Van Life Begins

So, #vanlife has begun. We are packing for our first trip, a two nighter, departing in about 24 hours. I am so excited about the adventure that I don’t have the good sense to be panicked our lack of preparedness and general knowledge. I will save that for another post, because this is a story about the van pickup.

As I mentioned in a previous post, this long considered but somewhat impulsive purchase in late July set the clock ticking on the inevitable reality of van ownership. Previous commitments prevented us from getting back to Dayton, Ohio to pickup the van until this past week, thus providing seven weeks to ruminate over the pickup details.

I don’t think we thought much about ownership during those weeks though we did buy insurance, pay taxes and pick up our new license. I even booked a couple of camp trips. What really felt stressful was the pickup details. Details such as driving to Dayton and driving two vehicles home, or a one way flight early in the morning, do our walk thru and overnight on the drive home. Maybe we should take an afternoon flight and overnight in Dayton and do the walk thru the next day. So much worry over small details. Honestly, this was us trying to avoid the fact that we had made the purchase and now owned a van.

Finally a decision was made and an early morning, one-way flight happened, even though we flew north by first flying south to Atlanta. After a NYC expensive taxi ride from the Dayton airport to Lewis RV, we faced our current biggest fear, learning how to operate our new van in just 2 hours. Looming behind that was a 5.5 hour drive home. Yes, we were going to try to do this in one day, a 17 hour journey.

First thing we noticed when entering the garage was the big, red bow. Unfortunately, we did not get to keep it.

Rick, our walk through guy was pretty darn good and absolutely everything made sense when he was talking about it, but we knew that the next day, when examining all the knobs and twisties, we would remember about 1/2 of what he said. “But you can always call,” he assured us, “or check the manuals.” Ha!

Then the walk through was over and it was time to drive home. We took a deep breath and pointed the van south. Luckily, the traffic was light, even Cinci traffic. After the 1st hour, John was relatively comfortable behind the wheel.

Inside has everything we need (including wet bath) in a very compact space.

So far we have had only one serious argument about the van and that was the night we brought it home. We couldn’t figure out how to turn the running lights off or lock the doors. We were more than a bit accusatory of each other for not carefully listening during the walk thru. As it turns out, we had left 2 of the 4 key fobs for the van, in the van. Doors won’t lock and lights won’t turn off with fobs in the van. Lesson #1.

I must admit, waking up and looking out at the van was a bit like waking up with a massive hangover and wondering what the hell we did the night before.
Katie exploring
Those “everlovin’ ” manuals. Light reading material 🤣

So here we are, “living the dream”, #vanlife has begun.

Posted in Life, Outside, Retirement, RVing, Travel, Uncategorized, VanLife | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Sweeping out a lackluster week.

This is one week that I will be glad to whisk out the backdoor. Not that it was a bad week, no, I have had much worse. Instead, this has been of the wearisome variety, a wasted week. I have barely summoned the spirit to eat and what I have consumed has not been particularly healthy, or the motivation to get out and move which would surely raise my spirits. Instead, I sat, sometimes reading, sometimes scrolling on my phone. As a result, I experienced almost no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction.

Sadly, by the end of the week, I found myself unable to move from TV as the heartbreaking passing of Queen Elizabeth was announced. This sadness came on top of another long, weary week of legal gymnastics by #45 and his lawyers. Such a juxtaposition of grace and evil. These are challenging times we live in and sometimes it’s hard to keep a “stiff upper lip.” Happily, the upcoming week is busy, and I feel a renewed sense adventure, especially as we bring home the new van.

So this is my story, how I fell into a lackluster week. Monday morning, we received the news that John’s sister-in-law and possibly his brother had been diagnosed with Covid (again) after a trip to Wyoming. Since John is visiting with his family this weekend and we have remained Covid free SO FAR, I may have threatened that he would have to sleep in the car with the dog (who was also visiting his family) if he brought Covid home. We decided it best to take the Omicron vaccine immediately, if we could find it.

Several phone calls later, we found the vaccine by the brand we desired at a not so nearby pharmacy. Upon arrival, the smiling pharmacist asked if we wanted to take a flu shot with the Covid shot…. “CDC approved,” she said. Umm. Not much time to consider the pros and cons but we agreed. At that moment, the idea of a sore arm only once seemed to made sense.

Omicron booster and flu shot had to be at least 1″ apart. Did I regret the decision to get both in one arm? Not really although my arm was pretty darn sore!

Previously, both of us had experienced mild, fluish symptoms from the Covid vaccines beginning about 24 hours after the shot. We were surprised that the effects of this shot began to show up within two hours, again, both of us experiencing similar discomfort, tired and sluggish. The feeling stayed with us through Tuesday night.

Tuesday nights are granddaughter nights and although we were not 100%, we chose not to cancel the evening. Her parents brought her over on their way to yoga class and we discovered, once they shut the door behind them, she was having a bad day too. She started crying and for several hours, we went from distraction to distraction. The distractions didn’t last long before the crying resumed. Two squeaky toys from the pup’s toy box, a frog and a moose which had been somewhat recently washed (hang head in shame), seemed to quell the crying, or at least that was the last distraction before her parents returned. I suspect she is teething, and her parents told us (once they returned to pick her up) that her nap had been disrupted. John and I were feeling a little wrung out at the end of the visit but not discouraged. Next week is another week and hopefully she, along with us, will not be crying. Take a sweet nap baby girl!

I took this picture last week while she and John were playing hats (similar to the hat game he pays with the pup). She laughed at him while pounding the keys of my archaic calculator. I had forgotten about that calculator till she found it in a basket positioned low on the bookcase.. Now she goes for it every time she is here.
Aren’t these little girl shoes too cute?!

By Wednesday I had retired to the porch to enjoy the sunshine and read. Tuesday (before the baby’s visit) I finished my September book club’s selection, “Bird by Bird” by Jane Lamott and had moved on to Stanley Tucci’s “Taste”. “Taste” was a quick and fun read, and by Friday, I was done. As always with food related books, this one had me dreaming about cooking. Too bad I am not really a cook.

Now I am scouring my bookshelves for another hardback or paperback for day reading. Twice I have picked up “Winter in Madrid” by CJ Sansom, but twice I have put it down. I think I have settled on “His Truth is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope” by Jon Meacham. The first few pages have my attention. BTW, my nighttime reading is by kindle where I am plugging away at “Mary Churchill’s War: The Wartime Diaries of Churchill’s Youngest Daughter” edited by Emma Soams. This book is not light reading and since I am reading just before I go to sleep (or in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep), it may take me the rest of the year to finish. Kidding but possibly into October. I have been sleeping through the night recently and have read only 45% of the book (thank you kindle accounting system).

Shadows in the sun
Two books read and it’s only the 11th of the month! Guess there is something to be said for a lackluster week, and short books.

By Thursday, I thought a walk might do me good, or at least adjust my attitude. I usually walk 5-7 times weekly but this week I had trouble getting myself out. By the time I finally got ready, John and Katie had lost patience and left, so I got out on my own. Hey, I guess I did accomplish something this week!

Walking and/or running has played an important role in my over 40 health, both physical and metal. Previously, during my working years, walking or running by myself was a chance to sort out thoughts and concerns and maybe solve some problems. In these days of retirement, solo walking rarely happens, but when does, it’s a nice bit of personal time. I enjoyed my five miles on this day, I thought it time well spent. Unfortunately, the time did not fix my attitude or cure my lackluster week.

Good to be out moving my body, even if it was only once this week.

Finally, the pup had a bad week too (enough bad already)! Thursday was spa day before her visit with John’s family. Not only did she spend the better part of 4 hours at the groomer getting a dreaded bath, but her hair cut is just this side of too short and she came home with these bows. The bows made me laugh; she was pretty indignant. John decided she looked embarrassed and pulled them out just after giving me a half second to take a photo. Poor Katie, she did seem unhappy, but I think John was the embarrassed one, or more likely horrified! She is his rough and tumble girl, not at all a prissy personality.

That look in her eyes!!!

And with that, I’ll sign off. Next week will be book club, possibly a hike and we pick up the van. Life will be somewhat back on track.

Posted in About Last Week, Books, COVID-19, Family, Life, PetLife, Thoughts, Uncategorized, Walking | Leave a comment

Officially Fall, sorta…

It’s official, fall is here, at least meteorological fall (September 1-November 30). While we won’t see temperatures associated with fall until well after the autumnal equinox, fall is in the air. I can hear it in the chatter of the birds, I see it in the fading summer flowers and I can feel the shifting sun. I can’t wait!

September mornings, watching the early morning sunrise with a cup of coffee and dreaming about fall activities.

Fall is my best time of year, my time to bloom after a sweltering, drowsy summer. It’s my favorite time to walk, to ride my bike and hike, to retrieve my list of household projects not yet done, to get together outside with family and friends under starry fall skies. It’s my favorite time to wake up early, grab a cozy sweater and cup of coffee and watch the sunrise. Heck, I don’t even mind cutting the grass in the fall although I look forward to putting the lawn mower away for the season.

The last of the summer flowers blooming vigorously along my usual walking route.

Fall is also my time to dream, of travel and other life goals I might accomplish in the upcoming year, some realistic and some unobtainable. I like the dreaming phase of fall, its my “anything is possible” time of year.

Wilting vegetation, preparing for the cold to come.

I like cracking open my planner for the new year and filling in my “usual”, birthdays, bookclub meetings and theater dates. I like to see vast amounts of blank time for yet to be planned activities. Next year we will have van trips to include.

Morning glories clinging to a wire fence along side a road. Another favorite walking route.
Leaves wilting in the dry, summer heat although I like to think of them as signs of fall.

Yes, signs of fall are everywhere I look, in my heart Fall 2022 has officially arrived. It’s time to start planning.

Posted in Fall, Family, Friends, Life, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Medicine Bow-Backpack #88

Almost every year for the last 20, we and a group of friends have taken a late August multi-day trek. Over the years we have hiked in areas whose beauty would have remain hidden to us had we not shouldered a backpack and put in the hard work to experience them. Through our efforts we have explored Alaska’s Brooks Range (twice), Colorado’s Maroon Bells traverse, Montana’s Chinese Wall, Wind River Range, WY (twice), Canada’s Mt. Assiniboine, Paint Pots and West Coast Trails, Inca Trail and so on. We feel very lucky to have collected these memories.

Earlier this year another August backpack plan was hatched but with less lofty goals. You see, over the years our group has aged. At 69, John and I are at the younger end of the group, several are in their early to late 70’s but our route planner is 80. He has been at this mountain climbing, long distance backpacking, world travel business for over 60 years, long before social media enticed the masses into the world. Recent trips have become a little more challenging for him (and for us too), so this year our goals included low daily mileage and ascents-descents capped at 500′. The challenge would come in elevation, which would be high, at least for those of us who originate at 900′.

Our destination was The Medicine Bow Mountains, a range that stretches 100 miles between northern Colorado and southern Wyoming. Specifically, we were headed to The Snowy Mountains, a subrange northwest of Centennial, WY. The planned semi-circle hike began at Lewis Lake (10,760′) and finished at Mirror Lake. We would be between 10,500′ and 11,200′ the entire time.

The total hike was only 14 miles to be completed in five nights/six days with two layover days for exploring. The biggest weakness in the plan was that the last night would be spent about 1/2-mile from (one of) our cars at the beginning point, Lewis Lake. The question was, would we be able to hike past our car and the possibility of a big, hot breakfast at Bear Butt Bar and Grill in Centennial to reach our 2nd car at Mirror Lake (some 2-3 miles away) or would we bail on the hike and head to breakfast.

Our adventure began at Lost Lake trailhead after an oversized breakfast at Bear Butt in Centennial and a car shuttle. The day was blue bird quality with the kind of rich blue skies that can only be found in the west. Wispy cottony, white clouds floated above the mountains. A brisk breeze neutralized the heat from a sun that is intense at higher elevations. The scenery was spectacular, mountains, rocks and spruce trees. Doesn’t get any better than this.

Day One, hiking in on Lost Lake Trail.

With several pre-hike nights spent in Denver, Boulder and Centinnial, I had acclimated better than expected. My breathing was a little rough but I could still push uphill with my pack, stopping only occasionally to rest. Besides, stopping to rest is always a good excuse to take photos, right!?

A little windblown but having a good time.

After a little more than an hour’s hiking, we stopped at Lost Lake to have lunch and give everyone a chance to re-group. We had covered a short 2.06-miles, gained almost 400′ in elevation and had another mile or so before reaching the designated campsite. Note: campsites had been selected by reading a contour map in Knoxville and attempting to determine a flat area with probable water. These selections do not always work out

Our last hiker was almost an hour behind John and me, who were fifth and sixth to arrive at Lost Lake. Based on the issues Will was having, the determination was made to set up camp exactly where we were. So, here we were at Lost Lake, elevation 10,900′ and it was shortly after 1:00 pm.

John and I spent the afternoon trying to stay awake so we could sleep overnight. I wrote in my journal and John read. Others made the choice to sleep, read and Bob, our fisherman, went fishing. I think he caught and released some 7-8 brook trout. The lazy afternoon drifted by. As the sun began to drop, so did the temperature. We were all in our tents by 8:00 pm, bracing ourselves against the high 30°’s that came with darkness. We will not see these temperatures in Knoxville for another three, almost four months. Brrrr.

First night’s camp at Lost Lake.

Day 2, Wednesday, August 17 was hard. We relaxed at breakfast luxuriating in two-cups of coffee. Shame on us, we didn’t get on the trail till almost 10:00 AM. The trail began downhill but soon became undulating with a rocky surface. The climbs were challenging, and the elevation averaged around 10,600′. I stumbled a bit and had to watch my steps carefully.

Our route took us from Lost Lake Trail, through Brooklyn Lake Campground (car camping) onto Sheep’s Lake Trail where we stopped at Twin Lakes for our second night. I noted in my journal this night, “subject to change, we will hike to Sheep’s Lake tomorrow. If I cannot develop more strength in my legs, this will be my final backpack.” Clearly my pre-trip preparation was not enough. With 3.65- miles hiked in 2.35 hours and 400′ ascended, we have fallen behind schedule.

Lots of time spent looking at various gps related maps.
Never too much time on our feet before another lake appeared.

Day 3, Thursday, August 18. Our route continued on Sheep’s Lake Trail, then a left on Gap Lake Trail (yep, a Trail sign was posted) for about 1/2 mile to an unnamed lake. We camped in a lovely meadow across from the lake. Total mileage this day was only 2.80-miles with less than 400′ elevation gain and the effort took almost 2-hours.

Day 3, sunrise over Twin Lakes, Campsite 2. Time to get on the trail for Day 3.

The hike was again difficult, even with low mileage. First climb took us to 11,000′ with parts of the trail reaching 14% grade. After this challenge the trail leveled out to a sometimes mushy, other times hard packed and always a little rocky surface.

Trail scoots in front of the photo then turns uphill where John is headed

We arrived at camp around lunchtime, a beautiful alpine meadow. After lunch, the group dispersed for various activities. John and I lay on the meadow floor and watched the clouds shift and move in the currents, calling out different shapes as they caught our fancy. I may have napped for a moment or two, truly a relaxing afternoon.

Campsite 3 with afternoon sun full on.
John reading directions for our evening meal, his favorite, lentils and potatoes.
Our room with a view.
Sunrise on Day 4 over unnamed lake across from Campsie 3

Day 4, Friday, August 19. This day’s hike brought us back to within 1/2-mile of where we began, the trailhead of Lost Lake Trail. This was our hardest day, we always knew it would be as we crossed over the pass between Brown and Medicine Bow mountains. We hiked 3.97-miles in 3.23 hours, ascending 526′.

If you are still with me here (good for you!) you may wonder how this group of seven was fairing as they began their fourth day. The answer is, pretty good. For the most part, breathing was a little easier, we weren’t getting as dizzy bending down to set up our tents and for me personally, I had returned backpacking to my future. Will, was still struggling with several issues and we worried (needlessly) about him on this day.

The trail leading to Twin Gap Lakes and the pass was rocky and sandy but the scenery was spectacular.
We stopped to rest here and let everyone catch up. The gap is straight ahead with Brown Mountain to the left and Medicine Bow Mountain to the right.
Will crossing the boulder field around the base of Brown Mountain. Just out of sight is the section of boulders that required hands on the rocks above and eyes on the rocks below. I didn’t attempt a of photo of such. As John will tell you, boulder fields both below and above water are my nemesis.

For all our worry, Will had a good day. He was comfortable going over the boulder field and climbing the pass. That evening he briefly mentioned another trip, next year. Hmmm, maybe we have all put backpacking back in our future.

John hiking to the top of the pass. The hike was easier than we expected, not easy, but easier.
The top of the pass
We made it!
The view from the top of the pass.

At this point, the debate was “do we go out now (2 days early) or spend the night within 1/2 mile of the car with a short hike out in the morning”. Clearly, we were all wanted to go out early; our trip was already a day behind schedule. Going out early meant we would spend our remaining layover day in the car, driving to Denver, a hot shower and possibly flying home a day early. We decided the best option was to camp close to the trailhead and go out in the morning (1 day early).

Headed on to what turned out to be our last camp.
This is our last camp. The trail is visible about mid photo. We camped too close to the trail and much too close to the trailhead.

Camping this close to the trail pained John. This was a busy trailhead with people coming and going frequently and we were on display, all 6 tents of us. This was not our best choice of campsites, but the best we could do with enough space for us with water close (the bright green vegetation marks flowing water). At one-point, late afternoon, a group of college girls hiked by with the comment, “oh look, those people are having a little campout…. with six tents.” We suspect they thought we couldn’t hike any further from the parking lot. Sigh…

Sunrise over the mountains
Lewis Lake

We did hike out a day early and gleefully stopped at Bear Butt Bar and Grill for a breakfast fit for a backpacker.

Eggs, bacon, hashbrowns, sourdough toast, juice and coffee, perfect post hike breakfast!

We were also able to change our flights and return home a day early. The recovery period for John and me, post backpack was longer than usual. It appears that this was a problem for others too. We are now back to our regular routine and looking forward to picking up the new van in a couple of weeks! New adventures on the horizon!!

Posted in Backpacking, Friends, Hiking, Medicine Bow Wilderness, Outside, Travel, Uncategorized, Wyoming | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

“Coming Around”

I am finally “coming around” after landing home seven days ago. My expectation of a quick recovery was highly inflated. With 10 days spent above 5,300′, five of those above 10,500′, I have been slow to settle back in my daily routine, much preferring to read, sleep and generally avoid everyone. John has “come around” a bit sooner but still shows his own signs of exhaustion by day’s end.

We spent less than 24 hours in Denver (5279′), 48 hours in Boulder (5318′) and about 24 hours in Centennial, WY (8,074′). Coming from a city at 886′, the time spent acclimating eased us into our higher elevation activity, a five-day backpack in Wyoming’s Snowy Mountains in the Medicine Bow Wilderness. Here we traversed between 10,500′-11,300′.

Our travel companions (our group totaled seven) were the usual group of late-summer, early-fall backpackers, some that we have hiked with for 20 years, some a few years less. Our ages ranged from 67 to 80, a fact I mention because age has affected our last couple of backpacks (trip planner is 80). This year the effect was pronounced enough that I am left wondering if there will be another.

Not unlike other group trips, this one had some memorable highs and some difficult lows. As I sort through my thoughts, photos and notes, I will leave you with several photos and comments on my fear of flying and our days in Denver and Boulder.

Flights are often a major piece of a travel itinerary and for me a great source of anxiety. Even on the best travel days, I am not a happy flyer. Since I am unwilling to give up visiting the places that air travel takes me, I grit my teeth and go. With this in mind, I reluctantly booked a low-cost airline, Frontier, for a direct flight that departed at 9:30 AM and got us into Denver at 10:30 AM (I irrationally distrust low-cost carriers). Even with “the works” travel package (luggage, assigned seats, preferred boarding), our tickets were half that of name brand carriers.

Unfortunately, not long after the purchase, we received a change of flight notice indicating our flight had been rescheduled to depart at 9:30 PM and arrive in Denver at 10:30 PM. This change resulted in a 12:00 AM hotel check-in (2:00 AM Knoxville time) and a crazy, gut bomb, wee morning hour meal at Denny’s. Sigh.

But, for two weeks prior to departure, I was short on sleep and filled with anxiety. Every night, lightning and thunder lit up the black sky. I remember several conversations with John about flights and weather. I am sure he got tired of my obsessing, I know I did. Then, on departure night, a stunning sunset lit up the evening sky and the stars appeared, no storms. We experienced one the smoothest flights I can remember, and I remember most of my flights!

Sunset and the Knoxville airport on departure night.

Our time in Denver was short. REI-Denver (one of two REI flagship stores) was a must stop for our group (of three at this time), though I am not sure why. We have more outdoor gear than we need right now. John was willing to look at paddle boards and kayaks, which leaves me hopeful for a future purchase. I enjoyed walking along the Platte River greenway, watching ducks, children and dogs play in the water. As we walked, Denver’s temperature rose quickly indicating that summer still had a tight grip on the city.

REI on Platte Street is located in the restored 1901 Denver Tramway Building.

Lunch (we were now a group of four) was at the Denver vegetarian restaurant, City O’ City on 13th Street. Our group had one committed vegetarian and one semi-vegetarian. The food was good, I think I had some semblance of a BLT.

City O’ City mural
Patio dining at City O’ City

Next stop, a couple of nights in Boulder. Again, greenway walking just footsteps from our hotel, The Millennium Harvest Hotel, which I would rate 2.0 stars. But we weren’t there for the hotel.

Most memorable was lunch at The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse on our last day in Boulder. Initially, in Denver, when there were only three of us, I mentioned having high tea at the Boulder Teahouse. Will and John completely dismissed me. Twelve hours later, after we had picked up Joan, she mentioned lunch at The Teahouse. I was amazed how quickly the guys thought it was a great idea. I am going to guess the initial reaction was to “high tea” but it just shows my level of respect around here😂.

Front of The Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse on 13th Street. To the left is the entrance, to the right, outdoor seating.

The Dushanbe Teahouse is a Persian Teahouse hand-built and painted in Dushanbe, Tajikistan then disassembled, crated and shipped halfway across the world to its sister city, Boulder. Work on the Teahouse began in 1987. The Teahouse was publicly opened in Boulder in 1998.

Inside the Teahouse with intricate paintings and carvings. The wooden poles are beautiful.
We were a group of seven by this time and chose to eat outside. From left: Will, Joan, Bob, John behind Bob (at another table, ordering) and Paul. Missing: Tom and me.
I had the most delicious Koren Fried Noodles.

Finally, before we left for Wyoming, we drove west of Boulder along Boulder Canyon Drive (SR 119) for about 11-miles to see Boulder Falls. The falls (a series of small and large cascades) are located on 5 acres of property, once held for mining claims and eventually gifted to the city of Boulder. The hike to the falls is short, about .1-mile from the highway parking lot though the falls are not visible from the highway.

Short hike to Boulder Falls.

With this picture of beautiful Boulder Falls, I will close. We pick up our van (post here) in a couple of weeks and have several fall camping trips planned but I hope to share the balance of this trip before then.

Posted in Art, Backpacking, Colorado, Friends, Outside, Travel, Uncategorized, Wyoming | 2 Comments

Wilderness Road Trail-Bicycling

It was cool this morning after yesterday’s round of thunderstorms. As the dog and I walked around the yard looking for her “perfect spot”, I could hear a flock of Canadian geese quacking in the distance. I guessed they were going in for a landing on the nearby river. Fall was in the air for a few precious moments. In reality, we still have a couple of months of heat and humidity before the temperatures cool and the leaves begin to put on a colorful show.

Several weeks ago, the day before we purchased the van, we went for a bicycle ride. The original plan had been a backpack, but an overnight forecast of high wind and thunderstorms opened up a couple of days to fill with other activities. John spent some time googling bike trails and came up with new to us rail to trail, The Wilderness Road Trail in Ewing, VA. The drive (150-miles, about 3.0 hours roundtrip) would likely exceed the cycle time by double, but we decided the new area, new trail would be worth the effort.

We arrived at the Wilderness Road State Park Visitors Center late morning. While we have spent time backpacking and otherwise exploring nearby Cumberland National Historical Park and Cumberland Gap, TN, this lovely state park was a nice surprise. Park employees were immensely helpful and the rail to trail was located directly behind the park building. The park buildings are free, but we paid $5.00 to leave our car in their lot. Well worth the money for easy access to the park facilities.

Wilderness Road Park Visitor’s Center is located at about the mid-point of the trail. This picture is taken a short distance east of the Visitors Center.

From the Visitors Center, we headed east on the crushed gravel surface, dust tamped down by the previous night’s rain. The late morning sky was overcast, and fog partially obscured the views of the Cumberland Mountains over our left shoulders. We cycled mostly under a canopy of beautiful greenery, something we appreciated as the sun burned through the clouds. Several walkers, cyclists and runners waved as we passed. Friendly people, friendly town.

Yellow barriers before entering the community of Caylor

I particularly appreciated the yellow barriers that marked places where the trail crossed over public and private roads. The crossings were few and we saw only one car, but the barriers were a reminder to stop and look. The Wilderness Road Trail parallels Hwy 58. The highway is lightly traveled (or at least lightly traveled on the Wednesday we visited) and could rarely be seen from the trail, so we tended to forget it was there.

This building caught my eye. It appears to have been a train station or shop in the small community of Caylor (now an apartment). The community was originally named Taylor after T.A. Taylor who owner the town but when the rail came through and the town was mapped, the name was misspelled and became Caylor, VA.
Rolling fog and humidity obscured views of the Cumberland Gap but the farmland was so beautiful.

Sections of the Wilderness Road Trail reminded me of another more famous Virginia Rail to Trail, the Virginia Creeper. The piece of Wilderness Trail pictured below is similar to the Creeper section just out of Damascus (heading to Abingdon) with gravel, farmland and a “divided” trail with grassy median in the center.

Headed west on the Wilderness Road Trail, the canopy continued, and farmland rolled along on our right. By this point, the sun was out, the humidity high and we were thankful for the shade!!
As we neared the west end of the trail, the gravel surface narrowed and the distance between the trail and highway was slight. Guard rails from the highway can be seen slightly above the split-rail fence.

The trail is billed as 8.5 miles one way, but in conversation with a park employee, we discovered that the last 2ish miles on the west end (actually a little less) is maintained by VDOT and really not maintained at all. Bicycling over the VDOT section was discouraged.

An unexpected discovery was this covered bridge. We spent some time searching for a way to cross the bridge as we drove out of Ewing, but we couldn’t find one. I suspect the bridge is on private property and the bridge is on a gravel farm road that turns off Highway 58.
A buffalo farm is trailside going west from the Visitors Center. The park service has built a small viewing stand where we stopped to watch this beauty and her baby (not in the picture) graze.

As I said above, trail dust was low due to an overnight rain, but a wet, gritty paste flew over everything… our shirts, legs, water bottles and bike bags. The grit also landed in our bikes’ nooks and crannies. What a mess to clean up!

To add mileage to 13-miles of ridable trail (round trip), we circled behind the Visitors Center on a paved road where we found Martin’s Station. Martin’s Station is a reconstructed frontier fort and was one of the earliest fortified settlements along the Old Wilderness Road.

Entrance to the fort.
Cabins, bunks, barns and work buildings
The Cumberland Mountains add a beautiful backdrop to the fort. I wonder if the settlers appreciated or even paid attention to the beauty. Existence in the fort must have taken most of their strength and energy.
Fort buildings are outfitted with period furniture.
Really fascinating to walk through. I wish I had had more time to explore.

Our final stop was in Harrogate, TN at the vintage inspired Frosty Mug Drive-In. Known for burgers, fries, potato tots, onion rings and ice cream, the Frosty Mug was a perfect place to refuel. No speakers at the drive-in, servers walk up to your car with menus, a pad of paper and a pencil!


Posted in Bicycling, Outside, Rails to Trails, Regional Travel, Summer, Uncategorized, VA State Parks, Wilderness Road Trail | Tagged , , | Leave a comment


This happened last week, in Ohio…

We left her at the dealership for a while, we still have a foot trip to take before we can focus on van adventures. But oh, the places we will go…

Posted in About Last Week, Life, Outside, RVing, Travel, Uncategorized, VanLife | 1 Comment

Sunflowers in July

Two covid tests done and they both said “negative.” Does it matter the expiry date is 2022 July 13?? So, while my ailing self remains under a soft, cozy blanket reading my way through 576 pages of “The Lincoln Highway”, I will post a few pictures from a walk John and I took on Monday, through fields of glorious sunflowers.

Every other year (this is not an “other” year but planted anyway), the TN Wildlife Resources Agency plants 70 acres of brilliant sunflowers. The fields, located at the Forks of the River Wildlife Management Area, are just a handful of walking miles from our house, a few less if by car. For three weeks beginning in early July, photographers, flower geeks and other gawkers such as us find our way to the Forks of the River where fields of warm yellow sunshine brighten even the gloomiest of days.

A few large faced flowers with black centers could be found but mostly along the fields borders. We guessed these outliers were hangovers from previous seasons plantings.

For years, TWRA planted plate sized sunflowers with bold, black centers. The flowers sat perched atop thick, sturdy stems that stood 6 or more feet high (similar appearance to the painting below). But this year’s crop was more genteel with smaller faced sunflowers and shorter, thinner stalks. Different yes, but still quite stunning. And lest we forget, these flowers are not planted for our summer pleasure but to provide food for the mourning doves and songbirds.

Painted by my dad during some respite from his fascination and endless pursuit of painting African mammals and birds.
We were not immune to the lure of posing our child (well, in our case, this little girl puppy) in front of a flower or two for a photo.
Tucked amongst the fields of sunflowers are bunches of Queen Anne’s Lace, Black-eyed Susan and other flowering beauties
And lots of bugs and happy bees.
Thousands of rays of sunshine.
Interesting to observe an individual flower’s stage of seed formation. Each flower’s progress is slightly different from the next.
We took the gravel road back to the car. The road is really a path now, used only by hunters, walkers and TWRA to plant and manage the fields.
This field and several others are visible only from the gravel road. Many of the most visited fields are easily accessed by a paved greenway that runs beside the river.
Arch like in appearance.

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Cycling, Walking and Art…

This past Tuesday, while our hiking group was scattered to the wind, we took our “dog free” day to go bicycling. I find extra motivation in destination cycling but we stayed in town and cobbled together 20-miles on local greenways. I didn’t protest the hilly route (too much) and, in not avoiding the hills, I discovered I had developed new climbing strength. I feel sure that the Cades Cove ride from last week helped make the difference.

Tuesday on the greenways.

Tuesday evening, post cycle meant a few hours spent with this little one. We seem to be getting into a rhythm now with the 14-month-old crying huge, blue-eyed tears as her parents attempt to sneak out, then running around giggling the moment the door closes. We are happy grandparents!

The rest of the week involved such events as a celebratory birthday lunch with good friends (just 40ish days post birthday) and testing out a new puppy daycare with Katie. We also took various walks each day from 3.0-7.0 miles. Our walks included neighborhood streets and local parks and greenways. The most challenging of the walks involved the hills in South Knox where the USA Cycling Championship was held just a few weeks ago. Grades on these hills are up to 29%. Challenging for me for sure. The flowers below are from one of the park walks, a flat greenway. Getting out has been difficult due to the high heat and humidity. I am looking forward to fall already.

Over the past weeks, I have had a lot of “what next” thoughts occupying my mind. What next when my body can no longer hike 7-8 miles, what next when I can no longer spend mornings bicycling. My outdoor self has been my identity for many years. Hiking, backpacking, running, bicycling and walking is what I do. While I am not anywhere close to giving up, the thoughts of how I will keep my days interesting, and my mind occupied in that future “someday” are on my mind.

In recent years, I have dabbled with art including several drawing and watercolour courses at our wonderful Knoxville Fine Arts and Crafts Center. Unfortunately, I have always walked away feeling like I don’t remotely have talent. These feeling are not due an instructor’s comments (well the comments may have been verbalized back in grammar school) but because I am a lifer in the school of “you don’t have artistic talent”. Yet I have not been completely put off either. Earlier this week I signed up for an on-line beginning watercolour course. In the privacy of my kitchen in what feels like a “no judgement zone”, a dim light bulb went on in my brain. H-m-m-m-m, maybe! Afterall, I am doing this only for an audience of one and that would be me.

So, the on-line instructor with the lovely British accent is teaching from the beginning, handling the brushes, playing in the paint and understanding how water and paint work together to create specific effects. The green dots below are part the project to learn about water and paint. Around the circles are noted such things as “little water, thick paint” or “very wet, thin paint”, a reminder of how each affect was obtained. This was interesting and informative to me and I look forward to the sessions I have yet to do.

Along with the on-line course, I have been reading the book “Sketch NOW, Think Later.” The ink and watercolour above is my first attempt at a quick ink drawing and watercolour. While there are many, many things wrong with the attempt, there is one thing very right, I did not pick up a pencil to do a preliminary sketch. I picked up a permanent Micron marker and jumped right in. I am so very pleased!

Finally, a couple of weeks ago, Sugar Queen Creamery opened in a location about five minutes or so from our house. Although I have never been a big ice cream eater, this stuff is really good! Last night was our second night in a row eating ice cream :-(. Luckily the shop is closed on Sunday (it’s the South, ya’ll) so we can hopefully break what could become a very bad habit.

From left: sweet cream, mint chocolate chip, burnt butter Pecan and my all time favorite, maple and walnut.
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Hiking, Biking, Life Recently

I consider July to be the mid-point of summer and 4th of July the 2nd in a trifecta a summer holidays (Memorial, 4th and Labor). Back in the days when life centered around work, I looked forward to these 3-day weekends, determined to make every minute count. Numerous backpacks, city visits and family time was carefully planned and executed. Over the years, I squeezed out every last drop of summer holidays.

This morning I lounged in bed with Katie, drinking coffee and catching up with online postings. After 4.5 years of retirement, I am still grateful for the unhurried mornings that look like this, and I am still in awe that I get to choose how to spend my time…every single day.

Mornings with Katie

Life has changed in other ways too. Now on weekly rotation, this little 14-month-old is lighting up our Tuesday evenings. Recently steady on her feet, she is full of babbles, giggles, dancing and has cute little hugs to share. She is beginning to take a shine to her “Grandpa” and follows him around the house. She also likes to jump up and down on the bed and fall into the pillows, a practice that keeps John and me on our feet to keep her off the floor. Que peals of little girl laughter!

Can 15-months possibly be cuter than 14-months?!
Every week something new catches her attention.

And the weekday hiking continues. Last Tuesday our group decided to hike one of the least-used trails in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Roundtop Trail. The trail begins in the Metcalf Bottoms area of the park near the GSMNP northern boundary. It climbs 1000′ in the first 2.5-miles, then mostly drops for the next 5.0-miles.

Tuesday was cooler than recent days, but still quite warm. The trail is mostly shady, which protected us from intense sun, but the lush vegetation held in a fair amount of humidity. This was a tradeoff that we agreed was worthwhile. Now if we could have chased away the annoying gnats that kept buzzing our eyes and ears!

Roundtop trail was not particularly well maintained. Several downed trees along with overgrown vegetation provided interesting challenges, not the least of which, for me, was the possibility ticks finding their way to my legs. Ticks are my least favorite inhabitant of the Smokies, and I am not very charitable when I find one.

The trail is considered “solitary” hiking which means there isn’t much in the way of vistas. This is as good as it got.
Ground vegetation encroached on the trail. Good place for lurking ticks to sit in wait for me, an unsuspecting, well suspecting, warm blooding animal.
Rhododendron lined the trail early on. The flowers were beginning to fade but still beautiful. At some point Rhododendron was replaced by Mountain Laurel (above).
John (foreground), Tom and Steve changing from hiking boots to water shoes to make the river crossing.
Roundtop Trail ends on the bank of the Little River at the Wye, a river that requires crossing to return to one’s car.

The next day, we kept the Smokies in rotation, deciding to bicycle Cades Cove Loop Road. While Roundtop Trail is the least-used trail in the Smokies, Cades Cove has the highest concentration of visitors in the park, 2.1 million people annually. For this reason, the traffic jams and the people, we infrequently visit the Cove. Thing is, when we do, it always takes my breath away. (Note: the GSMNP receives over 14.1 million visitors annually throughout its 522,427 acres).

Tucked in amongst with the majestic beauty of the Cove, the history of the area settlers has been carefully preserved. The history provides visitors with a glimpse into the settlers lives, their hardships and deaths (often far too early). The cabins, churches and cemeteries are worth exploration, but on this visit, we weren’t there for the history. We have long since explored each log cabin, cantilevered barn, rustic church and walked through most of the surrounding graveyards. We were there to bicycle, to climb and descend some challenging hills and to be inspired by the mountains and valley before us.

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, Cades Cove Loop Road is closed to motorized vehicles on Wednesday. This provides the Park Service a way to safely accommodate bicycles, walkers and runners. Unfortunately, the number of Wednesday participants is high and while a team of volunteers on e-bikes patrol the 11-mile loop, it is hard to keep it accident free. With varying levels of skill and lack of focus on other participants, accidents happen, every Wednesday. We witnessed one that required an ambulance and it had occurred before 10:00 am. I expect others, of various intensities happened during the balance of the day.

We did finish our ride, accident free. The backside hills were more challenging than I remembered but provide a motivation for another ride before Wednesdays are returned to motorized vehicles in the fall. We finished the ride with a small picnic in the Cades Cove picnic area.

Morning in the Cove when shadows stretch across the fields and colors are softened by humidity-golds, reds, greens and hazy blues. The Smokies are known for that hazy humidity, sometimes hanging thick over the mountains like clouds.
“For purple mountains majesties, above the fruited plains. “
On the “backside” of the Loop Road. The backside is the hardest to bicycle, lots of hills and many unskilled bicyclists dismounting unexpectedly mid-hill to walk. The final couple of hills were a bit of a struggle for me but I got it done! We noticed a number of e-bikes on the road, which of course, solves the hill issue for many.
This beautiful girl briefly looked up at me as I pedaled by then put her nose back to the ground. We also saw a black bear bounding through a field and a couple of male turkeys fanning their feathers.

Finally, training has begun in earnest for a late summer backpack. As in previous years, we started step climbing. We utilize the series of steps that encircle “The Hill” at the University of Tennessee. One can climb as many steps as desired by circling the hill over and over. We started with a modest 503 steps. The thing about step climbing is you also have to go down. I don’t count the down.

About 40 steps in this series. Ugh, I am hot and grumpy…
This secret garden can only be found by climbing or descending steps. The garden sits in between Dabney-Buehler Hall (Chemistry) and the SERF (Science and Engineering Research Facility) where John worked for years. This set of steps is one staircase over from the above steps.
The original gymnasium for the University of TN where Pat Summitt started her coaching career. The building is now the Alumni Memorial Building. A lot of steps can be found on the far end of the building.
A close up of the lights on Alumni Memorial. Aren’t they magnificent!

So that is life around here recently. Now back to getting ready for that backpack….

Posted in Bicycling, Endurance, Friends, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hiking, Knoxville, Outside, Retirement, Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment