2016: A Year of Hiking and Wildflower Photography in Review

Weakly Hollow Fire Road

Hiking

In 2016 my husband and I went on 37 hikes in Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest combined. Our plan is to go hiking once every week. We like to go on Saturdays so that we can recover on Sunday before going to work on Monday.

GaiaGPS log

Trails

After all of our hiking in 2015 and in 2016, we have been to almost every trail within 2-hours drive from our home just outside of Washington, DC.

This is a screenshot of all our trails logged through an app called GaiaGPS. You can see all our recent logged trails here.

We have been to some of the trails two or three times (or more if they are connecting trails).

The trails we went to the most included: Nicholson Hollow, Little Devil Stairs, Buck Ridge-Buck Hollow-Mary’s Rock loop, Tuscarora-Overall Run, and Cedar Run-Whiteoak Canyon loop.

Meditating in the forest

Hiking for Healing

The reason why we didn’t go hiking every week in the past year, besides a couple weekends where there was bad weather, someone had a cold, or someone had a business trip, was that I had a knee injury from January. It was an ACL and MCL sprain. And no, it wasn’t from hiking. It was from over-extending my knee doing yoga. Being careful with your knee and not overdoing it is important in any exercise – once it’s injured, the pain is extremely uncomfortable and it doesn’t go away easily.

We decided to let my knee take it easy for a few months before getting back into hiking again. This was a real bummer, as we had been hiking almost every weekend since the summer of 2015.

When we restarted in May, we started out small and worked up to longer trails. For many months I had to always wear a knee brace when we went hiking. By the start of autumn I was able to hike for an hour, then two, then more, before having to put on my knee brace. Now I don’t have to wear a knee brace at all, even though I can still feel something there and I have trouble bending my knee for extended periods in certain positions like kneeling.

It’s hard to say exactly what healed it, but I think the muscle building from hiking played a significant role. Over the year I also tried protein shakes, fish oil, and icing my knee every night.

In 2015 I also experienced the physical therapy benefits of hiking. Earlier in the year I was plagued by a tight pain in my left hip. When I went to physical therapy they explained that I had a muscle imbalance. Several months of therapy, and a couple thousand dollars later, it was the same. It was irritating not to see progress. About that time my husband and I started hiking and I noticed less pain in my hip afterwards. I decided to stop going to physical therapy and just do hiking to see what the effect would be. A month or two of hiking later, the pain was gone.

Now, I can’t recommend to anyone that they should not go to physical therapy. Perhaps my doctor in particular was ineffective. Actually, it was two different doctors at the same facility. But still, it’s possible I was just unlucky. However, I do know for a fact that hiking has been a useful form of physical therapy for me on two separate occasions for two different types of injuries.

Not only do I think it helped to heal my knee and my hip, but I have also noticed an improvement in my mental health. I feel more at peace more consistently. To me hiking is a moving meditation – you move your body and clear your mind. All the troubles of the week fade away and seem inconsequential. It clears your mind and makes you feel refreshed for the week ahead.

I admit, sometimes I feel tired from work and do not feel like getting up at 5:45am on a Saturday morning to drive out to the mountains. However, there has never been a day that I regretted it. I always feel better for having gone hiking.

New Hiking Gear

Until the spring, I had been using an old day hike backpack my husband bought several years ago. It was a Gregory pack, but it was designed for a man’s body. It would always irritate me in some way, so we decided to invest in a new pack that I could use for day hikes as well as camping, when we do that in the future. Right now we can’t go camping because we have a diabetic cat that needs insulin shots every 12 hrs and taking care of her is our priority.

 

I got the Gregory Women’s Deva 70 Backpack at REI. They were doing a Memorial Day weekend sale and we had a coupon from our REI membership (you get 10% cash back to use at the store). As a result, it was relatively affordable. I’ve been quite happy with it. It’s certainly more comfortable that the previous one!

Black Diamond Poles

Also, since I’m always stumbling and tripping on rocks or who-knows-what on the trail, especially near the end of our hike when I’m tired, we got some hiking poles made by Black Diamond. These have been a big help. I definitely feel more stable hiking and I hardly ever trip and fall now.

Nature photography

Photography

This year both my husband and I upgraded our cameras.

I used to have a Sony Nex5-N and Sony 30mm f/3.5 E-mount Macro Fixed Lens that my parents got for me as a birthday a couple years ago. I loved that camera, but as we went hiking every week and I took pictures of the wildflowers, I found I couldn’t take the photos that I wanted to take. Either the quality was not enough, or I couldn’t adequately adjust the camera to focus where I wanted. I also wanted to be able to start selling my photos through Zazzle and Shutterstock.

I got the Sony a7II camera and Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens. My husband got a Sony a7R camera and Sony FE 16-35 f/4 OSS wide angle lens.

The difference was noticeable immediately. The details were clear and the background bokeh was beautiful. I’ve learned a lot this year about how to adjust ISO, f/2.8-10, and manual focus to get the pictures that I want. And I’m still learning.

Although the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens has a built-in stabilizer, it is still necessary to keep the camera as fixed as possible when taking a photo. I’ve been using my hiking poles and a small tripod.

Both my husband and I like to use Sony DSLRs because they are affordable, high quality, and light to carry.

For photo editing I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.

Let me give an example of the difference between the two cameras and lenses.

Purple-flowering Raspberry

Take this Purple-flowering Raspberry. This picture is from the Nex5-N and macro lens. As you can see, it’s not bad. However, some areas I wanted to be in focus (droplets, inner part of the petals) are not in focus. The background also looks a bit granulated.

Bladder Campion

This photo of a Bladder Campion was taken with the new camera and lens. You can see the details of the flower clearly and the bokeh is softer. It is more clear and looks more professional.

Blog

I also started this blog in 2016. It’s been an interesting journey learning how to set up a WordPress blog, connecting it to social media, formatting blog posts, editing and exporting photos from Lightroom, and posting to social media in order to share my work. I’ve been doing research about marketing and trying different ways to make what I post to social media engaging. There is still a lot of learning to do on that front, but I am enjoying the process.

You can check out my Facebook page, Twitter feed, Pinterest page, and Instagram.

Little Devil Stairs

Looking to 2017

What’s in store for 2017? Now that my knee is not hindering our hiking, I expect we’ll go hiking even more this year. I hope to fine-tune my skills at using my new camera and lens. I am also looking forward to taking pictures with my new camera of the many spring wildflowers that bloom in Shenandoah National Park and George Washington National Forest, which I missed last year.

This year we’re also likely to completely fill in the map of all the trails within a 2-hour drive from Washington, DC. I want to try some other trails like Sky Meadows and Bull Run Park as well.

Thank you for following my blog and I look forward to sharing more of our adventures with you.

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