Virtual Hiking in Second Life

Cascades Nature Park -- Second Life

I'm exhausted! I hiked both Cascades Nature Park and Whispering Rocks ... all in one day! It was great. I was the only one on the trails and at Whispering Rocks I walked right up to a buck and took his photo. Actually I walked right into him because I'm still learning how to walk let l alone hike here in Second Life. That's me in the photo below staring eye to eye with the beast.

A buck stares me down in Whispering Rocks Park

For those who haven't heard of it yet, Second Life is a virtual reality world where you can be anyone you want to be and do anything you want to do. It's your chance at A Second Life! So I had to try it out. For those on Second Life my name is Susanita Koolhoven. And that's her above in the snapshots. I made her to look a lot like me ... albeit with longer, fuller hair and sans the age related crows feet. But other than that she's pretty much me. Most of the other Second Lifer's create images with wilder hair and definitely wilder clothes. I played around with a few outfits but I decided I liked her best as a nature girl with a purple top and worn blue jeans.

Changing your appearance in Second Life

I also found that my virtual persona was pretty similar to my real persona. My virtual reality self is pretty shy. She doesn't like chatting with the other avatars on second life. In fact, she'll purposely go out of her way to get away from some of them ... who are really bold, especially when you're in the Welcome Center. When you first create your avatar you're "teleported" to the Welcome Center where a series of tutorials teach you how to walk, talk, change your appearance, and teleport. To move around in Second Life you teleport to different locations. But when my avatar first entered the Welcome Center she was "accosted" by certain male avatars who kept touching her! And this was before she knew how to walk or talk so it was pretty frustrating. One of the first things I learned how to do in Second Life was get my avatar to say "Get Lost." She does that quite well now.

Susanita in the Sunshine Therapy Garden

After the two hikes she teleported over to Sunshine Therapy Garden. The sun was just coming up and peeking through the trees. She's still there ... meditating in front of a small waterfall listening to the sounds of the forest.

-Susanita Koolhoven

Backpacking 101

Shenandoah Mountains around White Oak Canyon Mountains

This weekend was my first backpacking trip. I've car camped. I've hiked from camp. I've kayaked to camp. But I've never hiked with a full pack and camped ... in the cold. So this was a first. And the part about camping in the cold ... well it may be the last. I froze! I crawled into my tent around 7:30 Saturday night fully clothed. I have an REI sub-kilo +15 sleeping bag and a Big Agnes Seedhouse 1 person tent. The tent is clearly not a four season tent. It may not even be a three season tent. It's mostly mesh on the inner tent. But the sleeping bag should have been warm enough for a fall night in the mountains. Well, my core body was warm but my legs and feet were like ice cubes. In between rubbing my feet to keep the circulation going and tossing and turning on the little therma-rest sleeping pad I slept maybe three hours. And I'm sure my camping companions loved hearing me whine about the cold and lack of sleep the next morning. If this was a class, like Backpacking 101, I'd probably get a D+.

The other gear failure was my new backpack. I bought the REI Quick UL 45 Backpack. I bought this as an ultra-light replacement for the backpack I used for rock climbing. At 2 lbs 9 oz it's very light. Unfortunately one area where they skimped to get the weight down was the hip belt which carries the weight of the pack. It has a lot less cushion than my older backpack and the very back of the hip belt is hard which seemed to dig into my back. And the straps seemed to cut into my chest. So it's going back to REI today.

So I really wasn't converted into a winter backpacker this weekend. And this wasn't a real backpacking trip. We hiked White Oak Canyon/Cedar Run on Saturday. Then we drove to the trailhead for the Old Rag hike and hiked in about 1/2 mile and set up camp for Saturday night. Sunday we packed up our gear and took it back to the cars and met up with the Sunday hikers for Old Rag. So I only hiked about 1/2 mile with the new pack. I'm glad I tested it out on a short hike like this instead of waiting for a really hard core backpacking trip.

The White Oak Canyon/Cedar Run hike is a hike I've done several times. It's one of the most beautiful waterfall hikes in the Shenandoah. Total elevation for the hike is 2450 feet and the guide online says it should take five hours with a half hour for lunch. Or hike leader Dennis told me he used to hike this trail alone in 2 1/2 hours as a cardio workout. That should give you an idea of the pace he likes to hike. I could tell from the beginning of the hike that I would be far behind Dennis if he didn't stop at regular intervals. Fortunately he's also quite patient.

Water Fall in White Oak Canyon

We took the Cedar Run Trail up and the White Oak Canyon Trail back down stopping at the waterfalls as time allowed. It's a beautiful hike but I didn't see anything new since I've done the hike before ... until we crossed over the bridge. That's when Dennis and I ran into the barefoot hiker. I had never seen anyone hike barefoot. Unfortunately he was gone before I could take his photo and it probably wouldn't have been polite. My first thought was that the barefoot hiker was some vagrant or homeless person but I have since learned that there are clubs for Barefoot Hikers. Interesting.

Group photo on top of Old Rag

Sunday morning the four of us that camped overnight, Dennis, David, Amy and I, carried our gear back to the parking lot and met up with five other hikers for the hike up Old Rag. This was my first time hiking Old Rag ... which is pretty amazing since it's the most popular hike in the mid-Atlantic region ... or so says the online guide. The total elevation change for Old Rag is less than the White Oak hike and it doesn't have waterfalls but what draws people to the hike is the almost one mile rock scramble with narrow passages between huge boulders and several spots requiring actual climbing. If you're afraid of heights or have poor balance this hike could make for a long miserable day. But the panoramic views of the Shenandoah mountains are well worth the pain. Photos from the weekend are HERE.



Billy Goat Trail

Group photo at the start of the Billy Goat Trail Hike

This is starting to look like a hiking blog and not a kayaking blog. I hope I don't lose too many kayaking readers. But lately I just feel like hiking. I'm also trying to get some backpacking trips organized before it gets too cold. Today I was talking to the Michael, who organized the hike, about organizing a hiking or backpacking trip to Dolly Sods. In a few weeks we might as well try a snowshoeing trip because I hear it snows up there sooner than down here close to sea level.

Great Falls from the Maryland Side

Anyways, this was a hike I picked up from It's a new site I found that people post events to just "meet up." No obligation, no liability to forms to sign and most of the time no fees. So ten of us "met up" to do the Billy Goat Trail Hike at Great Falls. I did meet a kayak racer in the parking lot. The start of the Billy Goat Trail is also the parking lot for the whitewater kayakers that come to play in the rapids at Great Falls. He had this incredible down river racing kayak in a design I have never seen before. No rudder and it was narrow and round so I'm not sure how he could turn it. And I did feel a little nostalgic about the four kayaks sitting at my house waiting to go out. But I have a feeling the next few months will be mostly land based adventures. I need to work out my hiking muscles for my spring trip to ... The Grand Canyon. More photos of the hike are HERE.


Maryland Emancipation Day Hike

Sandy Spring in Maryland

November 3 was Emancipation Day in the State of Maryland. Although slavery was not abolished in Maryland until 1864, the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, outlawed the owning of slaves by its members in 1777. In Sandy Spring, Maryland (not far from my house) free blacks owned their own homes, attended organized churches and schools. Quakers and free slaves assisted escaping slaves via the "Underground Railroad."

WIth hurricane Noel skirting up the East Coast the forecast was for stiff winds and cool air. It looked like a good day to skip my regular Saturday morning outrigger workout and join a hike. The Emancipation Day Hike was a joint hike by the local Sierra Club and the Appalachian Mountain Club. Having grown up in North Carolina I'm a little behind on Maryland history. Also having been raised in the segregated south I'm more than a little behind on the history of slaves. This was a very informative hike.

White horse passing on the hike

After meeting at Woodlawn Manor the group took a short hike into the woods. It is believed that the woods in this area was part of the Underground Railroad. The Underground Railroad wasn't really a railroad but a system of people and places organized to help slaves escape to freedom. The path to freedom was often carried in songs that they learned or woven into quilts. There were special symbols marked on trees to designate paths. Helping slaves escape was against the law and those caught often faced years of imprisonment.

Slaves seeking freedom would often escape at Christmas since they wouldn't be missed for several days or during a rain storm because the rain would wash away their tracks. Although our hike was on a well worn path, the slaves would not have spent much time traveling on such a path for fear of being caught. They would have sought out shelter in the thick brambles because dogs, men and horses all shy away from the thick thorny bushes. Escaping slaves faced many obstacles and the majority did not make it.

When I hear people talk about slavery it seems like something that happened another time. But when you think about it 1864 wasn't that long ago.

On a happier note ... I have some new hiking and backpacking gear. And I'm hoping to test it out soon.