Adjusting

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It’s been easy to adjust to sleeping indoors. The real bed is nice – although honestly, I do miss my sleeping bag – but really, it’s been most noticeable if I have to pee in the middle of the night. I never thought I’d so appreciate the ability to just walk, barefoot, the dozen or so steps over to the bathroom. No putting on a coat, no going down a ladder. No squatting. It’s lovely.

Having all that running water has been a bit of an adjustment, strange as it sounds. I feel wasteful if I leave the water on while I brush my teeth.

The biggest change for me is going back to driving my little white Honda. Sure, it’s 17 years old, but it’s a stick shift and so compared to Taco Negro, it’s like driving a sports car. Sort of.

The true downside to having a plain white Honda Accord is that this vehicle is impossible to find in a parking lot. I’m convinced it is the most vanilla car in existence.

I know what would help – a roof rack and a couple of kayaks or SUPs. But that’s not in the cards just yet. So for now I’m that person wandering the aisles of the parking lot, frowning, and trying to remember where the hell she parked the car.

California has been a bit of an adjustment weather-wise. The days are getting shorter but not colder. Hell, it was 75 degrees and sunny today. I find myself saying but it’s October! Yeah. October in California’s central coast.

It’s funny how Colorado is always with us, though. Some of you may not remember but during our time on the road we carried a few sets of solar-powered lights from a company called Revel Gear.

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We used these fabulous lights a lot.

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Revel Gear is based out of Boulder and owned by our friends Kody and Brian Plavnicky. When we were actually in Colorado we didn’t manage to get in touch with them. But not long after our arrival in California, Kody got in touch and asked if we were coming up to San Francisco for the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, which was happening October 6th-8th.

I have to tell you, I’d never heard of this festival. But I looked it up and thought it sounded awesome. Ninety acts across three days across seven stages. Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn. First Aid Kit, a Sweedish bluegrass act. Sturgill Simpson. Henry Rollins.

We were totally interested. And when Kody and Brian said they had a place for us to crash and everything, we were sold.

We drove up to SF on Friday afternoon, and it seemed like everyone was heading out as we were heading in.  We all took a Lyft down to Golden Gate Park and managed to see the last few minutes of Brandi Carlile’s set. She sang the most wonderful version of Amazing Grace – it gave me goosebumps.

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Brian, Kody, Michael, and me. If you squint, you can make out Brandi Carlile on the stage back there.

As you might suspect, this was a pretty popular festival. This was from Saturday’s crowd:

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So many people! But everyone was nice and friendly and we had a great time. Hell, we had a great time in San Francisco. Michael and I rode the Muni over to Haight-Ashbury and walked around, taking in the sights and the sounds and the people. Also I feel a little more in the 21st century now, as a Lyft user and all. It was fun to hang out with Brian and Kody – they’re both fun and easygoing and like to talk to everyone. We met lots of interesting people that weekend.

Back in SLO we ventured further down the domesticity rabbit hole… by joining Costco.

I know, I sound like a rube. But I’m not some Costco newbie. We had a membership back in Colorado. But the nearest store was a 45-minute drive away, so we only went about once a month or so. It just wasn’t that useful. The SLO Costco is right in town. And right across the street from Target and Whole Foods. So it was pretty much a no-brainer.

Here’s the thing, though: after so many months of living tiny, walking in to Costco – where even the shopping carts are monstrous – was almost like culture shock.

Oddly, the worst part for me was the produce. Michael laughed at me for this one but when he held up the 10-lb bag of potatoes I freaked out just a little bit. I mean, for the past year we went to a grocery store roughly every 3-4 days, and we never picked up more than what we could cook in the next 3-4 days. Space was at a premium – space in the cooler, space in the pantry. We just didn’t buy all that much.

We sure as hell didn’t buy ten pounds of potatoes.

Michael carefully put the potatoes back. That was nice of him because we do have a kitchen now, with storage and everything. The whole thing kind of make me wonder, though, about my adjustment back into the world where bigger is better and where less isn’t more – more is more. This way of thinking seems kind of backwards to me now and I wonder if how I feel will change the more time I spend in places like Costco.

Living tiny (even for just a little while) seems to have had a pretty big effect on me.

More Sailing. Plus, Canada!

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After my disastrous effort at sailing in Puget Sound, you might think I was crazy to get back out on the water again. Maybe I am.

But when we rolled through Anacortes, Washington, stopping at Penguin Coffee to do some research, I found Anacortes Kayak Tours. We’d talked about doing something like this for our anniversary. And we were right on the edge of the San Juan Islands. But… on a scale of one to going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line, how bad of an idea was this?

Instead of just booking online, we drove over to their office, although we stopped for a tailgate lunch at a place called Cap Sante Park.

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Then, on to the office. Because before I agreed to three more hours of potential torture, I had a few questions. What would the waves be like? The swell? Wind? I knew that nobody could tell me if I’d get sick or not, but people who kayak a lot can tell what’s easier from what’s harder. The tour we were looking at was in mostly in a bay – not the open ocean – so there would be minimal swell. Winds were supposed to be light, and it looked like it would be a calm day. Things were looking good.

One of the guides gave me a really great piece of advice: take that dramamine the night before. Then, stay hydrated. No guarantees, but the staff really thought it would be okay.

So we went for it. Signed up for the 10:30 tour the next day. I took my dramamine right before bed that night. And the next morning, I started with a pint of water at 7:30. Then another at 9am.

I had to pee before we even got to the Anacortes Kayak Tours office.

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Michael and I rode in a tandem kayak, and there were a total of 12 people on our tour. We got outfitted to stay pretty dry and then went down to the docks to get into our boats.

 

 

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As we headed out into the bay we picked up a hitchiker.

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This harbor seal pup actually tried to get on our boat, too. I think our guide’s boat sat a little lower in the water.

The tour was awesome. I had no motion sickness issues at all, although I did have to ask for a bathroom break about halfway through. Hydration has its consequences.

Leaving Anacortes, we moved up to Bellingham, Washington, and did a little more research on Canada. We weren’t sure how much internet coverage we’d have up there, so I plotted out our course from Sumas, Washington (where we’d cross the border) up to Banff National Park, and back down to Glacier National Park. Then we got ready for our border crossing.

Man, we were so ready. Ready for a fight, I guess. But the border agent we talked to was so… friendly. He asked about our trip, and when we told him the short version, he just said, “that sounds awesome.” He let us know a few of Canada’s rules that we were breaking (like bringing in American produce), although he said that he wasn’t going to go through our cooler for a plum and a bag of lettuce, which was nice. But he let us know that American customs were a little more picky. So before we come back we’ll clean out the cooler.

I’d say it took us about 15 minutes to get into Canada. Whee!

Our first stop was actually the Visitor’s Information Center. Armed with some free maps, we walked across the street to a bank to exchange some American dollars for Canadian dollars. Then we got on the road.

Along the way we passed several drive-thru corn stands. Like a fruit stand, but selling ears of GMO-free corn. I wish I’d taken a picture –  it looked about as strange as it sounds.

Leaving from Abbotsford, we took the Trans-Canada Highway to the town of Hope. When we turned north onto Highway 5, I couldn’t believe it: we were on the Coquihalla Highway.

If you have Netflix, you may have seen this little show called Highway Thru Hell. The show focuses on a company called Jamie Davis Towing, and follows the drama and difficulty of what’s called “heavy recovery,” or towing out big rigs, along the Coq (pronounced coke) in the winter.

Luckily the roads were dry when we passed through, although I lost count of the avalanche shelters we drove under. Let’s just say I don’t think I’d want to drive this road during a storm.

Our first campsite in Canada proved to be amazing. Hard to get to (we turned around a few times) but amazing.

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We were right on the shores of North Woods Lake. Bailey took full advantage of that water, and the breeze kept most of the bugs away.

 

 

I even set up the Revel Gear lights. Feels like it’s been a while!

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Actually, it had been a while. We forgot that moths love lights and left these beauties on while we were up in the tent, reading and writing. Michael went our for a bathroom break around 10:30… and let what felt like about 20 moths into the tent.

Ah, nature.

Escaping Portland

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I know, the title makes it seem like a bad thing. Hear me out. It’s not like Portland was a bad place to be imprisoned, mind you, but the clutches of the Portland area seemed to be pretty long indeed.

July 17th we headed out on a little day trip. I’d mentioned to our friend Jon that I’d always wanted to see Cannon Beach, and Haystack Rock. He said he went there all the time – it was only a couple of hours away.

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Off we set, taking in the little town of Astoria, and heading up to see the Astoria Column. Built in 1926, the Astoria Column overlooks the mouth of the Columbia river and has a 164-step spiral staircase that leads to an observation deck.

It cost $5 to park there… so we parked down the hill and walked up. Yes, folks, we really are that cheap. The views from the Column were nice though.

 

 

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From Astoria it was about another hour to Cannon Beach. I was happy to get to see Haystack Rock – it reminded me a lot of Morro Rock, in Morro Bay, California. And it was even more heavily developed. Condos and short-term rentals abounded, and the main drag was full of big box stores. I was a little disappointed, to be honest.

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But I took my pictures, and can say I’ve been there, since when the Cascadia Subduction Zone goes the whole area will be destroyed. What, you didn’t read that fabulous article in the New Yorker? If you haven’t, you totally should. It was one of the most fascinating disaster articles I’ve ever read.

After Cannon Beach We headed back towards Portland because Michael had a dentist appointment the next day. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but he said it was either a filling that had fallen out, or something had gone off with a crown. This is one of those little-thought-about problems with traveling full time. Picking a doctor (or dentist) is hard enough. But when you live like we do, it’s hard to predict exactly where you’re going to be tomorrow, much less next week. And unless it’s an emergency, new patients rarely get in right away. I think Michael had made his appointment 10 days earlier.

So. Back to Portland. This time we were staying with a friend of mine, from back in my REI days. He sent me a message a week or so ago, letting me know that if we needed a place to stay and a shower, well, he had a yard and a house.

I’ll always remember this moment, when we pulled through the gate at his property to see that Brandon (and his girlfriend, Frances) did, in fact, have a yard. A gigantic one.

The one thing Brandon and Frances didn’t have was a kitchen. They were in the middle of a remodel. No problem! We have a mobile kitchen. So we happily shared coffee and breakfast the next morning, as well as dinner that night (more on that later).

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We made it to the dentist and it turns out that Michael’s crown was indeed cracked. They took a mold for his replacement crown and said it would be there on Friday… three days later.

No problem. We roll with the punches here, right? We decided to go check out Hood River for a couple of days. Then we scheduled me in for a cleaning while Michael was having his crown done. I hadn’t been to a dentist in a year!

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Dinner that night was sockeye salmon with farotto and veggies pulled from Brandon and Frances’ garden. So good!

 

 

 

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I can’t tell you the last time I had fresh English peas. They were delicious!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Our hosts encouraged us to pick some blackberries the next morning, even pointing out which bushes had the most berries.

We put some on oatmeal, but these were so sweet that they were great all by themselves.

 

Upon our arrival at Hood River, the first thing we did was check out the waterfront.

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The wind is pretty constant here in the summer, and Hood River is an international destination for paddlers, windsurfers, and kite boarders. Watching made me totally want to try it. Most of the people there made it look easy. A few made me realize that windsurfing and kite boarding are actually really, really difficult.

There was a little beach and we saw other dogs off leash, so we let Bailey run and wear himself out in the water.

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We’re working on the whole not-barking thing. It’s cute, I guess, but that dog’s play bark is deafening. Especially when it’s right in your face.

We also saw a fly-by by a couple of F-15 Eagles. I never found out where they came from, and they were gone in a flash, but it was so cool to see them.

Next we needed a place to camp. And the best place for information on local camping tends to be from the locals. So we asked at the bike shop on Oak Street, and the guy there told us to check out Post Canyon. It’s a mountain bike area, he said, but there are pullouts for camping. Also, there’s a staging area for ATV’s, which is closed to ATV’s now because of fire restrictions.

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We had an excellent view of Mount Hood to the south, and even though we had wide-open skies, the trees to our west worked as an excellent shield from the wind. I also tried my hand at more starry-night pictures.

 

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Not as good as what I see on Instagram, but I think I’m getting better.

Anyway. Post Canyon looked like a super fun place to ride. Bailey and I went running there several times and thoroughly enjoyed each one.

We hung out in Hood River like this until Friday, when we returned to Portland for Michael’s crown and my cleaning. Aaaaahhhhh, clean teeth. A wonderful feeling. That was the good news. The bad news? Michael’s crown did not fit. They took another mold but the soonest they could get the new crown would be Monday.

So. Back to Hood River we went. I mean, at least we knew where to camp. Saturday was hot and we spent most of it hanging out under our cool awning. On Sunday, Michael met a guy named Kani on the trail. They got to talking, and Kani said he was going to play disc golf in the afternoon.

“We love disc golf!” Michael said. “But we don’t have our discs.”

That afternoon Kani met us in town and gave all of us (Bailey too!) a ride out to Stevenson, Washington, to play disc golf at the Cascade Locks course. He even lent us discs. Michael did pretty well, of course, even though we haven’t played disc golf since Fayetteville. I, however, super sucked. 18 holes and I did not par once. A bogey on 13 was the best I could do.

I still had a great time. After the 3rd hole we let Bailey off the leash. He was incredibly obedient. In fact, the only time he wandered off, it was over by the tennis courts. I had to call him three times. When he came back he had a tennis ball in his mouth.

Good dog, Bailey.

Plus, there were blackberries. Now, those bushes are mean and thorny but the berries were delicious. Michael filled his putter.

When Monday came around, we were not exactly in a big hurry to leave, as Michael’s appointment wasn’t until 4pm. I got up early and went for a run with Bailey. After a killer breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon, veggies, and avocado, we packed up and said good-bye to our sweet little site. I should have known better.

We found Hood River’s laundromat and while our clothes were in the washer made a supply run to Wal-Mart, which was essentially next door. After laundry we went back to Portland. Our first stop was a food truck court called Tidbit. I had Hawaiian BBQ and Michael had ramen, and both were delicious. But it was there that the first ominous sign occurred, in the form of a phone call from Gentle Dental, pushing Michael’s appointment back from 4pm to 5pm. Well, there wasn’t much we could say, other than all right. See you at 5.

We headed over to Creston Park next. Partly to give Bailey a chance to run, but mostly because Creston Park has a water spigot. And Portland tap water tasted pretty good. We probably filled up there three times during our time in the city. Thanks, Portland!

After all that we finally headed over to Gentle Dental… although we stocked up at Safeway first. And while were were at Safeway the phone rang again. Oregon number. Uh-oh.

Of course it was Gentle Dental. Was 6pm okay, they asked?

Ah, shit. But what could we do? We both went to the coffee shop to charge all the electronics. At about 5:50 he headed next door. He took the phone so I kept a tab open to Facebook. That way we could communicate via FB messenger. He gave me updates… about how they were all waiting. Gentle Dental closed at 5pm. Turns out that the crowns were manufactured at a plant in nearby Beaverton and the company would just drive them over. The driver was supposed to have been there by 3:30. He was stuck in Portland traffic.

Luckily Michael’s crown fit perfectly. The dentist felt so badly – he knew our story, about how we were traveling – that he reached into his own wallet and gave Michael $60 cash. But by the time we were all said and done, it was 7:30pm. I actually texted my friend Brandon, hoping for one more night out by his house. No such luck.

We went back to Post Canyon Road. Hell, by this time I think the truck knew the way. We arrived at 9, just after sunset, and set up the tent just enough to sleep in it.

The next day we packed up and I did not say good-bye our site. We headed north to the Hood River Bridge and paid our $1 toll.

So we either paid $1 to get into Washington… or to get out of Oregon.

Seriously though, Oregon was awesome. But it was time to move on (isn’t it always time to move on?!?) to Washington.

Bend, Oregon (Part 2)

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After July 4thwe finally had a chance to really check out Bend, which we did… for a whole week. I have to admit that I went back and forth with this love/hate relationship with Bend.

Love: bike lanes everywhere. Bikes everywhere. Boats (kayaks and SUPs) everywhere. Friendly people. Friendly drivers. Tons of great restaurants, parks, coffee shops, you name it. Also, Bend is ridiculously close to a huge amount of outdoor activities, like trail running, mountain biking, and paddling. Our nightly campsite was a mere 20 minutes from downtown Bend.

Hate: Bend is overwhelmingly white, and from what I could see, pretty straight. Not that I was checking to see who was holding hands or anything, but it seemed like I just didn’t see too many gay couples. The lack of diversity is odd. But here’s the thing for me, my most overwhelming impression: This town is money. The cars are new and shiny. The houses are gigantic. The people have all the latest toys. Hell, even the tattoos here are money. People here don’t just have a little bit of ink on their arm or on a shoulder. It’s a sleeve, rich with detail. A full back piece. Stuff like that.

Some days, I looked around, and I just saw all the things I will never have.

Michael had to remind me to stop playing the comparison game. Because really, our rig is pretty awesome. Our life is pretty damn awesome.

And Bend is a pretty sweet place.

One of our first discoveries was the dog “beach” at Riverbend Park. There wasn’t any sand in the dog area – just a bunch of giant rocks – so I don’t know why it’s called the dog beach. But Bailey had an absolute blast launching off those rocks and into the water. We kept throwing the tennis ball until we realized he was actually shivering. That water was pretty cold! Riverbend Park became a daily stop for us. Especially since we tended to wade in to the river as well. Almost as good as a shower.

On Thursday we found ourselves a shady spot alongside Drake Park. (There are lots of parks in Bend, and most of them border the Deschutes River, which runs through town.) Lucky for us the spot we found had shade for the entire day, so we were able to check out the weekly “Munch & Music” event in Drake Park.

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Dump City Dumplings had the longest line – all night.

Good thing the event was better than the name. There were food trucks and carts, beer aplenty, and live music. Thursday the 6th was actually the first Munch & Music of the summer, and the band was called Arrival From Sweeden. They’re an ABBA tribute band so they played all ABBA’s greatest hits and dressed like it was 1980.

As hokey as it sounds, it was a blast. Arrival From Sweeden was pretty good and the crowd was into it. I’m not sure if the band brought the dancing T-Rexes or not, but either way we had a ton of fun.

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And you thought I was kidding about the dancing T-Rexes.

We checked out the nearby Newberry National Volcanic Monument, including the super cool Lava Cave and the Big Obsidian Flow. The mile-long Lava Cave is actually a tube, formed by an eruption long ago. It’s the largest intact lava cave in Oregon. The thing I actually liked the best is that you need to bring your own light source. Places like Carlsbad Caverns are already lit up, but you see the Lava Cave pretty much how the early explorers saw it. Well, more or less, unless you go in there with candles or something, but you know what I mean. You can rent lanterns for just $5 from the Forest Service (they manage the cave) but I wore my headlamp and carried a flashlight. I also wore a jacket, a hat, and wished I’d worn pants and gloves, even though it was 90o outside. Cave temperature is constant at 42o.

Michael and I went separately into the cave. It was hot out, like I said, and there was no shade to be found in the parking lot and we were not about to leave Bailey in that kind of heat, even in the topper. I went first. It was a bit strange – the cave was pretty crowded, but people tended to bunch together. So there were times when I could see really well, even up to the 30-foot ceiling, from all the lights bouncing around. There were other times when I was the only person around. I couldn’t see any other lights. The only sound was the soft dripping of water. I felt like an intrepid explorer or something. It was cool.

I spent about an hour walking through the cave. When I got back to where we’d parked, Michael had set the hammock up between two trees, and he and Bailey were enjoying the shade. When we switched places I enjoyed my hammock time enormously.

After leaving the Lava Cave, we headed south, towards Paulina Falls. We found shade in that parking lot, although it was okay to bring Bailey with on this hike.

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I took a few pictures and then we hiked up above the falls. Maybe 500 feet from the lip we found this sweet little pool. Michael took off his shirt and waded in. I watched jealously. I hadn’t worn my suit but that water sure looked nice. Did I mention that it was hot out? And as I glanced around, the only other witnesses were a family of ducks.

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So did what Jack Burton always does in a time like this. And ol’ Jack says, what the hell. (If you don’t get that reference, click here.) I tied Bailey to a tree, stripped down to my undies, and waded in after Michael. The water was deliciously cold, and about 4 feet deep at its deepest. Right about the time I was ready to get out I heard voices. An older couple came up the trail. The guy noticed me straightaway, even though I was submerged almost to my neck. Then – and I swear I am not making this up – he got out his camera.

*Sigh*

I guess if he ever bothers to enlarge those pictures, he’ll see I wasn’t actually naked.

Eventually the people wandered off, and when they did I climbed out, got dressed, and headed back to the truck. Our next stop (and last for that day) was nearby, part of what’s called the Newberry Caldera: The Big Obsidian Flow.

Volcanic activity in this area goes back some 70,000 years but the Big Obsidian Flow was formed a mere 1,300 years ago. During that eruption, a 100-foot tall “wall of lava” flowed across an area about one square mile. As this lava flow cooled, three layers emerged. White pumice on top, obsidian (or volcanic glass) in the middle, and gray pumice, the heaviest, on the bottom.

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Heavy is a relative term.

Obsidian forms when lava cools rapidly, which prevents an orderly crystal growth. Pumice is the result of gas bubbles in the lava as it cools (again, rapidly).

There is an interpretive nature trail winding for about a mile through the Big Obsidian Flow. We were there in late afternoon and the light was wonderful. Shades of gray broken with shiny bits, as well as the occasional tree. It was beautiful.

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We camped out that night on the east side of town, close to Newberry National Volcanic Monument. Bend is surrounded by National Forest and we never once had a problem finding a place to camp.

We’d arrived at a curious time, though: an outbreak of Pandora Moths.

Pandora Moths are native to central Oregon, and these “outbreaks” happen about every 10 years. The moths have a 2-year life cycle, you see, but their numbers build up over time, and this year the numbers were high enough to call it an outbreak. Apparently after an outbreak such as this one, their numbers drop. So next year, nobody will be sitting on a bucket toilet in the middle of Deschutes National Forest and watch a brand-new Pandora Moth come crawling up out of the ground between their feet like something out of a horror movie. Or worse, be standing at the table making coffee, and suddenly feel something crawling up their leg. Something that looks like this.

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I’m not even going to ask forgiveness for my girly scream.

The wings don’t stay that small for long, which helps make the Pandora Moth a lot easier on the eyes.

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Our last hike in Newberry National Volcanic Monument involved the Lava Cast Forest. This area was formed from an eruption 6,000 years ago and covered about 5 square miles. This was slow-moving lava that surrounded the trees, which killed the trees but left many of the stumps intact. Eventually the stumps rotted away, leaving behind tree molds, also known as lava casts.

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We both thought the lava cast forest was super cool.

One last stop we made in Bend was the Cascadia Vehicle Tents showroom. The company originated in Bend (they have a new showroom in Chattanooga, TN) so we wanted to drop in, check it out, and say hi. Which we did. And then (eventually) walked out with a new addition to the rig, thanks to Michael’s parents. (Thanks, Beth and Steve!)

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Yep. An awning. Can’t wait to run the Revel Gear lights around this one!

Bend, Oregon (Part One)

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Heading out from Crater Lake National Park we headed north, towards Bend. It was 4th of July weekend and we steered towards an area south and west of Bend called Cascade Lakes. Tons of lakes there and lots of camping opportunities.

The biggest lake around was Wikiup Reservoir. But after seeing the crowds Michael decided we needed to get farther out. He found a spot on the map, a little place called Irish Lake, and was even able to pull it up on Google Maps. It looked pretty easy. The paved road became crushed gravel, then dirt, then rough and rocky. I was driving so we were making pretty terrible time. I don’t do a lot of 4-wheeling. And while Michael tries to be helpful, it seemed like that for every “you’re doing great!” I heard at least three “Jesus Christ”s muttered half under his breath.

As we went along, I have to say that we did not pass any acceptable camp sites. Oh, we saw a few, but they were all either too sloped or directly underneath a wall of dead trees. Sometimes both. I was starting to lose hope. Then, a dream of mine came true. We came around a corner and the sky opened up, the trees fell away around a beautiful lake.

An empty lake. With a big established campsite right alongside it.

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I could not believe our luck. This site was amazing. Homemade picnic table? Check. Giant fire ring? Check.

A nice breeze kept the bugs away (for the most part, anyway) and we were the only people there. Or so I thought. I was upstairs in the tent getting out the sleeping bags when I heard a voice outside.

A young man approached our camp and said his truck was stuck in the snow about a quarter mile further up the trail. He had a bottle of whiskey if we’d help pull him out.

We declined the whiskey but broke down the tent and gave the kid a ride back up to his truck. It was an F-150 up to its rear axle in the snow. Yes, snow. We weren’t all that high up, but Oregon got a lot of snow this winter. Anyway the kid and his friend had dug out the wheels but not the axle, so they weren’t getting anywhere. Michael got out our trusty traction plates and a tow rope and had them free in under 15 minutes. I think it took longer to hook up the tow rope than to pull them free. They thanked us profusely and (wisely, I think) turned around.

We went back to camp and set the tent back up. Michael even set up the hammock.

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The problem began when the sun went down, and the wind died off. We were swarmed with mosquitoes. I put on long pants and a jacket, and doused myself in bug spray. The problem was my face. No way was I going to put Deet on my face. Guess where the bugs swarmed?

I hid out in the tent and refused to come out, not even around 9:30 when Michael swore that all the skeeters had gone away.

So the next day, we reluctantly left our lovely Irish Lake campsite and headed in to Bend. We needed to resupply, especially with ice, and we wanted to visit the Bend REI.

I’d heard from more than one person that Bend was almost eerily similar to Boulder. They are both cities on the eastern edge of a mountain range, at a similar altitude. So yeah, the area looked kinda familiar. But the Bend REI was like a mashup of Denver, Boulder, and Westminster.

The Westminster REI is in the middle of a big, outdoor mall. Same as Bend. The Boulder REI is full of white college-age kids with money. Same as Bend.

The Denver Flagship REI is a historic building – it used to be the Forney Museum of Transportation History, and before that it was a power plant for the Denver Tramway. I don’t know what the Bend REI used to be, but it looks like it was some kind of power plant, as there were three smokestacks on top of the building.

At any rate – REI. We wanted to pick up better bug spray, as well as a very particular item. Head nets.

Yep. Mosquito netting just for your head. Look, when you’re out in the woods, surrounded by biting skeeters, you quit caring if you look cool or not.

Armed and ready for our next encounter with the insect world, we drove back out to Irish Lake, excited to get back to our fabulous spot. Only when we got there, it was occupied. As in, a white Toyota Tacoma with a RTT, and in our exact spot.

Well, shit.

Actually, there were half a dozen other vehicles up in that area. Who were all these people? I mean, I know it was 4th of July weekend and all, but it was Sunday night.

After only a little bit of searching we found another spot. This one was on Taylor Lake, and while not as ideal, we had our head nets to deal with the swarms that night. I’m happy to say they worked like a champ.

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Too bad we couldn’t get a mosquito net for Bailey.

 

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And the next morning, thanks to my trusty head net, I was able to take some fabulous pictures of Taylor Lake.

 

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We hung out at Taylor Lake until Tuesday, July 4th, when we went back to Bend. Some locals had told us Bend puts on a good 4th of July fireworks show, and that since the fireworks are set off from the top of Pilot Butte, the show would be visible from multiple spots in town.

The park we ended up at actually ended up being a popular place to watch the fireworks. And to set off your own, too. Apparently fireworks are not illegal in Oregon. These were not weak little sparklers – no, these were the real deal. I felt pretty bad for Bailey. He hates loud noises, especially thunderstorms and fireworks. But we kept him in the back of the truck, trying to minimize his stress.

The amateurs quieted down when fireworks show began promptly at 10pm.

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The “show” consisted of 1-2 fireworks going off at a time, and ended exactly 15 minutes later.

 

 

I found this disappointing. But then, I grew up outside of Chicago, and in Chicago the fireworks (always on July 3rd) are lit from a barge on Lake Michigan. It’s a spectacular show accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Call me spoiled, I guess.

But I will say one thing about Bend’s fireworks show: for all the people at that park, it was the easiest exit ever. People was so polite. I was able to back out of my parking spot because someone let me out. Merging was never so easy. Everyone was friendly.

I thought it was crazy. But I sure didn’t complain. We left Bend and went to a camping area just west of town, in Deschutes National Forest. In spite of it being July 4th  and after 11pm we didn’t have any problems finding a spot for the night.

Next post: Our Bend adventures continue, with Lava Tubes, giant moths, and swimming in the Deschutes River.

It’s Just So Blue

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After leaving Oregon Caves National Monument we headed north towards Crater Lake. We stopped in Grants Pass for a bit – specifically at Rogue Coffee Roasters. In addition to excellent coffee, this large coffee shop had power strips at every table so we could charge all the electronics while I worked on the blog.

We also stopped to resupply at a grocery store, as well as get gas. However when I pulled up to the pump, nobody came over to me. After a while I started to wonder if Oregon’s gas-pumping law was really a thing (it’s supposed to be illegal to pump your own gas here), so I got out, swiped my credit card, selected my grade. I was all alone at the pump. I pulled the nozzle and was halfway to my gas tank when I heard a haughty voice from behind me.

“Are you not aware of Oregon’s gas pumping laws?”

I turned, nozzle still in hand, to see a short, pudgy dude with acne and glasses.

“Did you not see the Colorado plates?” I snapped, going back to my Chicago roots. No way I was going to take any shit from a guy shorter than me. “What do you think?”

He just reached out for the nozzle. I handed it over and got in the truck. Who knew getting gas here would be such an ordeal? And a slow one at that. The pudgy dude was helping other customers, too, so the gas pump had long shut off when he returned.

Personally, I think that if you’re going to forbid me to pump my own gas, then then the whole process should be faster than if I had to do it myself. Ah well. If nothing else, I guess this memorable lesson should prevent me from trying to pump my own gas in Oregon again.

“Do you want a receipt?”

“Yes, please,” I said, that extra word flying out before I could stop it.

But that extra word was awfully helpful, because as he handed me my receipt he apologized. “Sorry if I sounded like a jerk back there,” he said.

I told him that it was all right.

When we arrived in Crater Lake National Park, the first thing we saw after the entrance booth was a turnoff for the campground. We decided to check it out. Camping turned out to be $22 per night, and there was space available that night. Pretty cool, considering it was Friday, and we had plenty of room for it in the budget. So we went for it. After selecting a site we drove on to check another item off my bucket list.

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It’s just… so…. blue. This is not Photoshop, folks. Crater Lake really is this color. We were there early enough that the wind was pretty still – giving the lake a mirror-like quality.

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And it’s not just that blue color that makes Crater Lake so amazing. The water is also incredibly clear. Scientists have used something called a Secchi Disk to measure the clarity of the water. A Secchi Disk is 8″ in diameter, with alternating black and white quadrants. The disk gets lowered into the water until it can’t be seen from the surface anymore.

Crater Lake’s clarity has been measured at 143 feet.

I wish I could have gotten closer to the surface of the water, to try and show you some of that clarity. But Crater Lake received about 48 feet of snow this past winter, and most of that snow was still there. More than half the Park was closed. The Pacific Crest Trail runs through Crater Lake National Park, and the thru-hikers had to walk the road (believe me, they were easy to spot). In order to get to the boat launch for Wizard Island, we would have had to walk the last 2.5 miles.

That wasn’t a big deal, but the boat cost $30 per person, which we didn’t want to pay. We couldn’t rent kayaks or anything, either. No other boats are allowed on the water as the Park Service doesn’t want to risk contaminating that clear water.

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Bummer.

For all you science nerds out there, Crater Lake itself was formed by a volcanic eruption over 7,000 years ago. Max depth of the lake is an astonishing 1,946 feet. The small island in the center, Wizard Island, was formed by a smaller eruption a few hundred years later.

After driving as much of the Park as we could, we headed back to camp. The fire ring at our site was full of snow, but it was warm enough out that we didn’t mind. We set up our new Revel Gear lights. Kody sent us a goodie box full of awesomeness: several strings of USB lights (white lights, colored lights, and changing lights – check out our Instagram feed for more images!), coozies, even a light up dog collar.

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We haven’t had much chance to use the dog collar yet… it doesn’t get dark here until 10pm, and Bailey usually goes to bed by 8:30 or so.

And yes, he does “go to bed.” Sometimes it’s while I’m cleaning up from dinner, but no matter where I am he’ll sit down right in front of me and give me The Stare. So I ask him, “do you want to go to bed?” I have to make sure the path to the back of the truck is clear, though, because once permission is given nothing will stand in that dog’s way. Not the cooler, not the pantry, not a full bag of trash.

Bailey is a dog of particular focus.

 

The Isolated Lost Coast of California

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In my last post I said that we went back to our squatter’s site in Jackson State Forest, just east of Fort Bragg, CA. We were smarter about our second night of “guerrilla camping.” We still got up early and packed up before anything else, but this time we drove straight to the Fort Bragg Dog Park. The place was empty at 7:30AM on a Saturday, so we parked in a corner and set up our tailgate table. I took Bailey and the Chuckit over to the park while Michael worked on coffee and breakfast.

I met a nice lady in the park. She recognized our setup and told us that she and her husband had traveled extensively in Mexico when they were in their 20s. She shared a few great stories, but here’s my favorite:

They were driving this old beater truck, and things kept breaking on it, and they’d fix what they could. The brakes kept getting worse, but they kept putting off the repair because it was costly. Well, one day the brakes finally failed and they almost killed this group of Mexicans. In the end, they sold the truck to the group of said Mexicans, and continued on foot. Hitchhiking.

I hope none of my stories involve near-death for anyone, but it makes me so happy that I’ll have great travel stories to tell when I get older. It seems like more days than not the universe gives me confirmation that Michael and I made the right decision with this trip.

Onward, then, to King Range NCA. The drive north from Fort Bragg was beautiful. We stopped early on so I could photograph this trestle bridge over Pudding Creek.

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King Range was a gamble – we didn’t know anything about it, other than it was managed by the BLM, and didn’t find any reviews of their campsites – but this time our gamble paid off. This place was gorgeous. Shady and cool, and only 5 miles from the ocean. The sites were clean and level with trash bins and clean bathrooms. (Pit toilets – no running water – but clean nontheless.)

Plus, it was empty. We picked out our site, paid up, left some stuff behind to mark it, and headed for the beach. Black Sand Beach. With this view:

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Michael got out his pack for a ruck workout, and I went for a run. Or tried to. This black sand was like nothing I’ve ever run on before. Usually, when you get close to the water, the sand firms up and becomes a nice running surface. Not so at Black Sand Beach, where even the wet sand was soft and loose. My lungs felt great but my ankles and calves were in agony. I walked early, and often. Still, it was such a beautiful area that I couldn’t complain.

We saw a couple of people fishing but other than that we seemed to have this beach to ourselves.

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Black Sand Beach is also the southern terminus of the Lost Coast Trail, a 24-mile trip that most people apparently hike in 3 days. They also go with a tide chart in one hand, as several stretches of the Lost Coast Trail are inaccessible at high tide.

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Back at camp, we set up the tent and Michael set up the hammock. As I looked through our Revel Gear goodie box, I realized why sending everything to coastal northern California was kind of a mistake. These are solar-powered lights. And there was a definite lack of sunshine at our camp.

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Anyway. I was still excited to set up our new lights. Kody said in an interview with SGB Media that she used to haul Christmas lights and a generator on every camping trip, so I went with the multi-color lights in her honor. I love that I can plug up to 2 strings of lights into this handy little charger. (And that the charger can be powered by the sun or through the cigarette lighter in the truck!)

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While the Wailaki campground was not full, it was not empty either and several campers walked past our site, commenting on our setup. I mean, the RTT is an anomaly up here anyway, but the lights just took everything to the next level.

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In case you were worried, Savory Spice was not left out. Michael made curried chicken and vegetables for dinner, with the help of that Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry spice package.

 

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So delicious! And here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

1 whole rotisserie chicken breast, shredded
2 medium organic carrots, peeled and diced medium
4 organic mini sweet peppers, seeded and sliced
1/2 medium organic red onion, medium dice
1 cup organic sugar snap peas, sliced in half
1 cup organic crimini mushrooms, sliced
1 12oz can coconut cream
2 tablespoons Savory Spice Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry Spice
Sriracha chili sauce, to taste
Kosher Salt ,to taste (can substitute soy or fish sauce if desired)
1 lime cut into eighths, for garnish
Cilantro, for garnish
Method
  • In a meduim heavy bottom sauce pan, combine the coconut cream, curry spice blend, and chopped vegetables.
  • Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Add the chicken and bring back to a simmer.
  • Taste and add Sriracha and salt (or soy or fish sauce) as desired
  • Ladle into two bowls and garnish with lime wedges and cilantro.

After that fabulous dinner, we sat under our Revel Gear lights and enjoyed the night.

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Back To The Coast

We spent just one night in Truckee, California, before moving on. It seemed like a cool town and all, with lots of trails nearby, but we had a valley to cross. During a hot summer.

My first idea was to cross the valley at night, to avoid the heat. We simply could not drive with Bailey in the back of the truck on a 100o day. Michael agreed. Then, after a few days of mulling that over, I changed my mind and told him I thought it was a terrible idea.

He agreed again. But what was the best solution? In the end, we took all the stuff that normally rides in the cab with us and put it in the back. We took Bailey and his blanket and put them both up in the cab with us.

Bailey seemed a bit confused when we first tried to load him, and I realized he’d never ridden in the cab of the truck before. Lucky dog, I told him. But don’t get used to it.

The mid-point of the drive was a town called Yuba City. Main street there has all the big box stores and we had a BOGO Chipoltle coupon. When we stopped there for lunch the temperature outside was 101o. Even in the shade that was damn hot. We moved on as quickly as we could.

 

Our goal was Mendocino, California, where the high temperature that day was 71. That was about the only good news. The more research I did, the more I wished we didn’t have to go there. Free camping seemed to be non-existent along the California coast. But we had packages waiting at the Mendocino Post Office. Also, I wanted to ride the Skunk Train.

Now, the Skunk Train was not exactly a bucket list item. In fact, I think I only found out about it a few weeks ago. But train rides are fun. For me, anyway. I remember taking the train to Agawa Canyon in Canada years ago, and I spent the entire time leaning out the open door in between cars. This was back in the old days, and I’m pretty sure I took three or four rolls of film.

Anyway.

As we headed west, we found a few not-free campsites in Jackson State Forest that were sort of cheap at $15/night. We used Google Maps to try and find Camp One, on the western edge of the State Forest.

Google Maps led us to a prison. No lie, the road ended at a correctional facility, complete with lots of barbed wire, CCTV cameras, and a guy walking through the yard in an orange jumpsuit.

Thanks a lot, Google Maps.

Now winging it, we continued west anyway. And right before we hit Fort Bragg, we saw a little wooden sign with yellow letters along the side of the highway: CAMP ONE.

We turned down the gravel road. It was still an hour before sunset but this road was already dark. The trees were thick and tall, towering over us and shutting out the light. We soldiered on.

Camp One was full.

Taking matters into our own hands, we drove back up the road – it was almost sunset now – and found a pullout that was pretty level. We didn’t see any signs that said you couldn’t camp there. So that’s where we set up shop for the night.

Take that, Jackson State Forest!

Haha, I say that, but the next morning we got up early, packed up the tent, and drove into Fort Bragg before coffee or anything. No need to flaunt our status as squatters. The original intent was to find a park or something to make coffee and breakfast, but we found Main Street and a little breakfast place called Eggheads first. At least it was good, and their coffee excellent.

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With full bellies we walked over to the train station (Fort Bragg is a pretty small town) and asked if there were still tickets for that day’s train. We were in luck – all three of us got tickets for the 11AM Pudding Creek Express.

 

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Bailey even got his own ticket.

Since it was only 9:45 we took Bailey over to Fort Bragg’s dog park. It was nice – grassy, lots of water, lots of room for Bailey to run. We wanted him to be tired, in case he didn’t like the train.

In this case, I worried for nothing.

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Bailey spent most of the trip just like this.

 

In fact, that nose showed up in a few of the pictures I took, once I enlarged them a little.

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The train itself was super cool. All the windows opened and you were free to move around during the journey.

I was able to stand in the open doorway in between cars to take pictures. From a photography standpoint, it was a tough trip. It was going on noon on a bright sunny day. Harsh light. I did the best I could.

 

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But even if most of the pictures were a bust, I still had a great time. So did Michael and Bailey. On the way back Bailey just took up his own bench.

 

 

After the train ride we headed over to Glass Beach. Up until the 1950’s, Glass Beach was actually the town dump. The ocean carried off everything else, apparently, but the glass stuck around, getting sanded and rounded and turned into something quite beautiful. According to the pictures on Pinterest, anyway.

We left Bailey in the truck for this one, and he didn’t seem to mind. As we were heading towards the ocean we saw another couple heading out. They had a black and white border collie mix with them, and that dog looked so much like Elvis that I actually started to cry. I miss that dog.

We moved on, trying to find all that cool glass. It turned out to be quite the hunt, and I never did find anything like what I’d seen on Pinterest.

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I guess people have been stealing pieces of glass off Glass Beach since the 1980s. There are now signs up asking for people to stop, which I think is kind of funny, when you consider that the glass was garbage once upon a time.

The rocky shoreline of Glass Beach was also worth a few dozen pictures.

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Believe it or not, by the time we finished a tailgate lunch at Glass Beach it was only 2pm. Plenty of time to get our packages from the Mendocino Post Office.

My friend Kody at Revel Gear recently gave an interview with SGB Media, and I encourage you to read about it here because Revel Gear is a pretty cool company. With our care package Kody really outdid herself! There are several strings of lights – white, multi-color, and changing – a new charger, a light-up dog collar, coozies, and cards with a coupon code (so we can hand them to people who ask about our cool lights). Going through that box was like Christmas.

Michael was no less excited for his package, from Savory Spice. You might recall that we left Colorado with a host of Savory Spice in our pantry (you can read that blog post here), but we used all them up a while back. I guess Dan (owner/managing partner of the Boulder store) saw our post for Cholaca Camp Chili, because he got in touch with Michael, asking if we could do something similar for him. Of course we could!

I think I was the most excited about the Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry, but the Peruvian Chile Lime Spice sounded pretty fantastic too. Stay tuned for more food posts!

All of that was going to have to wait for another day, though. See, after we got our packages we walked around Mendocino, because it turned out to be a mellow town full of art galleries and coffee shops and little alleyways full of flowers.

By the time we’d had our fill of Mendocino, our camping options were limited. Our next stop – gamble, really – was an area called King Range National Conservation Area that I knew nothing about, other than it existed. Managed by the BLM, campsites were $8/night, which seemed okay. But the NCA was about a 2.5 hour drive north, and that meant we’d be arriving right around dark. What if the campground was full? We didn’t have a plan B. The King Range NCA is part of California’s Lost Coast, and it looked pretty isolated.

So we went back to our squatter’s site at Jackson State Forest, but with a plan for the next day: The Lost Coast.

Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands

It’s been a while since I posted, and our adventures continue. So strap yourselves in – it might be a bumpy ride.

In our desire to get the hell out of Texas, we drove from Kerrville to Carlsbad, New Mexico, in one day. Normally we don’t attempt this kind of distance – we try to keep our driving spells to around three hours. But we didn’t want to sleep at another rest stop.

Google Maps said the drive could be done in 5 hours 47 minutes. We did it in about 7. (We have to stop frequently for the dogs, as well as food and pee breaks for us.)

The drive itself wasn’t too bad. Things got a little weird north of Pecos, Texas, though. From Pecos to the Texas state line, apparently oil & gas companies are the only employers. It was nothing but dust, big rigs, and fracking wells. Very little green. The only wildlife I saw was roadkill. Hell, I didn’t even see vultures. It was like driving through a nightmare.

Luckily things improved once we crossed into New Mexico. Less fracking wells, at least. We decided to camp for the night at Brantley Lake State Park. Now, the irony of our campsite was not lost on me. We got out of Texas because there was no free camping. And we drove straight to New Mexico… and promptly paid for camping.

In our defense, Brantley Lake had showers, water, and electricity. So we were able to get clean, fill our water containers, and charge up all the electronics, as well as camp for the night, for $14.

It was pretty amazing, to sit outside our tent that night, and the only insects flying around were moths. It was so quiet that I could hear all the moisture getting sucked out of my hair and skin. I checked the weather, and the humidity was 11%.

Based on weather reports (continued temps in the 90s), we decided to hang out for a few days in nearby Lincoln National Forest. It was supposed to cool off by Friday (March 24th), so we figured that would be the day we went to Carlsbad Caverns.

We found a pretty cool site up in the hills, just down the road from a place called Sitting Bull Falls.

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We didn’t actually use the fire ring – it was too small and grass was growing too close around it. The winds were picking up, and neither one of us wanted to be the ones to burn down Lincoln National Forest. So we strung up the Revel Gear lights.

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In the morning I had a quick bite to eat and then went for a trail run with Bailey before it got too hot. Our campsite was really close to a few hiking trails – lucky us! After that, I put my chair in the shade and read. Those Harry Potter books are good! A quick read, though. I got through the first one in five days.

We planned to stay at this site for three days. You’d think I’d learn. Elvis, who had been doing so well sleeping in the back of the truck with Bailey, kinda lost it over the next two nights. The worst moment was after Michael had brought him up to the tent – and even that didn’t calm him down. He was panting, pacing. There was a point where things quieted down and for some reason I grabbed my headlamp to see if everything was okay. My light illuminated Elvis’s butt. He was trying to get out of the tent, and had managed to get his head and shoulders clear of the door (which was not zipped all the way closed).

So Thursday morning, we packed up. We didn’t get cell reception until we were pretty close to town but once we did I called both of the vets clinics in Carlsbad. Neither could help us. The town of Artesia sits 30 miles north of Carlsbad and I gave them a try. I also laid it on a little thick, as suggested by Michael, that we were traveling and our dog was very sick, was there any way they could work us in?

The Artesia vet clinic could take us as a walk-in after 2pm. Whew.

We left the vet clinic around 4-ish, with prescriptions for Elvis’s eye infection, for his possible stress colitis, and – I’m not even ashamed to admit it – doggie Valium.

It was actually kind of scary to see Elvis in such a panic. He’s old and I think he deserves a break. And, since his panic attacks were keeping us up at night, you know, I think we deserve a break as well. The vet gave us a very mild prescription. Just enough to take the edge off, he said, and not enough to turn him into a zombie.

Those 28 pills cost us just $8. Which is also kind of scary.

As we drove back into Carlsbad the wind picked up. A lot. I checked our weather app and it said there was a steady wind out of the west at 37mph, with gusts at over 50mph. And this wind would continue until the next afternoon.

Well, shit. This would turn out to be the first time we were afraid to even deploy the tent, much less fire up the stove to make dinner. Hell, the budget was a little blown from Elvis’s vet visit, so I don’t know why we didn’t just go all the way with dinner.

Oh wait – we were in Carlsbad, New Mexico, which, while a very nice town, was not exactly a culinary wonderland. We ended up at Denny’s.

I wish I knew who I was stealing this joke from, but the way it goes is that nobody goes to Denny’s, you end up at Denny’s. Such as it was with us, although I couldn’t really complain about the food. It was pretty okay, pretty filling, and it wasn’t too expensive.

After dinner we made the decision to camp at the Wal-Mart parking lot. We hoped there’s be a big wall we could park next to, you know, one that would block out that wind. No such luck. It was dark by this time anyway so we walked the dogs in a drainage field next door (trying not to get blown away), walked around the Carlsbad Wal-Mart for a bit, read in the cab for a bit, and then gave up and went to bed.

I figured Michael would have a hard time sleeping in the back with the dogs and all the stuff, considering how tall he is, so I offered to sleep back there. I’m not sure it was such a generous offer – I was nestled in with a down blanket (remember, all our bedding lives in the tent, so we had to improvise) and had two dogs to snuggle with. Well, one. Bailey thought my presence in the topper was the best thing ever but we gave Elvis that Valium right before bed. He was asleep before I could even get myself situated.

Michael, on the other hand, couldn’t recline the passenger seat all the way, in spite of me moving as much stuff as I could from behind said passenger seat. He ended up using a paper towel roll for a pillow and a Buff for an eye mask. He said he slept okay.

In the morning I got up and walked over to the Wal-Mart to use the bathroom and got us some lousy Subway coffee. I had a Lara bar and Michael got himself a Subway breakfast sandwich, I cursed my Paleo lifestyle making my life more difficult sometimes (like now) and off we set for Carlsbad Caverns.

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In order to break up such a huge block of text, I added this adorable shot of Bailey. Michael is running into the frame to try and get the bucket toilet out of the way.

I’ve been to Carlsbad Caverns before, and I was super excited for Michael to see it. I saw signs in the half-empty parking lot that I’ve never seen at a National Park before. They said leaving your pet in your car was prohibited, and to use the kennel.

Wait. There’s a kennel? If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have waited for the weather to turn and be stuck in all this wind. I would have come on that 92 degree day and we would have moved on.

Ah well. Turns out the kennel costs $10 per pet and it a little sad looking, but I dropped the dogs off. Elvis was voicing his displeasure at the situation before I could even reach the door. The kennel attendant reminded me that they close at 4:30.

There was no line of people waiting to get inside. Even better – the Park Ranger asked us if we wanted to go on the 2pm King’s Palace Tour.

Of course we did!

We walked in through the natural entrance, a series of steep switchbacks that descend into the mouth of the cave. I found myself joking that it was too bad we’d be taking the elevator out later, as the hike back up sounded like a pretty good workout.

I apologize for the lack of pictures here. I didn’t bring my camera partly because I didn’t want to carry around the extra weight all day, and partly because I wanted to look around and enjoy everything, instead of trying to photograph everything. Luckily, the NPS has its own photo gallery.

We had a great time walking through the Big Room and looking at all the formations. It’s almost indescribable. There are millions of formations there. While I got a little chilly waiting for the 2pm tour to start, I put on my hat and dealt with it. The cave has a constant temperature of 56 degrees, with 90% humidity so I knew that I’d warm up as soon as I started moving again.

The King’s Palace Tour was amazing and I recommend it highly. You get to see four chambers that are off-limits to the normal crowd, in addition to learning the history of Carlsbad Caverns.

The Ranger who gave the tour said something I found really profound. These caves, with their intricate formations of stalagmites, stalactites, curtains, columns, and other fantastic sights: they were never meant to be seen. By anyone. Normal conditions for a place like Carlsbad Caverns is total darkness. We were 800 feet underground, so there is no natural light. These millions of formations, well, they formed in the dark.

Kinda crazy.

My own anxiety began after the King’s Palace Tour ended at 3:30. Remember how the kennel said they closed at 4:30? Sure, an hour sounded like a lot of time… right up until the moment where we saw the huge line of people waiting to go to the surface in the elevator.

We were going to have to walk out. But when we got back to the start of that trail (it’s paved, but they still call it a trail), we found two orange traffic cones and two Park Rangers blocking the way. Access to that trail closed at 3:30. We explained our situation and the Rangers said something like, oh, that sounds like plenty of time. We were unconvinced. One of the Rangers said well, if you think you can make it to the surface in less than 45 minutes then go for it.

Michael said, I’ll run.

The Park Ranger said no running.

Michael nodded, walked briskly up the path until the first turn. And then broke into a run. I love that rule-breaking man.

I am not as fit as he is, so I did what I call the Power Walk, something I often do while trail running up hills. About halfway to the surface I realized I wasn’t cold anymore (in fact, I was sweating bullets), and that my joking wish had come true. Today’s workout was the Carlsbad Caverns hike out.

I made it to the Visitor’s Center in 30 minutes, and of course by that time Michael already had the dogs back at the truck. Damn but he’s speedy.

We were going to try and camp that night at Brantley Lake State Park again, but it was full so we found our own site on BLM land just up the road.

The next morning we headed west, passing through White Sands National Monument along the way. Talk about a place I’d love to explore more! The sunsets here must be magical.

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Talk about the perfect place to make a panorama.

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We walked along a few of the dunes, I took some pictures, and then we had to keep moving, in order to make our goal: Aguirre Springs Recreation Area, where we camped for the night.

 

 

 

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Pretty beautiful goal…

 

Getting to Florida

Onward towards Florida. After our adventure with the tick we packed up and headed in to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. This town is home to the University of Alabama, so Crimson Tide signs were everywhere. We stopped by a cool little coffee shop called Heritage Coffee (which made me love Tuscaloosa immediately) and stocked up at the Winn-Dixie.

Michael plotted that day’s campsite – a place called Silver Creek Park. Another lake maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers, like Blue Creek Park. Anyway, we followed Google Maps to get there, and let me tell you it was sketchy AF. Good thing we had 1 bar of service on the phone – it was the only way to tell where we were. Seriously – we were driving down a series of logging roads and none of them were marked. This went on for 14 miles.

Just when I thought we might be totally lost, we popped out onto a paved road, with a big fat sign that said Silver Creek Park.

Silver Creek Park was a really sweet site. Level, with fire rings and trash cans. Quiet and remote – we were near a boat launch and right on the water. The owls and bullfrogs were pretty vocal that night. It was wonderful.

Valentine’s day took us through rural Alabama and into Florida…The Deep South. We crossed the Florida state line without any fanfare and went straight to Pensacola Beach.

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Personally, I love the little sign at the bottom that says, ‘Open for business.’

The sand there is like powdered sugar. So soft and easy on the feet! Dogs were not allowed on the beach, so we walked them around the parking lot before heading out to the sand. We saw a dolphin and an osprey, so that was cool. Then we played a little frisbee before making dinner.

We camped that night at Mystic Springs WMA, which stands for Water Management Area. This was a free site and it was about 40 minutes from Pensacola. It was fairly isolated, although we got 3 bars of cell phone reception there, and dark. It was not very quiet, though.

We seemed to be part of the flight path for helicopters. For a while there they were going directly over Mystic Springs WMA about every 15 minutes. Then there were the trains. Now, the tracks/crossing for the train was a good couple of miles from the campground, but the requisite whistle-blasts at 3am still registered.

February 15th we finally made it to the National Naval Aviation Museum.

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I love places like this and still can’t believe it was free to get in. So many planes!

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I did get a couple of funny looks at the museum, though. See, it wasn’t exactly warm in Pensacola. So I was wearing wool tights, a wool skirt, a t-shirt, and a jacket. Michael started calling me Nanook of the South.

After leaving Pensacola behind we headed east towards Niceville via the outer island. It was a fabulous day – I was finally able to put on shorts! And the beach we randomly stopped at just happened to be dog friendly so the boys got their first taste of the ocean. They did not like the taste of the ocean. (It was like watching a baby try lemon for the first time.) Bailey even found another dog to play with. It was actually pretty nice to get to wear them out a bit. They’ve been spending too much time in the back of the truck.

In Niceville we broke our streak of never paying for a campsite. But – how many people get to say they camped on an active Air Force Base? For just $5 a night?

That’s right, we camped at Eglin AFB, at a site called Basin Bayou. This was an amazing campsite. Right on the water, with moss in the trees, a little breeze each day to keep the bugs away, and no neighbors. I found a couple of new ways to set up the Revel Gear lights.

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Sitting at our Basin Bayou camp, snuggled up next to a campfire, I know that I lead a charmed life. And I am so grateful.

Three states in one day?

The south makes some interesting things possible… Like crossing through three states in one day, and still having time to set up camp before dark. Here’s the recap for the weekend of February 10th:

We arrived in Hot Springs, AR on Thursday night, and Aunt Theresa proceeded to thoroughly spoil both dogs. See, Uncle Richard’s brother visits sometimes, and he brings his dogs, so Theresa bought these fleecy rugs for the dogs to lie on. She brought them out for our dogs, and Elvis was just in heaven. Those rugs were his favorite place to sleep. (He’s old, so he sleeps a lot.)

We spent Friday (the 10th) in the town of Hot Springs. After figuring out the max height of the rig (it’s just shy of 8 feet, and we found that out by very slowly driving into the parking garage with an 8 foot clearance), we enjoyed a soak at the Quapaw Baths. This place was really fun. I haven’t been to an indoor hot spring before, and the Quapaw was quite beautiful, with stained glass ceilings and tiled floors. There are a total of four pools, rated at 95, 98, 102, and 104 degrees. We tried them all.

Friendly staff was on hand to give out free spring water, although one woman did give me a hard time about my swim top. It’s an old, stretched out triathlon top, but it’s not a sport bra, I swear!

Anyway. We had a wonderful soak, then collected the dogs to take a walk on The Grand Promenade. Back in the day, people used to get dressed up in their “peacock finery” (NPS’s words, not mine!) to stroll the Promenade in between soaks. Not sure my second-hand jeans and t-shirt count as finery, but whatever. We all enjoyed ourselves. Along the Promenade we got to see the source of all of the baths, where the water comes out of the ground at 140 degrees.

We also checked out the Arlington Hotel, which was apparently Al Capone’s favorite, before going for a short drive along Tower Mountain. At the end we filled our water containers with delicious (and free!) Hot Springs water. Don’t worry, at the filling stations the water’s cold.

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We checked out Bridge Street, one of the shortest streets in America, and home to the world’s shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

I know it’s hard to read with the glare, but the poster says that 6:25pm is the official measuring of the parade route… and the parade begins at 6:30.

(Also, Ric Flair is the Parade Starter and the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders will be there!)

So what does Bridge Street look like?

Bridge Street

Yep. I’m trying to imagine the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders here.

Anyway. Saturday we got underway towards Florida. Many, many thanks to Richard and Theresa for hosting us during our stay in Hot Springs, feeding us, and shoving food into our hands as we packed up “for the road.” You saved us from an extra trip to the grocery store!

We made it to Memphis around 1pm, and thanks to a recommendation from our friend Barton, we went to Rendezvous for lunch. This cavernous BBQ place has an alley entrance and is a Memphis institution. For good reason – the ribs were delicious, as were the baked beans and the coleslaw. I was so excited to have slaw that’s based in vinegar instead of mayonnaise. Tangy and not too sweet, it was love at first bite.

After polishing off our rib plates, we took a walk down to Beale Street. I somehow expected this area to be… bigger. And while Beale does continue past the entertainment district, the actual entertainment district (with all the bars and BBQ joints) is only about 2 blocks long. It was fun to see, though.

We camped on Saturday at a place called Graham Lake. There were about 6 free sites there, and while it wasn’t the cleanest it was pretty quiet there. We found Graham Lake from a website called FreeCampsites.net, which so far has been one of the most helpful websites ever. All the sites are rated so you can decide for yourself if you want to stay there or not, before driving out. Some of them – like Graham Lake – are actually kind of remote.

Graham Lake Camp

After a quiet night, we packed up camp – it’s like riding a bicycle, it all came back to us quickly, in spite of not setting up the tent in about three months.

It’s nice to be back on the road.

Don’t forget, you can subscribe to this blog. You’ll get an email notification whenever a new post goes up. You can also follow us on Instagram! Michael does most of the posting there, so you can get a little different perspective on things.

Backpacking in the wintertime

You might not think that January would be a good time to go backpacking in Northwest Arkansas.

I’m happy to tell you, you would be wrong. Of course, it helped that we picked the perfect weekend to go. Or maybe it was such great company. Six adults, one nine-year-old, and seven dogs went camping at Hurricane Creek, Arkansas, January 28-29.

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Elvis, Chris, Andrea, Oliver, Liza, Sean, Bella, me, and Michael

Barton and Andrea spearheaded this trip, and also lent Michael and I the bulk of our gear. Thanks, Barton and Andrea!

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Andrea and Barton. Barton has an entire closet dedicated to backpacking gear, and we borrowed a LOT of it.

Of course, I think the trip was also an excuse for Barton and Andrea to bring their son, Oliver, out on his longest backpacking trip yet. He was a real trooper!

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About 1/4 mile into this hike we had our only real obstacle: a water crossing. This was not a surprise, but we were all hoping the water would be lower and that we wouldn’t have to get wet.

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No such luck. We all changed shoes (I wore my Chacos) for the crossing. Barton went first, and because he didn’t know exactly how deep the water would be, and because he didn’t want wet pants…. Barton crossed Hurricane Creek in his underwear.

Yep. And of course there are pictures (taken by Michael, which makes me feel the need to point out that Barton and Michael have been friends for over 20 years). But the internet is forever so I have opted not to post any of those pictures. Let’s just say that Barton has some mighty white legs, though.

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To get your mind off that image, here’s Andrea.

During my crossing I kept waiting for the cold water to make my feet numb, but no such luck. Crossing Hurricane Creek hurt like hell.

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After that, the hike was pretty and pretty easy. Only a couple of tree limbs to navigate.

We even walked past this awesome natural bridge.

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Before I knew it we were at our campsite. Right on Hurricane Creek, with views like this:

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Time to set up camp!

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Yes, I am wearing a skirt. It’s by Icelandic Design and it did a great job of keeping my butt warm, since I wore it over my wool tights. Plus it looked cute, and that’s what counts when you’re out in the woods camping, right?!?

 

I was also pretty excited to show off our awesome Revel Gear lights. I charged them up the day before and hung them next to our tent.

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Okay, so it’s not the prettiest setup, but everyone in the group was totally impressed with our solar lights.

 

 

We also had a big, fat bonfire.

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This is Sean, who did a fantastic job of keeping that fire stoked. Yay, Sean!

I have to admit that the only thing I was worried about for this trip was Elvis. He’s a little hard of hearing these days, and he’s not as strong as he used to be. Would he be able to keep up? Would he wander off?

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My fears were pretty much overblown. Elvis kept with the pack for the whole hike in, and even played with some of the other dogs. Once we got to camp, though, Elvis crashed right the hell out.

 

 

 

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No worries about Bailey, either. He loved playing with all the other dogs, and still managed to maintain his status as the Snuggle King.

 

 

 

 

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The next day, we took off on another adventure to a nearby drainage. This one proved to be too much for old Elvis, though. I mean, this was the start of the hike:

Michael tied Elvis up to a tree near our packs. He told Elvis to guard the campsite and headed out, but then ducked behind a little rise where he could still see the dog. Elvis was asleep in about five minutes.

 

Once we got going I was pretty glad Elvis had stayed behind.

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Sean and his dog Bella watching Piper the wonder dog and Andrea.

Andrea showed off her balance skills:

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Eventually we reached the end, this amazing waterfall.

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We hiked out on Sunday afternoon. Crossing Hurricane Creek sucked just as much the second time, let me tell you. Back at the trailhead we celebrated with snacks and then headed home.

What a great trip! I’m going to miss Northwest Arkansas.

 

 

 

 

The Idaho adventure continues

I left off the last post as we were setting up camp along the Red River, at a site called French Gulch. And we’d heard that the temps were supposed to drop that night. Maybe as low as 30.

Well.

There is a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.

When we set out on this trip we planned on essentially chasing summer. So we didn’t bring the 15 degree down sleeping bags, just the blankets (well, mine is down, but still).

So it’s pretty safe to say we froze our asses off that night.

I had on all my wool clothes, plus a primaloft (synthetic down) vest and my down jacket. I wore a Buff balaclava-style under my hat. I was wrapped up like a little burrito in my down blanket. And I was still cold.

Not freezing, mind you. Just not comfortable. It was Michael that froze. His blanket is synthetic down, and not rated. He was basically wearing three layers, plus two pairs of wool socks. It wasn’t enough.

We did finally snuggle up together around 5am… which was great until one of us wanted to sleep in a different position.

But the sun came out around 7am, and it really did warm up fast. We’re still debating about asking one of our friends to dig through the storage unit and find Michael’s sleeping bag. We’re still debating about spending the money on Uggs for both of us. Or at least down booties. Has REI made the floor change yet?

But after a hot breakfast and coffee, we loaded up and headed east. Determined to get to Red River Hot Springs that day.

It turned out to be just 15 miles away.

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We talked with a few hunters hanging out there. They were very interested in the roof top tent. Then we talked with the owner – well, the owner’s cousin, AJ. It seemed to be a long story, but AJ was giving his cousin a break over the weekend.

We didn’t end up staying for a soak, but AJ was a super nice guy who gave us some great information and tips. One of those tips was for a pick-your-own vegetable garden just outside of Lucile, ID.

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I might sound like a rube, but I’ve never picked my own vegetables before. So it was Michael who actually picked our fabulous tomatoes, as well as the corn, zucchini, peppers, and even a cantaloupe!

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After loading up on veggies, we continued on south. It was starting to get dark as we passed though Riggins. We were headed down Salmon River Road, towards the Riggins Hot Springs. But we were hungry. It’s easier to set up camp in the dark on a full belly. So we pulled into the first place we saw: the Shorts Bar Recreation Site. It’s a put-in area for rafters. There were picnic tables and pit toilets.

I made an appetizer for us out of sliced tomatoes with salt and pepper. Seriously – this was the best tomato I’ve had in a long time.

As dinner cooked, Michael took a little look-see around the place. He came back and said the sign at the entrance said the camping limit was 14 days. And that there was no fee.

That’s right: we’d accidentally parked at the perfect campsite. Here’s what dinner looked like:

GoGoTacoNegroChicken thighs with mushrooms, corn, tomatoes, and peppers. It tasted even better than it looks.

It was so warm after the sun set that I didn’t even need my down jacket to sit and watch the stars. And it was the first time in a long time that I slept under my blanket in just shorts and a t-shirt.

Our friend Rob asked me for a pic of the inside of the tent a while back. Sorry this took so long to put up!

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Yes, it’s always this messy, smartypants.

Oddly enough, one of the most perfect days of the trip happened on September 11. When I got up the sun hadn’t hit the tent yet, but it wasn’t too cold. After breakfast we went down to the beach for a CrossFit workout.

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It involved running through the sand, which is much harder than I remember it, and sandbag back squats. But a good workout deserves a good meal, I think, so it’s handy to travel with a chef. And the chef wanted to fire up the grill.

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That’s right, food lovers. We have a grill.

 

 

 

 

It’s by a company called Camp-Maid, and it works with our dutch oven. Michael loves this thing.

 

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And it’s hard to argue with the result.

 

 

 

 

After that, we sat in the shade and read. I worked on editing pictures, too.

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Eventually, though, we heard a group of rafters stop at the beach. They sounded like they were having an absolute blast, so I grabbed my camera and headed to a better vantage point.

Sometimes I’m even more glad that I have a blog. Because this story requires the visuals.

It was an organized trip – Salmon River Experience – and they’d stopped at Shorts Bar for a little break. They had one of the rafts flipped over and were using it like a giant slip-n-slide. Except…

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See all those people standing around the raft? They weren’t just wetting it down. When the runner hit the raft, they would lift, and send them flying.

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Tell me that doesn’t look like a fabulous time!

After some more relaxing, we were treated to a fabulous sunset.

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I was glad I’d set up our Revel Gear lights – it had been a while since I’d been able to use them. They string up perfectly around the guylines for the roof top tent. I’m sure the other campers at Shorts Bar (all two of them) were jealous.

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I was sad to leave Riggins. But the rest of Idaho is calling.

Grand Teton National Park, Adventures in off-roading, and the Elvis dilemma

We made it to the Tetons today!

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After camping last night outside of Moran Junction, we headed into the Park around 9am and spent most of the day there, including a nice picnic lunch and a 6-mile hike out to Bradley Lake.

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Even with dogs the group pic is tough.

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Bradley Lake

Eventually we headed out of the Park, driving on a paved forest service road (that eventually became dirt) to find a campsite. Along the way we started leapfrogging with another couple, checking out various potential sites. The other couple were in a very nice (and fully decked out) 4-Runner. Eventually though, we came across the driver, who was flagging us down. He asked us if we had traction devices (which we did). Not for himself – he pointed down a steep dirt two-track, to a small Volkswagen that was stuck on the hill.

The 4-Runner couple was Travis and Chelsea, on vacation from the LA area. I never got the woman in the Volkswagen’s name, but the guy was Omar. How long they’d been stuck there, I don’t know, but Omar had shredded his car’s floor mats in his attempts to get out.

We set up the traction devices, and they helped, but in the end it took 2 tow ropes and Travis’s 4-Runner to pull them out. I thought about getting out my camera to document this whole thing. I mean, it was pretty cool for us. But I wondered how Omar would feel about it. Would he think I was documenting his failure? Making fun of him somehow? Guys can be funny if you wound their pride, so I just observed and watched out for the dogs.

After sending Omar and his woman on their way, Travis suggested we share the sweet spot at the bottom of the hill, since we were both eyeing it and it was big enough for both vehicles.

We talked for a while – about California, LA traffic, and Toyotas. What an awesome couple! I turned in around 10:30 or so, ready to sink under my down blanket. It had been a big and I was cashed.

I don’t know what time it started. My watch doesn’t glow in the dark, and it was pitch black outside. But Elvis was freaking out in the back of the truck. I could hear him whining and jumping around. Amazingly, Michael heard it first and went down to check it out. I heard him let both dogs out, and after a few minutes they both went back into the truck and Michael came back up. I thought all was well.

Then the barking began.

I haven’t heard Elvis do this before, and all I could think about was our neighbors, Travis and Chelsea. I mean, they said they have a dog too, but come on. Nobody can sleep through that.

This time I went down to check it out. Elvis was waiting for me as soon as I lifted the topper lid. I put my hand on his chest and he leaned into me, swaying just a little bit, but leaning farther and farther forward. It’s like he was asleep on his feet. Or suffering from dementia. Do dogs get dementia? Anyway – he seemed to calm down, so I went back up to the tent. Before I could even zipper the door closed the barking began again.

Michael suggested bringing him up to the tent with us, but I just could not picture how we’d haul that dog up the ladder. So (I’m pretty sure I let out a long, dramatic sigh and/or said something snarky as) I went down the ladder, opened up the topper, and crawled inside. Commandeering both of the dogs’ sleeping bags, I tried to get comfortable. Yeah, right. Sandwiched between the dogs, the water jugs, the pantry (a Rubbermaid tub), and the cooler, I had sandbags for pillows.

Sandbags are not pillows.

Bailey cuddled up on one side, and Elvis flopped down on my feet and went to sleep immediately. And I mean, slept like the dead. I put my hand on his side to make sure he was still breathing.

At least I wasn’t cold. I was wearing my down jacket, and those sleeping bags weren’t awful. Plus, the dogs wanted to snuggle. At some point, apparently, Michael tried to talk me into going back up into the tent. (He told me later that it was about 4am). I vaguely remember this. What I do know it that he brought me one of the Crazy Creek chairs to put under my butt, which helped with my comfort level enormously. Although my legs were starting to cramp up from sleeping in the fetal position for so long.

At 7am, Michael got up for good – and once he let the dogs out I went back up to the tent and slept for 2 hours. It was so nice to stretch out! And stretch out on something soft.

I woke up to a beautiful sunny day – time to charge all the solar batteries!

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Left to right: Revel Gear lights, Voltaic Systems solar panel, and Luci Lights

I’ll put up a post dedicated to just our solar devices soon. For now though, I would like to give a special shout-out to Revel Gear, who gave us the string of lights (attached to the charger on the left). The LED bulbs are attached to a copper wire, so I can put them up just about anywhere. But I tend to wrap them around the guylines for the tent – it looks cool! When we camp near people, we get lots of compliments on them. But for me, the best part… is that they act as a nightlight when I have to pee in the middle of the night. 😉

Adventures in Crested Butte

Michael politely suggested I change the subtitle of this blog, to “let’s go traveling” instead of “let’s go adventuring.”

See, the thing is, adventures are not always fun while they’re happening. And Crested Butte was an adventure.

We arrived under sunny skies, near dusk on Tuesday, and quickly found a nice spot to camp along Slate River Road.

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Those Revel Gear Lights sure are coming in handy.

The tarp in the picture above is from the Tarpestry. We bought it at RockyGrass, before either one of us could talk the other out of it. It’s pretty kick ass so far. The dogs love it, too.

Wednesday dawned bright and clear, although clouds built throughout the day.

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The table was made out of scrap wood with help from my friend Justin. We’re still getting used to it, but so far it’s pretty handy.

We got a ride in, doing parts of Upper Lower Loop, Lower Lower Loop, and the KB Connector Trail.

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There were cows on the trail, so that was interesting.

Cows on the trail

 

I never thought I would ever ride a trail while shouting “hey cow!” every five seconds and ringing the bell on my handlebars. Check that one off the bucket list.

 

 

 

 

Wednesday night it drizzled a bit. Thursday morning it started raining. And it never entirely quit.

GoGoTacoNegroThat’s only half the fun, though. Actually, the rain wasn’t the worst – we have the RTT and we set up a tarp so that we can sit outside, cook, etc. But we couldn’t ride due to the rain, and the dogs were bored out of their skulls. We did manage a bit of a walk along Slate River Road.

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As soon as we got back to camp the skies opened up. To the point that a river formed under the truck, soaking the stuff we’d stored there. The river made its way down to the tarp we’d put down as well. Just about everything we had was all wet. The one champ? Our Cabela’s waterproof duffel bag. So we at least had a change of dry clothes.

Sick of the rain, I went to bed at 8:30. Embarrassing but true. And the real fun began around 2am. I heard something outside the rig. I couldn’t tell how big it was but it appeared to be rummaging through the stuff we’d left outside.

Before you judge – everything we left outside was in a covered container. We didn’t leave any food out in the open. You might judge a little though, because the day before, someone told us a bear was in the area.

Anyway. I woke up Michael and we peered around through the windows of the RTT. The cool thing about this tent is that all the screens also zipper completely open, so we could lean out the windows for a better view.

I started hearing a sound. Munch, munch, munch. The sound of the dog food being eaten. Dammit. Peeking around, we figured that whatever it was, was up along the hillside in front of the rig. Michael put his shoes on and went down the ladder. “Do not zipper this thing closed,” he said.

I watched the beam of his headlamp scan the hillside. “Look there,” he finally said. I focused my light on the spot he wanted, and all I saw was a good-sized splotch of black that was even darker than everything else outside.

Munch, munch, munch. The eating of dog food continued.

“Hey!” I yelled. In reply a pair of eyes glowed in the beam of light for a moment. Then disappeared. Probably a bear. Most likely.

Munch, munch, munch.

It was at this unfortunate moment that I realized I had to pee. “Go now,” Michael said, returning to the tent. “While he’s still eating.” I went down the ladder barefoot and squatted right there next to the truck. I was somewhere mid-stream when I realized the munching sounds had stopped.

Shit.

“Get up here,” Michael said. I shot up that ladder like my ass was on fire.

At this point, all was quiet and Michael went right back to sleep. It’s not that I was worried about something getting us or anything – that’s the beauty of a rooftop tent – but I just wasn’t sleepy. Going to bed at 8:30 will do that to you, I guess. So I read for a while before lying back down. It stayed nice and quiet outside the rig. Even the rain had stopped.

Our visitor returned just before dawn. Michael and I woke to a ruckus happening, this time on his side of the rig. And this time, there was no confusion: it was a bear. A black bear. And it was trying to get into our cooler. I shouted “hey bear!” at it, and the bear stopped for a moment. I would swear it looked uncertain. So Michael put on his deepest, gruffest voice, and said “HEY BEAR!”

The bear chuffed and ran off towards the creek.

Once again, Michael put on his shoes and went down to investigate. I stayed up in the tent and kept an eye on the willows next to the creek. But the bear did not return.

Our (extremely expensive) Yeti cooler was upside down, but still latched. There was a claw mark along one edge. But it survived. Along with all our food, and our Cholaca supply.

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Suddenly all that money we spent on the Yeti seemed worth it. I think we’ll invest in locks next, though. Then it will be truly bear-proof.

Maybe 10 minutes after the bear left our camp, we heard a car alarm go off. We were just up the road from another camping area – a crowded one. Apparently our bear was making the rounds.

When we packed up camp (in the rain, I might add) later, I went up the hillside to retrieve what was left of the plastic container we used for the dog food. But it was still intact. That bear could have just smashed it open, and instead he knew how to flip the latches. He also knew to go for the dog food. And the cooler. Smarter than your average bear, apparently.

Cholaca Pour

 

Packing up camp in the rain was about as fun as it sounds. I tried to embrace the suck. The necessary ingredient – Cholaca in our coffee. (Especially since the coffee was Starbucks Via.)

 

 

 

 

So we drove into town under dark skies. After seeing that rain was forecasted for the Crested Butte area for the next week, we headed out of town. It’s too bad – CB seems like a cool place, and one I’d like to have gotten to know better. Maybe some other time.

We’re in Buena Vista now, drying out. Although it’s supposed to rain here too, it’s only a 40% chance. So we’ll give it a whirl, before we head up towards Steamboat Springs.

Ah, adventure.

I’d say that was easy, but…

We’re free. We each signed our names a dozen times, then we handed over our keys and got handed a check. We’re no longer homeowners.

That was the only easy part.

We had until 1:45 to be out of the house – the buyer’s final walkthrough began at that time. Guess what time we left?

1:43. The buyers watched us cram the last of the stuff into our cars, which for some reason mortified me. Was it because we were late? Or because we had so much stuff?

Not that it matters. Not now, anyway. The walkthrough went fine and we closed without a hitch. We did have some fun when the buyers asked us where we were moving to, and Michael said “it’s parked outside.”

We spent last night with friends of ours, Dan and Lisa, in their beautiful Lyons home. They fed us, too (thanks, Lisa!). And this morning we got up, had some coffee, some paleo pancakes (thanks Dan!) then drove over to Riverbend to get in line for the camping “tarp run.”

Camping at RockyGrass is interesting. We’ve camped on-site, and while I still think it’s the most fun, getting in there is a bit of a shitshow. A free-for-all where it seems like people might run you over to get to the best camping spot. It’s more stress than it’s worth, in my opinion.

Riverbend, which is across the street from Planet Bluegrass, is a bit more mellow. This site used to be a trailer park – it got wiped out in the big flood of 2013. Now it’s a wedding site with a slew of tiny homes available for rent. And a wonderful campsite for RockyGrass and Folks Fest. It’s shady and the St. Vrain river runs right next to it.

When we got in line at 8:30, said line was so long I was afraid we’d get a lousy spot. Out in the open, full sun all day, something like that. But Riverbend is bigger than it looks. We found a great spot easily and everyone was really friendly. A neighbor even lent us his hammer for our tent stakes. Our nifty little site won’t have shade all day, but we’ll get it in the mornings, which is what I actually care about. We even ended up knowing a couple of our neighbors. RockyGrass is a small world in some ways.

I should have pictures for you in the next post – I was able to set up our super-cool solar lights from Revel Gear. We wrapped the lights around our tent so in addition to lighting up our evening picks, these awesome lights will make our tent easy to spot.

After setting up our tent, we went back to Dan and Lisa’s and picked up the dogs to take them to the Gunbarrel Vet Clinic. While a couple of different friends offered to watch them, Elvis (the older dog) is a bit of an asshole. I guess you could say he’s “dog selective” but I prefer my term as I think it’s closer to the truth. No reason to make any of my friends put up with that. We’ve also boarded them at Gunbarrel before and both dogs came back happy. The piece of mind is worth it for me.

Whew. I think the storm has passed. Everyone’s happy and taken care of. No worries for the next four days, at least. Time for some bluegrass!