I took my 9-year old son on his first backpacking trip last weekend. We were out for 2 nights and covered a total of 22 miles, with plenty of climbing and challenging trail surfaces – and beautiful landscapes to reward us!
We started our adventure by climbing Mount Rogers, VA for a few miles until the path intersected with the Appalachian Trail. Once we got on the AT, it was a different feel than any other trail. There are more people – although it’s remote enough not to be swarmed – and there is a palpable mystique. Hikers we met were friendly and encouraging to my son – everyone understood how challenging it is to carry a heavy pack for many miles, especially for someone that young.
On day 1 we hiked 6 miles mostly uphill until we stopped for the night at Thomas Knob, the highest point of the AT in VA. It was cold and windy that night and my son had trouble sleeping because of it. In the morning I showed him the map and possible bail-out options if he was really having a terrible time. We talked about what continuing meant and how leaving early might make him feel, and as we got moving and he warmed up, his spirits lifted and he decided to stick to our plan for the big day ahead. We were rewarded with gorgeous landscapes and the legendary wild ponies of Grayson Highlands.
On the second day we hiked about 12 miles of rolling technical terrain over 8.5 hours. It was by far the hardest thing he’s done yet, and the last hour especially was a struggle, but we made it to our spot for the night at the Old Orchard just in time to set up camp, find water, and make dinner before dark.
On our last morning, after hiking about 1.5 mile, we said goodbye to the Appalachian Trail and finished our hike for about 2 miles on the Fairwood Valley trail. This was mostly downhill and other than a stream crossing, smooth terrain, so our adventure ended a little faster than expected. After celebrating in the parking lot, we drove 2 hours to make it home in time for pancakes and bacon for lunch.
During the trip, I was struck by the variety of landscapes and trail surfaces we moved through: dense forests, rock gardens, mountains, hills and valleys, with all shades of green, big skies, cold and heat and wind… I’m taking all these landscapes with me as I work on a new crop of paintings… so stay tuned.
On Saturday, I ran a trail marathon on Pilot Mountain in North Carolina, a state park 30 minutes from Winston-Salem. These are typical East Coast technical trails with plenty of rocks and roots to navigate and 4,500 feet of climbing. This mountain has inspired much of my work, both paintings and installation, notably Paper Mountain. I’ve also spent countless hours hiking and running and camping here, so it felt pretty special to have the chance to run this event. Here’s my race report for anyone who cares about the nitty gritty details.
The race approaches the mountain on the Pilot Creek Trail, heads up the mountain on Grindstone, then Ledge Spring trail, goes around the Jomeoke trail at the top, back down Grindstone, around the Mountain trail, then back up Grindstone, Ledge Springs, Jomeoke, down Grindstone, around the Mountain trail again, and back out on Pilot Creek trail. Here’s a map of these trails if you’d like to take a look for yourself.
It was a little above freezing at the race start and got up into the mid forties by the end. I carried a hydration pack with 1.5 liters of water, a small first aid kit, a little baggie of potato chips and gummy bears, and planned to grab most of my food and additional drink at the aid stations along the way.
The morning of, I had my typical “race breakfast” of oatmeal, scrambled eggs and coffee, and I did my physical therapy exercises to help make sure I didn’t hurt myself. I drove the 35 minutes to race start and after picking up my bib, I did my usual dynamic warmup, ate a banana and drank a bottle of water.
A small group of us gathered at the start and it started to rain freezing rain. There were many more people racing the 20km course, and they stood nearby. The mood seemed fairly calm and relaxed. The race officially started and those of us doing the marathon ran into the woods. I could hear the freezing rain, but the tree canopy kept us dry. The ground was muddy – as expected since it rained most of the previous week.
I passed some people and was passed by others as we all established our rhythm, and within 15 minutes or so I was basically on my own in the woods. The first section, Pilot Creek trail, is a 3.3 mile section that brings you to the base of the mountain.
I stopped at the first aid station about 30min in, grabbed a cup of water and some Oreos and was on my way to start the first of 2 laps up and around the mountain. I ate an Oreo on the way up Ledge Springs trail, one of the big climbs, and was shocked by how sweet it tasted. I had a hard time getting 2 cookies down, but knew I needed the calories. My belly felt a little off after that, so at the 2nd aid station at the top of the mountain, I drank some Coke which thankfully helped. I grabbed 1/2 a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and ran down the mountain.
About halfway down the Grindstone trail, I took a wrong turn (100% my fault). Luckily I realized I was on the wrong trail fairly quickly, turned around and headed back to rejoin the right trail down the mountain. I lost a few minutes there and laughed it off to keep my heart rate from spiking due to the adrenaline.
One my way around the base of the mountain, as I stuffed my gloves into my pack, I twisted my ankle hard, but quickly recovered. To me this stretch is mentally the toughest of the race because it’s long and feels never-ending, but I felt pretty good. I ate my 1/2 PBJ sandwich and passed the water aid station, a gallon of water along the side of the trail, and opted not to stop there.
I passed the fourth aid station at the start of my second loop up the mountain, had some coke again since it worked well to keep my stomach settled and grabbed a half banana to eat up on the steep Ledge Spring climb. Just after starting that stretch of trail which is a series of steep rock “steps” for almost a mile, my left inner thigh threatened to cramp, so I tried climbing leading with my right leg each time. After a few steps, I realized I’d quickly fry that leg too, so I went back to alternating legs up each step, but focused on engaging other muscles. It worked and I was able to very gingerly make it up the climb without fully cramping.
Another coke from the aid station at the top and I took a gel with me for the loop around the base of the mountain. On the loop, my right inner thigh threatened to cramp, so I resorted to taking very small steps as I climbed and hopped around the rock gardens along the trail. I ate some of the chips I had brought with me, hoping the salt would help. It didn’t help fast enough, so I quickly downed the gel and that did the trick. My pace felt pretty good on the flats and descents and I eventually made it to the last aid station just before heading back on the Pilot Creek Trail. I walked to drink a cup of water and had another gel to make sure I didn’t “hit the wall” on the last few miles. Other than stiff legs, I felt ok, so I decided to pick up the pace on this last home stretch. I caught and passed a group of 3 men about a mile from the finish and happily kept them at bay. They were chatting as they ran, so I think I was working a lot harder than they were, but I’ll take it!
As soon as I popped out of the woods I saw and heard my husband and our son cheering for me, and felt a surge of emotion as I ran up the grass to the finish. I did it! I was greeted with a finisher’s medal (and I’ve never been so proud to receive one of those) and a bowl of chili and cornbread which I ate as I walked around in a daze.
The race promoters put on a great event, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging trail marathon. I’d also like to take a second to thank my husband for supporting all my training and for being generally awesome. Thanks Tim!
This month Forsyth Woman is featuring my work in their magazine! Writer Taryn Jerez and I discuss many aspects of being an artist including influences, my evolution as an artist and how I carve out studio time. You can read the piece here.
Thank you Taryn and Forsyth Woman for the feature in the February issue!
I’m happy to share with you that I was awarded an Artist Support Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. With this award I’ll have the chance to study encaustic painting and to equip my studio to practice this ancient painting technique.
Encaustic is a painting medium made of beeswax, damar crystals and pigment, which is melted and fused onto a rigid support such as wood. I have wanted to try encaustic for years, so I’m super excited to finally learn it. Plus I get to use a blow torch!!! (Yes mom and dad, I promise I’ll be careful.)
This medium has been in use for millennia. Ancient Egyptians used it for portraiture, and the medium is so long lasting that some of those paintings are still with us. Encaustic painting is such an old technique that it predates oil painting and even tempera. It’s a versatile medium that can be combined with oil painting, watercolor, collage, sculpture and even installation. I’m curious to see where it will take my work!
So thank you N.C. Arts Council, Arts Council of Winston-Salem & Forsyth County, and ArtsGreensboro for this award!
You can read more about the grant program and the winners here at Yes!Weekly.
It’s been a strange couple of weeks. We got a bunch of snow a few days ago – AND IT’S STILL HERE. If you’ve spent any time in the South, you might know how weird it is to get snow and for it to actually stick for a while rather than turn into a grey mess. While my classes at UNCSA started last week, I still haven’t had a chance to see my students in person because all our classes have been online. My son has been off school all week due to the winter weather. And I ran 23 miles last Friday – on a mountain. Yeah, you heard that right. I ran 23 miles and I’m still kicking.
If you’ve been following along on my journey, you might remember that I’ve been training for a trail marathon in my favorite place, Pilot Mountain. It’s been almost half a year of training so far and I have one more long run to go before the big day. But back to last Friday.
It was a pretty terrible run. Nothing felt right for most of the 5.5 hours I spent up on the mountain. But worse than the physical discomfort was the mental anguish (not exaggerating). I just couldn’t get it together and dealt with self doubt/pity for most of the run. It’s normal to have a particularly bad training session at some point, so it wasn’t totally unexpected. There were some bright spots during the run though: I got to use my first aid kit and save my foot from an impending giant blister for example.
After this experience, I have a good idea of what to improve on for my next long run. And as my husband Tim said, “Look at it this way: on a bad day, you still ran 23 miles.” ‘Nuff said.
In the studio, I’m in my usual winter routine of digging into fundamentals and studying color. I’ve been working on color studies and playing with ideas for a new project involving Legos. I’m not sure this project will amount to anything big, but it’s keeping my momentum going and may lead to other ideas.
My show at Charlotte Russell Contemporary is up until February 16th and we’ve scheduled a closing reception on Friday February 11th 5:30-7:30pm. Find more details on the gallery website here.
It feels good to embark on new beginnings… I’m prepping for a semester of teaching at UNCSA – which starts next week – and am kicking things off with an exhibit opening in Raleigh, NC.
I’m pleased to share with you that Charlotte Russell Contemporary invited me to show a group of paintings in a two-person show called Fresh Air with textile artist Sydney Zester. It’s interesting to see the interplay of colors and shapes between my work and Sydney’s, and I’ll be curious to hear what you think when you see the work together.
The exhibit Fresh Air will be at Charlotte Russell Contemporary Jan. 14th – Feb. 16, 2022.
This morning I installed a new painting in a collector’s home. This painting has been a wonderful project to work on, so I thought you might like to hear about how it developed.
The painting was commissioned by a filmmaker as a wedding anniversary/holiday gift for his partner who is a neurologist. The client asked me to combine stills from one of his films with illustrations of brain cells by the 19th century artist/scientist Santiago Ramon y Cajal, one of his wife’s favorite artists. He trusted me to come up with something using all of those images as references and was open to the finished painting being abstract rather than looking like any of the photos he sent me.
To make the painting, I ended up layering image after image to find new overlapping shapes.Then through a process of finding and combining shapes and playing with color, the painting emerged. It was a fantastic project to work on.
If you’d like to commission an artwork, you can learn more about the process here or email me to start the process.
It’s heating up here in the studio and I’m pleased to share with you a few events where you’ll find me and my work this month.
This Saturday December 4th I’ll be at the Artfolios Holiday Bazaar with artwork available for purchase. You’ll find artwork from 17 other artists there and live music, coffee and snacks from 1-4pm at Current Coworking in Winston-Salem. Find all details here.
I’ve joined artists, creators and makers across the country for the Artists Sunday, earth’s largest art event, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, November 28th, encouraging people to shop with artists. Think of it like Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, or Cyber Monday but for shopping for art!
I want to help you end this year on a high note by making your holiday gifting more special and rewarding. To make it easier for you to find art you’ll love, here are some quick links for easy-to-gift artwork: