Hiking Iceland with my Mother

In April, my mother and I took our first solo trip together. We braved a few harrowing snowstorms to stand at the foot of glaciers and hiked to more waterfalls than I can count. And we had hours on the trail or on the road just to talk.

Photo Gallery: Michigan Winter

After signs of spring at the end of February, it looks like winter isn't over quite yet.

Photo Gallery: Michigan Spring

This is an exceptional year for wildflowers in Michigan. Here are some of my favorite spring photos from the trail.

Photo Gallery: California Superbloom

“Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue.”  ― John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

I've been fortunate to get drenched by Yosemite's Bridal Veil Falls in springtime, snake through the Grand Canyon while it was in full bloom and hike through the Maroon Bells when the aspens burst into golden fire in October.

But I've never planned hiking trips around peak wildflower blooms or fall colors, because nature gets to decide precisely when it puts on a show.

So I when I headed out to Los Angeles on a work trip last week, I was elated to discover that I'd stumbled into a rare "Superbloom" in southern California, courtesy of an unusually wet winter. Some desert spots in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park hadn't "seen water in 10, 15, 20 years," according to Park Ranger Steve Bier.

Enjoy my photo gallery of wildflowers exploding in early March in the Mojave Desert, Anza-Borrego, Walker Canyon and Wildwood Park.

© 2017 Susan J. Demas

Photo Gallery: Celebrating the National Parks Service Centennial on the Appalachian Trail

I haven't hiked the Appalachian Trail since 2010, when I did a few legs of it in the Great Smoky Mountains and the Delaware Water Gap.

But I couldn't pick a better place to trek on the 100th anniversary of the National Parks Service than the AT, which snakes through Shenandoah National Park. The kids (and I) enjoyed a break from meetings in sweltering Washington, D.C., for a couple of days.

G'day from Australia ...

Susan J. Demas/MacKenzie Falls

Susan J. Demas/MacKenzie Falls

Sorry I haven't posted much (although I will have a new column on the Democratic National Convention for Dome Magazine on Friday). But I'm on a 40th birthday trip across Australia, which has been a nice break from the political grind. I'll have more soon, including Aussies' take on our very unique election.

Photo Gallery: The Porcupine Mountains and Lake Superior

ONTONAGON –– It takes eight hours to reach this outpost of the western Upper Peninsula from Michigan's Capitol –– or roughly the same time to travel to the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania.

I made the trek to see how the race for Michigan's open 1st Congressional seat was developing. But I couldn't resist the urge to do a little hiking. Here are some of the gems from my trip:



Susan J. Demas: Hitting the trail, a Mother's Day tradition

Susan J. Demas, Pinckney Recreation Area, May 2016

Susan J. Demas, Pinckney Recreation Area, May 2016

Mother's Day is usually just another day for me. 

Due to a quirk in the calendar, I usually don't see my daughter until the evening (ah, divorce). And my stepson is with his own mother, as he should be.

There are Christmases, Thanksgivings and Easters when my whole family isn't together. It's hard for relatives to keep track and they inevitably ask where the other child is, followed up by some well-meaning, but painful commentary on the family court system. 

What I've learned from all this is that any holiday is just a day. It can be celebrated at another time, without losing any whimsy or meaning for the kids. As for Mother's Day, I really don't need any special day acknowledging that I'm a parent. It's a choice I made and I'd make it a thousand times over. Symbolism is overrated.

So for the past several years, I've come up with my own tradition, which I think beats runny eggs and cold coffee in bed.

Susan J. Demas, May 2016

Susan J. Demas, May 2016

I take a Mother's Day hike by myself. Sometimes I've planned a weekend trip and muddy my boots for 12 miles. Other times I'll only venture out for a couple of hours closer to home. 

I almost didn't hit the trail yesterday. I'd already been to the gym earlier and I plenty of work on my plate. Mother's Day also isn't quite as lonely since I've remarried.

But I decided not to overthink it (a persistent habit) and headed to a familiar haven, the Pinckney Recreation Area. For the first mile, I was somewhat grumpy, as I don't hike as much as I used to, and it takes longer to find my rhythm. It happened somewhat gradually, as I trudged past blossoming black oak trees and patches of wildflowers mixed in with dandelions.

At mile three, I unexpectedly had a breakthrough on a piece I've been working on for months. That's one of the reasons why I find hiking so addictive. It allows me to approach my problems and writing in a different way.

Mother's Day is often about giving ourselves permission to do something for ourselves –– reading a book, getting a manicure, enjoying a meal cooked by someone else.

For me, it's about letting myself enjoy a few moments of stillness in the forest, where I can finally hear myself think.

Susan J. Demas is Publisher and Editor of Inside Michigan Politics, a nationally acclaimed, biweekly political newsletter. Her political columns can be found at SusanJDemas.com. Follow her on Twitter here.

Susan J. Demas: Letting the green sand beach go

Susan J. Demas, Waikoloa, April 2016

Susan J. Demas, Waikoloa, April 2016

It was almost three in the afternoon. I exhaled a little too noisily as we hit another stoplight.

I could tell that in a matter of minutes, Kona's moody blue sky would start to open up. And we still had at least an hour and half left on our drive to Papakōlea, Hawaii's famed green sand beach.

We had gotten a late start, well, just about every morning, which isn't what I'm used to. The last time I was in Hawaii, my then-nine-year-old daughter and I did a whirlwind, three-island camping tour. Our days usually started no later than six with some oatmeal I made on our propane stove (much to her chagrin). When I camp on my own, I've been known to hike out at four or five a.m., just to enjoy the stillness of the morning mountain air.

But my husband wanted to relax. He's a political consultant, already immersed in a crazy campaign season. Who could blame him? There were plenty of beaches and trails just minutes from our Waikoloa condo that I could venture off to on my own.

I insisted that we trek to Papakōlea, however, even though I'd seen it last time in all its weird, mustard-green glory. Because when would Joe see something like that again? He agreed, even though in the first five minutes, we passed by three lovely beaches he noted we could relax at.

Susan J. Demas, Hiking down to Papakōlea, July 2012

Susan J. Demas, Hiking down to Papakōlea, July 2012

But here's the truth. I've always been obsessed with seeing all I can see. Once when I was on fifteen-hour flight to Tel Aviv, the pilot announced we were passing over Paris. I actually felt myself wince that we wouldn't be stopping in the City of Lights (which were all lit up), even thought I'd been there twice before.

So after flying halfway across the Pacific, Papakōlea was now just a couple hours away. How could we not go?

I watched the raindrops start to plop on the windshield. The sun would start to melt away in just three hours. I knew we'd be hopelessly rushed. If we kept going, it would more be to tell ourselves we did it than to really take the beach in. And I knew we'd have better luck with weather in perpetually sunny Waikoloa.

"Do you want to just hit a beach closer to home?" I asked.

Joe didn't even try to hide his relief. We ended up spending the next few hours at Waialea further north. He read in a shady corner while I body surfed. As we watched the yellow-burst sunset together, I realized that sometimes, it's okay to just let go.