in the woods, however, the young pup was more interested in chasing toads, slopping in creeks, and sampling grass along the way. Bob was having a difficult time remaining in charge.

“I like a challenge,” he commented at one point.  “That’s why I’m here.  I missed the Trail. I knew it would be difficult, the first time with a dog.  It was difficult the first time I hiked with multiple sclerosis, too.”

Bill noted that when he and Orient began hiking the A.T., he fell as many as 40 times a day, due, in part, to flaws in their communication.

Bob appeared to be equally determined.

I didn’t realize how determined until he took a particularly hard fall.  We had crossed a stream on slippery rocks, about an eighth of a mile from the Trailhead.  Cheetah stood broadside in front of bob, determined to get a drink of water.  And, Bob tripped over the dog, fell hard, and twisted his foot.  On the next switchback, the exact same scenario was repeated.

“I know what a sprain feels like, and this feels different,” he said.  “The pain is going all the way up my leg.  It feels like I broke it.”

It looked like our hike might end soon after it had started, but Bob said he wanted to keep going.  Who were we to argue with him?  He had me wrap an Ace bandage around his leg and force an ankle guard over the rapidly swelling joint.  He downed some pain pills, and we continued climbing.  Once the drugs began taking effect, we settled into our pace, Bob’s pace, of one-quarter mile an hour.

We were in no hurry, in fact, over the course of the two day hike, I spent much time standing still.  I’d walk a few yards, turn around, and wait for Bob.  Bill and Orient brought up the rear.  Sometimes, I’d take Cheetah’s harness and give Bob my hiking stick to use as another crutch.

There was time to enjoy the beautiful weather, to watch sunlight and shade patterns, smell wildflowers, and think how my busy, fast life back home contrasted to this.  There was also a lot of time to talk.  The men discussed what they thought was more difficult- being totally blind, like Bill, or being nearly blind, like Bob.  (Bob’s vision is limited to about a two-foot radius in which all is blurred.)

“I think you’re worse off than me, because you hike as though you can see, although you really can’t, and Cheetah guides you as though you could, too,” Bill told him.

Bob told me how he continued to garden and to mow his lawn.  “I place five-gallon white buckets int he corners and point my lawn mower in each bucket’s direction.  After I cut a strip, I move the bucket over for the next cut.  I keep moving buckets until it is done.  I never watch the mower but just stare at the blurred white buckets.

“I also put in a large garden this summer. I stretched a white string between two stakes, for each row, and followed it with my hand as I crawled on the ground.  I used a stick that’s three feet long with holes drilled into it. I dropped seeds through the holes and covered each with my hands.  I operated my tiller the same way as the lawnmower, and, for closeup weeding, I relied on feeling.  I know the difference between crops and weeds and grass.”

In camp, Bob listens carefully to his stove, to tell when the pressure (of escaping gas) built up enough to light it.  All his cooking gear is laid out on a sheet of plastic.  When he unfolds his tarp, all cords and tie-downs are exactly where they are suppose to be.

After two days of hiking, we had covered only five miles and had run out of water twice.  Bill, who functions as though he can see, went ahead to a store at a road-crossing to call ATC. An ATC staff member met us at a nearby road crossing, and took Bob to the hospital.

“I would have never given up,” Bob insisted.  ” I would have walked out on my own, had it taken me three more days.  Once, I’ve made up my mind that I’m going to do something, it’s hard for me to quit, even though things have not gone according to plan.”  And, Bob’s broken leg bone was definitely not planned.

In the midst of all the hospital-shuffling, there was talk of retuning to the Trail after Bob’s leg healed.  Perhaps he could hike a more gentle stretch with his grandson or with friends who have knee problems and are slow hikers themselves.

Bob’s fall and aborted hike disappointed him, but his life has been one of perseverance.  The hike taught him many things that he needed to learn and would now act upon, one of which was the fact that Cheetah needed more training.

As I drove home, I thought of all the reasons hikers abandon their A.T. hikes -rain, loneliness, aches and pains, lack of preparation, etc. -and the incredible feeling of failure that they usually have as they leave the Trail.  But, words like, “difficulty” and “hardship” have new meanings for me since hiking with Bob Barker and Bill Irwin.  And, they have shown me that the only real failure in life is to stop trying.

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In Memory of Bill Irwin- the first blind man to hike the entire Appalachian Trail as one continuous thru-hike

…….(Bill Irwin died this past March. In honor of him, I have retyped my story that appeared in The Walking Magazine many years ago, so that you might know of this amazing human being too. There will be another story being posted soon about a weekend hike where Bill taught another friend and amazing human being, Bob Barker, to hike with a seeing eye dog. Bob had MS and hiked the entire AT three times on crutches with a full heavy pack , beginning at the age of 63! These posted stories are a prelude to a story that will come out in AT Journeys magazine about what Bill Irwin did with the rest of his life after his epic AT hike. )

Imagine walking the entire length of the Appalachian Trail while carrying a 35-55 pound pack, over rocks and roots and mountains, finding your water, shelter, not to mention your way, with your eyes closed! That’s what Bill Irwin, 50 year old family counselor from Burlington, North Carolina accomplished with  his seeing-eye dog, Orient back in 1990.

He did it without seeing the trail in front of him, without seeing the white blazes that mark the way, the signs at intersections, the boulders he had to climb over, the cliffs at his side, the fords across rivers, the fallen trees in his path, the snakes, the bears, the water sources, and the roads into town to re-supply. Yet he and Orient, managed to complete in one stretch, what so few sighted people are physically and mentally able to do…hike the entire length of the Appalachian Trail.

How could he possibly do it? Bill’s data was on cassette tapes, where the shelters and springs are located, routes into town to re-supply and mileage inbetween.  On the trail, Orient found the right way to go by smelling hikers that have gone before, even weeks before. Long distance hikers don’t get many opportunities to shower so their scent is a strong one.

“I’ve been lost a lot more in the company of other hikers than when Orient and I are alone,” Bill admits. “People get to talking, keep their heads down and miss a turn blaze. After awhile, Orient just learned to look for and read blazes himself.”

In Georgia, Bill used to test the ground and lock his ankles before putting any weight down, but the pair couldn’t make any time. Now he just plods along. “My ankles have twisted so many times that the ligaments are all stretched out. It only hurts for a minute or two.”

Seeing Eye dogs are trained to guide their owners through city streets and are taught to alert them of a step two inches and higher. This really slowed them down so wit practice, Orient learned by trial and error what height he could get away with and what height Bill couldn’t tolerate. Orient amazingly reads the terrain on the trail and communicates back to Bill.

“He’s got a terrific span of vision,” Bill praises. “and knows exactly how tall I am. He always clears my head by about six inches, when a tree is blown down across the trail.”

Orient will stop and it will be up to Bill to discover what the problem is. Bill takes his ski pole that he uses as a hiking staff and swings it in a scooping motion from the ground up, until it catches on the obstacle. The pole hitting the object alerts Orient that Bill has discovered it.

I’ve watched the pair rock hop across a stream when we hiked together in PA. Bill places his size 214 feet right where you would put them had you seen the stepping stones. How? He feels the movement of his dog’s body through his harness and leash. When Orient takes a big step, Bill knows he must take a bi step too.

Bill falls down a lot. In Georgia, he was falling forty times a day. He wears knee pads, always has wounds healing on his legs, broke a rib on a fall, and smashed a finger so baldy my husband Todd had to drill a hole into the nail to relieve the built-up pressure of the blood and pus. When he falls, he feels grateful he wasn’t hurt. When he’s hurt, he’s grateful he wasn’t hurt worse! As an any long distance hiker knows, your success is more dependent on your psychological ability to withstand the hardships of the trail. It is your good attitude, you burning passion, more so than your strong muscles that keep the miles clicking by.

“Attitude is the key to my world,” Bill says. “Accept the sun, accept the rain, accept the cold, accept the Appalachian Trail.”

A sense of humor helps too. He told me of the town stop where he received a care package and woofed down a package of “beef jerky.” It wasn’t until he thanked the sender of the tasty treat did he learn it was doggie chews for Orient for he couldn’t read the package! “They were great!” he exclaimed.

When I asked him about writing in the registers, the notebooks left in the shelters along the trail where hikers sign in and communicate with one another and make it possible to find you should an emergency arise, he replied, “I can feel the previous entry on the page and know where to start. I must remember everything that I’ve written so I don’t repeat myself! Oh, I can write everything! I just can’t read it!”

It’s important to Bill to find joy wherever he can for his trip has been one of extreme hardship and fatigue. Dealing with pain has not been the most difficult part of Bill’s hike. Exhaustion was. Besides the physical rigors of wlaking15 miles a day, up and down mountains with weight on your back, it took so much concentration for Bill to execute the trail. He could rarely relax, except on ascents where he used rock climbing techniques, his hands to feel depressions in the rocks while keeping his body low and close. Orient cannot climb so Bill must lift him over his head. One place in the Whites of New Hampshire, there was a 25-foot drop in the trail, over a rock slab. All the saplings for hand holds were pulled out so Bill had to rely on a crack to wedge his hand into while Orient occupied the other hand. While he was teetering, full pack on, trying to throw Orient up, his hand began to slip!

The slippery, narrow bog  bridges in Vermont dunked them in the oozing mud more than once, completely submerging Orient.  Because Bill took so long to complete his hike (8 months to Thanksgiving) the season got much later than most thru-hikers experiences, and the weather turned nasty and cold. He had to contend with temps in their teens, 100 MPH gusting winds on open, exposed summits, and a blizzard of 28 inches. After the snow reached a height of 8 inches, Orient could not longer find the trail, so they sought emergency shelter in a ranger’s cabin on a mountain top in Maine. Four days they waited until help arrived.

“Every day for two hours in the morning and for two hours in the afternoon, Orient and I would go out in search of the spring, the privy, and firewood. We were down to our last piece when two thru-hikers finally found me. Never did find the privy or the spring and had to melt snow for water all that time.”

Because of the tremendous wet fall New England experienced, streams were swollen to the size of rivers. Bill had to cross them on his hands and knees like a dog, completely submerged in the 33 degree water except for his head, for he could not remain upright on the slippery rocks and strong current.  And once he and Orient were swept twenty yards downstream. “Terrible weather to be swimming in!” he laughs afterwards.

You may be wondering WHY? Why did he keep going? Did he really get any pleasure out of the hiking? After all, he couldn’t even see any of the country he was traveling through.

Bill is quick to tell anyone that he does indeed see, he just sees differently than sighted people. “I perceive with all of my senses combined,” he explains. “I take in all the messages my nose, ears, and skin are sending me and try to create the scene in my head. When I ask hikers what it looked like, I get a double shot! But they never ask me what I saw!”

Bill can smell the damp dew in the morning, the warm sun baking the earth. He searches for flowers that fill the air with their sweetness and feel show they’re put together so he can identify them. He can feel the openness of a southern Appalachian bald, and the closeness of a New England balsam forest.  All these things filled Bill Irwin’s hike with beauty and to him, made the Appalachian Trail very, very beautiful.

But what about those last month sinew England in the fast approaching winter? Why did he keep going then?

“I was very, very tired,” he admits. “Tired of being cold and wet. Tired of being away from home. A few times at the end, I always bit it.”

Bill was out there for the greater goal besides merely reaching Mount Katahdin. He was walking the AT as an affirmation of his faith in God. “I wanted to show what s possible, even for a blind man, when God is leading you.”

Still, nobody can make a person continue, not even God. It takes a lot of personal courage and extraordinary perseverance to do what Bill Irwin has done. He has given new light to the words “difficult” and “impossible” for many people. This very warm, humble, charismatic man though, will never take credit for any of his accomplishments. “I just showed up for work,” he said, “God did the rest.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Lee Reinert- EDUCATION WORKSHOP ADVISER FOR RIVER HOUSE PA

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Lee Reinert didn’t expect to be on this backpacking trip. She was #10 on the waiting list for this special “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” program sponsored  by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. She never dreamed the nine above her would cancel out, leaving room for her. She had been late in learning  about  the program but she thought it was worth taking the chance. I was the trip leader, hired to take this handful of women into the Pennsylvania Wilds. I had no idea how not only MY life would be impacted by Lee Reinert’s stroke of good luck, but how it would greatly impact my children’s entire lives.

It happened on that very first conversation upon leaving the parking lot of the West Rim Trail in Tioga County. Lee walked behind me and as soon I  learned that she was an educator and a home school evaluator, I shared  that I was on the fence on whether I should pull my 8th & 6th graders out of public school.  As we hiked, I shared every fear and concern with her and she dispelled  every single one. Every myth, she told me the reality. From the concern of not being able to properly socialize my children to getting them into college. She instilled the confidence in me that I could as a parent,  successfully educate my children AS WELL AS THEM, be responsible for their education.

Now, nearly ten years later, my children have been so successful, even beyond my wildest dreams. Sierra  became such a leader as a home schooler  that she won many private scholarships and Temple University had to PAY  her to go to school there- so much money came into her account.  She graduated Honors- Sigma cum laud and has received a full ride to University of Arizona Masters Program.  She did however, just win the National Science Foundation Fellowship for 3 years of paid grad school/research at the university of her choice so U of Colorado, Boulder & Yale are in the running now too- where she was accepted.  Her brother, Bryce won many scholarships too and is poised to earn his Bachelors in Art- Graphic Design-Illustration from Tyler School of Art/Temple University. The most important thing is that they turned into marvelous adults who have a passion to make the world a better place. I equate a large part of their success to Dr. Lee Reinert and her guiding hand.  Lee has now chosen to direct her energy and guidance to River House, lucky for us, acting as Advisor for the educational arm of the non-profit.

Lee earned her Bachelors in Elementary Education and went on to earn her Masters in Remedial Reading and Counseling and Human Resources. She earned her Ph.D. in Psycho-Educational Processes.. For  ten years, she did counseling work in drug and alcohol, ADHD in kids and adults, and for  five years taught Holistic Health for Nurses at Immaculata College, PA. For these classes, Lee had practitioners of alternative therapies come to demonstrate their work/techniques.  Lee still maintains relationships with many of these healers and plans to draw on this vast resource for River House.

Cutting edge therapy such as “pressure point therapy” or Thought Field Therapy (TFT) will also be offered. Lee will be instrumental in advising and helping us coordinated workshops in art, music, dance and writing therapy, bodywork and  mediation workshops, etc. at River House PA. River House could not be happier to welcome Dr. Lee Reinert on board as a member of our team.