52 Hike Challenge 2017

My 2017 challenge was to complete 52 hikes as part of the 52 Hikes Challenge on Instagram. It seemed feasible because hikes only had to be a mile long and Urban Hikes counted, so a mountain and/or nature wasn’t required but getting outside was. Secondly, to do 52 Hikes in one year really only required getting out once a week.

Ultimately, it was actually pretty difficult for a variety of reasons. For one, I spent a decent part of the year training for a bikepacking trip, so even though I was on trails, I wasn’t always hiking them. Also, the summer time was hella hot, and I guess I forgot about how busy I am!

In the end, I did it. If I counted a location more than once, it’s because the experience was vastly different which generally was the difference between hiking it with just a couple other people or a big group or alone.

Below is a list of the Hikes completed with a teensy bit or a lotsa bit of description of the hike. When I say description, I don’t necessarily mean that I am describing the hike itself. Whatever I’ve written is mostly pretty random. Some hikes are linked to a webpage if I think it’s worth a visit (and if it has a site).

For those of y’all who don’t read, but like to look at Nature, just watch the video of my year.

1. Sawgrass Lake Park, St Pete, January 2
I went on this hike with my friend, Michaelle, who was also embarking on the 52 Hike challenge. While the hike itself isn’t particularly challenging, it is a beautiful and interesting location, and I think it set a good start for my year of trying to find balance. My weight hasn’t really changed this year, but I have made pretty significant changes to my overall eating habits, with Michaelle’s help, and by the end of the year had reengaged in working out consistently.

2. Cypress Creek Preserve, Land O’ Lakes, January 8
Part of the 52 Hike challenge required intentionally planning for hikes on weeks that I was not leading an Outdoor Afro event. This day was the start of me being intentional about inviting one or more people out to hike with me outside of Outdoor Afro (OA) to (1) get 52 Hikes in and/or (2) scout potential locations for OA events. For this and #3, I was joined by a few ladies

3. Lettuce Lake Park, Tampa, January 8
See #2

4. Mural Urban Hike, St Pete, January 21 
I take people on a tour of St. Pete murals for time to time, and this particular day was an OA hike I was leading. This also was the end or nearly the end of advertising events on Facebook. Whilst it was a great event to prequel my joining in the Women’s March, I also feel like I finally understood the concept of “holding space.” Posting public events on Facebook often led to people joining events that did not comprehend the point of OA.

5. Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St Pete, January 29
My friend Coby agreed to help me with a youth empowerment event for Black History Month, and this was a day that we were scouting what path we would take our groups. In reflecting on these hikes, I realize how dependent on Boyd Hill I’ve become as my favorite place to get some Nature in.

6. Lake Rogers Park, Odessa, February 4
This was an OA event I planned in conjunction with Hillsborough County Parks for their Hiking Spree 2017.

7. Upper Tampa Bay Trail, Odessa, February 4
Some of the OA ladies and I completed this after Hike 6 because we were participating in Hiking Spree 2017. If you’re in the Tampa Bay Area, I highly recommend joining!

8. Bok Tower Gardens, Lake Wales, February 11
The majority of my out-of-state trips have been with some combination of my friends, Heather, Rachel, and Natalie. It’s interesting how easy it is to take advantage of the idea that we would just continue to do these little trips together forever or even for a little while longer without factoring how life changes things so immensely (but often beautifully). This trip was a in-state adventure with the girls and an amazing day.

9. Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St Pete, February 18
This event was what I had scouted for in #5. I planned for three groups to enjoy the parks: two groups of adolescents split by gender hiking with community members to discuss navigating life, education, and work as a person of color as well as a “camp” for 10-and-unders led by the park ranger. In some respects, the event succeeded, but also failed. I had a really small number of adolescents, but decent numbers of under 10s. The adults who participated enjoyed themselves, and this event led me to become more serious about a goal of mine.

10. Triple Creek Nature Preserve, Riverview, February 19
This was a scouting expedition slash knocking off another hike from the Hillsborough Hiking Spree 2017 with Raylanda. This is definitely my favorite hikes in my area.

11. Blackwater Creek Nature Preserve, Plant City, March 4 
An OA event I planned in conjunction with Hillsborough County Parks for their Hiking Spree 2017

12. African American Heritage Hike, St Pete, March 11
I led this particular urban hike 6 times this year, but I am only counting it once. Basically, I lead a group of Pinellas County Schools teachers on a hike about the history of a black neighborhood that existed out of necessity from segregation laws, but then died out because of racially biased local and state decisions and policies. On one hand, it’s a function of my job that I imposed on myself. On the other, it’s been an incredible experience as I learn from community members who grew up and have experiences in that neighborhood. I also enjoy having discussions with educators who are impacted by the experience.

13. Grassy Waters Preserve, West Palm Beach, March 12
During my brother Antoine’s visit to St Pete, we went on a short trip to the East Coast of Florida to visit our family on my Mummy’s side. During the drive over, we visited this preserve and the one in #14. Both hikes were insanely hot, but beautiful. #14 is technically inside of the preserve somewhere, but we drove about fifteen minutes away from the main address to find this trail.

14. Apoxee Wilderness Trail, West Palm Beach, March 12
See #13

15. Weedon Island Preserve, St Pete, March 18
This was an OA event I planned. It was led by Emma Mason who is pretty much an OG nature walk leader from the preserve. If I ever do this again, I would have to schedule it in the winter. While fascinating information, there were many moments of stand-and-learn which is hard to do in the Florida heat with mosquitoes trying to take you out.

16. National Mall, Washington, DC, April 5
OA Leadership Training was set to be in Harper’s Ferry this year, so I left a couple nights early so that I could spend some time in DC primarily to go to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It was certainly an interesting juxtaposition of experiencing that museum and seeing (for the second time) some of the people the National Mall memorializes with a view that is much evolved since I was 16.

17. Maryland Heights Trail, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, April 6
This was a pre-training hike on a trail that is part of the Appalachian Trail and part of the Underground Railroad. Even though I was rained/lightninged out of seeing the lookout, I completed it with some other OA leaders who are nearest and dearest to my heart.

18. Harper’s Ferry Civil War Battlefield, Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, April 8
The East Coast OA Region leaders went on this hike as a part of training. During this hike, I met and fell in love with the Pennsylvania OA leaders by happenstance of car designations. Together, we fell in love with the legacy of John Brown. Within this group, I was strongly reminded of how I have a group of people that I think surpasses friendship into kinship. I knew I probably wouldn’t see them again until training the following year because our states-wide separation, but it does not make their existence in my life less important

19. De Soto National Memorial, Bradenton, April 15
An OA event I planned in conjunction with the park as a part of #NPS100.

20. Sawgrass Lake Park, St Pete, April 30
#9 was the event that would ultimately inspire the start of Open Sky Adventures which at this point was a more informal group of girls who I was mentoring.

21. Emerson Point Preserve, Bradenton, May 6
This hike was a situation where we made lemonade. I had planned an OA event where we were going to kayak at De Soto National Memorial, but it was too windy to go out in the bay. Instead, the two park rangers who were going to take us out in the water guided us on a hike at this Preserve. There is an incredible lookout here where a couple came upon us, and the husband asked, “Are you guys a church group?” I explained to him that we were just humans doing human things.

22. Veterans Memorial Park, St Pete, May 29
I used to drive by this park twice a day in my commute and thought nothing of it. I searched Trip Advisor for some local parks that had trails, and it claimed there was one back here. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this park for anything other than cookouts, but I chose it for my Memorial Day hike. Part of the trail goes along the backside of a veteran cemetery which was pretty depressing to behold on Memorial Day.

23. Chautauqua Lake Park, Clearwater, May 30
This is another tiny local park that I saw on a friend’s Instagram, and I had to circle back a lot to get over a mile.

24. Bayhead Skate Park, Largo, June 8
I could put this whole park area on the list a few times because I spent many a lunch break this summer trying to get some steps in, but that very much seemed like cheating, so I will count my many visits here.

25. Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park, Gainesville, June 14
When I drove into this park, the ranger at the station warned me it was a bad idea because it was about to start raining. This was frustrating because I had spent a day in at a conference during which time there was NO RAIN, but it seemed like the moment I changed to head to this park, the sky darkened and threatened rain. However, I was determined to get a hike in. She was totally right. It was not only raining, but there was some lightning in the area. I got a mile in as quickly as I could and got back into my car, soaking wet.

26. Sweetwater Wetlands Park, Gainesville, June 15
This was another park I checked out after my conference. It’s absolutely beautiful, but there is not a lick of shade.

27. Egmont Key State Park, St Pete, July 1
For my birthday, I wanted to do things I had never done before. One of these things was to go to Egmont Key State Park which is only accessible by boat. So I booked a tour with Island Boat Adventures along with two of my friends and my cousin. During this trip, we first snorkeled then got to explore the park.

28. Mt St Helens, Skamania County, WA, July 15
This was pretty much amazing to behold in person. The only thing I can say is that it was one of those things that I always thought was cool in elementary social studies, but seeing it in person was unreal.

29. Carter Falls Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA, July 16
Mount Rainier National Park is full of so many things to do that I think it’s truly possible to spend an entire week there and still not see everything. I was here with my friend, and we had one day to make the most of it. We went along this trail for a while, but never got to the waterfall. We had limited time and wanted to do the hike in #30, so we eventually turned around!

30. Panorama Point Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA, July 16
This trail kicked my ass. Completely. But I loved it. My favorite part was during our return. On the way up, we had watched these people slide down snow chutes and thought they were crazy. On our way down, we realized it was the only way to avoid having to wait for over thirteen people to go up the narrow path before we could go down along that part of the trail. Sliding down was fun, even if my pants were definitely not made for snow!

31. Multnomah Falls, Mutlnomah County, OR, July 20
This was a pretty cool hike. We went really late in the day, so it was quite packed. The trip to the top of the falls is all incline made “easier” by quite a few switchbacks. Hard to get up there, but it was so beautiful!

32. Desegregation History Urban Hike, St Pete, August 23
This is another made-by-me urban hike that includes visiting places in downtown St. Pete that were important to the history of its desegregation. We were rained out BIG TIME after a mile, but still got to discuss Spa Beach, the first integrated beach front in St. Pete, and Al Lang Stadium, which integrated their grandstands before local hotels would allow black players to stay in them.

33. Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Cleveland, OH, August 26
While in Ohio for a wedding, a friend of mine made sure I got to see this park. She knew it was on my to do list! It was pretty awesome, and I got to enjoy it with a group of friends from high school/college.

34. Robinson Preserve, Bradenton, September 3
This preserve has been on my list to check out for a long time. I even had made an OA event for it before actually checking it out. On this occasion, my friend scouted it with me for the event in #35 where I had over 20 people show up for the hike! While worth a trip, this is not my favorite preserve in Bradenton.
35. Robinson Preserve, Bradenton, September 23
See #34

 

36. Triple Creek Nature Preserve, Riverview, October 15
I think this was the biggest OA event I had. Seeing this preserve again was even cooler because Irma damage made it a bit of an adventure, particularly how many downed trees we had to climb over!

 

37. Neal Preserve, Bradenton, October 21
After yet another failed attempt to kayak at De Soto National Memorial, we made some more lemonade by googling a local park. We found this one. On our way to it, we passed #38 which didn’t come up in the searches so that was a happy addition to our day. This preserve is pretty, but tiny, and we had to loop around a couple of times to get in our mile.

 

38. Perico Preserve, Bradenton, October 21
This preserve is absolutely stunning and a complete surprise.

 

39. Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St Pete, October 22
Another event with my Open Sky Adventure girls.

 

40. Edward Medard Park, Plant City, November 4
In conjunction with Hillsborough County Parks for Hiking Spree 2018. The actual trail was pretty short, but the ranger took us along these old mounds that are pretty steep and cool looking to get over a mile in.

 

41. Aldermans Ford Park, Lithia, November 4
We went to this after #40 to try to get some more trails in from Hiking Spree 2018. It’s paved, so it wasn’t particularly challenging.

 

42. Disney Wilderness Preserve, Kissimmee, November 11
This preserve is pretty legit and stunning. I highly recommend it if you’re ever in that area. It was about six miles of hiking, four of which were gloriously overgrown.
43. Spadre Creek Nature Trail, Clarksville, AR, November 18
During a trip to The University of the Ozarks, we searched for a trail near campus. This trail is pretty much paved, but oriented us to the layout of the town and campus.

 

44. Upper Buffalo Wilderness, Ponca, AR, November 19
I would not recommend doing this trail without another person and a compass. My favorite part was exploring the river bed since it was dried out, but I never would managed this without a guide.

 

45. Bell Creek Nature Preserve, Riverview, Dec 3
This preserve is really easy to pass on the road, but definitely worth it!

 

46. Big Cypress National Preserve, Ochopee, Dec 9
My sister and I stopped off at the rest area to try to explore this preserve. We probably only got a mile in at the actual preserve before we were thwarted by a completely flooded river-like pathway. However, between walking from the rest area to the trail head, we got more than a mile in. I think this would have been really cool if it wasn’t flooded.

 

47. Rye Preserve, Bradenton, Dec 9
This is another location I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, and we decided to go to it since #46 didn’t last as long as originally planned. This place is absolutely beautiful. 

48. Boyd Hill Environmental, St Pete, Dec 15
#48-50 were during a camping trip for OA St. Pete. This weekend definitely saved my butt in the way of the 52 Hike Challenge. For this hike, we did a night hike in the woods behind the campground. It was so freaky! We did this same trail again in #50 during the day. I scouted this event, but that didn’t stop me from getting a teeny bit lost because of the lack of trail markers.
49. Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, St Pete, Dec 16
We had a photography class in the morning before we went kayaking. We were led by a local artist who gave us some pointers on using phones for photography.

 

50. Boyd Hill Environmental, St Pete, Dec 16
See #48

 

51. Wicker Memorial Park, Highland, IN, Dec 24
While I was home for Christmas break, I woke up on Christmas Eve and told my family that I had to do a hike. My siblings were in for the challenge. We drove to Gibson Woods Nature Preserve (despite my anxiety of being in a car in the snow), only to discover that it was closed during the entire break. So instead, we went to Wicker Park which has a two-mile loop I used to use for training. This was the first time I had ever seen it in snow.
52. Makiki Valley Loop, Honolulu, HI, Dec 30
I love how hiking on an actual mountain kicks my butt.  It was quite the workout, but it was so worth it. At no time during my trip to Hawai’i could I get over how luscious and green and beautiful everything was, and this trail was a perfect way to end my year of hikes.
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Blackpacking the Katy Trail

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My training plan to prepare for the Outdoor Afro 2017 leader Blackpacking trip did not even kind of end up happening the way I thought it would. In my first plan,  I was going to ride 3 days a week, back to back days, and do yoga the rest of the week. In my training plan’s second iteration, I was going to do a progressively longer ride each week, do a sprint workout during the week, weight lift, and do yoga. At some point in that process, I was going to introduce the panniers to train with weight.

What actually happened is I went on a progressively longer ride almost every week. And the first time I rode with the panniers was when I sat on my bike Day 1 of my ride. So to say I was nervous is an understatement, though excitement was a much stronger emotion. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ quote from We Were Eight Years in Power best describes how I felt throughout the entirety of the adventure: “I did not love it, but I loved it. The fear I felt then was not just the anguish in my gut but the price of seeing the world anew.”

The night before:
This trip involved three other leaders from Outdoor Afro, two of whom were also traveling to St. Louis. I flew; Ray took a train, and Val drove. We all made our way to Duane’s apartment and got to work. The men put my bike back together, and we all readjusted our packs and tried to minimize even further. After some tasty grub at Mission Tacos, I was in bed around midnight.

Day 1:
We were out of the house by 6a and took a cycling shuttle to the start of the ride. We met the driver at the Lewis and Clark Boat House in St Charles, and he loaded our bikes into his van and drove us two hours away. The start of our ride on the Katy Trail was in Jefferson City. We thought we would have access to some breakfast, but that was a giant no.

About 12 miles in, we stopped at the Tebbets rest stop and stretched and used the latrine. Before we rode on, we met some cyclists who warned us about a divet in the road just past a Dollar General truck bed. Thank goodness for that because we definitely could’ve flipped over the handlebars there.

As we continued to ride, we came upon a very long procession of mostly children singing holy music. At the front of the group, children were carrying what looked like a Virgin Mary statue. Another 6 miles down the trail in Mokane, we stopped at a convenience store with a lunch counter and ate, stretched, and charged our phones. While there, some of the kids  from the procession came in and explained that they are traditional Catholics who do this 40 mile pilgrimage every year.

After another 10 miles on the trail, we stopped at a bar in Portland and stretched and each had a Fat Tire. The beer name seemed appropriate considering what we were doing. I ordered a burger for dinner and chugged some water while I waited. The locals there were nice, though one of the men asked if we had any “milkies”  with us. Considering his wife slapped his arm, I am guessing he was asking if we had any white people with us.

After 32+ miles, we finally made it to our destination: Bluffton Barn. For $7 a person, we could set up our tents anywhere on his property. We stayed fairly close to the barn where there was quick access to the bathroom. The owner, Doug, was quite the character and a talker, but he gave us craft beers, so his stories didn’t seem all that bad. 

Around 7, the men went for a walk by the river, and Val and I got into the tent. I thought about just stretching or napping, but quickly realized I was out for the night.

Lessons learned: 
-I need to camp more.
-I need some of the fancy gear my fellow thru-riders own.

Day 2:
We left Bluffton Barn at 8a and rode about 7 miles up the trail to breakfast in Rhineland. After stuffing our faces and trying some phenomenal pancakes, we got back to it.

For pretty much the next 20 miles, we dealt with wind that was pushing against us and across us. At some point before that 20 miles, the rain started, and it was cold and constant. I was an asshat with no rain gear, so everything I had on was still wet the next day.

We took quick breaks at the rest stop in McCitrick where remnants of the old train station still stand and Teloar where we took refuge from the rain for a bit. We had lunch in Marthasville which was really an escape from the rain. The restaurant was called Philly’s and was blowing air that felt like the wind indoors, but at least it wasn’t raining. The walls were littered with messages from other thru-bikers and hikers, so we added our names to the tattooed walls.

Some time before that, we met a couple who was also thru-riding. Duane, our trip leader asked them who convinced whom to come on the trip. The girl said, “Well, he proposed to me last night, so I am not complaining.” We ooohed and ahhed over their story and her beautiful ring.

When we finally got to the campground, we were met by a ridiculous incline and had to walk our bikes. My legs were jello after that hike up, and I struggled to ride the short distance left to the campground. We set up camp, unloaded packs, and rode 2.5 miles back the same way down the trail so we could go to the Augusta Brew Haus. After dinner, we headed back on the trail in the darkness.

This trip was honoring the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corp, Buffalo Soldiers, who rode from Montana to Missouri in the late 1800s. They biked over 1,000 miles with much heavier bikes and less impressive camping technology. Between the wind, rain, muddy gravel, and the steep incline to camp, and our jaunt at a night ride, this day felt truly commemorative  of the buffalo soldiers’ trek. 

Lessons learned: 
-Crushed gravel kind of sucks to ride on, but when it’s wet, it’s the stuff of nightmares.
-I need a man who proposes to me in a tent on a cold, rainy night after a grueling ass day of adventure.

Day 3:
We got kind of a late start, and breakfast was whatever food we had with us. This part of the trail was considerably more populated, so we were met with a lot more questions about our trip.

After about 20 miles, we left the Katy Trail at the Paige Extension and after a switchback incline to a bridge which we crossed, we entered Crove Coeur Park where we took an extended rest. It was such a bright, beautiful day compared to Day 2. 

I was ecstatic to finally leave that goshforsaken gravel of the Katy Trail, but little did I know, we were trading gravel for hills on hills on hills. I remember these country roads from my days riding Indiana hills on my mountain bike, but they don’t even compare. In my training, I rode the Pinellas Trail whose “hills” are overpasses that are no match for St. Louis County. All said and done, I walked up 3 of the bajillion uphill road battles from hell. Added to this is the fact that we were mostly on occupied roadways with cars driving 40 mph or higher. While the roadsigns were proclaiming “Share the Road,” it still freaked me out.

After about 25 miles, we were in Forest Park which is bigger than Central Park and was designed by the same person. This park was serene and picturesque, but hanger hit me like a fully grown wildebeest. After a photo op where I threw a small fit because my kickstand failed me, we found a bathroom in the Visitor Center where there was also a café. Here, I had a banana and a turkey sandwich. The banana was really all I needed to become a human again.

Six-ish miles later, we made it to our final destination, the Gateway Arch. I wanted to cry, but decided against it. I’m writing this, and it’s reading like a summary of events instead of reflection. But to me, the events are the reflection. Why is that?

Because I did that. 146 miles. Backpacking. ME.

AND it didn’t end at the Arch; we had another 7 miles back to Duane’s!

Lessons learned: 
-When I’m in my 50s, I aspire to be even half as fit and active and adventurous as Valerie.
-I think I’m kind of secretly a badass.

The morning after: 
When I flew to St Louis, I had two carryons and two checked items. My carryons were the basket from my bike with my sleeping bad stuffed in it. Also, my Osprey pack contained my foam roller and Outdoor Afro sweatshirt from Keen and other items. My checked baggage included the bike box and a massive suitcase that had my clothes, toiletries, panniers, helmet, water bottle, tennis shoes, purse, my ride foods, etc. So Thursday at the airport, I was managing an awkwardly filled backpack and a basket with a sleeping bag in it.

Monday morning when I packed, I fit everything into the suitcase (well, except for the bike), so at the airport, I only had my purse to manage. 

Perhaps this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when I was packing it all into the suitcase the morning after the ride, I couldn’t comprehend how Hillary-who-packed-last-Tuesday didn’t see how all of it fit in and how everything had a place the way Hillary-from-after-blackpacking did.

While this post is long and rambling, this video footage may help you in understanding how beautiful it all was.