In May, we had short trips to Damascus for Trail Days and also to the outer banks for a wedding.
Southwest Virginia is a gorgeous place and there was a solid list of places I wanted to return to on the 5 day trip.
We left on a Thursday and made it to The Homeplace in Catawba, Va for an all you can eat family style dinner of fried chicken, roast beef, pulled pork and sides. If you are ever in Roanoke or thru-hiking the AT or are even just passing through the area on 81, look this restaurant up. It’s open Thursday-Sunday for dinner 4-8pm. Expect to wait 1-2 hours for a table and for it to be worth it.
Catawba is just a mile or so from the trailhead for McAffee’s Knob on 311. It’s also not far from a few other AT trailheads. We picked one of those to stay for the rainy night. In the morning, Sara slept in, and I hiked up to Dragon’s Tooth in the rain.
It was cloudy the whole way but reminded me of previous visits with and without clouds.
We then drove to Blacksburg and went in to the Virginia Tech library. I hadn’t brought my computer for the trip, and this allowed me to use one for part of the time Sara would work that Friday. We grabbed a late lunch at Bull and Bones, which did not compare to The Homeplace.
We were both rather tired and pulled off for a few stops to break things up as we headed on to Damascus. We paid for a parking space from the town in the lot next to Trail Days’ tent city and set up for the night in a row of cars with AT license plates. We walked through the mostly shut down vendor area and found some food truck food.
We headed over to Damascus United Methodist Church where a talk by Jennifer Pharr Davis was giving a talk about her newest book The Pursuit of Endurance, which is definitely worth reading. She gave a background of her trail experiences, her record hikes, and a sampling of the powerful stories others had shared with her while writing her book.
We then stayed for Warren Doyle’s slideshow, which is decidedly old school. He emphasizes at every Trail Days that his focus is about the ideas, where as many aspects of this gathering are about ‘stuff’. By far the most frequent advice I share with aspiring thru-hikers is to read Warren’s two-page ‘AT Book’. It is always nice to hear from persons who have spent a life time learning from and educating about the trail.
The next day we puttered around the gear vendors and chatted with a few authors at their booths. We had a nice sandwich from the Yellow Deli food truck that had driven down from the northeast.
Towards the end of the afternoon, we drove up to the top of Whitetop Mountain not far from an AT crossing. We camped in the fog near the top of Virginia’s second highest peak.
The next morning we drove down to Greyson Highlands State Park. This is one of the first areas I ever backpacked on the AT and it is always a pleasure to return. Sara and I did a 9 mile hike to the top of Mt. Rogers carrying just a small waist pack with our nice camera, sparse snacks, and 2 water bottles.
Historically these grassy Highlands were grazed by herds of elk that were hunted to extinction by Americans. Without grazing, natural succession from grassland to forest would occur. In 1975, ponies were introduced to graze wild. Their population is monitored by park service and they roam ‘free’ within the park boundaries. Most refer to them as ‘wild’ ponies. The park pamphlet clarified they were technically ‘feral’ ponies because they descended from domesticated livestock.
It is a picturesque spot that is definitely worth walking through.
From here, we crossed up through Pearisburg to a national forest trailhead for both the AT and the Allegheny Trail, which I am interested in hiking again in June. There is about 30 miles of trail that are not completed and in the morning Sara drove while I inspected routes and options for directly connecting the entirety of the completed trail. The trail community maintains a list of several proposed routes for completing trail but all of those would remove small sections of the existing trail.
With the info from my prior hike of the trail and this morning drive, I was able to piece together the route I was looking for.
The next weekend, we headed down to the outer banks. We got a campground on Hatteras Island near the lighthouse for 3 nights.
We went for beach walks, climbed the lighthouse, and grabbed an indoor work session at the nearby Buxton Munch restaurant.
It was a challenge to stay cool even with the window bug screens. We cooked some hotdogs and veggies on the charcoal grill. We spent time in our beach chairs in the shade next to our car.
We had cold showers and got our things together for the ferry to Ocacroke Island. We brought our beach chairs out on the sand for the wedding ceremony.
We then enjoyed the reception before heading back towards the ferry, where we had narrowly missed the 10:30pm departure and had to wait until the midnight crossing.
On the drive out the next day, we stopped at Jockey Ridge State Park for a quick walk and lunch with family in Kitty Hawk before driving back to Virginia.
May 1st to May 5th
Denver to Virginia
After dropping Sara off for her Hawaii flight, Beans and I were making a more direct route across the country. Our initial few weeks on the road had averaged 144 miles per day. During the 5 days with just Beans and I, we wound up driving an average of 394 miles per day.
A few hours out of Denver, I turned off the freeway onto dirt highways to head towards one of few points of interest I could find. As sunset approached, I made it to the “Kansas Badlands” area to check out Castle Rock.
Beans had her supper there. I called to check in with home and then continued further away from the freeway to a state birding area that allowed distributed camping.
After a quick morning walk along the lake shore, I cut blackout paper curtains for the front windows that would allow privacy if I had to camp in any truck stop style locations in the coming days. We pointed further south towards Oklahoma. The objective was to make it to Arkansas and check out the Ozark National Forest late that evening or the next day. We crossed back over onto interstate.
I had Beans set up in the front seat on the pillow Sara left behind.
Beans still made it into my lap at some point. Shortly thereafter, I found a tick crawling up my arm, which I had to figure out how to eliminate while driving highway speeds. Beans went back over to her pillow. Later that afternoon, she sat up and moved to the very front edge of the pillow signaling she was probably about to throw up. An exit did not come soon enough. I tried getting a plastic grocery bag under her and instead caught her vomit on the back of my hand. After pulling over and cleaning up, Beans made it back onto my lap. I swear I had checked her and I for ticks but two more appeared crawling on me once we were back on the highway. I had moved duck tape to the center console, which made trapping the ticks much simpler. It wasn’t a particularly fun day. I think transitioning from leisurely exploring with Sara to driving for distance on a deadline definitely changed the tone of the drive.
I made it to the Ozark National Forest and found a spot to hastily set up camp on a spot that would soon seem to be on a much greater slant that when I first parked.
It was warm and buggy. We did not have adequate bug proof venting of air for the car, which made for a warm night in the SUV and later lead us to buy bug screens for the windows.
I tossed and turned and picked out 4 potential hikes for the morning depending on which direction I wanted to drive and how long I wanted to stay in the forest.
Maybe an hour after falling asleep, the thunder started. It was loud, frequent, and close. The weather channel warned of severe storms, which passed over head while I tried to get sleep with minimal success.
Sun rose with me poorly rested and a continued downpour. I passed on the hike ideas and headed back to the interstate to get some miles on.
Less than 2 hours later, I was on the shoulder of an exit ramp with a very popped tire that met an unfortunately timed end with a chunk of asphalt in the driving lane. I was optimistic about getting back on the road with a Ford dealer only 1 mile away. The optimism was ill founded.
Ford dealerships do not stock the tires of a 2014 Escape. The only other tire shop in town could also not get the tire same day. About 30 miles down the road, I was able to find a shop that could get them next day.
Just outside of that town, there was a campground by the river in Toadsuck, Arkansas. On my donut spare, I headed down there for a campsite. They were sold out. I booked a cheap motel. On the drive over, I stopped for a quick walk in the park.
We got a new tire on next day. I had Beans in her spaceship while I waited and was inside to pay. I stopped frequently to check air pressure and to assure all was well with the new set of tires.
We made it to Memphis, TN and a wreck on I-40 lead the GPS to reroute us directly through the city. I saw a large green space on the GPS as we drove by & I pulled in to a parking area. Beans and I had a walk in what turned out to be a gorgeous 126 acre park with large tulip poplar trees.
We camped at an uneventful location and resumed driving the next morning. I stopped twice during the day from drowsiness and took short naps. By 8pm, I had made it to my destination in Virginia. The final mileage for our cross country trip was 5,151 miles driven. The next update will cover the two short trips we have taken in May.
April 23rd – May 1st
Denver, Boulder, and Rocky Mountain National Park
When I landed back in Denver, we drove straight up to Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).
Moraine Park Campground is at 8,160’ and stays open through the winter on a first come first serve basis.
There were lots of elk.
On the way to Cub Lake, this little pond was very reflective.
Since we were here during the week, we headed down into Estes Park during the day for WiFi to work. We drove further one of the days to check out more RV’s. After 2 nights in RMNP, we headed down to Boulder for a hotel and to explore.
We had a hike in Chataqua Park.
We checked out the Boulder farmers market for lunch. We saw lots of blooming tulips and colorful street performers on the pedestrian mall.
We headed back up to RMNP and did our first real cooking of the trip. The grocery had no skewers for sale but we grabbed 3 pair of chopsticks, which served as both skewer and tongs.
The campground was much more crowded on the weekend, with every campsite filling a bit before sun down. I set up my hammock for the first time in years. There was a bright full moon. In the morning we went up to Bear Lake.
In preparation of Sara’s Hawaii trip, we headed back in to Denver for a few nights at a hotel. We made a trip to B&B RV to check out a few unique brands of travel trailer. The Cricket by Taxa was by far the best designed we found yet. It’s a 15’ hybrid trailer that took a few seconds to pop up and be fully set up. The queen bed ran lengthwise in the trailer’s rear and there was a multi function living space and kitchen at the trailer’s front.
Checking out of our hotel after the days in Denver, Sara graciously went to the airport many hours before her flight so that Beans and I could get a jump on the long drive east.
White River National Forest – Denver
Waypoints: White River National Forest, Aspen, Glenwood Canyon, Loveland Pass, Eisenhower Tunnel, Johnson Tunnel, Denver
Miles hiked: 2.1
Miles driven: 383.9
Break camp: 24 min
Make camp: 37 min
Camp type: Hotel
Camp cost: $151
I woke and fed Beans.
I then headed up the unplowed forest road for a walk.
There were lots of tracks, none from humans.
There was a spot where several birds had walked to the edge of the road and taken flight, leaving prints of their feathers in the powdery snow.
We got confirmation that Beans throwing her breakfast up appeared to be from cold climate because it happened again this morning. We got her towel bagged up and packed out. We swung by Aspen to check it out and grab groceries. We then headed back up to I-70 and made a stop in Glenwood Canyon.
We stopped at a gorgeous little recreation area loaded with snowmobilers.
We had a lunch stop and wound our way up to Loveland Pass! Amazingly beautify views.
Snow boarders were setting off right from the road.
Driving down, we saw 2 tanker trucks climbing the pass & Sara remarked it was odd they would go the windy and steep way rather than the interstate. I informed her they weren’t allowed on I-70 due to the large tunnel. Sara loves tunnels and it appeared to be news to her that the detour we were taking now (and had taken in 2015) was bypassing one of the longest tunnels in the country. As we reached the bottom of the pass road, I was just saying sorry we missed the tunnel, and we can go that way next time. She turned onto the west bound ramp with a “Next time is this time.” We made our 8 mile detour to the next exit beyond the tunnel and headed back in the other direction. We cruised the rest of the way into Denver and grabbed dinner with our friend. As we unloaded our car at the hotel, we realized the pressure changes through the day had dumped the contents of our 2 gallon water vessel through the pour spout onto the floor board. We checked into a hotel for Sara to have a home base while I flew to California for a 2 night trip for a meeting. We had our eyes set on Rocky Mountain National Park after I returned.
Moab – White River National Forest
Waypoints: Moab, UT-128, Grand Junction, White River National Forest
Miles hiked: 0
Miles driven: 286.1
Break camp: 27 min
Make camp: 22 min
Camp type: Dispersed camping with no services
Camp cost: $0
We left south out of Moab and made it to Hole N the Rock.
We were originally headed towards La Sal Mountains but headed back towards Moab for an alternate route.
We took UT-128 along the Colorado River.
After meeting back up with I-70, we cruised towards Grand Junction, CO. We stopped by an RV dealer that carried the Falcon F-Lite, which was a 14′ travel trailer light enough to be towed by our SUV. It’s bed was a bit short for me but it was a well designed compact RV.
We stopped by another dealer with rugged NOBO RV’s to have a look as well.
Heading towards higher elevations, we began to see snow.
We headed towards the White River National Forest.
We saw a few elk climbing the bank near the road.
We began to transition away from green trees to snow frosted scenery.
The snow in the valley was pretty.
Sunset was nice as we settled in for the night.
Moab – Moab
Waypoints: Moab, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park
Miles hiked: 6.9
Miles driven: 141.0
Break camp: 34 min
Make camp: 11 min
Camp type: Developed campground with water and showers
Camp cost: $33.25
Sara and Beans worked from a coffee shop while I went back into Arches for a 6 mile hike from the Devils Garden Trailhead. The first stop was Landscape Arch.
The number of people dwindled as you ventured beyond that major attraction.
I stopped by Partition Arch.
And Navajo Arch.
The primitive trail looping beyond these was quite pretty.
There were mud holes large and small where animals drank.
I stopped by Private Arch.
There were beautiful pillars along the trail.
And a backdrop of La Sal Mountains.
On the drive back, I stopped by a new overlook by the Courthouse Towers.
From Moab, we drove up to Island in the Sky area of Canyonlands National Park. Beans had a nice nap en route.
The canyon views were superb.
We did the short walk up to Upheaval Dome.
We headed to the Green River Overlook for sunset.
It was gorgeous.
Moab – Moab
Waypoints: Moab, Arches National Park
Miles hiked: 1.6
Miles driven: 55.5
Break camp: 58 min
Make camp: 16 min
Camp type: Developed campground with water and showers
Camp cost: $33.25
We woke and had a morning work session before heading to Arches National Park. Sara dropped me at one side of the Park Avenue trail and picked me up on the other end.
We then checked out Balanced Rock.
The large camera battery was dying, and I went to change it with the spare that was on the charger. But neither the charger nor spare battery were to be found. We tossed through the car twice over and before looking up a camera store in Moab we hoped would be able to remedy the loss once we left the park. We then went to the windows area.
Sara began not feeling well and insisted she wait with Beans while I took the 1/2 mile look closer on my own. North window was crawling with people.
South window was a bit clearer.
The view back to the Parade of Elephants was quite nice.
We headed down to the Delicate arch viewing area and checked out the first quarter mile of a 4×4 road.
There were nice panoramic views on much of the drive.
We stopped at the viewing point for Firey Furnace, which had an amazing backdrop of the La Sal Mountains.
At the trailhead for Landscape arch, Sara still did not feel well. Rather than hike 1.5 miles in sequence while the other stayed with Beans, we headed back towards Moab for dinner and to find a power supply for our camera. We stopped by Courthouse Wash on the way out to stare at the striking the green of the trees against the towers.
In town, the camera store did not carry our batteries or chargers. They had a universal charger that would function, and I paid the premium for it. We got Thai food to go and ate back at Slickrock Campground. We got ice cream from the camp store, watched a movie, and went to bed.
Salt Lake City – Moab
Waypoints: Salt Lake City, Summit Park, Moab
Miles hiked: 2.4
Miles driven: 265.1
Break camp: 30 min
Make camp: 52 min
Camp type: Developed campground with water and showers
Camp cost: $33.25
We slept in a bit, worked, and packed up. We headed up to Summit Park for a lunch time walk with our friend and the dogs.
After a quick pit stop for a new air filter, we headed towards Moab. We had a quick stop at the Horse Canyon scenic rest area as the afternoon wore on. We also confirmed our tire pressure was good because our gas mileage seemed a bit low the past few days.
Sara suspected the change in how we packed the lumpy roof bag was the most likely explanation. We stopped again shortly thereafter to take down the roof top carrier.
A train rolled by while we repacked the interior of our car a bit more densely.
The most recent span with roof bag had yielded 23.0 mpg. The rest of the drive to Moab yielded 27.8 mpg! That was the end of the roof bag. When taking it down, we had also noticed quite a few patches where the bag had worn through the outer waterproof layer, which was surprising given the less than 1 week of usage.
Our original destination in Moab was Slickrock Campground. We took a detour up 128 to scope out the BLM campgrounds and found them resoundingly full. On the way back to town, there was a work crew lighting up the canyons walls.
Silver Island BLM Lands – Salt Lake City
Waypoints: Silver Island BLM Lands, Bonneville Salt Flats, Salt Lake City
Miles hiked: 2.9
Miles driven: 130.5
Break camp: 25 min
Make camp: 30 min
Camp type: Hotel
Camp cost: $85
We fed beans indoors on the shelf.
I had a nice 1.4 mile sunrise walk with brisk winds.
We packed up and headed the few miles to the Bonneville Salt Flats, where the wind was whipping.
Sara ran back to the car.
We drove out onto the dry flats for more of a look around and photos.
We headed into Salt Lake City, booked a hotel, and made plans for dinner with friends.
We grabbed an early check in and a full day of work. I used Rover to find a pet sitter for while we went to dinner and for a walk about the city.
Pyramid Lake – Silver Island BLM Lands
Waypoints: Pyramid Lake, Fenley NV, Grimes Point Archeological Site, Sand Springs Pony Express Station at Sand Mountain Recreation Area, Austin NV, Silver Island BLM Lands
Miles hiked: 4.1
Miles driven: 441.8
Break camp: 20 min
Make camp: 18 min
Camp type: Dispersed camping no services
Camp cost: $0
I grabbed sunrise photos at Pyramid Lake on a 1 mile walk.
A lake this larger seems beautifully out of place in the middle of a desert.
We had a quite nice camp spot.
Arriving back to the car, I found Sara attempting to break camp from within the car after she had been unable to reach me. Apparently the moment I left for my little walk with phone off, Beans had vomited her breakfast up and onto the comforter. Beans was acting normal afterwards but we still had to adjust our plans and head straight to do laundry.
We rolled into Mr. Bubbles laundromat in Fenley, NV. We put our blankets and clothes into the attendant’s favorite machine, a 4 load washer that washes twice and rinses 3 times. Sara worked inside using their wifi while I made the second set of blinds by tracing the set made two nights before. Each time I went in to check on the clothes, Sara was chatting away with laundromat friends. We got quite a few good recommendations of petroglyph sites, archaeological sites, and other attractions in Northern Nevada. From there, we headed towards the Berlin–Ichthyosaur State Park via Highway 50. We happened upon Grimes Point Archeological Site where we had sandwiches and walks. Beans was quite interested in the sandwiches.
The Grimes site had more than 1000 petroglyphs.
Sara kept working while I went for a longer walk up to Grimes point.
Sara and I went over to the caves about a mile away and checked out the little interpretive walk despite strong cold winds. We had a bit of a disagreement about the text of the sign board at one of the caves. We were both still short on sleep and adjusting to new patterns of very close proximity.
We continued down Highway 50 and shortly after saw a massive sand dune in the distance, which we went to check out.
Going the 25 mph speed limit, we came to a sign that read “Dip”. The dip was basically a gutter cut in the road. It needed a much lower speed and slamming on the breaks, we still hit it a bit fast. Sara’s computer knocked her on the wrist, which was less than ideal. This was followed shortly after by a data usage limit warning that we were 90% to our hot spot limit, while the billing cycle was only 30% over. Both put a damper on the mood. A bit further on we found a tree covered in shoes.
We aimed at Middlegate Station for lunch. On arrival we realized it was a pretty small outpost.
The sparse services and poor signal, had us thinking of getting on towards Utah that evening, which would make for a long day. We retargeted for Austin, NV for food and arrived just as the town cafe closed. We grabbed fridge sandwiches at the gas station and added microgreens, tomatoes, and pickles from the cooler in the car. After Austin, I drove through snow. We made it back up to I-80 and headed towards the Utah border. We had sandwiches for dinner again, which was a poor choice. Sun set over the interstate side town was pretty.
We made it into Utah and set up at the Silver Island BLM lands near Bonneville Salt. It was cold and snowing. We were both very tired and on edge. It took all the patience we could muster to set up. I was looking forward to getting back down to warmer climate in the coming week.