Dan Joins Hannah at Woo Girls Reunion III in Richmond, Virginia

I am soft.  Let me explain.

Woo girls outside

Woo Girls – Hannah, Wendy, Maxine, and Bambi

Two years ago, Wendy from Maryland, Maxine from New York, and Bambi from Virginia, all who graduated with Hannah in 1970 from the College of Wooster in Ohio, came to York for the first Woo Girls Reunion.  Last year we all went to Maxine’s place in western New York for the second get-together.  This year we head to Richmond in the Commonwealth of Virginia for Numero Tres.

Rather than manning up and driving the 600+ miles from York through the choking traffic of the Northeast, we decide to fly.  Flying first to Atlanta, we hike the waterfalls trails of Alabama as well as hike and play pickleball in north Georgia.  After five days loving the South, we are set to fly from Atlanta to Richmond for Woo Girls III.

Woo 1 D and H by Delta sign

Arriving two hours early at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport south of Atlanta on Friday morning, we are given the option at the check-in kiosk to volunteer to take a later flight.   If we do, we have the choice of five Delta dollar reimbursements – $100, $200, $300, $400, or $500.  Hannah selects $400, figuring we might get chosen over the “greedier” $500 selectors.

Arriving at the waiting area, soon we are called to the counter and asked if we are still willing to volunteer to take a later flight.  Agreeing to take the 222P flight rather than our 955A, we are now offered $800 in Delta dollars each.   We can’t say yes fast enough.

Having only six volunteers when they need seven as the flight is ready to leave, Delta ups their offer to $900 and nabs their last volunteer.   After the 955A flight departs, the young counter woman calls us up to get our $900 vouchers!  We feel like we won the lottery.

Woo 1A Delta scheduled departure

Waiting four more hours in the Atlanta Airport for $1800 is no sacrifice.  Sending emails and texts from our phones, Hannah writing postcards and me revising blog drafts, sharing a turkey Subway sub, and reading the USA Today, in no time, we are lining up to take our 222P flight to Richmond.

What do you know but Delta overbooks again!  It is NASCAR race weekend in Richmond.  This time they get to $1500 before they get enough volunteers.  We are not a part of the auction.  Earlier I had learned that the next flight is tomorrow.  Wanting no part of finding a place for the night in Atlanta in addition to missing the opening night of Woo Girls III, we board the plane with our hot little $900 bonanza in hand.

Woo 2 welcome to VA sign

After landing at Richmond International, we drive on I-64, then country roads to Quinton (Richmond Metro Area), where our hosts Bambi and Skip welcome us.  With Wendy, Maxine, and her husband Don already here, we catch up on each other’s lives over water, wine, and Coors Light; Bambi’s mouthwatering lasagna from the classic Moosewood Cookbook follows.

Woo 3 H at little library

Little Free Library

Come Saturday morning while the others sleep, Hannah and I drive a couple of miles down Quaker Road to the half mile oval at Quinton Park.  Before walking five laps, we find a Little Library, where one and all can take a book or place one in the outdoor cabinet for others to take.  Finding a family favorite from the Little Bear series, we add it to our own Owen and Max home library.

Our hosts for the weekend, Bambi and Skip have planned this Saturday in nearby CW.  Do you know what CW is?   I had no idea.  I am not talking the cable station, but a visit to Colonial Williamsburg.

Woo 4B King's Arm sign

On this unusually warm 90F summer Saturday in late April, we walk the car-free Main Street past period homes from the Revolutionary War era.  Lunching at the King’s Arms, we have an updated repast in a Revolutionary Years setting.  Later, in nearby Yorktown on the James River, we take in Surrender Field where General Cornwallis in defeat offered his sword to George Washington.

Back in Quinton after dinner, it’s game time.  Bringing a new Rothermel Family favorite, we introduce the Left Center Right dice game.  Played with three specialty dice, the game becomes even more “interesting” when we each bring a few dollar bills to the table.  Being an entirely random game with no skill needed, the first time player has the same chance of winning as the veteran player does.

Woo 5 LCR game

To explain, the six sides of the specialty dice have an R, an L, a C, and three single black dots.  Rolling three dice to begin, if the player rolls an R, she passes a dollar to the person to her right; an L, pass to the left and a C means she puts the dollar in the center (the pot).  A black dot means you keep your dollar.  Once done, the turn passes to the person on the left; when only one person has a dollar, that one wins the pot.

Woo Girls dice

With seven of us each starting with three dollars, we are playing for a $21 bonanza.  Hannah is especially adept at the pre-roll movements (e.g. holding the dice with one hand pointing to the ceiling, then extending the other arm, blowing on the dice, all the while smiling, and enjoying the attention).

Woo 5 Don and Hannah win

Don and Hannah, Big Winners at Left Center Right

It turns out Maxine’s husband Don wins the first game and the $21 bounty.  In the second game, Don and Hannah have the last two dollars.  A black dot roll for Don has him keeping his dollar, then a black dot roll for Hannah lets her keep her greenback.  Then Don rolls a C, putting his dollar in the pot and Hannah comes home the winner.

Board, card, or dice games bring groups together in laughter and celebration.  For Woo Girls IV next year in York, we have the classic Mormon Bridge for the gang.

Dan and Hannah Play Pickleball with their North Georgia Kin

When we travel, the trails matter, the weather matters, but it’s the people we meet that add quality and connection to our adventures.  Let me explain our connection to the American South, Yankees that we are.

LL map of cleveland

Cleveland is the county seat of White County

In our quest to hike in all 14 Appalachian Trail states, we had only Georgia to hike to complete our set in the fall of 2015.  In October of that year, after flying to Atlanta, we drove the back-country roads to hike at Springer Mountain, the start of the AT itself.  Later, we threw in a hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and were hooked on hiking south of the Mason-Dixon Line.  And then it got even better.

LL H and L at her place

Laurie and Hannah

Returning the following October 2016, we again hiked the Great Smoky Mountains as well as the waterfall trails of northern Georgia.  But the added bonus was finding our own version of pickleball heaven at Yonah Mountain, near Cleveland in northern Georgia.   Yonah Mountain pickleball ambassador Laurie Lee welcomed us with open arms and the Yonah Mountain club players greeted us as family.

Woo girls outside

Woo Girls – Hannah, Wendy, Maxine, and Bambi

Then, when Hannah’s Woo Girls Reunion III (four grads of the College of Wooster in 1970) was scheduled for late April 2017 in Richmond, Virginia, we saw it as a golden opportunity to avoid driving 600+ miles to Richmond and rather, fly to Atlanta first.  We’d hike in Alabama and then spend three days with amigas and amigos in Georgia hiking and pickleballing before flying to Virginia’s capital city.

LL H and L on court 2

Hannah with Laurie at the White County Parks and Rec pickleball courts

One small monkey wrench.  Not with our hosts or with the hiking, but with the tendinitis in my right elbow this Monday in late April as we arrive in north Georgia.  Hannah and I love us some pickleball as we play three times per week.  But for me…pickleball, my love, had got to the point where it just wasn’t any fun because of the pain in my elbow.  Finally realizing I just needed to rest, which is hell on athletes of all ages, I took nearly 14 full days off knowing that doing that would give me the best chance to play in Georgia.  Still I was grumpy for a fortnight.

LL D and H and Billy and Marcia

Han and Dan with Billy and Marica

Knowing we were coming to Yonah Mountain to play pickleball, I pumped the ibuprofen, iced my right elbow, and, yes, rested; turns out, that’s just what I needed.  Arriving on Tuesday morning at the indoor pickleball courts, we were greeted by Billy and Marcia at the White County Parks and Rec Center.  Whacking the wiffle ball, dinking (hitting short shots just over the net itself), and just enjoying their friendship, I feel like I am back to my old pickleball self (Hallelujah, brother!).

LL new paddles

Looking to upgrade our paddles, Hannah and I borrow ones from Laurie and later Pat to see how they feel.  Trying out Laurie’s Onix and later Pat’s Triton, I find my shots solid and deep with no vibrating to aggravate my elbow.   Of course, when I want a new paddle, I can rationalize “the need” for one with the best of them.  I order a sweet Onix paddle while Hannah goes with the Groove, engineered for women.

LL Treehouse pickleball players with Pat

Pickleballers on the deck at Linda’s Tree House (She is in yellow.)

That Tuesday evening, our friends Laurie and Linda throw us a party of pickleballers to further make us feel a part of the community.  It works.  We are among kindred spirits; feeling special.

LL D and H at Immokaulee Falls

Dan and Han at Immokalee Falls

Each bringing a dish to share, the guests make the evening a community celebration, similar to what Hannah and I try to do when we have potlucks back home in Maine.  To kick off the party, 14 of us hike a half mile down to Linda’s tree house cabin, just below the Immokalee Falls.

LL Superior Health care

The next morning (Wednesday) before afternoon pickleball, Laurie arranges for Hannah to have a consult with a local doctor on her voice condition, spasmodic dysphonia.  Having tried 100 ways to improve her voice over the last 15 years, Hannah (and I) drive with Linda to Canton, GA to have Hannah checked out.  Their experimental voice rehabilitation program has potential; we will explore this option further in the months ahead.

LL Yonah Mt

Yonah Mountain

After the Wednesday morning consult, we return in time for two hours of afternoon pickleball.  My right elbow holds up for the second day as the rest, daily icing, and ibuprofen have made a difference.

With time for drills, Pat gives me some dinking pointers.  Basically, I am reminded of the value of the undercut cross court slice backhand that keeps the ball low and close to the net when dinking.  I feel like I have a new toy and can’t wait to practice.   As a recreational pickleball player, I just love the opportunities to improve my game.

On our third night (Wednesday), we dine with fellow pickleballers the aforementioned Pat and his wife Clarissa at their place in Cleveland.  With salmon on the grill, we have conversation like old friends.

Come Thursday morning, rain wipes out our planned hike up Yonah Mountain with Clarissa and Pat, but… the silver lining is that we are back on the indoor pickleball court by 730A to play for the third day in a row.   Playing mostly with the guys while Hannah crushes it with the women, I get quite the competitive workout.

LL Pat and Clarissa with Han

Hannah with Pat and Clarissa

After our pickleball, but before we head to the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta for Richmond, we feast with Pat and Clarissa on the breakfast of champions – oatmeal with all the fixings – nuts, seeds, and fruit.  Though the oatmeal is fantastico, the best part of morning is sitting over coffee, hanging out with new friends.

Thanks to seeking out the AT in Georgia, we have our Georgia family in the sunny South.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Raven Cliffs Trail in Georgia after a Storm

While it’s another morning with rain in the American South, we continue to lead a charmed hiking life.  For the last two days of our late April hiking trip, it rains early, stops midday so we can hike, and then between 4 and 5P the heavens unload while we are safely under cover.

Rav map of north georgia

Raven Cliffs is to the north of Gainesville, Georgia

Hoping to continue our hot streak, we wake at the Comfort Inn and Suites in Dalton, Georgia (just south of Chattanooga) to light rain.  Our plan is to hike the Emery Creek Falls Trail some 20 miles to the east, but there is a major red flag – the trail has 21 stream crossings.  With our hike on the inundated trail at the Walls of Jericho in northern Alabama still fresh in our minds, Hannah and I both want no part of soggy socks, soaked shoes, or wearing our heat-inducing ponchos on this six-mile trail.

Rav 1

Dodds Creek on the Raven Cliffs Trail

Dismissing the Emery Creek Falls Trail, we choose to drive two hours to the east near Cleveland, GA, where we will be staying with friends for the next three nights, to hike the Raven Cliffs Trail.  It’s a trail we hiked just seven months ago during the height of the drought when no water flowed in Dodd’s Creek and barely a trickle fell from the falls.  Today should be spectacularly different.  Click here for the blog of our last hike at Raven Cliffs.

After two hours of driving the country roads of northern Georgia, we cross the Appalachian Trail on route 75 south and pull into the parking lot to stretch our legs.  Seeing a couple our age with full packs, we learn that they were thru-hikers in 2015 (i.e. they hiked the 2180 mile AT from Maine to Georgia).  As they prepare to head out, I catch their attention and ask what’s ahead for them.

Rav AT map

Appalachian Trail

Mango, (trail name) the older gent, says its more of the same.  A trail with trees.  Not in any sort of self-pitying way, just realistic about the tedium that can be the AT.  His wife, trail name Sunrise (she gets up early to capture pictures of the, you guessed it, sunrise) smiles and says,  not bragging at all, we are hiking the 150 miles to Hot Springs, North Carolina.  That’s about 144 more miles than Hannah and I would ever hike on the AT at any one time.  They mention dealing with the nasty storms two nights ago; from the same system that nearly caused us to go into the tornado storm shelter in northern Alabama.  I never did get to ask why they hike the AT.  There are obvious facts: the hiking in rain, the eating of freeze-dried everything, the hard ground, the snoring of other hikers in the shelters, the mice scurrying over sleeping bags.   It’s clear that I just don’t have the “want to” to be a thru-hiker.  And, let’s be real – I’m soft.

Rav 1A H at start of trail

On the Raven Cliffs Trail

Minutes later, we arrive at the Raven Cliffs Trailhead to sunshine peeking through the clouds.  Though we’ll have no rain today as we hike in the mid-60s, heavy rain is in the forecast once we are done hiking.

Rav 2A stream

Dodds Creek with Hannah on the trail (upper right)

Though we learn the trail has 687’ of elevation gain to a trio of waterfalls, it doesn’t have the feel of a climb at all over its two and a half miles.  Due to the days of rain, the trail is still just moist, with minor pooling in places.  Fact is, it’s a delightful, mellow walk in the woods as spring has just begin to leaf out in northern Georgia.

Rav 4 more stream

Hiking the entire way along Dodd’s Creek, we have a good workout as we have the music of the stream’s symphony to our left; something we didn’t have this past October.

Rav 5 lower falls thru trees

Lower falls from the trail

After an hour of easy hiking, we arrive at the end of the trail.  The middle falls is accessible and has the up-close feel of tumbling white water.  The lower falls is difficult to see as we can only peer at it from the distance or stand at its headwaters.  The upper falls has crashing white water, but it is tucked within the mountain and barely visible.

Rav 5A H at middle falls

Hannah at the middle falls

Turning and heading for the trailhead, Hannah and I cover a random selection of topics – friendships, travel, and how fortunate we are.  It’s similar to the scattered thoughts that come into our heads when we meditate.

One conversation is about our friend Brenda planning to write her story in retirement.  I’ve given her my two cents, make that five cents worth (five thoughts) for beginning writers.  And I share them with you now.

Rav keep writing quote

One, focus on quantity over quality in the drafting stage.  Your writing does not need to be perfect right off the bat.  Write and write some more.  Play with words.  Try out different words, phrases, whole paragraphs.  The fine tuning that comes with revising happens later, and is truly one of the great joys for me as a writer.

Two, always keep the pen or computer keys moving.  Don’t let the internal critic overrule what the creative spirit has to explore.

Rav writing as discovery

Three, writing is about discovering what you want to say.  You don’t need a plan nor an outline.  Write and learn what is in your heart.

Four, read your drafts out loud to see how they flow and whether they catch the rhythm you’d like.

Rav writers need encouragement

(diffident means modest or shy because of a lack of self-confidence)

Five, as a beginner, find encouraging people to read or listen to your writing.   Have them do two things: one, tell you what they specifically like and two, where they would like to know more.   Many of us have had well-intentioned teachers who thought critiquing our writing was most helpful.  It’s not.  It can kill the spirit of the novice writer.  Many of us can be quick to believe we are not very good writers.  We are fed by encouragement.  Agatha Christie in the panel to the left nails it.

With five miles of hiking in the books, we are off to our friend Laurie Lee’s place near Yonah Mountain.  She is the pickleball ambassador for the local club who last October welcomed us with open arms and a warm heart.   We are back in northern Georgia seven months later, in large part, thanks to her love and attention.

LL H and L at her place

Pickleballers, Laurie and Hannah

Amazingly, we learn over dinner that she was born in the same era and in the same hospital that Hannah was – Strong Memorial in Rochester, NY.  This Georgia girl!  Now we take the leap and wonder could Hannah’s dad, Dr. Kraai have delivered her in the 1950s?  He did deliver 5000 babies as a general practitioner.

Laurie will check her safety deposit box for the paperwork around her birth to see if there is any indication of who delivered her!

Stay tuned.

From Laurie soon after this posting.   Love the writing advice! It is truly wonderful. Love the kind words, but it’s easy to be kind to kind souls 😇. Love the picture of the pickleballers! And thanks for the reminder. My birth certificate did NOT name the doctor who delivered me; but a call to the hospital did give me suggestions on how to find out. Signing out: from Yonah to York!

Dan and Hannah Hike to the Walls of Jericho in northern Alabama

WJ map of huntsville 2

Sleeping in at Brenda’s home near Huntsville, Alabama, we wake to her bustling in the kitchen, preparing a down home southern country breakfast for her Yankee visitors.   Having seen the Facebook pictures of Hannah making biscuits with our grandson Owen in California, she asks Hannah to team up to bake these primo biscuits this morning.

Over breakfast, while we feast on her Sweet Home, Alabama scrambled eggs, biscuits, coffee, and hash brown casserole, I think back on the sequence of events that improbably brought us to Brenda’s place.

Bren BS with Han and biscuit making

Brenda and Hannah abiscuit making

Eighteen months ago, we came to Georgia to hike the Appalachian Trail, our last of 14 AT hikes.  Loving our Georgia hike at Springer Mountain, the Southern terminus of the AT, we also explored the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina/Tennessee border.   Sold on hiking in the American South, we vowed to return to its warmth the following October.

FD 4C James' boots

James’s boots

And that we did, hiking again in the Great Smoky Mountains, and then traveling south in North Carolina to hike the AT near Fontana Dam.  There we came upon two hiking boots filled with beautiful pebbles, a living memorial to Brenda’s husband James who had passed on from cancer.  She encouraged hikers to take a pebble and carry it for James who never got to hike the whole AT.

Bren door to storm shelter

Storm shelter in Brenda’s backyard

Taking two, we emailed Brenda, sent a picture of us on the AT, and became North/South email buddies.  Graciously, she invited us to her place when we next came south.   This April we return and begin an in-person Alabama friendship with Brenda.  Click here for the Brenda/Fontana Dam blog.

Bren H in storm shelter

Hannah in the storm shelter built for nine

After breakfast, Brenda shows us the tornado storm shelter in her backyard that we nearly needed during last night’s deluge with tornado warnings.  With room for a snug nine folks, Hannah checks out the interior; more than Fenway Park, these truly are the “friendly confines.”

WJ 1 explanation

Mist falls throughout the mid-morning, but Hannah and I, ever hopeful, still drive an hour to the Walls of Jericho on the Alabama/Tennessee border, just to the west of Chattanooga, TN.   Traveling in the South on Sunday morning, we are amazed how few others are on the road with us; they are all in church.

WJ 1A H as trail begins

The trail to the Walls of Jericho

Heading towards the Alabama trailhead, I drive slowly in fog that engulfs the mountains.  With rain forecasted later in the afternoon, we pull on our hiking boots, knowing its going to be one messy trail, given the 3” of rain that fell last night.  The online reviews for this trail make it sound like a tough hike; but with a waterfall at the end of the 3.6 miles of hiking, it has Dan and Hannah written all over it.

WJ 1B H on muddy trail

With gently sloping switchbacks through the new spring green this last week in April, we know that while we will descend over 1000′ to the waterfalls, we also have that same trek back up the mountain when we are most tired.

WJ 1C D on trail

Meeting up with an older (our age!), athletic hiker dude, we listen as he encourages us to go all the way to the falls themselves (i.e. hiking through a foot, foot and half of raging water).  Though he is quite enthusiastic, the thought of climbing over slippery submerged rocks in ice cold water leaves me, well, cold.  We smile and nod as we part, but I think there’s no way in hell am I going to do that.  Hannah keeps an open mind.

WJ 3 pooling on trail

The trail gets more than soggy

Once at Mill Creek, we walk until we come upon a 50’ log bridge with a railing that allows for an easy crossing.   But now in the low areas of the trail, the water begins to pool, including one spot where the water covers a wide stretch of the trail.  No fans of hiking with wet socks and soaked shoes, we look for alternatives around the mini-pond.  Bushwhacking 30’ down the trail, we plod through the grass using dead branches to step over the soggy spots.

WJ 2C H on log bridge 2

Hannah, high and dry

Then, a twenty-something couple, returning from the falls, tells us that we have to hike through the river to the falls themselves.  Looking like reasonable human beings, they add 2% to my likelihood of water walking to the falls.

WJ 3E rope on trail

As the path narrows, the cliffside rope is just what is needed with Walls of Jericho above and the river below

While we hike, Hannah tries out a new trail name for me.  Cameo.  Since I am the one taking pictures with my iPhone, she is in most of the pictures.   Let’s be honest, she is photogenic plus.  Occasionally, I do make a “cameo” in one of the pictures when we hike.  By the way, trail names are usually given, not self-selected.

WJ 3D trail beneath wj

The trail beneath the Walls of Jericho

Crossing a second log bridge, our mellow hiking is over.  Arriving at the vertical Walls of Jericho themselves, we hug the mountainside above the raging “River Runs Through It” torrent for nearly a mile.  As you might guess, given her recent fall, Hannah walks close to the mountainside of this cliff trail.  She asks me if I wouldn’t walk so near to the edge.  Her 25′ fall from the San Ysidro Trail was just two months ago.

WJ 4B downriver from falls

The river just downstream from the fall

After 3.6 miles, the trail ends at the wide part of the raging river with an island beyond and then a narrower shoot of the stream roaring by.  Seeing the reality of crossing on slippery submerged smooth stones, Hannah and I quickly agree that we want no part of a river crossing in 6 to 18 inches of water.   To what end?  We’ve done what we love about hiking – getting lots of exercise in a wilderness setting.  Walking through the water to the falls doesn’t change that.  And why risk her leg and my iPhone to a watery grave?  It’s a “no way Jose” moment for us both.  Check out the video of the end of “our” trail.

WJ 4C across to base of falls

The water crossing to the distant falls that we’ll do next time.

Anyway, we can return next spring when the conditions may be different.  We are told by a fellow hiker that normally you can walk across these river rocks without getting your shoes wet.

With still have 3.6 uphill miles back to our rental car at the trailhead, we hike without an ounce of regret.  Light rain filters through forest as we climb back up the mountain and past this mini-falls to the right.

WJ 5 H at minifalls

Just down from the trailhead

The Walls of Jericho is a tough hike but rewarding indeed.  Within ten minutes of getting in the car, it starts to pour.  The universe is again smiling down on us.