Saturday, May 4, 2019

Spring 2019 Herbal Activities

Leaves of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
The first shoots of Stinging Nettle have sprung lining our bursting creeks. They cluster about the unfurling palm-shaped leaves of Bloodroot and the umbrella-like tops of Mayapple. Spring is here in all her bounty. It's up to us to take notice. Now is the time when each day on the trail offers new botanical beauties. Seemingly overnight it seems the Garlic Mustard has flowered and the Cleavers have grown nearly a foot tall. Time to get outside!
We are happy to offer a number a ways to do just that through a variety of activities throughout the season. And we are still booking. If you have a group you would like to take out on the trail or a plant-inspired event, let us know here at Hike Local!

On the Path with Emerging Voices Open Mic, Frisky Goat Coffeehouse, Milford PA
Saturday, May 11th, 7:00 pm
Scott and I will be sharing stories and song from our adventure on the 1,100 mile Florida Trail. For three months we hiked through swamp and prairie, down dirt road and beside levees, beneath the shade of Live Oaks and the scorching Florida sunshine. Plants abounded as did gators, hogs and snakes. An array of inspiring artists will also take the stage offering poetry, prose, and music. Join in the fun!
Cost: Free

Edible and Medicinal Plant Walk with Crystal Springs Resort, Vernon NJ
Saturday, May 18th, 4:00 - 5:00 pm
Join me on Crystal Springs' very own Nature Path at the Grand Cascades Lodge. We will identify the wild plants we encounter and learn about their myriad of uses. Walk will be easy in nature. Children welcome. Pre-registration strongly suggested.
Cost: $15/person. Including in walk cost is free attendance to seminar described below.
For more information, visit: 

Herbs for Allergies, Crystal Springs Resort, Vernon NJ
Saturday, May 18th, 5:30 - 6:30 pm
With Spring comes seasonal allergies...good thing Mother Nature provides us with all we need to combat them! Take part in a seminar in which we will discuss herbal tonics helpful in both preventing and treating seasonal allergies. This workshop is indoors. Pre-registration is strongly suggested.
Cost: $10/person. Cost is free with purchase of plant walk listed above.
For more information, visit:

Plant Walk with the Skylands Sierra Club, Wantage NJ
Saturday, May 25th, 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Join us over Memorial Day weekend for a walk at the beautiful Lusscroft Farm. We will discover both prized woodland medicinals and under appreciated weeds. Learns tips for identification, methods of preparation, and enjoy the scenery! Walk will be moderately difficult.
Cost: $20/person. Children under 12 are free.
Pre-registration is required.
Contact Chapter head, David Alcock to register:
You do not need to be a Sierra Club member to attend.
For more information, visit:

The Art of Tea: An Herbal Tea Tasting
Saturday, June 1st, 4:00 - 5:00
Discover the medicinal value of an herbal blend perfect for revitalizing the body, soothing the nerves, and promoting general wellness. But tea is not only medicinal, it's delicious! Learn how to prepare your own herbal tea from scratch. Attendees receive a gift bag of tea to take home. This class is hands-on. 
Cost: $10/person. Pre-registration is strongly suggested as group size is limited.
For more information, visit: 

Earth Medicines Walk, Crystal Springs Resort, Vernon NJ
Saturday, June 1st, 5:00 - 6:30 pm
Take a stroll on the Nature Path at the Grand Cascades Lodge and learn about the valuable medicinal benefits of our wild plants. Many of these plants are also common backyard weeds, which means that you likely have some growing near you! Walk will be easy in nature. Children welcome.
Cost: $10/person. Pre-registration is strongly suggested as group size is limited.
For more information, visit: 

Plant Walks, Herbal Workshops, Long-distance Hiking Presentations
The Lodge at Woodloch, Hawley PA
Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays throughout the season
As Woodloch's Certified Herbalist, I offer an array of activities centered around our natural world and holistic health. Book your stay and check out their outdoor activity schedule for a list of dates/times at: 
Book your activity with Hike Local
Do you have a group that would like to learn more about the edible and medicinal plants through a guided hike on a local trail? Perhaps you and your family would like to take a walk on your own property to learn about your very own plants? Do you have a group that has varying degrees of endurance? We also offer slideshows and workshops. Contact us and allow us to tailor a hike or activity specifically suited to you and your group!
Contact us at:
Visit: to learn more

Looking forward to seeing you on the trail and in the woods!

Bloodroot flower (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Reflections on the Florida Trail

Us at the Southern terminus of the Florida Trail - Big Cypress National Preserve
To hike any trail is to put one's self in the path of the unknown, to hike a long distance trail is a gradual surrender to the unknown, but to hike the Florida Trail was a giant leap and sudden immersion into the unknown. To embrace the unknown, find peace within it, and ultimately become intimate with it, is largely why we hiked this trail. 

The Black Lagoon - Big Cypress National Preserve

Our very first day hiking into the Big Cypress National Preserve, to be completely honest, we were terrified. Never mind the fact that we have hiked numerous long distance trails before. None of them included miles of wading black water, alligators, panthers, pythons, poisonwood, and hookworm larvae. We had done our research and the ranger at the Oasis Visitor Center drove home to us the many dangers we could possibly encounter. The first mile of the trail was overgrown with grasses as high as our heads. Never before in my life had I been fearful of every foot step, so alert to rustling in the brush, or hesitant to touch a plant. But despite our learned knowledge of this region, we were mere babes in the jungle. Every impression new. But this was why we had come reawaken every sense, to force ourselves into the present, and to eventually become at home in a landscape that was so far from home. The earth is our home and we sought, and still seek to, know it well in all its hardness and beauty. Throughout its length the Florida Trail offered us the path to doing just that.

Walking along the levees in southern Florida

The Florida Trail provided intensity. On the levees we persevered through unyielding sun and dizzying heat and struggled to stay hydrated. But each morning we followed in the path of the birds that called this land home and marveled at the alligators that lived in the sparkling waters that stretched for miles. In the prairies, we wandered through remote grasslands for over 100 miles and sunk our feet into deep sugar sand. Yet here, the wind carried the sounds of scraping Saw Palmetto fronds and when we dipped into a Live Oak forest, the scent of fresh oranges. The temperatures dropped drastically in Ocala National Forest and we wondered how we had ever been so hot further south, our fingers numb from the cold every morning. However at night the skies were studded with twinkling stars and by day the skies so blue against the white sand of the trail and the green of the trailside corridor. Scrub Jays of the same brilliant blue flitted to and froe across our path. Then just as we were considering sending home our water-walking shoes, we plunged into the swamps. Swamps with sucking mud and swirling pollen and the blackest water we had ever seen. Yet from these rose towering Cypress with smooth bark and carnivorous plants that sometimes seemed more animal than plant.

Wise Man checking out an ancient Live Oak

We wove along the edges of rivers with names that harkened to another time long ago - the Suwannee, Withalacoochee, the Aucilla, the Sopchoppy, and Appalachicola, to name a few. Here we crept around the ancient Live Oaks adorned in Resurrection Fern, Sphagum moss, and red lichen, and marveled at the scarlet samaras of the Maples that lined the rivers' edges. Then there were the long roadwalks, so very long. Cars zipped by with such frequency and the pavement rolled underfoot so regularly we were sometimes hypnotized, that is until a truck would rumble by kicking up a sandstorm in its wake. But we made friends with cows and marveled at humble shacks and falling down barns. In our last two days we reached the crashing waves and lumpy dunes of the beach. This trail was ever-changing and complex in the challenges it presented. However in each unique region, after what felt like a very long time existing in it, although in reality might have been only a few hours or a few days, we grew comfortable as we got to know our surroundings. 

Black Titi (Cliftonia monophylla)

I have spent roughly a decade studying the plants of Appalachia. These plants are dear friends that I incorporate into meals and medicines and use in educating others about their natural world. I have become well acquainted with the plants of the Piedmont and had brushed shoulders with those of the Coastal Plain on my hikes along the coasts of North Carolina. However many which I met on the Florida Trail were new faces to new me or variations of those that I have met before. Some faces which always greeted me on the trail, I never saw once. Therefore, I felt truly a stranger in strange land. The first couple of weeks on the trail, I wondered how I might ever become truly acquainted with the array of new botanicals here in the Land of Flowers. However, each day I learned one, or two, or five. There were the beauties: Ten-Petaled Sabatia, Lantana, Tassel Flower, Moon Flower, and Lizard's Tail.
Red Cedar (Lantana camara)

There were the often-seen: Gallberry, Saw Palmetto, Wapato, Alligator Flag, and Innocence.

Innocence (Houstonia procumbens)

Then there were the carnivorous plants: Trumpets and Sweet Pitchers Sundew, Hooded Bladderwort, and Butterwort. 
Sundew (Drosera)

The fragrant flowers were easy to remember: Florida Anise, Wild Rosemary, Ti-ti, and Candy Weed. 
Florida Anise (Illicium floridanum)

So were some of those we ate: Spanish Needles, Beauty Berry, Pink Wood Sorrel, and oh so many Violets.
Spanish Needles (Bidens pilosa)

And so many more. By the time we were walking the final mile along a gravel trail lined with greenery, it was as if these plants were dear friends lining the path in celebration of our journey's completion. I will never be a stranger in a strange land here in Florida again, rather I will find myself at home amongst these plants. 
Hiking through Nokuse Plantation

Amidst the intensity of the trail there was also always a quiet consistency underlying it all. In certain ways, each day was very much like the last. We awoke before dawn, made coffee and ate peanut butter, be it on a tortilla, granola bar, bagel, or pop-tart. We looked at the days miles and got to hiking. We stopped roughly every hour or so to have a snack, check out a plant, or cool down. Mid-day we peeled off our shoes, leaned back on our packs and ate lunch which usually consisted of cheese on some kind of glutenous product. If we were lucky we had condiment packets and wild greens. Just before sundown, we would find our camp, set up the tent and crawl inside for the night. 

Camped along the Aucilla River

Especially towards the end, this routine at times felt monotonous, coupled with the fact that for all of the trail's changing terrain, each day did not have a highlighted goal. There was no high peak to climb or state line to cross. There was not a blatant daily reward. But at the same time, to hike to this sort of steady hum, allowed us to more deeply listen to our thoughts, notice our own emotional or psychological cycles, and gently attune them to that steady hum of the Florida landscape. The simplicity of trail life was a gift and the rewards were a clear stream, a tree heavy with ripe tangerines, the company of a sweet stray dog, crossing a long bridge over a wide river, reaching a gas station with a grill and cold soda, successfully tip-toing across cypress knees to dodge a swamp or surrendering to the swamp and standing ankle deep in muck without a care, the kindness of strangers and making new friends.

All in attendance at Billy Goat Days - an annual celebration marking legendary hiker, Billy Goat's birthday, and the Florida Trail

And there it is...the thread that stitches the Florida Trail together. The people. The community. For us, the Florida Trail would not have been the magical, meditative, botanical journey it was without the folks that support it, its hikers, and those that live and extend helping hands along its corridor. We speculated at its presence before we even started the trail, as we stumbled across numerous Facebook pages about the trail and several with the stated intention to be of assistance to those who hike the trail. We introduced ourselves, reached out, and the community responded. And although we feel like we formed unique and genuine friendships with those we met through the trail, it was not just us they helped. These folks were there for all the hikers. In the south, along the levees and throughout the prairie, had it not been for the strategically placed water caches, we would have either not made it or gotten sick from the contaminated water in the process. In central Florida we were welcomed into homes by family and new friends, assisted in getting around for resupply and shuttled from here to there and even attended the Annual Billy Goat Days. In the panhandle, we embraced the hospitality of the churches who opened their doors to us. Throughout the length of the trail, we were gifted with surprise slackpacks and rides to or from town, homemade meals or simply sweet company. Yes we were hiking this trail as a couple, a trail at times through deep wilderness, but it was as if we were part of a family and the trail was our home. We were supported. The Florida Trail Alliance and its trail angels and Florida Trail Association volunteers were largely responsible for this however, it was also our fellow hikers. When a tornado touched down on the trail, not far from where we were taking shelter that night in Hillcrest Church, we glanced at Facebook and saw that hikers were looking out each other. Trail angels and members of the Alliance and the Association were doing their best to account for where hikers were and hikers were responding, checking in with this one or that one. All were safe that night. Thru-hikers communicated via various forms of tech to help guide others coming up behind them through tricky parts of the trail. Hiker's families and friends opened their homes for places to stay and services to help resupply. The ways in which we received assistance, support, and acts of kindness are countless. We have said it before, and we'll say it again and again and again, the community that surrounds this trail is what truly makes it special. 

Hanging with Uncle Jim at the I-75 rest area

There were the friends from home and friends we had made on previous hikes who appeared with trail magic and walked miles with us, lifting our spirits and reminding us of the large network of friendship we have created in our travels. There were our families at home and along the trail that mailed packages, took us in providing us shelter, food, and laughter, and listened to our travails by phone.
Meeting the Brents along a roadwalk in Appalachicola National Forest

Even the locals that we met along the way, whether it be passerby at a convenience store or folks we met along the roadwalks, greeted us warmly and with generosity. We often have people ask us if we were scared of who we might meet along the trail - for surely what we see on the news tells us we should be - but rather we looked forward each day to just whom we might meet along the trail!

Traversing swamp in Osceola

Logistically, the Florida Trail is definitely more challenging than some other long distance trails in its potential closures and reroutes due to high water or weather. Navigating our way through the swamps where there was often no definable trail except for blazes or over terrain like sand and deep mud which are not always encountered elsewhere, were also an added aspect to this trail. However thanks to the community that extended their help, the resources available such as Sandra Friend and John Keatley's guidebook and the Guthook app, we found these tricky spots manageable. The resupply options along the trail were plentiful and the weather was as favorable as one might expect Florida to be in the temperate winter. I am happy to say that we encountered less bugs than we expected with the exception of swarms of mosquitoes on the levees. This trail may still be a work in progress but any long distance trail is in reality ever-changing. This is the nature of a trail after all - at times unpredictable, challenging, and unknown, and therein lies its beauty.

Wise Man feeling the magic of the trail

Now that we are home, the full effects of our journey will continue to ripple through us. This residual magic is why we continue to hike the long trails that we do. Despite returning to "normal" life and all the complexities it can present, we are still experiencing a quiet calm and a deep appreciation for our many blessings. Food tastes richer, the company of friends and family is warmer, and every particle of our landscape is more enlivened. When we lay our heads down to sleep at night, we walk dirt roads, wander between Saw Palmettos, dine with friends, and still hear the calling of cranes and barking of dogs. One can never expect to hike a long trail and return the same person. The Florida Trail will now always be a part of us just as we shall now always be a part of the Florida Trail. Florida's landscape, its plants, it animals, and its people will forever resound through us.
Us at the Northern terminus - Fort Pickens - see, I said the trail will change a person!

So what's next? I will be continuing to compile our botanical research about the hike in the upcoming months. A guide to the plants of the Florida Trail will be in the works. You can expect to see us this Fall at the ALDHA gathering where we will share our experience on the Florida Trail and we hope to see all of our dear friends there as well! Our journey in Florida has really just begun. We plan to return in the winters and offer guided plant walks and hikes on not only on the Florida Trail but on other trails throughout the state, as well as herbal workshops, and presentations about our experience on the trail. We will be looking for land to purchase and/or a place to park the trailer so that we can make this happen. So if you have any pointers, ideas, suggestions, let us know!

Thank you to all who supported us in our journey! Each and every one of you made the difference!

Trail marker just a couple of miles from the end of the trail 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Our Finish on the Florida Trail: 1103.7 Miles Baby!

The Florida Trail rocked!
On the afternoon of Saturday, March 16th, after hiking 1103.7 miles since December 21st, Wise Man and I reached the northern terminus of the Florida Trail. We were taken by surprise by the stone plaque marking its end just on the other side of a humble foot bridge near the historic Fort Pickens. We dropped our packs and stood dumbfounded, barely believing that this was really the end. We had known since we started that this moment would one day arrive but it had always seemed so far in the future, so very many miles away. Now just like that, we were here, our feet having taken all the steps they needed. It was time to change into something fabulous! Hiking over 1000 miles certainly deserves a Rockstar finish. So in between families rolling by on bicycles we changed clothes, arranged Scott's ipad on his backpack for timed selfies, and got to voguing, while a crane looked on from its perch on the nearby creek. I imagine that crane has seen all manner of absurdity here at this lil sign.

Wise Man celebrating to finally be on the beach!
Since having finished, we have experienced a magnitude of feelings about this journey and the insights along its route were many. In an upcoming blog post I will share with you our reflections on the trail. For now, I would like to revel in those final miles leading up to the end.

Trail through Eglin, framed with Deer Moss
Leaving Defuniak Springs, we entered into forest owned by Eglin Airforce Base. This may sound less than romantic, but in reality this land was some of the most beautiful we had seen yet and the trail pristinely maintained. Before these 600+ acres was deemed Eglin it was actually the Choctawatchee National Forest, so allow your imagination to conjure not machinery and landing strips but rather miles of trail lined with fluffy Deer Moss, Yaupon shrubs laden with red berries, a forest floor cushioned with dried Long Leaf and Sand Pine needles, and Live Oaks that craned their branches overhead creating archways through which we walked. Here and there, wildflowers like Iris and Candyweed shown their faces, bright with Spring.

Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria) - Berries are toxic, but leaves contain caffeine and may be steeped in hot water for an invigorating tea. Roasting the leaves enhances their caffeinated properties

Dwarf Iris (Iris verna) - I have never seen an Iris in bloom so low to the ground

Most remarkable about these miles through Eglin, were the streams that ran so clear we could see all the way to their sandy bottoms. When we filled our water bottles, for the first time in over 1,000 miles, the water was not stained brown and when we drank it tasted like it had just come from a mountain spring rather than smelling of sulfur or swamp. And over these creeks were erected sturdy bridges, one of which was the biggest we had seen yet - Demon Bridge. Over the boggy areas we walked plank footbridges and these too carried us around the edges of swamps. Not once did we have to get our feet wet.

Pearl Creek in Eglin - look at how clear those waters are!

Wise Man on Demon Bridge over the Alaqua Creek

One of many boardwalks through Eglin

Eglin was also unique in the ascents and descents it put before us. Nowhere else on the trail had hills unraveled before us like this, over and over again, dipping us down to the shaded cool of trickling creeks and carrying us upward over dry land. As we hiked we sweat in the high temperatures that prevailed throughout this section, the air thick with humidity.

Wise Man crossing creek in Eglin, complete with stairs to help climb up out of the gap.

We understood what all this climbing was for when we reached the highest point on the Florida Trail at a whopping 271 feet.

Highest Point on the Florida Trail - 271 feet
Oh and remember that tornado that touched down in Eglin the night that we were at the Hillcrest Baptist Church? We saw the very place that happened when we reached a hillside just before our first camp for the night at Alaqua Campsite. The trail has already been cleared.

Damage from recent tornado just before Alaqua Campsite in Eglin - damage has already been cleaned up!

Throughout Eglin as well as Blackwater State Forest which was tucked in the middle, we had the assistance and guidance of Kelly and Sean, trail angels here in this neck of the woods and active with both the Alliance and Association. Not only did they help us get off to a hotel in Defuniak Springs, but welcomed us into their home after a long roadwalk through Crestview. While spending some quality time with these two, they gave us the full rundown on what to expect on the trail throughout Eglin. They were so very knowledgeable and kind and so much fun to laugh with well into the eve. And their two dogs made our stay even better. What loves! However, their assistance did not stop in Eglin. Kelly picked us up at the northern terminus and got us off to the airport in the morning where we picked up our rental car. That last evening we also enjoyed the company of Cricket, who will be finishing any day now. Above and beyond, you two. Thank you Kelly and Sean!

Cricket, Sean, Kelly, Wise Man, and Bot outside of Waffle House in Crestview

When we emerged from the Eglin forest and onto the roadwalk that led us into Navarre, we caught our first glimpse of the shimmering bay and the long bridge that would carry us across to Navarre Beach. It was then we realized just how very far we had come and that Fort Pickens would soon be a reality.

Navarre Bridge over the bay

He hooted and hollered and sang as we crossed the bridge in the midday sun and celebrated with cold sodas at a Tom Thumb convenience store on the other side. From here we walked through a colorful beach town with houses both big and small and an array of lawn ornaments dressed up for Mardi Gras, all the while feeling simply high that we would walk this skinny strip of land to its western tip.

Wise Man walking on bike path through Navarre Beach
So many celebratory lawn ornaments...were they really for us?

It wasn't long before we reached Gulf Islands National Seashore and \turned onto the beach where the walking became increasingly more difficult. The tide was in and so the soft white sand was deep and with our heavy packs we sunk even deeper with each step. We persevered as long as we could and then returned to the road where we still had a good view of the ocean waves.

Approaching beach walk

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Walking beach on the Florida Trail

Later that afternoon we reached Pensacola Beach and turned onto trail through the sand dunes and forged our own path towards the Bayview Campsite. Because the dunes are always shifting, there were blazed posts generally marking the route, however it was up to us choose to go over or around the heaps of sand and salt spray loving plants. Looking out from the tops of these mounds the landscape sometimes more resembled an alien planet than the beach.

Yay! Pensacola Beach

Walking through the dunes on the bay

That evening we sat at the benches near camp and gazed out over the salty waters that lapped at the shore. Across from us were the lights of mainland Pensacola. The winds blew strong and we were so chilly we had to don hats, jackets, and long pants. We had come a long, long, ways from the swamps of the Everglades. The immensity of our journey now undeniable. We sipped celebratory beverages, having procured our ingredients from mainland Navarre and carried them all the way here.

Final campsite on the trail at Bayview Campsite

We slept through the night despite the billowing walls of our tent from the gusting winds and the spraying rain from a storm overhead. In the morning it still rained and the wind blew fiercely, the temperatures having dropped significantly. We bundled up and hiked on over the dunes, civilization looming on the horizon. However still we appreciated the Spiderwort, Sea Rocket, and Wild Rosemary that called this isolated wild place home.

Wild Rosemary (Conradina canescens) - a different genus than our cultivated rosemary, although still a member of the Mint Family, evidenced by its fragrant aroma

Sea Rocket (Cakile) - a member of the Mustard Family, leaves are edible and taste somewhat spicy
Proceeding through the town of Pensacola, we continued to walk in rain, but it mattered little, this was our last day and it seemed everything had a glow about it even in the confines of town. It really started to glow when we resumed our beach walk. Periodically we slowed down and searched the shores for treasures, pretty seashells and sea creatures.

Gifts from the ocean

Bundled up but happy to be on the beach
Wise Man searching the beach for sea glass

In our last miles we hiked giddily, skipping and running down the trail....We made it! We passed looming historic structures but they could barely keep our attention. They were not what we were here for. In the last mile, however we slowed it down, way down. Every footfall held weight. We held hands and dropped some tears, not for reaching the end but for the immensity of what we had been through in the last nearly three months and the connection that we had strengthened to each other over that time. The Florida Trail was a jungle of a trail...but we navigated it like Tarzan and Jane!

Love at the northern terminus
Thank you all for supporting us in our journey and for hiking along with us virtually. Knowing that we were not alone out there in the swamps meant the world and gave our hike greater purpose. The community surrounding this trail is truly unique and we were welcomed into it with open arms. A special thank you to our families that supported us in our endeavor! Thank you Mama Weis for mailing those packages of much anticipated food and gear and slipping in some treats!
Mama Weis and Wise Man
We may have set out on foot alone but we completed it with the help of all of you!!!

Thank You ALL!