More Arizona Love

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After leaving Yuma Jeff and I headed to Quartzsite Arizona for the big RV, Rock and Gem show held every January.

Quartzsite is a sleepy little town that explodes in population in the month of January as RV’ers from all over North American swallows it up. The draw is the largest gathering of RV’ers in the world (so the legend goes).

The city of Quartzsite embraces us as best it can, but the town struggles during the weeks leading up to and after the big show.

It’s a sight to behold and one you need to experience at least once. I wrote about the show highlights here from last year. Nothing about the show changes much from one year to the next, so I’m going to focus on other things this time.

We showed up at the big tent a few days early to check on the shipped items for the Dometic booth that we would be working for nine days. We wanted to make our way to Dome Rock where our RV’ing group, the Xscapers, were having events for two weeks. We made it for a dog hike one morning with the group and then stopped to say hi to our friends John & Becky and Kurt & Toni.

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Xscapers Dog Walk…its a hairy bunch!

Xscapers is a sub-group of the Escapees RV Club, but focused on full time RV’ers who are still working full time. Whenever there is a “converge”, events are planned for late afternoon or evenings so not to interfere with our workday. It’s a fun group and we have such a wonderful network of fellow RV’ers. We support, offer advice and just plain hang out with each other as our travels ebb, flow and intertwine.

When Jeff and I started FT RV’ing we would have never dreamed that it would be so social. But thanks to social media we all stay tightly connected despite being miles apart.

We had hoped to join the group in the evenings during the show, but after working the booth all day in a very cold tent we just wanted to isolate ourselves to our warm RV. As an introvert, I only have so many words for the day. By nighttime, I’ve got nothing left.

We never did make it back to Dome Rock.

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Booth setup at Q

While at the show, we manage to get in some trail runs. There are lots of jeeping roads up, over and around Q-Mountain. We managed 5-11 miles just by taking any number of intertwining trails. One got the best of me and I tripped over a rock and fell hard. Skinned knees and palms, bruised hips, elbows and shoulders are all a part of the trail running experience. The trick is to not break something in the process.

Wind is always a factor here so expect a good coating of dust in and on everything you own. And expect to catch the “Quartzsite Crud” while you are here…everyone does.

Besides visiting the laundromat, the only other highlight was getting Silly Al’s Pizza. It is one of just a few restaurants in Q and actually had really good pizza.  If you want to go to dinner any time during the week of Q, be sure to get there before 5pm to avoid long lines for a table.

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Q Trails

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Sam checks out the views

After Q we made our way back to Mesa for a couple of weeks. Jeff had to fly to South Bend, IN for business while I tried to vacuum dirt that had coated every surface in the RV.

The weather was amazing in Mesa. Mid-70’s during the day, mid-50’s at night. We stayed in our friend’s driveway again just a ½ miles walk from the canal system. It’s so nice to run on gravel right in town. Since we are training for the Bentonville Half Marathon we got right back into the routine.

While in Mesa we had a sales conference to attend. We pulled our rig to the Westin Resort in Scottsdale. We didn’t bring the RV to stay in it, but to make a quick departure for the Black Canyon after the conference. This is a very nice pet friendly hotel. Sam got the special pet treatment with dog bowls and special bed just for himself.

The Black Canyon is just 40-miles north of Scottsdale on the way to Flagstaff. We have never stopped here, so we wanted to get to some solitude before we had to be back in Phoenix for the Good Sam Rally. That and the Black Canyon Ultra Trail Run was scheduled the same weekend we were there.

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Black Canyon Views

We pulled off Hwy 17 at Table Mesa Rd, just south of Black Canyon City. We set up the RV on BLM land at the Black Canyon Trailhead. This area is STUNNING! Gorgeous mountains, lush green foliage and miles of rugged trails and jeep roads. The only downfall to this area is that it is a mecca for gun enthusiasts who come here to shoot. All. Day. Long!

Thankfully shooting is only allowed in specific areas, so we had a couple of hills between the ranges and us. We still heard the gunfire, but at least it wasn’t right next door.

Jeff and I did not sign up for the Black Canyon Ultra, but we did want to run on the coarse. So we set off the day before the projected rain to get our long training runs in. I had 10 miles to run while Jeff thought he would try for a 50K.

We drove north about 20-miles to the starting line and followed the very well marked route that the race crew had already put out. It started as maintained hard packed dirt road, turned onto a cattle road then to a very rocky rugged single track. It was a test for the sturdiest of ankles, but we both managed to stay upright!

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Scenes from the trail

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Black Canyon Trail Ultra Route

We got a late start so Jeff ended up running in the dark to mile 27 before calling me to pick him up. He was getting cold and hungry. I on the other hand got my 10 miles out and back in, drove back to the RV, took a hot shower, made an early dinner then had coffee and dessert.

Ultimately the racecourse had to be altered due to the forecasted flash flooding. There were numerous river crossing that became virtually impassable with the rising waters. This is one race I am so glad we were not a part of. After mudageddon in Zion last spring, I’ve had enough of terrible weather conditions on race day.

It was a weekend of the most rain we have ever seen in Arizona, which made access roads to this area pretty soupy. We were becoming a bit concerned about our departure, especially since ATV’s and 4-wheel drive trucks decided the mud was the perfect consistency for donuts. But we had two full days of sunshine to dry out the road just enough to get us back to the highway.

It really was a beautiful area. But between the endless gunshots and ATV’s rolling by, we have crossed Black Canyon off our list of places to return to.

We hitched up and headed back to Phoenix for our next show.

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A date with Good Sam

On a sad note, we got a call from one of our Xscaper friends that let us know that another Xscaper had suddenly and unexpectedly passed away right here in Phoenix. She was in her 50’s and full of life. One of those ladies who made you feel welcome from the moment you met her. We met Kurt and Toni at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta over a year ago and developed an instant friendship.

We went to Toni’s funeral and as family talked about her, it was evident that full time RV’ing was the best time of her life! They spoke of her deliberate choice to have experiences over stuff as she and Kurt sold everything to move in and travel full time in their RV.

We left feeling privileged having made that same choice ourselves. You never know how long we have on this earth before we are called home. Our time here is but a brief moment on a spectrum of time. Toni reminded us to make the most of it!

We will miss you around the campfire Toni!

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Remembering Toni!

 

 

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2017! A New Year to Travel

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A hardy cactus hello!

Jeff and I spent Christmas and New Years in Why, Arizona. After being in the big city of Mesa for 6 weeks it was time to get to some desolation, isolation and motivation of the desert.

Why Why, Arizona?

It was supposed to be our launch site to travel to Rocky Point, Mexico just 80 miles to the south. Beachside living, endless shrimp dining and the sound of waves lulling us to sleep. It would be our first Mexico crossing in the RV and we had our dog health certificate and passports ready.

But when we went online to get our insurance, we were shocked to say the least! $600 for a two-week stay in Mexico! OUCH!!!

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Why go to Mexico when you can have the international experience here in Why?

As much as we were looking forward to spending New Years in Mexico, the $600 spend was just too much for us to justify. The waves. The sand. The shrimp. They would all have to wait for another time. We were spending NYE in Why, Arizona.

Don’t feel bad though. Once we got over our visions of beachside grandeur we settled in nicely to our new surroundings while free camping on Bureau of Land Management property.

This is our third winter in the desert southwest and we love it here.

Not many years ago, I would be on a flight over the Southwest and think, “Why would anyone want to live there”? Brown. Dull. Dusty. Void of any green. It always seemed to lack any beauty or color.

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There is something special about the desert

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Good night

But what I’ve learned the last three winters is if you spend a little time in the desert she will show you her true colors.

You see. The beauty of the desert is cast low in those few minutes of sunrise and sunset. When the sun is making itself known and when it finishes its day. It casts a glowing spell on the desert, turning it into the beautiful creature that she is. Texture. Dimension. Color. It’s all there if you are patient!

Our BLM spot is just north of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Organ Pipe is a UNESCO biosphere reserve that stretches 517 square miles along the boarder of Mexico. It is the only place in the US where the Organ Pipe Cactus grows wild. It got its name due to its shape that looks similar to the pipes of an organ.

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Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

Right at the perimeter of the reserve there is a distinct change in the landscape.

What’s flat, barren and brown suddenly turns to rolling hills, black volcanic rock and a lush green. Well…as “lush” as a desert can be. But it is beautiful and very different than the mid-west landscape that I grew up seeing.

Our camping area is in a hotbed of illegal border crossings, drug trade and human trafficking. For the most part, they leave us campers alone. Unless you happen to leave out a water bottle or leave bicycles unlocked. You may wake up to some things missing. The dessert is scattered with rusty bike skeletons that didn’t hold up the rigors of a rugged desert crossing.

There are endless ATV roads scattered all over this place that are under the watchful eye of the Border Patrol via helicopters, trucks and 4-wheelers. Their presence is felt, seen and heard at all times. I had a helicopter swoop down over my head while out on a run…just to say, “I know you are there”.

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Endless ATV trails under the watchful eye of border patrol

The trail running was great and Jeff decided to ride his bike 27-miles to the Mexico border on Christmas Day where I picked him up in the truck. Then he had to outdo himself by running from the border to our campsite on New Years Day. His run was a bit eventful. Four drug smugglers darting across the road mere steps from him in broad daylight. All five of them were startled! Jeff later looked at his Strava from his run and saw the spike in his heart rate at that moment. Everyone went their own ways and we called the incident into the border patrol.

The community of Why has a Christmas day potluck at the local community center. For $5 each, the town provided the turkey and ham, while the attendees brought in the side dishes. It was a great deal, super food and a lot of fun visiting with the winter locals of this tiny community.

Though the desert here was nice, we never quite felt settled. We would check and double check if things were locked and we turned on a few more lights to take the dog out after dark. Even Sam was on edge since coyotes would run right through our campsite.

After two weeks we finally pulled up stakes and made our way to Yuma.

We stayed in Yuma 2 years ago and didn’t particularly enjoy our stay at Mitrey Lake. Between mosquitoes and mice we weren’t sure we would ever come back. But cooler heads prevailed and we decided to give it another go.

This time we headed to BLM at American Girl Mine off of Olgilby and boy were we so glad we gave this town another go. That location turned into one of our favorite campsites ever!

It might be a bit barren for some folks, but for us it was boondocking perfection. Full exposure to sun for solar charging. Well-groomed wide roads. As much or as little privacy as you want. ENDLESS and I mean ENDLESS trails to run. No worry about coyotes for Sam or drug runners for us. Lightening fast Internet. And those sunsets!

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We just could not get enough of this place!

Yuma is the closest city to the Los Algodones border crossings. We crossed the border two years ago and found a delightful restaurant that we wanted to go back to. And since we didn’t make it to Rocky Point the previous week we decided to walk to Los Algodones for a dental cleaning and some lunch.

This was our first experience with Mexico dental. I say “our”, but Jeff was the guinea pig.

It was an AMAZING experience, and we will not longer be hesitant at taking the plunge. We picked a dentist that was highly recommended by other FT RV’ers that we personally know and decided to walk to the office a couple days before his appointment to make sure we knew where she was. And if you have any hesitation about walking there yourself, the dental office will send someone to meet you at the border to escort you to their door.

One thing you have to be prepared for when crossing the border is the bombardment of sales folks trying to sell you the exact same thing the guy right across the street is selling. Pharmaceuticals, dentists, eyeglasses and your typical assortments of trinkets, jewelry, blankets and cowboy hats are about it for this small town. A polite “no thank you” is enough to put a stop to it, until you hit the next booth.

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A special anniversary lunch

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Plentiful Viagra and…ah…pinatas

While at lunch one day a nice lady from a local “spa” stopped by and gave me a free 1-minute shoulder massage while I drank my margarita. Her skills were impressive, and we actually went to her shop a couple days’ later and got $13 pedicures.

Our original intent was to stay in Yuma for a week before heading to Quartzsite, where our fellow Xscapers RV club was having a convergence. But Olgilby Road was just too perfect a spot to breeze through and we stayed for two weeks.

We did get to see our RV buddies Flying the Koop, Mike and Donna. It had been a while and they were blowing through town on their way from San Diego to Phoenix. Our time was short, but oh so sweet. We will get to see them a bit more after Q.

Well, onward to Q for the largest gathering RV’ers on earth!

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This is why I love the desert! (Zero filters)

 

 

 

 

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Ultra Mania and Utah Bliss

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Words to live by

September 23-October 31

Last year just after the Arizona Ironman, I asked Jeff if he was ready to take a break from full Ironman competitions. It’s a huge time commitment to train for, which is especially challenging during RV show season.That, and it is a very expensive sport. To my delight shock he decided to take a break from long distance triathlons. At least until he ages up into a new age group in a couple years!

But as an athlete, when one goal or bucket item is crossed off, there are dozens more to follow. For Jeff, the next challenge is a 100-mile ultra trail run.

I know. I know. There is a collective “whaaaaaat?” whenever he shares his goal.

To think that a 100-miler is any less training time is a mistake. But when you can train on beautiful wooded trails and forestry roads around pristine alpine lakes, it does provide “get lost in the scenery” moments that you just don’t get riding your bike on life threatening city streets or swimming laps at a local pool.

So when Jeff heard about the Stagecoach 100 race from an Arkansas friend, he thought it would be a perfect race to enter.

The Stagecoach 100 is a 100-mile trail run from Flagstaff to the South rim of the Grand Canyon, two of our favorite places! It is run on the Arizona trail and follows the historic stagecoach line that tourists took to reach the Grand Canyon in the 1890’s.

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Out for a practice run on the Arizona Trail

The course starts in Flagstaff around 7,500’ of elevation and climbs to nearly 9,000’ before descending into Tusayan at 6,600’. There is about 7,000’ of climbing overall and must be completed within 31-hours.

Since this was Jeff’s first year to attempt a 100-miler he opted for a two-man relay, putting Jeff’s leg at 55 miles and friend Jason’s leg at 45 miles.If this went well, then he was going to sign up for the Javelina Jundred in Fountain Hills, Arizona the following month.

After a week of rain and snow on Humphreys peek, race-day could not have been more perfect weather conditions. An abundance of sunshine, cool temps and golden aspens kicked off the race.

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All smiles at the start…Sam thinks he gets to go too!

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Beautiful run through Aspens

I don’t compete in these long distance races, preferring half marathon trail runs. As a spectator I get to witness the days journey for a lot of athletes. The excitement and nervous energy at the start followed by the real struggle, pain and doubt somewhere in the middle of the race. And at the finish, total elation, outpouring of emotion and collapse.

It’s so inspirational that it makes the laziest of couch potatoes start to think that they too could attempt such a race! Me included!

After seeing Jeff off at the start, I loaded up the RV and drove to Forestry Road 688 just south of Tusayan. What I really LOVE about the West is that there is no lack of free camping spots around great locations. This FR is within 6 miles of Grand Canyon Village on the South rim. The road was amazingly groomed with plenty of private camping spots for big rigs and decent cell coverage.

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A pot of gold campsite…for free!

The Stagecoach 100 is not a spectator friendly course, so there was nothing I could do but stuff my face with chocolate and take a nap wait 15 hours in eager anticipation, imagining Jeff’s struggle and drudging out 55 miles with him in spirit!

The heartburn for Jason and I was trying to find the transition point on a spider web of unmarked forestry roads after dark. After 2 ½ hours of driving we somehow managed to find the transition 30 minutes after Jeff had checked in.

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Found an aid station…just not the right one!

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Finally!

It was 10:30pm, and after 15 hours Jeff was ready to be done. He handed off the last 45 miles to his friend and we made the 2-½ hour drive back to the RV. Jason finished the race the following day. I’m so proud of Jeff and Jason. After the pain has worn off they both are ready to challenge themselves to run a full 100-miler.

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The Arkansas Travelers

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The legendary Jim Walmsley

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Got the buckle!

We stuck around the South Rim for another week, and just for grins, Jeff decided he wanted to do another double crossing of the Grand Canyon before we left.This was partly a test to see how his legs felt for the Javelina.

With tired legs from his Ultra just 6 days before, he headed down the South Kaibab Trail, summited the North Kaibab to turn around and head back to SK. He was so exhausted on the return trip that he lay on slabs of rocks three different times to sleep. He did persevere but pushed his body to its limit casting doubts on his goal of Javelina.

Before we left the South rim we stopped into the Bright Angel Lodge for dinner. When we were finishing up we noticed an odd glow coming from the Canyon. I grabbed the phone and ran outside to witness the most spectacular rainbow. When we saw waiters and cooks running outside with cameras we knew we were witnessing something special.

The rainbow illuminated the clouds to a  fiery red glow. Just about every spectator there was crying, including me. It’s one of those moments you realize you will only see once in a lifetime! It was stunning!

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After enjoying the South Rim we drove to Las Vegas where Jeff had to fly to Louisville on business while I stayed with the RV at the Oasis RV Resort.

Once he returned we hitched up and headed to Kanab, Utah for Trail Fest. Trail Fest is a three-day trail running festival. Day 1-Zion. Day 2-Bryce. Day 3-North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Once back at camp you are free to participate in seminars, movies, food trucks and music.

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Trailfest 2016, Kanab Utah

This was the first year of this event, with home base out of Kanab. Tents are provided or park your RV on site. Showers are available at the community center. Shuttles picked up 400 runners each morning and dropped them off at the days designated trailhead.

Jeff and I were too late to register for this wonderful event, so we volunteered to help set up and direct parking. Because we volunteered we got credits towards a future trail event.

While runners were out on their trails, Jeff and I hiked in Bryce Canyon. Our favorite hike was the 8-mile Fairyland Trail Loop. This is a moderate hike with hoodoos galore. It’s one of those hikes that you have to force yourself to stop taking pictures to get through. I love this place and can’t wait to spend more time here!

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After Trail Fest we headed to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Actually, we boondocked on National Forestry land in the town of Fredonia, Arizona 45 miles north of the North Rim. Besides hiking the Rim2Rim, we have never explored the North rim. We really enjoyed our stay. Nights were in the 30’s with daytime highs in the 50’s.

The only draw back was that it was hunting season, so we had to be careful where we got our runs in.

I had read about the pancakes at the little gas station in Fredonia, so we stopped and had breakfast before driving to the North rim. The pancakes lived up to the hype, but our waitress was…odd. We got to talk to several hikers that were either getting ready to start their Grand Canyon Rim2Rim crossing, or had just finished it.

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After breakfast we drove to the North rim to check out the views. The lodge was already closed for the season so we didn’t get to look around there. But what a wonderful little cabin community! Compared to the South Rim there are less amenities and less people.

A couple days later Jeff heard from his twin brother that he and our sister-in-love were on vacation at the South Rim. So what does a guy do when his best friend is across the big ditch? Why he hikes the Grand Canyon overnight to have breakfast with him.

While Jeff was hiking in the dark down the North side he stubbed his big toe. Actually, he broke it at mile 7 and then hit it a couple more times just to add to the misery. Kind of hits you in the crouch don’t it?

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He finished the 15 miles across, had breakfast and jumped on the 8am shuttle back to the North Rim. His broken toe made the decision to not enter the Javelina Jundred.

We were hoping to leave the North rim and hike the Narrows at Zion National Park, but we lingered too long and had to drive straight back to Las Vegas to work the SEMA Automotive Show.

Utah is stunning and it left us wanting A LOT more.

We will have to catch you next spring Utah!

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Flagstaff and The Fearsome Four

 

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Sam back on the Arizona Trail

August 21-September 21, 2016

After climbing to new heights at Mt. Whitney Jeff and I had about a week before needing to be in steamy Phoenix for business travel. We wanted to camp where we could get a break from the heat just a little longer, so we headed straight for Flagstaff, Arizona.

We’ve been camping in Flag off and on for the past year, one of our favorite locations. There is an abundance of free forestry land to camp in with endless trails to run, hike or mountain bike just outside your door. This and being close to town makes us feel like we live in the community. Flag is definitely familiar to us now and there is no need for GPS to get around town any more.

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A delightful sunny spot amongst the trees

Not only was the 70 degree temps sublime, but Jeff has been training for the Stagecoach 100. Stagecoach is a 100 mile ultra trail run that starts in Flag and ends at the IMAX theater at the Grand Canyon. Jeff is running a relay with a buddy. 55 miles for Jeff and his friend Jason running 45. Since the race was just 4 weeks away some high altitude trail training was in order.

We camped at a new boondocking site on FR6051 near Snow Bowl on the North side of town. The road was a bit rough, but we were able to wedge our modest 32’ into a nice spot for maximum solar gain. There are endless forestry roads here with several short spurs that connect directly to the Arizona Trail. So getting in our trail runs was a piece of single track cake!

Oh Arizona Trail, how I love thee!

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One of the first things we usually do when getting to a new location is to see if there are any running events happening during our stay. We have done this in Moab, Chico and Whistler  among others, and it keeps us motivated to get out and exercise on a consistent basis. Without the motivation I would struggle with the RV-15 (think freshman-15) and bedsores!

One of the things we learned about is the Flagstaff Fearsome Four Challenge. Four peaks, 34 miles, 10,307 of elevation over 2 days. Sure…why not! As part of Jeff’s ultra training this challenge was right up his ally.

Here is how the challenge works. Hike or run Humphreys Peak, Kendrick Peak, Mount Elden and O’Leary Peak in any order. If you accomplish this challenge under 15 hours (not including driving time) in a 24hr period you are honored with the status of “Ultra” runner. Well then. Lets get to it!

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Kendrick Peak

Things that go bump in the night…what was that noise?

Jeff started at 1am at Kendrick Peak. Besides being scared by some sort of large animal in the woods, this was pretty uneventful. Humphreys Peak, the highest peak in Arizona and most challenging of the four, was next. Jeff ran into a couple of trail runners that run Humphrey’s 9 miles in under 3hrs, twice as fast as I hiked this beast! It had snowed on this peak the day before, so some of the trail was still covered.

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Summit of Humphrey’s Peak

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Rugged trail

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Snow covered trail

After a brief refueling of bacon and a nap at the RV it was on to Elden and O’Leary’s peak. Sam and I joined Jeff for the final two hikes. Though Elden is a short 4-5 miles round-trip, it is very rocky, technical and steep. We were glad to be hiking this one in the daylight!

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Third peak in the bank!

Heading further north we finished with O’Leary’s. This trail was a well-groomed forestry road all the way to O’Leary’s lookout, where we took in sunset views before racing back down the mountain to finished after dark.

Jeff did an amazing job coming in under 15 hours for the Fearsome Four and we celebrated with some late night BBQ!

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Number four…O’Leary Lookout!

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Racing the sun

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Steapest section at O’Leary Lookout

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After dark finish!

The next day we packed up and headed for Phoenix where we jumped on a plane and flew to Dallas. The Dometic show vehicle needed to be transported to Elkhart, Indiana for the RV industries open house.

A stop over in Bentonville, Arkansas was in order and we stayed for two weeks. This gave us a chance to check on family and our beloved Beaver Lake cabin.

I tell ya, when I sit on that porch swing overlooking the Lake, it’s hard to think of ever leaving! I love the smell of fresh lake water, hearing fish flopping in the early morning hours, swimming in water so clear you can scuba dive. I love that I can lace up my shoes and go for a run on lake roads that only a few locals travel. I ended up with 5 of the neighborhood dogs on one of my runs, which helped with missing Sam on our trip.

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The view from our deck

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Well hello humidity! Where have you been?

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Getting in a Saturday morning run with friends

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Quick visit with two of our Guatemalan students in AR on Walton Scholarships to John Brown University…so proud of them!

Arkansas is a beautiful place to call home for sure and I always shed a tear when we leave. But the road calls, and we must go and off to Elkhart we went.

We arrived over the weekend so that we could visit with some wonderful friends. The open house went well and we headed south with the RV to Louisville before flying back to Phoenix. It was a hard pressed 3 week trip and we were glad to get back to our dog and our RV.

With only 3 days before the Stagecoach 100, we were rushing again to get back to Flag for the race. So after landing at 6:45am, we picked up our dog and were on the road with the RV by 9am, and parked in the woods by that afternoon.

Holly moly…that was a tiring trip!

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Getting High on Mt. Whitney

Mono Lake

Full moon rising over Mono Lake

After leaving Seattle we had three weeks to make our way to Phoenix. Our working travel schedule gave us a deadline and unfortunately we were headed into the belly of the hot molten volcano in the middle of summer. 106 degrees here we come!

We made quick stops in Eugene and Ashland, Oregon, Redding, CA and Reno, Nevada on our way to Mono Lake, CA.

I had read about some great boondocking at Mono Lake on the eastern side of Yosemite. This really would be our last stop at any elevation (6,378’) in order to avoid the southwest heat. Also, when we were in Yosemite in May, we never made it to Tioga Pass. So stopping at Mono Lake would give us that opportunity.

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Quick stopover in Ashland, OR

Well, that was the plan anyway…

Last year about this time, Jeff asked me a question about doing something epic, challenging or scary and I blurted out that I would like to hike the highest peaks in each state. A week later I had bagged my first…Mt. Humphreys in Flagstaff, AZ. at 12,633ft.

Ever since then I have been researching the highest peak of each state that we traveled in 2016. Unfortunately, we have been traveling the states with the highest peaks overall that have been snow covered and required ice axes, crampons, repelling equipment, permits, guides, tents, backpacks, etc. MUCH more equipment than what we have.

So when I read about hiking California’s massive Mt. Whitney at 14,505ft, the highest peak in the contiguous US and it’s accessibility in late summer, I knew California was an attainable peak.

And look. It just happens to be down the road from Mono Lake! Change of plans…we are hiking Mt. Whitney!

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Getting an early start…just not early enough!

The Mt. Whitney Trail Head starts at Whitney Portal at 8,360ft via the small town of Lone Pine, CA. A permit is required for this hike and the online permit system said that there were no permits available. Learning from our experience at Yosemite we stopped in at the Forest Service center just south of Lone Pine and easily picked up a permit and mandatory “WAG Bag” (Waste Alleviation and Gelling-Bag) for the next day.

Everything I read about this hike said that this VERY STRENUOUS hike could be bagged in one very long day (12-18 hours), although most people take two. Its 22 miles round trip with 6,100ft of elevation gain, topping out at 14,505ft.

Since Jeff and I had spent the better part of the past month at Sea Level, we knew that this was going to be quite a challenge in elevation and distance. One I was not completely confident in completing. But I knew that what goes up must come down and I could turn around at any point in the hike if it got to be too much for this land lubber.

Walk this way!

Walk this way!

The morning of our hike we got off to a late start, leaving the Whitney Portal TH at 6:30AM instead of our planned 5AM. Apparently we didn’t do enough research because most hikers leave around 1-3AM for this hike. For me, this was mistake #1!

Jeff tends to futz with his equipment, shoes, GPS and phone A LOT longer than I have patience for (sigh) and I headed off on the trail to get a jump. Jeff hikes much faster than I and I knew it wouldn’t take long before he would catch up with me.

What is really hilarious now is that Jeff had read that some folks were getting Verizon Cell coverage on the top of Mt Whitney, so his plan was to get to the top by 10AM for a conference call.

GEEZ! WHAT ON EARTH WERE WE THINKING?!?

I started at the TH and quickly passed the 6-10 informational boards that described the tenacity needed for such a hike. No need to read those of course…we have a conference call to make!

Immediately the trail started with a moderate incline. The sun was up just enough that no headlamp was needed and I made mistake #2 by leaving it in the truck. After an hour on the trail there was a beautiful sunrise that was enhanced by the smoke from the San Bernardino fires that were burning out of control at the time.

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Lone Pine Lake

After about 3 miles I reached Lone Pine Lake. At this point Jeff still had not caught up with me and I grew a bit concerned. Come to find out he took a wrong turn at the beginning of the trail and got on the rugged Mountaineer’s route to Mt. Whitney. He noticed his mistake after about a ½ mile and turned around. That does tend to happen when you hike and post selfies on facebook at the same time!

Jeff finally caught up with me and it was clear that it was going to be a challenge to get to the top before the 10AM conference call. So I sent him ahead to try and make it without me holding him back…with our water filter. Mistake #3 (at least for me).

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After Lone Pine Lake the nice smooth trail quickly changed over to a rockier surface. Footing became a bit more of a challenge as trees thinned out. I passed Outpost Camp with its gorgeous waterfall at a little over 10,000ft. There were a lot of backpackers here stopping to acclimatize on their 2-3 day summit push.

“Gee…Maybe I aught to look into some overnight equipment, scratching my head!

I hit a long patch of switchbacks after Outpost Camp.

In my quick glance lengthy research of this hike I remembered reading about a section of the trail called “the 99 switchbacks” that came after a campground.

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The trail turns rugged

I got pretty excited because I new that the 99 were around mile 7. “Wow, I’m making great time”! I asked a fellow hiker coming down if I was on the infamous 99. Imagine my surprise when she told me, “ Oh no. You have quite a way to go before you get to the 99”.

About this time I saw a trail marker that said Mile 4!  I. WAS. CRUSHED!

By now my heart had been pounding in my ears for almost 3 hours. The elevation had reduced my hiking to 45min miles. THIS WAS GOING TO BE A LOOOONG DAY.

The trail switched from dirt and rocks to granite stair steps. I rose high above pretty Mirror Lake and Meadow. After another 1 ½-2 hours I finally reached Trail Camp at 12,039’.

Trail Camp is located on the shore of Consultation Lake. It could have been on the moon as far as I was concerned due to its barren landscape and granite spires. The camp was full of backpackers as well and by now I’m thinking these people are geniuses for breaking this hike up into several days!

I stopped here for a snack and contemplated the 99 switchbacks that were now staring me in the face. That’s 2.2 miles of switchbacks climbing 1,738’ to Trail Crest. I’m not going to lie…I thought long and hard about stopping here and just calling it a day. But after eating some food and catching my breath I decided to give the 99 a shot.

Surprisingly, the switchbacks were set at a low grade, which was much appreciated at this altitude. After what seemed like 999 switchbacks I finally rounded a corner and was hit with an amazing view to the west. Granite rising up, alpine forests and lakes below. My eyes had trouble taking it all in. I get teary-eyed just thinking about it now.

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Reaching Trail Crest at 13,600′

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What’s around that granite spire?

I made it to Trail Crest at 13, 800’!

The Mt. Whitney summit is 2.5 miles from here and a mere 845’ of elevation. But these are the most difficult and most draining 2.5 miles of your life…so I’ve heard.

Once I reached Trail Crest I was for sure going to turn around. But after I sat for about 20 minutes and ate some food and got inspired by the beautiful views I started wondering what was just around the corner.

The trail from here took a dip and I really thought hard about having to make up the elevation I had already climbed. But the trail drew me in and I pressed on, “just a little further”.

The trail from Trail Crest is brutal. BRU.TAL!!!

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The trail is in there somewhere

I scrambled for the next mile over unstable rocks, angular slabs, shear drops and technical boulders. After an hour I sat down for a break and saw the Smithsonian hut on the summit off in the distance. By now I was exhausted. The narrow single track trail was closing in. I was having moments of panic as my mind flashed back to my broken wrist less than a year ago.

I asked another hiker how much longer until the summit. When they responded, “about 2 hours” I was finished!

By now it was 12:30pm. I had been hiking 6 hours with 2 more hours to go. I did the math and figured it would take me 4 hours just to get back to this point on the trail. My heart sank realizing I was going to run out of water and day-light, without a filter that was with Jeff and headlamp that was securely back in the truck.

It killed me to be this close and have to call the hike. Just 1.5 miles left to the summit. For me, it had to be over!

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Jeff perseveres! Highest point in the lower 48!

About this time I met Esther. She was making her way back down the mountain after summiting. Wisely, she had left with her husband at 3am.

They had started this hike a few days before, but her husband Joe wasn’t feeling well and they turned around. This morning they started off at 3am again and again Joe didn’t feel well. He encouraged his wife to carry on so that one of them would make it. And that she did!

We started hiking together from here, retracing the technical trail back to Trail Crest. We both moaned at the section where we had to climb in elevation to get there, commenting about our pounding heads.

Down the 99 we went, past camps, meadow, lakes and waterfalls. All the while talking about our lives of adventure and travel. I learned about her amazing two daughters and could hear the affection she had for her husband of many years.

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Second half of the battle is getting back down!

Our knees and quads were wearing down, but our time together made the trip so much better. I learned she and Joe take off their real estate business months at a time to travel. Check out their very well written blog here.

We arrived at the TH not a step too soon at 5:30pm, as the sun was going down. I got to meet Joe and instantly noticed they have a relationship like Jeff and I. Those rare relationships when a husband and wife actually like each other, have the same life pursuits and miss each other when we are not together. I can appreciate a happy couple!

I had gotten a text from Jeff that said that he had summited around 2pm, four hours after his missed conference call.

Joe and Esther were kind enough to give me a ride back to my RV Park in Lone Pine, knowing that Jeff would not be down for another 3 hours. I left the keys hidden in the truck so he could drive himself home.

Even though I missed reaching the summit I couldn’t be more proud for reaching 13,000+ feet and hiking 20 miles.

Thanks Esther for getting me down that mountain!

Mt. Whitney, I will be back! But next time I will leave earlier and not plan on making any calls!

Mt. Whitney

Westerly view from Trail Crest 13,600′

 

 

 

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Continued Migration to the Pacific North West

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Welcome to Track Town USA!

After leaving Bend, Oregon Jeff and I headed west to Eugene so that we could stop into AM Solar.

About a year ago we got most of our RV projects/repairs completed in Elkhart, Indiana and made a dash back to Arkansas to regroup. We had planned on having a month to catch our breath and install our final project, solar, before we headed to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

Unfortunately our repairs lingered on in Indiana and we were left with a measly week to complete our final project.

As I mentioned in my last post, Jeff is extremely handy. His single Mom of five kids became a General Contractor in California and raised her kids to know how to “raise a barn” from the ground up. Jeff was certified in solar installation and has installed hundreds of solar water heaters all over California and Arkansas.

 

Installing 4-6 little solar panels on an RV roof would be a breeze!

Oh our plans!

We had a Solar panel that was damaged during shipping and our NorthStar  batteries needed to be picked up 2 hours from home. The week flew by and we only got as far as installing 3 panels on the roof, batteries placed and inverter mounted. No connections were made and we left for ABQ without a functioning system.

Once in ABQ we received our replacement panel. With a little help from our friends, Kuhl Odyssey and Technomadia, we finally got our system up and running.

Over time Jeff has tweaked our system and it has been running beautifully. We got all of our supplies from the highly recommended AM Solar in Eugene/Springfield, OR. Since we were in the neighborhood Jeff wanted a consult just to have them give us the once over.

AM Solar made a few modifications and after $800 our completely functioning system… wasn’t working properly! Darn it!!!

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AM Solar “fixing” our system

We couldn’t have planned a delayed stay in Eugene any better since the Track & Field Olympic trials happened to be going on. We headed over to Track Town, USA to Hayward Stadium. Interesting history…The University of Oregon outgrew their football stadium. Instead of demolishing the old stadium it was retained as a track-specific venue that is held in reverence to those who have competed here.

The day we attended, the women’s Hammer Throw was happening. We learned that this was the first time ever that the hammer throw was being held INSIDE the actual stadium. Normally the event was held off-sight with very little attendance. But this year was different and the Hammer Throw was given its just due. The crowd was still small but we heard that the ladies were feeling honored to finally be having their beloved event inside the stadium.

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Top 3 Olympic Qualifiers..Good Luck in Rio!

Neither Jeff nor I knew anything about Hammer Throw, despite me growing up in Track and Cross Country. We learned that HT is about pure technique of heel-toe foot action with maximum spin in order to hurl the 8.82lb hammer down field.

The top 2 ladies at Olympic Trials competed in Rio where Amber Campbell finished 6th and DeAnna Price finished 8th.

Toutle, Washington

Toutle (too-tle) is a very small town that was located in the devastation zone of Mount St. Helens that erupted in 1980. There are times in your life that you remember certain world events. The eruption of Mount St. Helens was one of those events for me and I remember hearing about the mushroom cloud of ash that re-routed airplanes states away and covered towns as far as Alberta, Canada.

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Morning run along the Toutle River right from our campground

Jeff had heard about a training bike ride from Toutle to Mount St. Helens, so we stayed at the Harry Gardner City Park in Toutle. This park was destroyed in the 1980 eruption and was never re-opened until 2015. There is a very nice 14-site campground in the park with water and electric hook-ups for $20/night. We were there on a weekend and were one of only four RV’s parked here. We loved this CG on the Toutle River. Unfortunately there was no connectivity what so ever and we had to shorten our stay.

Jeff’s bike ride was cold, rainy and 80 miles of long hard hills and 6,000’ of elevation. Since I wanted to see Mount St. Helens from the Johnson Observatory, I took a drive and met Jeff there.

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Some of the group in front of Mout St Helen

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Before and after photos of Mount St. Helens

What a sight! The drive was stunning and the regrowth of trees were so symmetrical that I was almost dizzy until I reached the blast zone. The devastation is still palatable even after 36 years. I listened to the Ranger talk about that fateful day and learned that 57 people lost their lives, how rivers were rerouted, new lakes formed and the mountain lost about 1,300’ of elevation. Ms. Helen has remained active off and on since then, with her last recorded activity as late as 2008.

Auburn, Washington (Seattle)

We were getting to Seattle a little earlier than planned so I made last minute reservations at the Game Farm Wilderness Park in Auburn WA. This was another gem of a find especially since most RV parks that I spoke with in Seattle were booked up.

There was a wonderful paved trail system that ran through the park and it was also home to the busiest 18-hole frisbee golf course in the state! Over 300 people come here daily to play!

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Beautiful Des Moines, WA Marina

Since we had a lot on our plate for work we didn’t really explore too much of Seattle except to have Sunday brunch with a co-worker of Jeff’s at a marina in Des Moines. It was a beautiful sunny day and we finished our meal with a relaxing walk out on a peer.

Abbotsford & Vancouver, Canada

 Jeff had an intern years ago that was getting his master degree from John Brown University. They hit it off and have stayed in touch since then. He and his wife have been asking us to come for a Canadian visit for a long time, so we purposed to make it happen this summer. The added “bonus” was that the Ironman Whistler was taking place during our stay. Not one to miss a race, Jeff signed up for the half.

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Not sure what Sam was thinking but we were prepared for our boarder crossing!

This was our first boarder crossing in the RV and we were a bit nervous and had braced ourselves for a long wait. We used up most of our produce and got rid of the rest. I had Sam’s medical certificate and our passports ready. We nervously pulled up to an empty boarder crossing where we were asked where we were heading, how long we were staying and if we had any fruit on board. Then we were waved through. Easy peasy!

We spent our first couple nights in our friend’s backyard getting caught up before heading to Whistler for the Half Ironman. The drive from Vancouver to Whistler was spectacular! I’ve never been to Switzerland, but this drive made me think of the Swiss Alps.

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Jeff and Sam relaxing before the big race

Incredible blue water, dramatic mountain views and lush forests. We were on sensory overload for sure! We stayed at the Wonderland RV Park in Squamish, B.C. and made the 30-minute drive to Whistler for the race. It was a great race on a beautiful sunny day in a picturesque setting!

Vancouver

After Whistler we returned to our friends backyard in Abbotsford, BC. We spent time exploring their community, visited mutual friends, tasting some farm-to-table food and just hanging out with their family.

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Another awesome driveway surfing spot!

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Dear friends Dave and Danaya taking us to Harrison Lake for dinner. Truly a delightful evening!

We planned a day trip to Vancouver via a train, water taxi and city buses with 4 kiddos in tow. Our first stop was Grouse Mountain known for the infamous Grouse Grind. This is a 1.8-mile hike, 2800’ elevation gain, and 2,830 stairs at a 30-degree slope to the top. There is a tracking device at the bottom and top of the mountain and you can see how fast people are hiking here.

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After shredding our gluts and hams on “Natures Stairmaster” we took in the Lumberjack show, saw two grizzly bears in captivity and our favorite…the Birds of Flight show at the top of the mountain.

The Birds of Flight featured an Eagle, Falcon and Owl that were released high above the outdoor amphitheater and swooped down over the crowd to gracefully land on designated perches. What a treat to feel and hear the power of their wings as they flew just above our heads. It was interesting and highly entertaining and we would highly recommend this show!

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Giant carved lumberjacks

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Grouse Mountain resident bears

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The beautiful eagle on Grouse Mountain

Funny…the falcon flew off into the surrounding valley and was enjoying its freedom until a wild falcon aggressively went after him. The two tangled and the captive Falcon made a b-line back to the safety of his handler. Poor guy. Out for a leisure stroll around the airways when the big bully showed up!

After we were all sufficiently sunburned we took the sky tram down the mountain where we picked up the city bus. The bus was air-conditioned and super comfy and all eight of us took power naps while we were transported back to downtown Vancouver. We stopped for a late lunch then walked the city a bit before catching a train back to Abbotsford.

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Train ride into Vancouver

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Sky Tram ride down Grouse Mountain

It was a great day full of new adventures with our host family of 6! Our week’s stay flew by and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the states!

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