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I had researched boondocking sites near the Bryce Canyon National Park. We drove down a couple of dirt roads and through the Red Canyon Campground but none of them had any connectivity. After passing through the two arches on Hwy 12 with a 13’6” height restriction, we found an incredible boondocking area on Toms Best Spring Rd, just across the street from the start of the Bryce 100 at Coyote Hollow.
And with excellent connectivity it was the winning location.
Our only apprehension was the height restriction through the arches. Our girl is tall like Jeff and I, so squeezing her through 13’6” was about 6” short of her Amazonian stature. Jeff devised a plan on how we could measure the height. With his 8’ overhead arm reach while holding our 5’ truck bed bike rack we could tell that the arch still had 5-6’ of clearance. As long as we stuck to the center of the lane we were golden!
A couple days later we packed up camp at the North Rim and made the two-hour trek to Bryce.
We left early in the morning and dumped our tanks at a gas station in Kanab. We wanted to get an early start so that we could avoid too much traffic while trying to fit our square peg of an RV through a round hole of the arches. All went smoothly with plenty of clearance and we picked an awesome boondocking spot to spend the next two weeks.
We used these two weeks to scout out trailheads and aid station checkpoints for the Bryce 100. Our campsite happened to be in the perfect location for hitting two different checkpoints on opposite sides of the course. This would allow me to swing by the RV to catch a quick nap and make Jeff a couple of smoothies during the 36-hour race.
We took the opportunity to do a couple of training runs in Bryce National Park. Our first sunrise hike was on the Rim Trail that connected to the Navajo Loop Trail. The trip down the canyon was steep with switchback after switchback to make the grade more manageable. What was dynamic about this hike is that the initial trail takes you up close and personal with tall hoodoos and slots that appear to be held up by the smallest of pebbles of crumbling dirt. Just one flick of a finger would appear to bring it all tumbling down.
Another favorite is the Fairyland Loop. Eight miles of dusty dirt to kick up while taking in the sites!
As the sun came up it set the rocks on fire, heating up the canyon with a warm radiant heat. Every turn gives a fresh vantage point of endless hoodoos that speak straight to my soul. “Come and explore so that I may show you a whole other world”.
God’s creation moves me. It speaks to me. And I am whole again.
After such a moving experience we went to breakfast and did laundry at the Bryce Canyon Inn. Hey, that’s the reality of life on the road. One minute you are basking in the glory of nature, the next you are buying propane and dumping your poop at the local gas station.
As the race quickly approached we met up with two friends from our Arkansas running group who also had entered Bryce 100. Janet and Chris are the ones who encouraged Jeff to run this race with them. Strategies were talked about, meals were eaten and all checked in for the race. The pain fest was about to begin!
On June 16 the gun went off and the crowd of 250 shuffled off with high hopes for the next 24-36 hours of 18,565’ of vertical climb.
I stopped at the RV for a quick nap and made Jeff a smoothie before heading off to the first check point about 19 miles out. The tough part of being a spectator at these types of events is that it can be challenging to spectate. Check points can be spread out over 100’s of driving miles down poorly maintained roads.
Proctor Canyon aid station was no exception.
Support crews had to park miles away and wait in long lines to hitch a ride on the back of a pickup truck who then made the 40 minute rock crawl to our destination. Thinking I had left a couple of hours gap before seeing the “Arkansas Travelers” (AT-team) they showed up 30 minutes after my arrival. They were making great time!
All systems were a go and Jeff, Janet and Chris quickly moved on. I made the rock crawl back to my vehicle and drove back to the RV to reload for the next aid station at Straight Canyon, mile 41.
Another interesting thing that happens during these races is that you start questioning your timing. You do the math over and over again to insure you arrive at the aid stations when you “think” your athlete will be there. But then they show up early to the first location and throw off all your projected times for the day.
So when I made it to Straight Canyon the AT-team was already heading down the road to the next location. I managed to see Jeff for a few minutes, and then we were all off to the next spectator aid station at the turn around…mile 51.
Crawford Pass was 10 miles away for the runners, but only 3 miles for the crew. So I settled in for a bit of a wait. The sun was going down by this time and the temps were beginning to drop. I tried to nap in the truck but I wasn’t able to sleep. So I put on warmer clothes and decided to help the athletes coming in by picking out their needs bags and getting them food.
By mile 51, everyone is getting pretty tired and I saw quite of few people decide to call it quits. Jeff and I had a strategy in place, that if he came into an aid station and wanted to quit I would encourage him to wait to make the decision at the next aid station. These races are as much mental as physical and if you can delay a decision until the next stop, sometimes that’s enough time to get the athletes out of their own head and back on the trail.
Jeff came into Crawford pass about 10pm and the rest of AT about 40 min later. Jeff used this aid station to take a 30 min nap while I took his shoes and socks off, washed his feet and put on new, fresh socks. Jeff didn’t have a single blister in sight and was feeling pretty good after his nap.
Jeff has always been a VERY optimistic guy and to see him with his happy-go-lucky attitude at this stage amazed me to say the least. There was no hint of not making it to the finish and I knew then that he would accomplish this race!
Our other teammates were not having the same experience. Chris had such an upset stomach that he wanted to drop out. While the rest of us tried to encourage him to delay his decision he walked into the woods to throw up, then announced that he was out!
By this time Jeff had already left the aid station.
Janet wanted to continue on but did not want to run in the dark by herself. She was going to drop out as well until a pacer for another runner (that had dropped out) offered to run with Janet through the night. This wonderful gal ran with Janet until the finish of the race…50 miles away. What a super hero!!!
Since this race was an out-and-back, Chris and I drove back to Straight Canyon, now mile 62. We fell asleep in the truck and woke up just as Jeff was leaving the aid station. He made awesome time again and was still feeling good. Janet followed a bit later and Chris and I headed back to the RV where his car was parked.
I’m not going to lie. By now it was 3am and I was exhausted. The 45-minute drive was pure torture in sleep depravation. Chris went back to his hotel and I slept for a couple hours at the RV before making one more smoothie for Jeff. Our last spectator aid station was back at Proctor Canyon, mile 84. This time Chris and I drove my truck to the aid station and offered up rides to others waiting in the long line again.
Jeff was able to get a text message every once in a while to let me know what time/mile he was at. I knew that he was within 4 miles of Proctor, so I set out back tracking the course to pace him into the aid station. I ran into him with two miles to Proctor and he filled me in on the perils of night running and things that go bump in the night. With sleep depravation, exhaustion and a bit of hallucinations there is quite a story to tell!
By now it was getting very hot and the rest of the course was in full sun.
At Proctor we did one last foot cleaning and clean socks and Jeff made a quick exit. His cut off times were starting to get tight and he didn’t want to run the risk of not finishing under 36 hours.
I watched as other runners came into the aid station. Some looking fresh. Some looking terrible. It is scary when an athlete stumbles into an aid station not knowing who they are or babbling something incoherent. It was sad to see one runner who was pulled off the course by the medical team with just 16 miles to go. It was definitely warranted, but sad just the same.
By this mileage there are plenty of runners crying due to pain, skinned knees from falls, blisters on top of blisters and those who just want to stop. I admire all these runners for the perseverance it takes to finish a 100-mile race. My respect goes to each and every one of them…those who start and those who finish! Who does such a thing????
With 16 miles left Jeff pushed his legs further than he ever has and had a kick to the finish with an hour to spare.
Jeff completed his first 100!!!!
I cant tell you how proud I am to see Jeff cross that finish line. All the long training runs, all the mounds of food consumed to fuel that training, all the head games to convince himself it can be done, all the research and conversations from those who have gone before. It all came together for a perfect race!
Janet showed up with her pacer about 20 minutes after the cutoff. Anyone that finishes a 100 mile race is a “finisher” in my book.
Jeff and Janet received their belt buckles!
48% of the field dropped out of the race that weekend…48%! There were ambulances at the finish to escort some weary runners to the hospital. Jeff got some food at the finisher’s tent, and then we made the short drive back to the RV.
We had a quick travel turn around to make it to Denver. With a flight scheduled to Elkhart IN for meetings within a couple days my plan was to load up Jeff and the RV right after his finish and head down the road. But we were both too exhausted. It wasn’t going to be safe for me to drive so we decided to wait until the next morning to leave Bryce.
After a VERY long day of driving to Frisco, CO we stopped at a campground before making the last push to Colorado Springs where we parked the RV in a friends driveway for our Indiana trip.
Since Jeff’s race 4 months ago (I know…I am waaay behind on this blog) we have been stationary for the most part in the mid-west. We have been hit with some life events back home so I will fill you in on the excitement next time!
Goodbye for now Utah!
The first time I visited Flagstaff was about 10-15 years ago when Jeff worked for Scotts Miracle Grow. They had their annual sales conference in Scottsdale. We stayed a few extra days to explore Arizona, and Flagstaff was merely a place to overnight so we could see Sedona and the Grand Canyon.
It was such a memorable trip. Cresting the hill driving into Sedona and seeing those red rock formations for the first time. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. Then standing on the south rim of the Grand Canyon looking over its edge. I couldn’t open my eyes wide enough to take it all in.
We had a retirement dream way back then to travel in a 5th Wheel. But I don’t think we ever could have pictured the life that we now have!
On May 11 Jeff and I rolled into Flagstaff for the ? time. We have been here so many times now we no longer need a GPS to get around. It’s familiar, beautiful and one of our favorite places to be.
We were at Flagstaff this time to work the Overland West Expo being held at the Fort Tuthill County Park. We stayed onsite with thousands of Overlanders who were there to…
“Get outfitted, get trained, get inspired—get going.
The world is waiting.”
With that kind of inspiration it’s no wonder this is our very favorite show to work!
What makes this event so special is the location (nestled amongst the fragrant, wispy pines), the dogs (all well behaved non-yappers) and the adventurous people who tend to be a younger demographic than RV’ers.
As an RV’er we tend to think we have a sense of exploration and adventure. But Overlanders? Well, they take adventure to a whole other level. Where (most) RV’ers are limited by the boarders of North America, Overlanders are limited by the globe!
There were no satellite or surge protectors companies represented here. I didn’t see any tempurpedic mattresses or meat smokers either. They are more interest in products that will allow them to access off road places with the minimal amount of stuff. The smaller you can go, the better.
We were there to showcase Dometic’s mobile cooling line of CFX portable refrigerator freezers. They can operate off of 12V or 110 and be powered by solar. This appeals to many Overlanders and the products flew off the shelf! Best of all, I didn’t have to talk to a single person about the use of their RV toilet…and their ensuing bathroom habits.
It was a great show with a great team and it was our last show to work until the fall.
SOUTH RIM GRAND CANYON
After Flag we moved on to another favorite location, the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We had some friends that were driving up from Phoenix to do a double-crossing of the Canyon and we were invited to go.
Since I prefer a single crossing rather than a double and we have to be responsible fur parents, I sent Jeff across the big ditch with the group while I stayed back with Sam. My plan was to go a couple days later.
This was the 4th trip across the canyon for Jeff and it never gets old. It’s a heart pounding challenge that he used as training for his Bryce 100 race coming up. At 3am we picked up our three friends at the village and I dropped them all off at the South Kaibab trailhead to start their 15-20 hour journey. I picked them up at 10pm with a couple of pizzas. They were exhausted, cold and hungry!
A couple days later I headed down South Kaibab myself. I wanted to take a different route this time and decided to jump onto the Tonto trail at Tip Off Point. Tonto runs east/west between South Kaibab and the Bright Angel trail at Indian Gardens. This cuts off 1000ft of elevation and 6 miles of the traditional Rim to River to Rim route.
I REALLY enjoyed this route. The views are not nearly as stunning crossing the Tonto trail. But what I enjoyed was that I was done within 6 hours, rather than 10-12 hours. The thirteen miles was still a challenge, but I finished in time for a hot lunch at Bright Angel Lodge.
While camping there we had a quick overnight visit from our niece and her family of 4 little’s. They were making a two-week trip from northern California to Arkansas and back and just happened to be passing through. We invited them to spend the night and see the Canyon at sunrise.
Since our RV is not really set up for overnight guests, we spread out yoga mats on the floor to try and make their sleeping bags a bit more comfortable. The next morning we headed to the south rim for sunrise, then took the kids to a café for a pancake breakfast. It was fun watching the kids and their dad seeing the Canyon for the first time. Standing on the rim in awe.
They were on their way after breakfast while Jeff and I headed to the North rim.
NORTH RIM GRAND CANYON
The reason for the North Rim was that I had signed up for the North Rim half marathon trail run. I was originally going to do the Bryce Half (of the Grand Circle Trail series) while Jeff was signed up for the Bryce 100. But after thinking about logistics and caring for Sam dog, we decided to split our races.
The thing that we have found about these trail races is that the packet pickup and start/finish tend to be in remote locations down poorly maintained and unmarked forestry roads. GPS is usually not your friend in these instances and connectivity to digital maps does not exist. At one point we had 7 cars behind us following our lead as we tried to find the check-in. Two hours and two flat tires (not us) later we all made it to the start.
We did discover that our GPS took us on a terrible route…sorry everyone! Our trip back to the RV was on better roads and only took 75 minutes.
Race day was beautiful and fun. But with the 9,000’ elevation breathing was HARD! The route took us on forestry roads and freshly made single-track trails. Up and down hills and along the north rim of the Grand Canyon. It was so amazing runners, including myself, stopped frequently to take pictures during the race. That is one of my favorite things about trail running…stopping for a pretty view regardless of your time is to be expected.
It was a great time and I enjoyed a long hard nap once we got back to the RV.
One of the tools I like to use when we go to a new area is Pinterest. I type in our location to the search and see what others have pinned for the area. For Kanab the search pulled up The Wave.
Most of you have seen The Wave, which was made popular by Microsoft as a screen saver. It was a little known treasure that only locals knew about. But once it appeared on computer screens EVERYWHERE, tourists swallowed up the Wave.
As a result, the Bureau of Land Management had to quickly put some restrictions in place to preserve this treasure.
The Wave is such a small area the BLM limit permits to 10-online lottery entries (6 months in advance) and 10-in person lottery (for the following day) per day. We have always had luck getting permits to other popular hikes by entering in person. Yosemite and Whitney Mountain.
But the Wave is different with only 20 permits available per day. Any given day you only have a 4-8% chance at getting a permit. Yosemite allows 300 people per day.
Since the odds are closer to 8% on a weekday, Jeff and I left the north rim early enough to get to the Kanab visitor center by 8:30AM to fill out a permit request. Each request allows for up to 6 people to go. However, if a request is drawn with 6 people, then there are only 4 permits left. Permits are handed out per person, NOT per group.
And if there are only 2 permits left and you have a group of 5, then three people must get left behind. NO EXCEPTIONS. All applications are given a number and you must be present during the drawing. Numbered balls are put in a Bingo tumbler and at 9AM sharp, if your number is called, your party is counted until all the permits are issued.
It’s all over in a matter of minutes and the majority of the room leaves disappointed.
We found out that one of our running friends from Bentonville was in Kanab with her family. We asked Whitney if she would like to join us IF we happen to get a permit and we put her name on the application. After going through the drawing process we were one of those who left disappointed. It wasn’t meant to be.
But one of the beauties of being a full time RV’er is that we are flexible, and we decided to make the 45-minute drive to try our luck the next day. And JACKPOT…we were the first number called!
OMG…WE WERE GOING TO THE WAVE!!!
Once our number was called the others were dismissed (sorry folks) and permit holders were educated on the rules and given instructions on how to reach the wave. The trail there is so unworn and so unmarked that you are given paper instructions with pictures of landmarks.
You are warned about paying attention to your surroundings, don’t follow others footprints and taking enough water, food and warm clothing to sustain yourself for 24 hours. People have been known to get lost or injured out there, and connectivity/help is slow or non-existent.
They put the fear of God in me and I took detailed notes of things to be aware of.
Our friend Whitney spent the night with us at our RV so that we could get a very early start. Jeff had an 11am conference call (we are not on vacation after all) and we needed to give ourselves enough time to explore and get back to cell coverage.
We left at 4am and made the 1.5-hour drive on 35 miles of washboard forestry roads and started our hike at sunrise. This trail is fairly easy, but the written directions with pictures are no joke. We could see quickly how people could get lost. We would have never found it without those instructions.
It took us about an hour and a half to reach The Wave… and WOW!
The colors. The textures. The warmth. The contours. All working together to form burning swoops and swirls. We climbed around, on and over this small little jewel and quickly understood why The Wave is limited to 20 people a day. If not the damage would be irreparable and the isolated feel to the experience would be lost.
It was incredible!
As we headed back to the trailhead, we again followed our paper instructions and landmarks. We did get off course but were able to find our way back to the “trail” with the help of Jeff’s Garman breadcrumbs.
We bid farewell to our friend Whitney and made it back to our RV just in time for Jeff’s call. A few days later I was still reflecting on the beauty of The Wave. It was such a special experience and we feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to go.
I’m not sure how many times we are going to have our name draw for things like these. But we will keep entering our names and keep pursuing the special opportunities in life.
Without the effort there would be no opportunity at all.
After working the Easter Jeep Safari Jeff and I headed to Salt Lake City so Jeff could catch a flight to Elkhart, Indiana.
I made a week long reservation at the Salt Lake City KOA for its close proximity to the airport. We have stayed at this KOA before during the Outdoor Retail Show and had found it to be very comfortable despite it not being in the best part of town.
Salt Lake City is surrounded by amazing scenery. Snow capped mountains and lush green foothills that are visible everywhere. And of course Salt Lake is just west of downtown.
I got caught up on expense reports and cleaned up the layer of dust that had accumulated in the RV from windy Moab. Sometimes it’s nice to be parked on concrete just to take a break from the rustic dirt lots we gravitate to. The beauty of living in a tiny home is that it only takes 30 minutes to do a deep clean compared to three hours in my former sticks & bricks life.
While in SLC I wanted to get back on my trail running training plan. Jeff and I are signed up for the Bryce Half marathon (Me) and 100 Mile (Jeff) in June.
Bryce Canyon is one of a six trail races held in the Grand Circle Trail Series. The six races are Antelope Canyon (Feb), Monument Valley (Mar), Zion (April), The Grand Canyon (May), Bryce (June) and Tushars (July).
We have a goal to complete all six races. So far we both have done Zion, while Jeff also completed Monument Valley.
The nice thing about the Salt Lake City KOA is that it backs up to the Jordan River Parkway Trail system. The trail is approximately 40 miles long and for the most part, runs North/South along the Jordan River.
Within a half mile from the KOA is a huge dog park right along the trail, so if you are looking for a nice walk for doggy, this is a wonderful trail to take. I will say. While running early morning (during the week) I was a bit uneasy, as there were numerous homeless folks that use the Jordan River banks as their overnight beds. Some of the trail got a bit closed in and isolated, which added to my concern. I make sure to make eye contact, say good morning and keep moving.
I needed to take Sam for grooming, so I headed to the East side of SLC. While Sam was getting a once over I headed to the Parley’s Historic Nature Park, a 68-acre open park in Parley’s Canyon. This is a completely fenced in park where dogs are permitted off-leash and free to run. And with Parley’s Creek (what else would it be named) running through the park, there is plenty of drinking spots for pets.
The views were amazing and it was such a tranquil place despite running right next to a major highway. One loop around the park was 2-miles with some good hills to get the heart rate up. I was going for 3 loops and got caught in the rain. Luckily I was close to the parking lot where I could wait it out and then jumped back out to get my last 2 miles in.
While in SLC, Preppercon was having its annual show.
Preppercon is an event that showcases disaster preparedness and for some, the apocalyptic zombie invasion. Not really being afraid of Zombies, this is not a topic of interest to us. We went to see if it would be an appropriate event for Dometic to showcase their Mobile Cooling line as a vendor. In case you were wondering…it’s not!
As a full time RV’er, we have run into some very “interesting” people. Especially in Quartzsite. But this a whole new level of interesting. There was no shortage of kilt wearing men (not sure what that is all about), firearms, dehydrated foods, generators, underground storage containers and a hurricane simulator. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Respectfully, it is just not our thaang.
I did enjoy the self-defense course that was offered. I now know how to get out of a mean chokehold! With all of the isolated running situations I put myself in, the class gave me great hands on tips in a matter of 30-minutes. It‘s all about confidence in certain situations and 30-minutes did just that. My plan is to take a full self-defense course soon, as I could quickly see how valuable this training would be!
After Salt Lake City, we had two weeks before we needed to be in Las Vegas for the National Hardware Show.
I really wanted to check out The Valley of Fire in Nevada but the temps were already in the 90’s and too hot to boondock. So we decided to head to higher elevation at Capital Reef National Park. This was a 3 hours detour off course but thought it would be worth the adventure.
We researched boondocking spots in the area and found some camping reviews that said where there was a few bars of cell coverage. But after arriving, we couldn’t find a connection. AN.E.WHERE. Since Jeff had been traveling he had some work to catch up on. We quickly decided that Capital Reef was not going to work for a weekday visit and we packed up the next day and headed to St. George Utah.
With that 6 hours experiment behind us, we settled into a favorite location in Leeds, where free dispersed camping is offered right along the Red Cliffs. We stayed here last spring as our jumping off point for the Zion Ultra Trail Run (aka Mudageddon) and Zion National Park. After our mouse invasion here last year, I came fully prepared with plenty of mousetraps. I thought maybe the mice were just a fluke. But we were invaded once again! Darn critters!
Despite fighting off the nightly invasions, we really love this location for running.
You have every possible trail running opportunity here. Single track, ATV roads and gravel roads are easily accessible and we took advantage of them all! Jeff was on one trail and was startled by something out of the corner of his eye. At the sight of a rattle snake he jumped so hard he hurt his shoulder. Of course he was not injured enough to stop for a photo.
It started to get a bit hot while we were here. So hot that we drove into St. George for an afternoon and hung out in a furniture store, then went to dinner just to be in some air-conditioning. The next day we drove down to the holler from our campsite and put our lawn chairs in Leeds Creek and drank smoothies for a few hours. The creek was cool and refreshing, especially after our long runs.
We had to park in the campsite right next to the Silver Reef Trailhead, which saw a lot of traffic. Groups were coming out for repelling classes, which were entertaining to watch. But instead of taking the trail, the day-users felt comfortable walking right through our campsite just to avoid a few extra steps to their cars. Either I don’t remember this from last year but the road was non-stop with cars and ATV’s driving by day and night with their hair on fire. The wind was fierce this time too and we found ourselves spending more time inside just to get some relief from the dust being kicked up by the cars.
Overall, we still love it here and will probably be back. I just need to restock the mousetraps before we do.
Jeff and I did take an early morning trip over to Zion National Park. We had Sam with us in the truck so we found a shady parking spot and took a short hike to Hidden Canyon. It requires a shuttle ride to Weeping Rock where Hidden Canyon spurs off. It was a short 4 miles round trip, but definitely beautiful and fun.
The initial climb is very steep (just like every trail in Zion) with numerous switchbacks. As things begin to level out the trail becomes narrow. Some areas have permanent chains imbedded in the cliff side to give hikes a bit more security. I’m not sure who put in this trail, but they would have had to have nerves of steel cutting in to a sheer cliff face.
We eventually came to a sandy slot and scrambled over rocks and logs to get to the end of the canyon, denoted by a sign telling us to turn around.
On our way back down we turned on to the short trail to Weeping Rock. This is a paved trail and bit crowded, but non-the-less beautiful. Water seeps through cracks in the cliff face above. All the vegetation is green and lush here with a backdrop of deep red, black and green rock. It was refreshing to catch a little bit of dripping water on our skin.
After our shuttle back to the parking lot we went to Cafe Soleil in Springdale for lunch. We came here a couple times on our last visit and love their fresh salads and smoothies. We can sit outside with Sam in the gorgeous weather and visit with other tourists.
After Zion we pulled up stakes and made the trek to the belly of the beast…Las Vegas. The only thing I can I say about Las Vegas is that we always look forward to when our time is over and we can get back to solitude.
We again stayed at the Circus Circus RV “Resort” just a mile and a half from the Convention Center. This works out well for me to run back to the RV to relieve Sam during the Hardware Show. Even though CC is quite run down and prime for an epic dynamite implosion, they did add a very nice water park since the last time we were here. The laundry room may not have a single functioning washing machine, but the water park will be fun for families who choose to bring their children to the land of debauchery.
We did get to see our RVing buddies John and Becky for a few minutes as Becky was also working the show. Sometimes you just got to squeeze in a howdy and hug where you can, making our Las Vegas trip totally worth it!
Las Vegas was short lived as we left the show a day early to drive to Flagstaff to set up for the Overland West Expo.
Now that’s more our style!
If you have never smelled the South or Southwest when grapefruits, lemons, limes and oranges are blooming, you are in for a treat. The smell is fragrant, sweet and a bit intoxicating. It’s another reason we love the Southwest, especially because the blooming happens while the rest of the country is still experience arctic blasts.
We left the blossoms and Sam dog with the sitter while we flew back to Bentonville, Arkansas.
I had to delay my trip a bit because Sam was in bad shape. While we were in Tucson for the Escapees Rally, Sam started to act strangely. He couldn’t keep up with me on a simple walk around the RV Park. When we picked him up he would cry out in pain and he became lethargic.
He was holding up his left front paw and I found an enlarged lymph node on his left chest. We immediately started thinking the worst and scheduled a visit to the vet. It was such an odd feeling to have such a healthy dog who was still running up to 11-miles one day, but was so incapacitated the next.
I’m not going to lie. We thought his lymph node was a sign of cancer and we cried all the way to Phoenix on the way to the vet. We even stopped at his favorite canal trail and carried him to the ducks for one last chase. We were saying goodbye to the best boy we have ever had. We really thought we were going to be putting our beloved Sam down that day.
After blood work and an X-ray the vet assured us that Sam’s demeanor was NOT cancer, but more spinal related and he was prescribes pain killers, muscle relaxers and anti-inflammatories. The vet then called a day later to let us know that the radiologist described two degenerated discs in his neck and what appeared to be bilateral ear infections. Antibiotics were added to his long list of meds.
This was all two days before we were supposed to fly to Arkansas. So I rescheduled my flight to later in the week so that Sam was more stable before taking him to the sitter.
It took a couple days, but Sam started to perk up day after day. By the time I left he still was not himself. All that medication made him loopy, shaky and sleepy. But at least his pain was finally under control and I felt OK enough to leave him in good hands.
By the time we got back, Sam was more spunky…but completely deaf! After a follow-up visit to the vet he was taken off all pain meds, but left on antibiotics for his ears. Currently, he has regained only a minimal amount of hearing. He is back to short runs and longer walks and now charges the door when we put our running shoes on. A sure sign that he is back!
It’s been a hard 4 weeks for Sam. At 11-12 years old he is finally starting to act his age I guess. We are just so happy he is still with us for a little longer. He is going to be a hard one to replace when the time comes for sure!
I did make it to Arkansas in time for the Bentonville Half Marathon.
Jeff and I and his two sisters, brother-in-love and nephew had all been training since mid-December for this race. We had a lot of fun texting and emailing accountability to the training program and talking about pain points on our bodies. This would be the first time our sisters, nephew and brother-in-love ever did a half!
In the end we all completed the race! It was a proud and emotional moment for all of us! This trip was about a family reunion, overcoming physical challenges and coming together to support their Mom who we had just moved into a local assisted living facility a couple week prior.
Jeff’s brother had their Mom at the finish line to cheer us all on. Though she has lost her ability to communicate, the pride of a mother over her kids was still evident on her face!
It was a special time for sure as we spent precious time with our families.
After checking on our lake cabin we flew back to Phoenix, picked up our dog and headed for Moab.
We split the drive into two days and stopped this time at Goulding Lodge and Campground at Monument Valley.
Wow. What a little gem of a campground! It is an RV Park so spacing is closer that a state park. But the sites are laid out very nicely so just about everyone has an amazing view of the monuments off in the distance. It is also on a hillside, so some sites are a little bit challenging to level. They have a nice short hiking trail from the park with perfect viewpoints for taking some awesome sunset pictures.
And if you want to schedule a hiking or jeeping tour, they will schedule your “Goulding” tour right from the campground. Or if you need groceries, stop at Goulding Market. Goulding has everything covered right from their grounds.
Jeff and I took a 5-mile sunrise trail run before we left and it did not disappoint. The red glow of the morning sun set the red rock formations on fire. We followed a horse path up the side of a mountain and hugged a fairly level trail once we got to it. We jumped on a jeep trail and looped us back around to the RV Park through sand dunes. We were chased by a few dogs in the distance on this run. But they quickly gave up the effort and retreated to their respected porches.
On day two we made it to Moab by lunch time.
We were at Moab again this year for the for the Easter Jeep Safari (EJS).
From the EJS website…
“The Jeep Safari was started in 1967 by the Moab Chamber of Commerce. The very 1st trail was “Behind the Rocks Trail” (according to what has been told to the club President, the road was made or improved with a BLM employee and equipment.) The “Moab Rim” was then added the next year. In those days, individual ice cream packages were dropped by airplane to the trails at lunch. All the leaders were Chamber members, there was no charge or entry fee, and only a Saturday trail. To register you showed up Saturday morning and signed up for the trail you wanted. The Safari was run this way through 1982 at which point the BLM required a permit and insurance. The Chamber was no longer able to run the safari and approached the club to run this event.
The Jeep Safari itself, and participation in the event has grown since the club officially formed in the early 80s. Once the event was coordinated by the Red Rock 4-Wheelers, the registration moved from the Chamber building north of town, to Lion’s Park, and on to what was called “the Barn” which is where McStiff’s is currently located near Center and Main. Over the years the increase in participation grew to expand the trail riding to more days until it finally reached a nine day event. “Big Saturday” still remains the culmination of the event on the Saturday of Easter weekend. With the increase in numbers, the registration was moved to the Spanish Trail Arena where it is located today four miles south of the city of Moab on highway 191. This also became the location for the gigantic safari raffle, Boy Scout BBQ dinner, and a vendor exposition featuring over 130 national 4×4 manufacturers”.
When we were in Moab last year I have to say that I was not that overly impressed with the area. The views are beautiful, but the area felt worn and a bit junky. I suspect my view of the area was a bit tarnished by the overwhelming amount of ATV’s, motorcycles, Razors and Jeeps that were streaming by our campsite at all hours of the day and night.
But this visit was different.
Last year we arrived a couple of weeks early to get a campsite at Slick Rock, which is a first come first serve campground…right in the middle of all the action.
This year we stayed at the KOA just a block away from the EJS expo, thanks to some creative finagling by fellow Xscapers who work camp here. We didn’t have a reservation anywhere in Moab! (NEVER come to Moab during Jeep week without a reservation!). This KOA is one of the nicer, well laid out KOA’s that we have been to. And compared to last year, made for a quiet relaxed location to enjoy the Moab Brewery and Quesadilla Mobilia Food Truck in town.
Trail running near the KOA is not nearly as convenient as Slick Rock, so we had to be a bit more strategic to get our runs in. My favorite is the greenway that runs through Moab, within a block of the Laundromat. I put in a wash load while I ran two miles. Then put it in the dryer for three more miles. How is that for multitasking!
Jeff and I worked the 2-day EJS expo. Our fellow Xscaper friends Finding Marshall, RV Chickadee and Mamasaysnamaste stopped by to say hello! They were all staying on BLM just north of Moab at Willow Springs.
Willow Springs is a very popular boondocking area, especially during jeep week. Jeff decided to do his long run from our KOA site 25-miles to Willow Springs. His route took him through The Arches National Park. He didn’t exactly take a trail, but a wash that turned into some bushwhacking and creek crossings. I picked him up at Willow Springs where I was visiting our friends.
Before we left on Sunday we attended the Easter sunrise service at Arches. We started with a short 2-mile hike on the Park Avenue Trail by moonlight and finished at the La Sal Mountains Viewpoint, where there has been an Easter church service for more than 30 years.
We definitely had a much better experience with Moab this time. It is a stunning town with plenty of outdoor activities to last a lifetime. I look forward to coming back again.
After church we packed up the RV and headed to Salt Lake City. Sam and I are currently staying at the KOA while Jeff travels to Elkhart Indiana for meetings. Our next big show is the National Hardware Show in Vegas in about 3 weeks.
Until then, we are going to bounce around Utah and hit up some beautiful BLM sites to continue our training for the Bryce 100 (Jeff) and Half Marathon (Deb) trail run scheduled for June.
Look forward to seeing ya’ll down the road!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!!!
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.
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.
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”.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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?
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!!!
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!
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.
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!