This journal chronicles the adventures of a risk-taking, systems-thinking, kaleidoscope-eyed, strong-willed, peace-seeking
researcher making moves to lead a simple, impassioned lifestyle that prioritizes smart community development and green
infrastructures. Follow me vicariously through time and space to taste a little slice of my sweet life!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Meeting the wife of an Alzheimer's patient on the trail

In the 'tramily' pack that I have been hiking with for the past week there's a tradition at the end of the day to go around and share your 'High, Low, and Ut-Oh of the day. So, Is like to share my high point of the day from yesterday.

Today I had a very happy encounter on the side of a mountain. I met a brave woman named Mrs. Eleanor who loves hiking and many of the same things I do :) Eleanor was out for a day's walk with her hip pack and single hiking stick - her therapy, she called it. We crossed paths and she cheerily asked me, "Are you going all the way to Maine?" Well no, in fact I told her, I'm perfectly happy taking it on in sections. So we started our conversation with her telling me that it's just her out hiking since her husband has Alzheimer's and it isn't safe for him, as he gets easily confused and doesn't always want to leave the house anyway.. Mrs. Eleanor told me that they have been residents of nearby NC for a while and that she and her husband loved being outdoors. We bonded on many fleeting sorts of topics for at least 10-15 mins. She told me about the bears that get into her garage and I told her about what it was like to see the influence of climate flux in the subsistence farming community I recently moved from. She felt sincerely appreciative of the cause for Alzheimer's Disease awareness and The Longest Day Event idea of going out and making a memory in honor of something you love doing, especially something a loved one with Alzheimer's loves doing. I was touched when she told me about the 50th anniversary trip she took with her husband to the great national parks in the western US. Now, she reflects on those memories along with the advice that her husband's neurologist gave her to 'Keep your husband safe and take care of yourself.' I knew that she sometimes gets frustrated but her demeanor is so sedating, kind. So, every now and then, she takes time to go out into nature by herself and listen to the sounds of the birds and releases her fears, anger, and stress - as we all should do.

I am so touched by people like Mrs. Eleanor. She embodies the strength of every loved one and caregiver for patients (people) with Alzheimer's Disease. She makes me proud and hopeful to support such research and cause work that the Alzheimer's Association does. In finally passing, we agreed that our encounter was meant to happen and we bid our best wishes.

Thanks for recounting this precious trail moment with me and ... well, thanks for supporting the cause though my fundraising page!! If you haven't checked out, it's here:

Keep Calm and Walk On,

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Back on the Trail...

This section of the Appalachian Trail has twisted from NC to TN and now I am looking forward to Virginia in a week's walk. I started out slow, while the heat has grown with humidity and my feet are badly torn up...and of course, it's been buggy!!

Trail gnats seem to directly dive for eyeballs or a way to the throat, like up your nose!! So in recollecting the past week's hike, you have a conditioned image, ha!! But the walks have had many highlights and there has been so much natural beauty to relish. Also, my knee has done a 180 and is feeling springy again! I started sprinting downhill when it is a nice, clear pine tree path... but in my boots which is why my feet are in poor shape. Luckily I found a mix matched pair of trail runners in a Hiker Free-Box. They seem to fit really well!
Fresh water sources have
 been a highlight of hiking.

Ok. I'd like to start by mentioning that I have met so many different, amazing hikers and there just happens to be a TON of people from, well Pinellas County! Even my hometown! Ha! I got to joking that we've gotten tired of the surf but it's really neat that so many Floridians get out to these woods.

Along a 2 mile
ridgeline on
Firescald Ridge
 in Tennessee
I met one USF graduate who was out hiking with her boyfriend and dogs. They live in Knoxville and she is a Watershed Scientist. She has had some cool research destinations! When I was up on Firescald Ridge I began to pass a Eagle Scout troop out of Tampa who were doing a week on the Appalachian Trail! 

Moving up in miles, I have walked over several PUDs (Pointless Ups and Downs) but also some very sweet ups and downs (non-knee crunching) with great views!
Little Bald
Up on a meadow facing Big and Little Bald (my hike for the next day), I camped with an improvised lean-to made from my rain tarp wrapped over my trekking poles and my bug net. The night out in the stars was fantastic! I woke up at the right time to try and spot the comet (panSTARRS) in the sky right now. Before clouds rolled over I even saw a shooting star ☄ Now, does this even compare to the sight of the galactic night sky over Zambia? No way, but I'm happy to have so many elements of nature together in the woods!
A good morning meadow wake up!
Also, I must admit defeat over starting a fire in the ring on the meadow, though I'm not surprised with myself. I don't have a Ba Mayo (that'd be, my Zambian Host Mother - a strong woman) to come to my aid; plus, it's been fairly wet recently.

As I get into a day's walk I have enjoyed
listening to a podcast or some good hiking music - like the new Dave Matthews Band album! I'm a happy fan. Or Kenny Chesney's latest - Hey, I am pretty close to his hometown!

Anyway, I recently listened to a fantastic interview by Krista Tippet with a naturalist and author, Michael McCarthy, that made me ponder connections we draw everyday and contribute to our happiness, as well as the profoundess of Earth's annual rebirth. McCarthy describes his reverence for the places in Europe that sparked his philosophy on the power of nature to influence our direction (trees as honing beacon?). He also discusses the meaningfulmess of England's native butterflies in memory of his late mother. You can click the link below to download the episode. I would also recommend the episode of On Being interviewing Joanna Macy, entitled A Wild Love of the World.

I'll wrap up this post with a rare moment caught of my Zambian Host Mother cutting a rug with a smile she so often flashed up to her cheekbones.

Joy to the World, Brandi.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

2 Weeks at the DMV

So I'm wrapping up a respite from the woods and ready to get back to hiking. My fate-filled encounter with new friend GQ allowed me to spend more than enough time in the DC/MD/VA are to see friends, eat amazing food, and make myself all too anxious about meeting society's standards. The choices were plentiful and decor, advertisements and flavors enticed my senses. Still, I remain turned off to this area in terms of residency. There are plenty of positively charged cities out there where the same income affords more of the pie. So I bid the capital farewell and forlorn, for the mountains are calling... and, well, you know.. I must go.

Much love to my friends there making it happen and for putting me up and showing me a great time! A couple shoutouts:

To my RPCV fam in the area- Good luck with your careers. I see you on the beat. Don't forget the pace you were once familiar with and appreciate the value of down time.

My Alicia- Thank you for a bliss-filled week, living in your space and sharing your time. The best version of you lies behind those "Gulf of Mexico in the Summer" green eyes. I love you and always will.

Bloss- You've always been clutch, buddy. I'm glad I could distract you from your innovating, fundraising, and email answering. See you again soon. Thanks for all your comfort. Thank Jim and Julia for me, as well.

AJ- Good luck with all your classes at GW and in Oxford. I'm taking notes from your determination and I'm glad we share insights toward law school. Stay focused, you're doing great! Thanks for letting me cuddle with your dogs... I've easily never cuddled so well in my life...ha!

So, I'm going walking for another couple of weeks leading up to The Longest Day Alzheimer's Association event on June 21st. Then I fly home to celebrate life and love and summertime back in Florida with friends and family. Stay tuned to stories from the trail.

As we say in Zambia, Be Free... b.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Longest Day

The Longest Day has taken on new meaning beyond hiking from sun up to sun down. The longest day of year is on it's way to the Northern Hemisphere, by the way. Out on the trail, I have felt the temperature increasing as Summer creeps in, rain and all. On the day of the Summer Solstice, June 21st, I am officially inviting you to follow my lead and do something you love to do - like take a hike! Do something that leaves a sweet, loving memory of quality time spent. Now dedicate that memory to those who have lost theirs - to the more than 5 million Americans currently suffering from Alzheimer's Disease.

Let me introduce you to the Alzheimer's Association's annual event being held this June in honor of Alzheimer's Disease awareness, care, and research. The Longest Day seeks to expand the invitation that I have extended to you and call upon advocates to donate toward the cause of fighting a disease  that affects 1 in 4 aging Americans. Scientists are working to explain and treat the cause of this most common form of dementia. Do you know someone who has had Alzheimer's Disease? What about someone who has had to care for a dementia patient?

I believe in the good work being done to engage communities in raising awareness as to the seriousness surrounding the future of Alzheimer's Disease. Many flags are raised when you investigate the prevalence of the disease among genetic and environmental influences that worry me about the future quality of life for our elders (of me one day!) if this disease isn't put in check. From memory loss to dizziness, frustration, depression and confusion, a shrinking brain causes eventual death to its sufferer.

In dedication of those suffering to remember who they are, the lives they have lived, and how to function, I have started a fundraising campaign in conjunction with The Longest Day. Donations to my page do directly to the Alzheimer's Association, which dedicates 77% of its total expenses directly to care, support, research, awareness and advocacy. Please join me in engaging in this substantial cause. You can visit my Facebook Fundraiser or access my Longest Day page to donate toward my personal goal.

Let's not forget,

Hiking for a Great Cause!

Since I have returned home from Africa, I have been regaining connections with family and friends and hearing their stories of events that have taken place in the time that I was living abroad. I have missed births, deaths and marriages, among countless other achievements and upsets. I have told my own stories of life in Zambia, including all the aforementioned staples, albeit with different cultural elements. I mean, I witnessed MANY births, deaths and marriages while I was living in a communal village setting, where generations of large families might all reside in the same area (which I loved in a sense of security). There were countless differences to society between Zambia and the US, of course, but one little aspect that I noticed in Zambia was how strong elderly people there are. While here in America, our aging citizens are riddled with diseases like the one I'm presently calling attention to  - Alzheimer's Disease (and more largely, dementia). Rates of Alzheimer's Disease and dementia are much higher among societies that consume a "Western" diet and, possibly more specifically, animal fat. I recall my mother's late grandfather and other family members who struggled at the end of their lives with memory loss, dizziness, confusion, and depression associated with this disease which chokes and degenerates their brain to the point of nonfunction.

There has not been a single survivor of Alzheimer's Disease but research is being done to decelerate and reverse this abnormally to aging. The numbers in the U.S. are already high - the statistics claim a new case is formed every 65 SECONDS. Now, links are being drawn between Alzheimer's Disease and advanced forms of diabetes - casting blame on genetics and the Western diet that I mentioned. The way civilizations around the world are turning are increasingly toward a diet of fewer grains and more animal products. I have witnessed the increased consumption of salt and cooking oil to the diets of Zambians in both the villages and in the cities. The difference is that in the village, people conduct hard labor daily, while in town people lead sedentary lives with motor vehicle communities and stationary jobs. The only obese people are in town. They ail of ulcers and the number of diabetes patients is on the rise. What does this mean for our global society?

Could we possibly lose our quality of live in old age to more diseases that limit our body function and health? I know that you or someone you know has been affected by Alzheimer's Disease in some way. Loved ones facing memory loss and those who must then care for them face daily struggles to retain the love and strength that this disease wipes away. I'm so passionate about this issue because I believe that not only is it gaining in prevalence but that we are also coming closer to scientifically understanding the disease and how to fight it in order to end it. Will you or I be 1 out of every 4 Americans to develop dementia before we die?

Next, I'll let you know about the Alzheimer's Association campaign that I am participating in to raise awareness for the fight to end the disease.

Thanks for reading and make a new memory with a loved one today,

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Bopping Along

Sunday's hike was 11.5 miles of easy beginnings and on up to a bald mountain called Max Patch. It's a popular spot for day visitors, with no exception this day. The views were great all around and the breeze was so nice. I played down a bit and ate some snacks. I continued on to find the place I had planned to camp for the night. GQ showed up and asked to join. We ate our dinners and chatted about the world as we know it. Did I mention he is almost 72?!! According to his DNA ancestry report, he told me that he's got roots all over the world, most notably from the Congo and Tanzania. I talked about my Peace Corps experience in Zambia and he told me about his travels with the military, including two tours in Vietnam. What amazing dialogue we've had!
Heading up to Max Patch

Another night in my hammock made for an exciting evening. I was visited by a young white tail deer who munched grass all around my set up, no more than 5-10 feet away. It apparently did not fear my bug net covered suspension and I was able to observe it for 15-20 mins. Later in the night, it visited again and led me to watch fireflies dance about in the moonless dark.

I've now made it to a hiker town that the Appalachian Trail cuts right through. Hot Springs is an adorable little community with a few artisan shops, hiker-friendly grocery stores, a pub and a tavern, along with several inns and hostels. Fate has it that my new kindred spirit friend GQ is heading home for a short two weeks in Frederick, MD. I'm taking the opportunity to hitch along to DC, where I can rest my knee and visit my close friend Alicia.

I've got another few weeks before I have to be back in Florida for a couple summer celebrations with friends and family, so I'll head back to where I left off and hike as far as I can until then!!

Take Good Care,

Bruce Sausage Willis, a dog hiking the AT.

Holed up on Mount Cammerer

On my third day of hiking (an eventual 13 miles for the day), I was hiking with my new friends up to Mt. Cammerer - a nearly 5,000 footer with a modern style fire tower on top offering 360 degree views of rolling mountains. Approaching the trail up to the tower we encountered another hiker (a 71 year old recently retired veteran whose trail name is GQ) that we had met the night before. He informed us of impending foul weather so we all decided to set up camp in the fully enclosed octagonal fire tower instead of walking another 5 miles to the next shelter. You see, in the Smokies, hikers are relegated to camp only in designated areas, mostly shelters.

After a short, rocky climb to the tower, we all got inside just as the rain came. It passed quickly and left amazing views of sparkling terrain and a giant rainbow. The next day we all liked out of the Northern terminus of the Smokies, which marked the end of the Koreans' trip. One of them, Brian, from San Francisco, lent me his knee braces and trekking poles for the rest of my trip - I don't know what I would have done without them. God bless them and mountain magic.

I walked several miles to a little hiker's oasis called Standing Bear Hostel. It was complete with a cat, dogs, and a rooster - which made for a Zambian sounding morning with the first crow at 4 AM.... Ah felt like home!! Not that anyone else agreed. But the hostel had everything a weary hiker could ask for  - laundry service, pizza oven, beer, and a jam packed snack and gear store. It was a great stay!

The next day's hike had some high ups and downs but I finished early after only 7 miles, since I was nursing my knee. I met back up with GQ and we found the next shelter just in time for rain. Since we weren't restricted to only staying in shelters like in GSMNP, I pitched my hammock under the great trees - alongside 8 other people... including 2 more Floridians!

If you are curious what music I have been bopping along the trail to, I created a youtube playlist for examples :)

Remember two things: Love your Mother and leave nothing but footprints.