that time I [didn’t] stay in a Wal-Mart parking lot

The drive across northeast Arizona was gorgeous. I think it’s called high desert? At elevation the landscape changes dramatically. It’s quite green. Of course I was driving up or down 7-10% grades most of the time so it was literally exhausting my right calf and I couldn’t take any pictures, but just google images of Tonto National Forest to get an idea. We were supposed to go for a bike ride or something so I had Tom find somewhere scenic on our route where we could hop out and go for a quick jaunt. Turns out we would be driving right through the middle of the Painted Desert. Perfect!

Or not so perfect. By the time we arrived there was a crazy storm brewing with really high winds, and the temperature had dropped significantly. And the park closes at sunset, which we were rapidly approaching. We had a nice chat with a ranger who suggested we just drive through to Blue Mesa and maybe walk the path they just built. There are pull-outs throughout the park, most suitable for RVs (they are plentiful in these parts), but she pointed out one or two we should avoid. We wasted too much time at the lookouts on the northern edge of the park not realizing how magnificent the Blue Mesa would be and we ended up getting chased out of the park by the rangers at dusk. And while we did not manage to avoid the rain storm, we were also there for some magnificent [double] rainbows.  It was just about a mile path down into and around the Blue Mesa. The perspective of looking back up at the rocks is much more powerful than standing on the rim looking down in. The water running off the rock down into the canyon was actually this pale purple-mauve color. There was also some petrified wood which I don’t think I’d ever seen – but it’s basically big pieces of tree trunks that look like sparkly rocks.

Although clearly we weren’t the first people to wander off the path to this particular piece of petrified wood, it was also clear that we were walking on quicksand so we quickly returned to the path as the sun was setting over the horizon. 

A local college hosts a charity bike ride through the park in the fall to raise scholarship funds. I’d love to come back and ride here on a slightly less windy, cold, stormy day. I caught this shot quickly as the ranger chasing us out stopped to close the gates behind us.

As we approached Albuquerque our plan was to stay overnight at the Camping World on the west side of the city. Upon arrival we discovered this was one of the few locations that does not allowed overnighting. Womp womp. It was past 9pm and too late to call any proper RV parks or check in to any campgrounds. We drove through the city and my hopes of running around Sandia Crest the next morning were dashed as we passed all the exits near the park. There was a Harvest Host site up the road I thought might work, but reviews mentioned something about being locked in behind a gate so that was out. In the end we resorted to a Wal-Mart parking lot in a little town just off the interstate. We weren’t alone but it was past 10pm, cold and windy. No point in unhitching, just dropped some jacks and made a little dinner. By the time we woke up all our neighbors were gone so we had a quick breakfast, hit up a grocery store Starbucks, and headed on. The view wasn’t terrible but it’s a shame we did zero exploring in New Mexico.

If my mother ever asks, we stayed at a campground, definitely NOT in a parking lot.

happy memories

Where: Frontier Ranch Colorado.

What: Young Life Camp Work Crew.

Age: 17.

Assignment: Housekeeping.

A.k.a. Cleaning bathrooms for messy high school kids every day.

A.k.a. Best summer of my life and highlight of my formative years.

So much happiness. Big big laughs. Amazing friendships. Independence. Responsibility. The great outdoors. Volunteerism. Faith. Teamwork. Silliness. Mountain top experience. Unforgettable.

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