Category Archives: outdoors

Freeze takes asparagus for Mother’s Day

Freeze takes away asparagus for Mother’s Day

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Lowell, MI- I walked into Bob Kietzmann’s farm on Grand River Drive yesterday, in the wake of the bad news of Monday’s frost damage to Michigan asparagus.

The barn was empty with all but a scale and a can with the label touting asparagus for $2.50. Empty yellow caddies were laying all around. There was also a black notebook, the Kietzmann’s Asparagus Ledger for people to sign off on their purchases. The sale of asparagus at the farm has been based on an honor system  since it started 24 years ago.

20170511_175907_001
Saranac asparagus farmer Bob Kietzmann

Usually, there are yellow boxes loaded with firm green stalks of asparagus, people digging in and picking for the best ones, and a bunch of recipes on the table. The bustle lasts well into mid-June on a normal year..

And the week of Mother’s Day is always the busiest time for asparagus, according to owner Bob Kietzmann.

It didn’t take too long for Kietzmann to arrive on the vacated barn scene. Yes, there wasn’t even a sales sign off the busy road that parallels I-96, near the Lowell exit.

“Can we help you?” asked Kietzmann.

“Sure, I want some asparagus,” I said.

“Well, the good guy up there arranged that we won’t have any, until next week,” said Kietzmann tilting his hat as he squinted into the late afternoon sun. “Mine froze too.”

We walked into Kietzmann’s sunlit office to chat about the asparagus that has been damaged by the frost. Kietzmann estimated he lost approximately 20 percent of his crop.

“It’s really hard to say,” he nodded.

Three years ago, kids from the Saranac FFA (Future Farmers of America) planted 50,000 crows of asparagus over four nights on a six acre parcel.

“It takes six years for asparagus to be profitable,” Kietzmann said.

However, asparagus is a fast growing plant. It can grow anywhere from two to three inches overnight at 50 to 60 degrees.

“It grows best at night,” said Kietzmann.

We took a ride into the nearby asparagus field. Kietzmann pointed out the translucent asparagus stalks damaged by the frost wilting into the ground.

The good news is that the first and second pickings were early this year at the end of April due to warm weather.

“Anything that is in the ground didn’t freeze,” said Kietzmann. “We already had two rounds.”

On a good harvest day, one picking is in the morning around 7 a.m. and the other one is at 6 p.m.

The picking height of asparagus is from seven to 10 inches, and there is hardly any waste.

Kietzmann started picking wild asparagus in the ditches along the road as a kid dreaming of a day when he would have a ½ bushel for himself.

“I’ve been picking it since I could walk,” he said.

Well, that day came after years of milking cows and building farm equipment.

“We’ve picked asparagus in the snow in May,” he said. “We’ve only had three year like this with the frost damaging the asparagus.”

And Kietzmann loves meeting customers from all over Michigan.

“I have guys come in here buying asparagus for their mothers,” Kietzmann laughed. “They’ve never even tasted asparagus.”

Some customers ask for asparagus bunches like they find at the stores.

“Well we don’t have that here,” he said.

The rider for picking asparagus has two blades that cut the asparagus in two rows and throws it in the bin. Now, due to frost, asparagus will have to be sorted from the damaged stalks.

By July, the asparagus plants tire out or fern out.

“Then it’s done for the year,” he said. “I spray for weeds after we’re done picking.”

At Heidi’s farm market stand on M-50, there was some asparagus from Hart still left,  that was cut last Sunday.

Luckily, the shortage is only temporary, until next Monday.

Temporary

The annual asparagus festival takes place in Hart, Michigan on June 9, 10, & 11.

http://www.nationalasparagusfestival.org/

For more info on Heidi’s go to www.heidisfarmstand.com

Copyright © 2017. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Spring fishing for relaxation

Relaxing into the outdoors

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Lowell, MI – I am working on exploring new methods to alleviate mental distress  as expressed in the article, “Easter Fishing.”

I will take it one step at a time: First I will find the patience for morel hunting (May 2 article), second I will learn how to fish and golf and thirdly I will take on boating.

But, for now I have to get out my kayak, and hit the waters of my beloved Murray Lake.

We’re getting a one day break from the rain and cold, according to forecasts. But, who knows?

What would you do with that one awesome daybreak from the cold, wind and the dark in your life?

I am looking forward to new horizons.

http://roughfish.com/content/easter-and-cure-mental-distress

Copyright  (c) 2017. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

May is for morels

Morels draw hunters into the flowering woods

By Brad Wade

Lowell, MI – Are you ready? It’s almost that time of year again. Some of you are already excited just by the photos on this page. Your eyes widen, your pulse quickens and you begin to find yourself constantly thinking about that elusive little mushroom that has the potential to drive many of us mad. Mad with a passion that burns from within.

Ah yes. It’s the morel mushroom.

Flowers in the woods

The dreary winter blues and long, dark nights are a thing of the past. Soon the deep, dense floor of our Michigan forests will start to spring forth with life! Daffodils, tulips, and day lilies will soon begin emerging from the complex, rich soil beneath. Cardinals and robins will begin their quest searching for mates and gathering materials for their nests and their soon-to-be hatchlings.

And that my friend, is a sign of good things to come. Every year around this time, I become consumed, or somewhat obsessed with the hunt for the morel. My family and I take time away from work, school and the constant stir of busyness and technology to hit the woods in search of that tasty little morsel.

We will walk for miles on end without hesitation or a second thought about our diligent pursuit. All the while, we enjoy each other’s company and great conversation. Our eyes glued to the ground and rolling hills around us. We gaze out ahead of us looking for that peculiar looking protrusion springing up from the ground.

Sometimes they are very evident, ready and willing to be seen and picked. But many camouflage themselves, just below the blanket of a fallen leaf or a leaning stick. More often than not, you only catch a glimpse of the glistening dampness off their cap. Or maybe just the faintest little section of the light tan color of their stems. You’re more likely to only see a portion of the hunted, and not the whole thing at any given time. This is what drives me.

This is just one of the many things that brought our family back to Michigan after a two-year move to the Carolinas. The first to appear is the Black Morel. This is my family’s favorite. It has an almost beefy, meaty like taste. The Black Morel have a tendency to grow near poplar or aspen trees in the early spring.

We like to gather enough to have a few meals while they’re fresh and then dehydrate some for storage. We also share with those who are unable to get into the woods due to disabilities, or just lack of confidence in foraging for a wild mushroom.

The next variety in line to come forth are the Gray Morels. They have a nutty, buttery flavor to them and they are not only delicious, but beautiful. The Gray Morel is associated with ash, apple, elm and wild cherry trees.

If you are lucky enough to find a good haul of these, you’ll be in Morel heaven for some time. I know a great place right around the corner from my house that produces a ton. Just ask me for specific locations … I’ll be sure to share. On the other hand, a true Morel hunter will never show his hunting grounds.

Finally, you have the Yellow/White Morel. When you discover these, you’ll know the season is winding down. That still doesn’t break my heart to pick them. This particular species still has me stumped. I’ve found them under conifer, ash, cherry, apple and aspen trees, in open fields, and in green lawns. I’ve even found this species growing out of gravel in our driveway. Now that’s weird, but convenient.

Morel Mushroom hunting is a great experience for families. Parents don’t have to worry about a kid sitting still and being quiet like when hunting big or small game. There are no lines to untangle or hooks to be baited. Just a good old-fashioned walk in the woods with loved ones. And if your lucky… a delicious reward.

Happy hunting, Brad Wade T

Reprinted with permission

Earth Day 2017

Celebrate Earth Day

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Lowell, MI – As the nature awakens, we celebrate Earth Day today. The first widely recognized Earth Day was held in 1970 when an environmental Teach-In group planned an event for April 22.

But every day is an Earth Day celebration to recognize the greatest resource of all, and that is our planet Earth.

To celebrate the Earth Week, I started my annual walk to the Franciscan Life Process Center (FLPC) on Monday. The 1.8 mile hike on a gravel road has been a staple of my mental and physical sanity since 1995 when we moved out into this northeast corner of Kent County in West Michigan.

I marveled at the untouched nature coming to life; plants vigorously emerging from the wet dirt from yesterday’s rains, robins hopping under the pine trees among the new ground cover.

Crisp morning air and dew covered the new grass and stems.

The area consists of preserved farmland thanks to late philanthropist Peter Wege, apple orchards, woods and streams. Wild flowers are now popping out in the woods, and morel mushrooms are around the corner, or should I say around the stumps.

I love the farm markets with the local produce starting soon with local asparagus.

Different trail systems like the Fred Meijer River Valley trails and Lowell Area trials meet here at the confluence of Grand River and Flat River. We’ve been blessed with an abundance of natural resources from the Bradford Dickinson White Nature Preserve in Lowell Township, Wege Wittenbach AgriScience center, Sessions Lake and Fallasburg Park. Hundreds of inland lakes dot the picturesque region.

The Midwest entices with its variety of seasons, landscapes, Great Lakes and diverse communities.

For more info on the trails go to:

www.traillink.com

Land Conservancy of West Michigan

www.naturenearby.org

Wittenbach/Wege Center

http://www.lowellschools.com

Franciscan Life Process Center

http://www.lifeprocesscenter.org

 

Copyright © 2017. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

IW Inspiring Women- Artist Linda Kropf Phillips

Dear friends,

I am bringing back the popular IW Inspiring Women series for the winter. The series carries the logo of the enigmatic orchids which come in a thousand of varieties, each bringing joy with her own beauty. Much like the women in this world.

Orchids in full bloom
Enigmatic orchids

In this series I bring to you the stories of women who inspire others with their character, actions and the love for what they do. As daughters, mothers, grandmothers and wives, they all make a difference in their own way.

All of them juggle different responsibilities; to themselves, to the families and to the society at large.

Their value is not listed in dollars they bring to the economy, but in their contribution to bettering the lives of other people.

Meet artist turned hunter Linda Kropf Phillips

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Lowell, MI- I first met artist Linda Kropf Phillips, owner of Natures Serenity, at a little known bazaar in the historic village of Fallasburg two years ago.

She was manning the booth with her brother Jerry Kropf. Most people in the area know the name Kropf, as the well- established owners of the Kropf apple orchards.

“Are you related to the Kropfs?” was one of my questions during a recent interview with Linda.

Natures Serenity
Artist Linda Kropf Phillips with first sketches.

“Which ones?” she asked.

“The apple farmers?”

“My father was the carpenter in the family,” Linda said.

It was her father Bob Kropf ,who not only inspired Linda, but who also taught her perfection in glass etching of gun cabinets and everything else in business, like reasonable pricing.

“My dad challenged me,” she said. “I worked in his wood shop for 20 years at Murray Lake. He taught me a lot of woodwork. I taught myself glass etching on china and glass cabinets.”

Yes, there was no challenge too big for Linda to handle, whether it was the etching of a standing bear and a partridge flying over his head, or other intrinsic scenes from nature.

Linda Kropf Phillips
Linda Kropf Phllips hunting Up North.

“I found a picture of a standing bear in a magazine,” Linda said.

One of her first drawings was a sketch of the GI Joe doll. Some four decades later, Linda easily found the pencil drawing at the house.  And it was not just the doll, but also some sketches of the Beatles.

Linda started drawing when she was 11 years old. Growing up as a 4-H girl and doing rodeo, she loved to draw horses.

She went to the Alton country school from 1964 to 1968 prior to going to the Lowell public schools.

“I rode my horse to school,” she laughed.

But, sometimes it was mom Jan Kropf who played the bus driver loading up the kids in a car and hauling them to school.

Archery hunting.
Linda Kropf Phillips prefers to hunt with bow & arrow.

Linda graduated from the Lowell High School in 1976, and she received the perfect graduation gift.

It was tuition for one year at the Kendall College of Art & Design in Grand Rapids. She had already taken advanced ceramics and design classes in high school. In sixth grade, Linda also took art classes from local artist Jan Johnson.

Four years ago, Linda started her Natures Serenity line of artwork on slab and drift wood.

“I love being outside, hunting, taking pictures of nature and kayaking,” she said.

While kayaking on the Flat River on the morning the Whites Bridge in Smyrna burnt, Linda found pieces of driftwood and metal from the bridge down the river.

She painted the covered Whites Bridge on a piece of driftwood and hung it on the metal from the bridge. First the driftwood had to dry out and Linda coated it with three to four coats of polyurethane to preserve them.

One of the early trophy deer.
One of the early trophy deer.

The two pieces sold at the Danish Festival in 2014 in Greenville with half of the proceeds going to the “Rebuild Whites Bridge” organization.

Artist Linda is also an avid hunter, who annually heads out into the woods in the Upper Peninsula with her husband Scott. Naturally, she would not reveal their “sacred hunting grounds” somewhere northwest of Marquette.

Scott has been hunting for the last 45 years, while Linda started hunting 11 years ago. Before that Linda rabbit hunted with her brother. She took her first deer with a gun, when she was three months pregnant in 1986.

For Linda, family always comes first.

Artist Linda Kropf Phillips with family.
Artist Linda Kropf Phillips with family.

 

“I started going with Scott with my camera and took my artwork with me,” she said. “We go during the gun season hunting for bear, and I bow hunt for deer.”

Naturally, Linda who took up bow hunting three years ago, is inspired by the great outdoors and what it has to offer. Her booth at the Dec. 3 Rogue River Arts Show was an amazing display of nature’s scenes on wood. Everything from deer, fowl, fish, Queen Anne’s lace to footprints captured on a wooden slab. Some of the artwork boasted 3D imagery in detailed foliage and branches during different seasons.

“I like the fall, so bow and arrow wins,” she said. “I feel safer.”

One of her scariest experiences was while hunting on the ground.

“I had a wolf behind sniffing at me,” she said. “I was nervous. I thought it was just a squirrel crinkling again.”

Well that “crinkling squirrel” turned out to be a 157 pound black bear. But, these adventures do not prevent Linda from going “Up North” to hunt in the “sacred land.”

Deer art by the Kropfs.
Deer art by Jerry Kropf.

“We stay in a camper, 10 days at a time depending on the weather,” she said. “Sometimes it’s two hours to the closest processor.”

And back home in Lowell, the dinner always features some wild game, whether deer, bear, fish or fowl in the form of burger, roast or steaks.

“We have deer all the time,” Linda said.

Most recently, based on popular demand from the less macho side of the population, Linda added to her wildlife art portfolio paintings of chickadees and cardinals.

 

“It runs the gamut from deer, moose, bass and I added flowers, “she said.

Natures Serenity artwork is available at Bodacious in Rockford and at Pinky’s Place Antique & Artisan Market in Grand Rapids.

Her busy art show season starts in July with the Fourth of July Artist Show in the UP, Lake Odessa Arts in the Park on Aug. 5th, Danish Festival on Aug. 19th & Aug. 20th and Rockford on Sept. 10th

The last show of the season is always the Rogue River Arts & Artisan Show on the first Saturday in December at the Lowell High School.

Linda Kropf Phillips Natures Serenity artwork can be viewed at lindakropfphillips@Facebook.com.

Nominate a woman who has in any way inspired you this year or in the past. In the IW women’s series, I have featured artists like Kathleen Mooney, entrepreneur Station Salon’s owner Nancy DeBoer, hiker Gail “Chosen” Lowe who has hiked all five national trails in the USA, Lowell Area Chamber director Liz Baker, former Lowell city clerk Betty Morlock, trail developer Carolyn Kane, founder of SowHope Mary Dailey Brown and many others.

E-mail Emma via the contact page or on Facebook at emmapalova@Facebook.com

 

Copyright © 2016 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In nature’s harmony

Hunting season 2015 opens strong, artist inspired by hunting

By Emma Palova

Lowell, MI- Today is the opening day of the firearm hunting season in the Midwest. It will last until the end of November.

It may or may not mean anything to big city folks, but out here in the country it is a big deal.

Some school districts like Portland schools in Ionia County close for the opening day, so kids can go out and hunt with their dads.

Although I am not a hunter, I have so many friends, both female and male, who are hunters that I had to post this to honor their passion.

The first who comes to my mind is my artist hunter friend Linda Kropf Phillips of Lowell. Inspired by nature and hunting, Phillips has created a line of slab wood paintings “Natures Serenity.”

Natures Serenity
Natures Serenity art by Linda Kropf Phillips and Jerry Kropf @fallasburg.

The second hunter is a long-time friend from former Czechoslovakia,  Miroslav Hlavenka.  He now resides in Montreal, Canada. Hlavenka is an awesome chef a la naturelle.

Both are hunting now, as I write this post that could also be called “Living in harmony with nature.”

Annually, the sports hunting industry fuels the economy in many ways from direct hunting permits, & gear to indirect sports hunting tourism.

Hunter Miroslav Hlavenka.
Miroslav Hlavenka with his deer and a dog.

And the experts predict a good hunting season due to unseasonably mild weather.

“The deer had a lot to feed on,” said TV sports commentator.

This morning opened strong with clear skies and 50 degree temperatures. Hundreds of hunters in camouflage headed out into the woods.

As I drove to an appointment through the country, I could see cars parked by public hunting lands.

One opening day, I actually headed out into the Lowell State Game Area and joined a local hunter for a great experience, and a great story.

Archery hunting.
Some hunters’ gear.

We always took photos of proud hunters who brought their deer in at the various newspapers that I have worked for.

Phillips of Lowell is already in  Upper Peninsula with four guys determined to get their deer.

We postponed our interview for IW Inspiring Women series until Phillips returns in December.

Phillips fascinates me that she is both an avid hunter and a very apt nature artist and she shows that off in  “Natures Serenity.”

She was one of the first artists at the Fallasburg Village Bazaar last year.

Hlavenka used to hunt already back in former Czechoslovakia. He picked back up his passion in Quebec, as he heads out into the woods.

Nature' Serenity.
Deer art by the Kropfs.

Back in Czech Republic, hunters and public at large celebrated the hunting season with the annual Hunter’s Ball in the winter months.

The hunters wore their green uniforms and made hunter’s goulash for the occasion. It was either venison, boar and rabbit stew or steaks with potato dumplings and red cabbage.

There is something about hunting that’s inherent to human kind. That’s how we survived in the first place all the earth’s elements, agriculture came later.

Whenever I see deer in my garden feasting on apples or turkeys running in the cornfields, there’s joy in my heart, that peace will prevail.

With the upcoming Thanksgiving next week, there is a lot to be thankful for.

Driving through the woods and the fields on a beautiful sunny November morning, crossing the Thornapple, Grand and Flat rivers, I realized how grateful I am for the surrounding nature, for the harmony, for the fall abundance and the co-existence of it all.

Send me a picture of you and your deer and I will post it on my Emma Blogs, LLC portfolio of sites.

Watch for a recipe for Hunter’s Stew coming up.

Also in the works are stories in the IW Inspiring Women winter series. They have the logo of the orchids.

Copyright © 2016 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Blogging challenge #6

Day #6, Nov. 22, Sunday

Missing Czech homeland

By Emma Palova

A note to all. I am participating in a 30 day content writing challenge by Learn to blog. All posts reflect my views on today’s world including my own.

This morning I woke up to a Facebook post that made me cry from Czech homeland. It was from Radhost mountains in Czech Republic. I’ve been to the Radhost mountains many times even though I am a bad downhill skier, but the area has grown close to my heart.

Plus we got our first snow in Michigan yesterday.

I want to share the beauty of Radhost with all my friends.

Radhost mountains in Czech Republic.
Radhost mountains in Czech Republic.

 

Cyril's chapel
Cyril’s chapel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friends at Radhost.
Friends at Radhost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright (c) 2015 Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

My Columbines

Columbines bring life to spring gardens

I love these fragile flowers that don’t last too long but bring so much life and spirit to spring gardens.

Fragile columbines bring life to spring garden.
Fragile columbines bring life to spring gardens.

Copyright (c) 2015. Emma Blogs, LLC. All rights reserved.

Top view

Google trekker captures fascinating vistas of the Mighty Mac in Michigan

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

I crossed the Mackinac Bridge many times over the last two decades. I never walked it during the annual Labor Day walk, and I haven’t been to the top of the masts or below the bridge. I am afraid of open heights, and I don’t know if the Mackinac Bridge Authority would let me climb up there.

But, other than  the top or below the bridge, I’ve taken photos of it from just about any angle including from a ferry to Mackinac Island, from both shores of Upper and Lower peninsulas. The bridge is so magnificent that you get a clear view of it from the island.

And here is what Google did.

Google trekker provides fascinating vistas on the featured photo above from one of the Mackinac Bridge’s masts. Volunteers climbed through the trunk in the mast much like in a submarine to the top with the 40-pound Google trekker device. They walked around with the device on their backs, while 15 lenses in the globe of the device took fascinating shots of the Mackinac Bridge and the area, as presented in a video “Pure Michigan.”

Below are traditional photos of the five-mile long Mackinaw Bridge in Michigan by Emma Palova.

Mackinac Bridge
Driving on the Mighty Mac in Michigan.
Pure Michigan
Mackinaw Bridge from the Lower Peninsula view.

 

Mackinaw Bridge
View of the Mackinaw Bridge from the Upper Peninsula.

The last time I crossed the bridge was in November of 2014 as the first snow fell on the bridge deck. The ride across the five-mile long bridge is creepy, and many drivers take the service offered by the bridge authority, even truck drivers. Bridge drivers will take you across.

If there are high winds, the bridge gets closed.

Here are some bridge facts from mackinac.com

Mackinac Bridge

The bridge was designed by the great engineer David B. Steinman and opened on November 1, 1957. The structure took 48 months to complete with over 3, 500 workers and $99,800,000 dollars. Also know as the “Big Mac” or the “Mighty Mac”, the bridge stretches 8,614 feet making it the fourth longest suspension bridge in the world. With a total span of about 5 miles, the Mackinac Bridge connects the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan uniting the communities of Mackinaw City and St. Ignace, Michigan. The main bridge cables are made from 42,000 miles of wire and the towers stand 554 feet above the water and 210 feet below to the bedrock. The engineering of the Mackinac Bridge was designed to accommodate the high winds, temperature changes and constant changes of weight. In severe conditions the deck at center span could move up to 35 feet. Under more subtle conditions, the deck could move slowly in one direction based on the force and direction of the winds.

Fun bridge construction facts

* 89,000 blueprints and structural drawings were made
* 71,300 tons of structural steel
* 931,000 tons of concrete
* 42,000 miles of cable wire
* 4,851,700 steel rivets
* 1,016,600 steel bolts
* 350 engineers
* 522 feet tall
* 1,024,500 tons in total weight
* 7,500 men and women that worked in quarries, shops, mills
* 1951 Chevrolet Styleine Deluxe owned by Albert Carter was the first car to cross the Mackinac Bridge

The annual Mackinac Bridge Walk is held every year on Labor Day. Two lanes of traffic are closed and 50-80,000 people, all led by the Governor of Michigan walk together over the bridge. Bicycles are prohibited on the Mackinac Bridge, however the Big Mac Shoreline tour is held in June and September, which takes its participants for a trip over the bridge. During the summer months, the Mackinac Bridge has become a major diverse tourist destination for bridge enthusiasts, bird-watchers and photographers.

Bridge fares begin at $2 per axle and increase from there. Fares are subject to change without notice.

V isit Mackinac Bridge Walk and Big Mac Shoreline Tour for more information.

 

 

IW-Hiker babe walks 4,600 miles in memory of daughter

Inspiring Women at home and around the world

Orchids in full bloom
Enigmatic orchids

Note: This is the fourth installment in a feature series about Inspiring Women. It is dedicated to all women who are trying to make a difference and better other people’s lives, as well as their own.  In putting together this feature series, I was inspired by several moments in life that in particular stand out.

No.1  A dedication of a Relax, mind, body & soul book by Barbara Heller from my son Jake: “I dedicate this to my inspiring and motivational mother.” Kuba

No. 2  While on a story before Mother’s Day, I dropped in at Ace Bernard Hardware to talk about the prizes with owner Charlie Bernard. We talked also about the Lowell Area Chamber and its director Liz Baker.

“You know what I like about Liz, she keeps re-inventing herself,” Bernard said.

No. 3 Again on a story for the International Women’s Day I talked to Sow Hope president Mary Dailey Brown.

“If you want to make a difference in this world, seriously consider helping impoverished women. Helping women is the key to unlocking poverty.”

No. 4  At a parents teacher conference at Cherry Creek Elementary in Lowell in mid 1990s: “Mrs. Pala, we do not give up,” teacher Karen Latva said.

Lowell woman completes North Country Trail to memorialize daughter

Name: Gail Lowe

Occupation: retired intensive care nurse

Residence: Lowell

Hobbies & Interests: hiking, reading, writing

 

By Emma Palova

EW Emma’s Writings

Lowell, MI – It’s never easy to lose a parent, but to lose a child is a traumatic event beyond imagination.

Gail Lowe calls herself “Hiker Babe”, and she truly is a veteran hiker of 10,000 miles with just one fear left.  And that is she won’t be able to hike anymore because of aging and related health reasons.

Hiker Babe
Gail Lowe on a mission walk in memory of daughter.

On Thanksgiving of last year, Lowe completed the most difficult hike of her life. It was “Becka’s Hike” to memorialize her daughter Rebecca Carrie Lyons, 46, who died of breast cancer in May of 2013.

Lowe is working on a book “My Best for Becka” about the end of her daughter’s life.

“It’s like opening a scar and an old wound,” she said. “It’s very difficult.”

It is Lowe’s hope, that the book will help the grieving process and foster personal growth.

“Becka’s biggest fear was that she would be forgotten,” Lowe said. “I wanted to make sure that would never come true.”

Daughter Becka
Rebecca Carrie Lyons

So, Lowe embarked on a 4,600-mile long hike of the North Country Trail (NCT) on March 18, 2014. She wanted to complete it as a thru hike which means in one season.

“It was a hike with a mission,” she said.

Lowe had previously hiked twice the Appalachian Trail which is only half as long as the NCT.

One of the most difficult parts of the hike was in the western half of the Upper Peninsula, where the trail was overgrown.

“I had to do a lot of bushwhacking,” she said. “I was attacked by a raptor. I saw two wolves and bears.”

Lowe who has also hiked in Alaska, said, the UP part of the trail was much more remote than the one in Alaska.

On the other hand, probably the easiest part of the hike was through North Dakota.

“People welcomed me immediately,” she said. “I was dreading hiking there, but it was easy and it is a beautiful state.”

Becka's Hike
Victorious Gail Lowe at the end of 4,600 mile hike.

But, what was even more difficult  than the length of the hike, was the extreme solitude. Lowe said that on the other trails people camp at night and share shelters together.

“I was it, there were no other hikers,” she said. “The loneliness was overwhelming.”

To fight the loneliness, Lowe went to as many towns as she could to meet with the locals and to reach out to them.

And that was mutual, because Lowe had the help of more than 100 “trail angels.” Trail angels are people who help hikers either with shelter, food or transportation from the trail to towns and back.

“The hike was truly blessed. People took me in for the night,” she said. “It was mind-boggling. Sometimes they did meet me along the way.”

Staying in a tent at 20 F would have been hard, if it wasn’t for the Methodists who opened their doors to Lowe.

“They truly practice their faith,” she said.

Lowe had planned her hike to start and to finish in Ohio. Three couples helped her by taking her back and forth between the trail and the town, so Lowe didn’t have to carry the “rock” or the big backpack.

“I could just use the day pack for four to five days,” she said.

Even though by now after thousands of miles of hiking, Lowe has it down to a science. She carries 26 to 28 pounds on her back.

She averaged 30 to 35 miles a day, before her health became an issue. Lowe came down with mononucleosis and had to make three trips to three different emergency rooms. Her average mileage was down to 15 miles.

“I was exhausted with respiratory infections,” she said. “There really is no treatment for it. I took massive doses of vitamin c.”

Becka's Hike
Mission accomplished

Against all odds including the nasty 2014 weather, Lowe finished the thru hike in one year as the only woman in the USA. She received major publicity including TV, NPR radio and 40 to 50 articles.

“It was a combination of being the first woman to do it in one hiking season and in memory of my daughter,” Lowe said. “I asked myself how do I want to finish this hike.”

Lowe wanted a quiet finish  just between her and Becka. That’s why she planned the last two miles on Thanksgiving Day.

“I could sneak in under the radar and have the type of finish I wanted,” she said.

But, Lowe also wanted to know that Becka was with her all along.

“I told myself if I find a quarter on the ground I would know Becka was with me,” she said.

On the last two miles of the last day, Lowe looked down and found a quarter.

“That was a message she was with me,” Lowe said. “The outcome of the hike is that the entire nation is aware of Becka. The mission was accomplished.”

Her major motivation for a hike that took 8.5 months to complete remained Becka.

“I consider myself a bad ass in hiking,” Lowe said. “I almost drowned, had a surgery and encountered a man with a gun. But knowing that it was in Becka’s memory carried me all along.”

Lowe’s advice to those thinking about hiking the trail is not to tackle it in one season.

“The mileage is daunting,” she said. “There are unmarked areas and the solitude, it can be overwhelming. Give it at least two years.”

Because northern Michigan still had snow in May, Lowe had to turn back to Ohio and hike east and wait for Michigan to thaw.

How did Lowe succeed in spite of all the challenges?

She trained for two months before the hike walking 10 miles a day with an over weighted backpack.

Lowe turned 65 on the NCT hike on Sept. 4th, and she still wants to hike the Continental Divide trail to be the first woman with a quintuple crown award.

Becka's Hike
Gail Lowe shows a quarter as a message from her daughter

 

“Hiking is my passion, my church,” she said. “I feel closer to higher power. It has given me strength, freedom and confidence. It has come with tears, sorrow and joy. My trail name is Chosen. I am living out my destiny.”

 

Lowe said she will do the Continental Divide trail ASAP, before the aging process takes over and makes it impossible.

“My hiking days are numbered,” she said. “I have learned that it’s not the best motivator just pounding out miles, but the most inspirational was the kindness of the people and making lifelong friends. I could feel love coming over me like an ocean of love washing over me.”

Lowe says about herself that she is not religious, but she is spiritual.

“None of us does a hike like this alone,” she said. “I can picture a chain of people holding hands and those are the people who came out. I didn’t do it alone.”

Lowe calls her hikes pilgrimages.

“It’s a time to reflect, it gives insight and introspection,” she said. “The greatest fun is succeeding at your goal, finishing what you start. It gives me incredible accomplishment and confidence.”

Lowe ignores negative people in order to accomplish her goals.

“It’s my responsibility to step over them and keeping my eye on the goal and not let them affect my ability of moving forward,” she said. “I’ve become strong mentally, physically and spiritually.”

Lowe’s final advice:

“Don’t quit, no matter what.”

However, as far as the  grieving process itself, Lowe says there is no closure on grieving, ever.

“Becka was my best friend, and when all was said and done, we both forgave each other everything and loved each other dearly,” Lowe said. “I miss being able to do the simple things with her like talking on the phone, going out to eat together, going “thrifting” at thrift shops, travelling together, and listening to her sing at karaoke.  She lived for music and had an amazing voice!  I miss being able to touch her and kiss her face.”

NCT is scenic.
NCT runs through Fallasburg Park in Kent County, Michigan.

Since the establishment of NCT in 1980, only five men have completed a thru hike of the trail and Lowe was the sixth person, and the only woman in the USA.

NCTA executive director Bruce Matthews said Lowe’s hike elevates the awareness of the North Country Trail.

“It fires people’s imagination and makes the trail more accessible to women,” he said. “It expands the horizon. It is unusual to complete it in one season.”

Matthews hopes that the experience Lowe has had will inspire other people to follow in her footsteps.

“You have to be prepared,” he said. “NCT is different from the Appalachian or the Pacific trails.”

What distinguishes NCT from the other trails is that it runs through different environments, and it does not follow a mountain range.

“Trail angels will be looking for you ready to help,” he said. “You can share experiences and volunteers make the routes more scenic.

On the theme of the extreme solitude on the trail, Matthews said:

“Solitude is part of the NCT experience,” he said.

On the psychology aspect of the strenuous hike, Dr. Daniel Ehnis, professor at Cornerstone University, said that taking on this challenge aids the healing process in a few ways:

“First of all, it helps the mother to do something extreme and distracting, rather than sitting by helplessly.

Second, the mother’s agony and suffering helps her transfer her psychological pain into physical pain.  The physical discomfort can be easier to manage than the emotional turmoil from the loss.

Finally, her daughter’s wish to not be forgotten would take something extraordinary to honor that request.”

For more info on Gail Lowe go to: www.naturenymphllc.com

North Country Trail Association go to www.northcountrytrail.org

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