South Forty RV Park (Tucson)

the illegal parking job

Our first night in Tucson actually involved an illegal parking situation in my friend’s neighborhood that resulted in some pissed off HOA folks and a tow notice. One of my Vanderkitten teammates generously offered for us to stay with her and assured us the trailer would fit in her driveway (she even measured it). Apparently another friend had parked their RV in the drive in the past. What she didn’t tell me, and I failed to ask, was the accessibility – like the street situation. I had been nervous about it all day but was busy driving and didn’t contact Michelle to ask for more information. Sure enough, we pull up to the house and the cul-de-sac is crazy steep. I could probably drive up it but there was no way I could maneuver to back the trailer into the driveway. It would literally tip over and I’m not even sure what would happen at that point. Does it just rip off the hitch? Does the truck go down the hill with it? There were no good scenarios running through my head. It was about 8pm so not entirely too late to go find an RV park, but getting close. Michelle suggested we park it in a big flat gravel area next to the neighborhood entrance and promised us she’d seen people park trailers there before for days at a time. I was doubtful but figured it would at least be morning before someone came to harass us.

So we unhitched it and went back to her house to have some [wine and] dinner. I stayed in her guest room and Tom went back to guard/sleep in the trailer. It was nice to have some space, especially considering he had a nasty cough. In the morning we made our way across town to meet Hillary at the Smashfest Queen office for some gab time and shopping. Then we planned to swim at UofA nearby. But when we got in the car I saw a ton of missed calls and frantic messages from Michelle. Apparently the HOA was up in arms and threatening to tow so she was babysitting the Airstream in case they tried to make good on their threat. Now it would actually be quite challenging to tow it off because A) there’s a hitch lock on the ball and B) all the jacks are down. I’m not sure what kind of liability a towing company would take on if they attempted to haul her off and manage to rip it apart in the process. Needless to say no one had shown up but we calmed Michelle and moved her back across town to South Forty, which is really more of a long term resident mobile home park than an RV park. No matter, we weren’t hanging out there. The little old lady checking us in must have been new on the job as she did a celebratory dance upon successful credit card processing. She failed however to return Tom’s driver’s license, which he wouldn’t realize until we got to the campus to swim. Hillary had made a point of telling me we HAD to have ID to get in. He said if they wouldn’t let him in then he’d just go run while I swam. On the sidewalk we ran into my friend (and former bike mechanic) James who had moved out from Charlotte back in June. He gave us his take on the Mt. Lemmon climb (we’d already heard similar versions from Michelle and Hillary), then we made our way to the rec center. Despite signs stating they absolutely required government issued ID for a day pass, they let officer Tom in and we got our outdoor swim on. img_2811It was heavenly. I’m feeling good in the water these days which is nice – especially since I’m running at a turtle’s pace and absolutely dying on the bike.

rivers are dry beds that only fill with water during monsoon season

Before the trailer fiasco the plan was to drive out to Sabino Canyon and do a trail run but we were running out of time because I had a much anticipated massage at 5:30. Michelle had told us about The Loop – the bike path that goes all along the “river” img_2812so we resorted to doing a short run on it from a lot near the massage studio. I was pleased to discover a soft sandy trail next to the paved bike path so most of the time we ran on that. I had been referred to this massage therapist by another Vanderkitten and he’s definitely one of those “out there” types but so so nice and really really good at what he does. It was exactly what I needed but I was quickly deflated by Tom’s frustration with my appointment running over which left him waiting in the truck for 30 minutes. We haven’t done much on our own since we started this trip and I so needed that massage, physically and mentally. But having only the one vehicle means a little coordination and in this instance it left him a little pissed off. So I made a frozen pizza, drank some wine, and stayed in the guest room again, while he went back to the RV park.

There is a group ride on Thursdays that heads up Lemmon – pretty much no one ever goes to the top, but people go as far as they want then turn around. Michelle and her boyfriend were going so we planned to join them to get an early start on the day, but I had a bad case of insomnia and felt nauseous when the alarm went off at 6:30 am (after only 4 hours of sleep) so begged off. Tom finally came over around 10 to get me and we drove to the shop where they were all enjoying their post ride coffees and pastries. Somehow it was 11:15 before we finally got started. Kelly had put it in my schedule as a 4 hour ride, which I figured was a little optimistic for 60 miles even if half of it was straight downhill. But still, we had 6 hours of daylight, so we should be fine, even with a img_4057cookie stop at the top. Boy was I wrong.

Take it easy to the bottom they said. The first 3 miles are the worst they said. It’s really over by mile 19 they said. Stop and enjoy the views they said. Don’t look at the mile markers they said. There’s no water till 19.5 they said.

The 4.5 miles to the start of the official climb was still a climb. The first 3 miles were fine, because it’s the beginning. There was no noticeable difference after mile 3. By mile 6 the fun was over. I was going 6mph and was only 1/4 the way up. My expectation of a 3 hour climb just catapulted to 4 hours. Did I have enough nutrition? Fluids? It was clear I didn’t have enough positivity. I started pulling over for breaks not at the scenic vista points. I had to tell Tom to be encouraging. Seriously? I was literally cussing into the canyon.  img_3053I had done a complete 180 from marveling at the gorgeous scenery in miles 1-6 to not giving a flying f^@k where I was. I was bargaining with myself about how far to go. But the closer I got to mile 15 (a point I’d determined would be acceptable) the more I realized I had to keep going just to get more water (I wasn’t completely out though). At mile 12 I texted Kelly and said there was no way I would earn a cookie (mile 24). Mind you, the grade isn’t terrible, but it’s unrelenting. And the wind. Oh my God, the wind. Plus the elevation. Pretty much over 6000’ I disintegrated. My attitude mostly. I was shaking, dizzy, tearing up. Yet there were 60-70yos descending with smiles on their faces. So clearly THEY had made it to the top. Why couldn’t I? Because I’m fat. And pathetic. A loser. These are the things I was sure of as I ground out 5mph at 60rpm. A disgrace really. Now it made sense why everyone got this grave look on their face when I said I was going to summit Lemmon. I’m not a pro. I’m not a podium finisher. I’m not even in-season in shape. I’m a big fat nobody who has no business trying to bike her way 8000’ in the desert.

fullsizerender-2But apparently I’m also quite stubborn. And somehow in the middle of all that cussing and self-pity I ground my way to mile 19.5 where we hand pumped some water into our bottles and turned down the ride home from an old guy who had just called his “driver” to rescue him. And all I could about was calories. If there was a vending machine, a general store, anything, I would get a coke and a candy bar and head back down. Turns out the reason everyone talks about the cookie hut is because it’s all there is. So you have to keep riding another 5 miles to Summerhaven to this random little hut that sells pizza, gigantic warm cookies, and hot beverages. It’s rolling, so another mile up, a freezing cold mile down, another mile up, another freezing mile down down down. The thing is, when you can alternate, the ups aren’t nearly as bad. It’s the constant, steady grind that killed me. We were popsicles. I had packed arm warmers, gloves and a vest in my pockets but removed my shoe covers and skipped the base layer Michelle suggested.img_2819 I had barely stopped shaking when we forced ourselves back out into the cold (seriously, it was 37* up at 8000’ plus the wind!) and at least the climb out of Summerhaven warmed us a tad. I was absolutely serious when I told Tom to find us a ride down, hitchhike, call uber, do whatever. But the one truck he did ask was one driveway away from home and politely declined. Also the officers aren’t allowed to pick up strays so the sheriff guy turned us down too. Commence freezing. The sun was just behind every corner and the shade was extra chilly. I made us stop a few times to take some pics (and unclamp our hands).

sunset at Windy Point - brr!
sunset at Windy Point – brr!

The sunset was gorgeous and the temps did rise back around 6000’ but then it got dark. img_2821There are no lights on the mountain except cars. Our little bike lights weren’t providing any visual assistance. The descent felt just as never-ending as the climb and wasn’t as enjoyable as it would have been if we weren’t popsicles and scared to death of hitting invisible rocks, cracks, potholes. Ironically, the final 4.5 miles in a proper bike lane on the “flat” road back to the truck were the scariest because still no street lights, lots of cars, tons of debris, oh and a coyote!

We hustled to the restaurant where we were over an hour late to meet the
Vanderkittens for dinner. 15109340_10211214557382539_8327357271510303611_nThey congratulated us then scolded us for descending in the dark and not calling someone to fetch us. I downed some wine and started to thaw out.
I was so so happy I didn’t quit but honestly quite embarrassed about my attitude and negativity. Kelly was thrilled with my cookie achievement but the whole thing really made me question my attempt at cycling and wonder how the heck I even finished 2 Ironmans in the first place. Will I ever get the legs for it? Do I need to lose 30 lbs first? Suffer through another 5-10 years before seeing progress? Why do I have so many talented, driven athletic friends that get good so fast? It just plain sucks being bad at something that I so desperately want to be good at.

One more sleep in the comfy guest bed, some errands run, and a short drive to Scottsdale for ironman weekend. If Mt Lemmon didn’t make me feel pathetic and inept then surely a weekend around a couple thousand triathlon junkies would drive it home.

Cottonwood Campground (Joshua Tree National Park)

Originally I thought we’d stop in Palm Desert, then a quick glance at the map and I realized it was right across the highway from Joshua Tree, ahh! One night of dry camping would be easy and the campground was first come first serve – and it was a Monday, in November, so chances were good we’d be fine. We needed it to be fine because it was the only campground on the southern side of the park and it would be a long slow 30 mile drive to the other campgrounds on the northern side… and there’s [little to] no cell service in the park to even come up with a plan b at the last minute.

The entry station was closed when we arrived at 6:30 so we just made our way to the campground loops and started looking for a spot on loop b. Now I guess the smart thing to do would be a quick walk around the loop to identify any potential navigation hazards and find a suitable site, but since it was a dead end one way loop, it probably didn’t matter a whole lot so here goes nothing! In the loop, there were parallel parking spots on the outside and short back in spots on the inside. It was clear that a parallel spot would be optimal but it still requires some clear space to maneuver the truck in the road so I kept going around. There were giant boulders everywhere – to keep vehicles off the landscaping/dirt. At the top corner of the loop I found myself sandwiched between boulders on my left and a giant fifth wheel that didn’t do a very good job of getting all the way into their parallel spot on my right. Commence freak out. The fifth wheel’s owner came out to help navigate and Tom hopped out at my barking and I made it through without incident, but I wasn’t about to try and squeeze through there again so I decided to take the next open spot I encountered. When I inspected this narrow passage in daylight the next morning I was rather impressed with myself. img_2798I also did quite a nice job with the parallel parking thank you very much. We didn’t even bother to unhitch, just got on some blocks, threw down the jacks, and cracked open a beer.

Tom made us a campfire then started on dinner – I am so spoiled. It was a perfect starry night and the desert landscape was lit up by the super moon – in this moment, the dream of being a full-time airstream dweller settled over me. This is what I’ve been craving. One little circle of campers in the middle of the desert, no cell service, no hook-ups, no highway sounds, just miles and miles of desert flora, piles of rocks, coyotes howling, campfire crackling – you feel me right?

img_2802I woke early to the glorious sunrise and hopped on my bike to check out the scene. There’s really just one road that goes north/south through the park from our location but I stopped at the Visitor Center to double check the map and pick a landmark to shoot for. We hadn’t paid our camping fees the night before so I asked the ranger if we could pay him but we could not – he said we could pay the station at the entrance but warned us we couldn’t leave that way til after 3pm. Hold up, say what? Yeah, apparently the California highway whoever were working on the on-ramps *both directions* and hadn’t put up any signs the night before warning people getting off that they couldn’t get back on! The sweet ranger said he was going to scout out a dirt road to see if it was navigable by a vehicle (and trailer) such as ours and we should check back after our bike ride. My legs felt like crud so I tried to keep the ride easy but there was a long climb back to the campground. Scenery was fantastic though – I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it kind of just looks like these giant heaps of rocks that someone discarded in the most artistic way. The sun felt so good on my skin but I can only imagine how brutal the climate can get in the summer.img_2792   img_2817

Back at the Visitor Center the ranger confirmed that we should be able to take the dirt road and pop out at the back of a rest stop several miles down the highway. Now that I had night driving under my belt I wanted to give daytime driving a go. Tom didn’t mind the break (he’s been the sole driver for almost 2 months now). Plus, the interstate is easy 🙂

the dirt road

Le Sage Riviera (Grover Beach)

Le Sage Riviera

That sounds a lot fancier than it actually is. But apparently central and southern California’s RV Park off seasons aren’t quite as quiet as those in Oregon. And we haven’t always been that good about advance planning. So our first (and second) choices for parks in Pismo Beach were full up. Tom’s mom lives in nearby SLO or San Luis Obispo, so location was important, and I was ready for some beach time. As it turns out I’m pretty sure we could have stayed at the beachfront no frills (dry) campground nearby, but I wasn’t in charge of reservations. No biggie, but the park was tiny and full of big rigs and we were lined up like sardines in there. Pulling in at night was no picnic either. We had to make a U-turn to get into our “street” which was phenomenally awkward, and Tom was so worn out by it that he literally could not understand my directions to line up the trailer. So I did it. My parking lot practice was paying off.

We set up camp then headed straight to Judy’s house for dinner. She lives in a little four-plex in downtown SLO and had been cooking and baking up a vegan storm for us. We had a lovely time chatting while Tom started our heaps of laundry. Sunday morning I headed straight to the beach to soak up some Vitamin D and quiet my thoughts. It was heaven. Eventually I fetched Tom and we wandered over to see the Monarchs img_2735which were remarkable. Thousands of them migrate to these same trees every year and humans crowd the shoulders of the PCH to stop and marvel at them fluttering overhead.

Unfortunately the days are short, even if the sun is warm, so we hopped in the truck and headed north to Montana de Oro  img_2752



img_2765  state park with intentions of an easy bike ride followed by a sunset hike along the bluff. Turns out it isn’t a great location for road riding (mountain bikes everywhere though!) so we just went for a much longer hike than planned. The stupidly parked in a lot a mile away from the main beach area where the Bluff Trail is located, and had to schlep through the super soft sandy dunes trails to get there. The cliffs were beautiful and the place got busy for sunset. The Bluff Trail is very tame, flat, well groomed, and well-trafficked. There were families with unattended children running perilously close to the cliff edges, lots of runners, some hippies w their guitars, asian tourists with their selfie sticks, and even a fisherman harvesting something out on some rocks that for the life of me I could not figure out how he got to (or more importantly, how he’d get back!). As the sun set we hustled back up the road to the truck because we were hosting Judy for dinner back at the trailer and were running really late. But as a former full-timer herself (she spent a year towing the kids around the country back in the 70s), she was content to wander around the park and down to the beach in our absence.

We rose early and went for separate beach runs in the morning fog. A few miles south they allow overnight camping on the beach so lots of RVs were digging themselves out of the sand before the day users showed up in their jeeps. It sounds fun, but oh my, just think of all the sand, everywhere, in the trailer, in the mechanics of the truck… plus it gets cold at night! No thank you! We had a long drive ahead of us, including the much-dreaded trek through LA. Tom handled it like a champ and when we were finally able to pull over in San Bernardino we switched. My first pull! On the highway, in the dark, eeee! To be continued…

moments before I start driving
moments before I start driving

Olema Campground (near Point Reyes National Seashore, CA)

After seeing friends posting pictures of running and hiking at Point Reyes and reading about some rides in the area on Jay’s site I decided we needed to camp nearby and get our workout on. Unfortunately the only camping in the national park is for backpackers, but I found Olema Campground just across the street from the Bear Valley Visitor Center. This worked out perfectly since my research for the best trail runs in the park named the #1 run as the Bear Valley Trail which naturally starts from this parking lot!

We never seem to get quite as early a start as we plan for plus the road from Petaluma out to the coast was rather slow going (two lane, windy, popular with cyclists). So we pulled up at the campground around 2:45 and did a quick pull-in (Note: not the same as pull-thru and not at all convenient for trailers or fifth-wheels) then threw on our running shoes and ran a mile down the road to the trailhead. We were [yet again] chasing daylight and I was determined to hit the end of the out and back for the [only] coastal views of this particular route. I had imagined a dry rocky single track trail over hillside to the [no longer existing] Arch Rock but instead we ran out 4 miles on a very well groomed wide false flat path along creeks and fields that finally emerged at the shore. img_2678I had read that the Arch collapsed in 2015 (and sadly killed a hiker) but seeing as how it’s still listed on all the maps I assumed the trail would take you to the spot anyways. But I guess after the tragic accident the parks service blocked off the trail that led directly down to the beach so we had to make our way to a lookout point from the intersecting Coastal Trail and a cut-thru people had clearly made thru the brush for a perilous cliff perch photo op. img_2684Oh how I wish we could loop this run back a different way and see some other scenery, and if we’d had more daylight we could have, but we didn’t have enough food or water to take the risk of making an already 11 mile run into a 20 mile run just so I could take in some more ocean views. It was a bit of a slog back as my body became uncooperative and reminded me I had skipped lunch.

Back at the trailer Tom did a quick search and determined there was no grocery in Olema and started pulling out leftovers but I wasn’t settling for another propane faux campfire so I dug a little deeper and found a darling wonderful market in the next town over: Point Reyes Station. We finished listening to Season 1 of the Up and Vanished podcast near to a roaring fire as our neighbors yucked it up across the circle.

Part of the reason that run might have sucked so much was it was supposed to be on Saturday not Thursday but I rearranged workouts for various reasons. One of which was that I found this 50m outdoor pool in Petaluma that we wanted to check out and it was really stressing us out trying to figure out how to park the trailer somewhere and swim in Santa Rosa on the drive down from the winery the day before. So we packed gym bags and headed back up the windy road to the pool. Before we swam we went for a short run on this little greenway I spotted on the map but it was super sketch and I was thrilled to get back to the swim center. img_2712By the end of the workout I was starving so naturally I found us a brew pub with a deck overlooking the river next to the old mill area where they were putting on a Veterans’ Day Parade. The traffic getting out of town afterwards, just as the parade was ending, was pretty frustrating and California drivers are definitely as bad as everyone says they are.

I had made plans to meet an old high school friend in Sausalito for dinner so we headed that direction and meandered around the waterfront area for about an hour til her ferry arrived. img_2717Tom graciously left us to catch up and girl talk on the [over-] heated patio at Bar Bocce for the rest of the evening. After several glasses of wine I was convinced that I wanted to get up early and do the 40 mile out and back Lighthouse ride before we left for San Luis Obispo. I didn’t even take into consideration that it would still be dark when I set my alarm for 6am and having not been prepared for that, I proceeded to hit snooze for a good two hours totally missing the window to ride. We did kit up and ride 2 miles into Point Reyes Station to the Bovine Bakery for undeserved pastries and coffee and I definitely didn’t enjoy my truly delicious blackberry maple walnut scone as much as I should have while jealously eyeing ALL the cyclists who had clearly worked much harder for their breakfast treats. Tom would not be convinced to go for that 40 mile ride now, and we had to be out by 11:30 anyways, but as we mounted our bikes for the pitiful 3 mile ride back to the campground I saw a Vanderkitten VIP pulling up! Naturally I hollered out to her and we introduced ourselves and took photos and chatted about where we were from and I was so embarrassed to say we’d only ridden 10 minutes for pastries. 15036172_10155424132362678_4090710707542411056_nEspecially after she mentioned she’d been up in WA for the Cascades 1200km ride earlier this season. I have such a long ways to go to feel like I even belong on the team… Back at camp, a couple greeted us to marvel at our cargo bed bike storage set up and also poke fun at how short our ride had been. wahhh.

We navigated the “pull-thru,” stopped to empty our gray tank at the dump station (for better gas mileage?) and were on our way. Very slow going on the windy roads with SO MANY cyclists out enjoying the gorgeous morning and scenery. I was equally petrified we would side swipe someone with the trailer and in awe of how fast these folks were cruising up the hills. In my dreams I am a real cyclist.

San Fran across the bay
San Fran across the bay

Jaxon Keys Winery and Distillery (Hopland, CA)

Our first Harvest Host stay was an absolute joy! Of course it took us longer to get there than anticipated because Highway 101 has some scary narrow windy sections (and we just blindly trust Google Maps estimates way too much). I could tell where we were supposed to park based on the Host’s website pics and reviews so we turned around and pulled right up next to the fence at the bottom of the drive. img_2638I hopped out and changed into some running clothes and ran right into the tasting room to announce our arrival and ask if we could run around the property. Of course we could – just stay off the section they rent out for hunters – duly noted! It was beautiful and the smell, oh the smell!

the deck view from the hilltop guest house they rent out
the deck view from the hilltop guest house they rent out

img_264645 minutes later I was ready for wine. We chatted with the proprietor and tasted the offerings then bought a bottle of my favorite to sit on the veranda and enjoy dusk looking out over the fields of multi-colored vines. img_2651The only drawback is they are literally right on highway 101 so the traffic noise made it less idyllic. But I got to fill Tom in on the employment drama that was happening in the background of my healing story we’d listened to on the Blue Skies podcast in the car. I forgot I had even mentioned it in the recording and hope it didn’t come off badly. I should mention that we are hooked on podcasts for the driving days. I’ll have to make a post reviewing what we are listening to 🙂

It was a perfect evening of [a faux propane] campfire and star gazing, homemade turkey burgers and waxing poetic over the wonderful wine. And we only filled up 19% of our gray tank hooray! Breaking camp is much easier when you’re dry camping. I took the opportunity of the big gravel parking lot to practice backing up the trailer – even if I’m still too scared to pull her on the open road. Baby steps…

morning coffee views