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 🙂

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the dirt road

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

Emerald Forest (Trinidad/Humboldt county)

Emerald Forest really had our hopes up for our first super scenic woodsy campground. What better launching point for exploring the Redwood Forest right? Well it was a nerve-wracking drive down highway 101 for starters, and these trips always take longer than Google Maps suggests, which is to be expected pulling a 27’ trailer, but then add in narrow windy “highways” and construction that takes away one of the two lanes, and well, you get the idea. a 93 mile trip ends up taking almost 4 hours. Cue crankiness and frustration. So then to arrive at this highly anticipated lush “resort” and discover your [thankfully pull-thru] end spot backs right up to that highway and you’re spitting distance to 2 gigantic fifth wheels, and your enthusiasm vanishes pretty quickly.

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the highway is just thru those trees…

We had massive amounts of laundry to do despite having done 4 loads in Bend (seriously, how does it pile up so quickly??) so Tom was quick to scout out the facilities and was pleased despite the exorbitant cost ($2/load). But first we needed to work out so we drove down the road to Arcata where I’d picked out a cool community forest for some fun trail running. Now, we had two options for the 15 mile drive to Arcata. And since Tom missed the on-ramp for highway 101, we ended up on the “scenic” drive along the coast. Holy Mother of God, I’ve never been so afraid of tumbling over a cliff in my life. This “road” (and I use that term loosely) was actually signed as a bike route and I’d almost suggested Tom just ride it into town since his workout was an easy ride. The “road” however quickly deteriorated into a one lane pot hole filled dirt/gravel highway to your death. Several times we had to stop and navigate the one lane-ness with oncoming traffic, when literally one foot in the wrong direction meant pure devastation from plummeting to our death a thousand feet below on the rocky shoreline. There are some times when a 3/4 ton diesel quad cab is NOT the vehicle you want to be in and this pretty much tops that list. img_2732 img_2731I was trying to take in the stunning views between flashes of our rocky watery death and marveled at the homes perched precariously on the rocks overlooking the magnificent coastline. About 15 minutes later we escaped back to highway 101 and carried on our merry way. Big exhale.

Arcata is the home to Humboldt State University and I can only imagine the major draw is for students of forestry and environmentalism. There isn’t a whole lot going on in the greater Humboldt County coastal region but the Redwoods sure are impressive. We parked at the community forest right next to campus and Tom took off via bicycle while I trekked into the woods for a stop and go breathtaking uphill battle with gobs of photo ops: img_0096 img_0095 img_0094 img_009350 minutes later we reunited at the car, both completely spent from our supposed to be easy workouts. Keeping with our current theme of post workout brewery visits, we drove straight to McKinleyville and stopped in Six Rivers Brewery for happy hours brews and bites. There was Monday Night Football Seahawks vs. Bills on the TV but we were more interested in getting back to the “resort” for a campfire and dinner. img_0097I’ve been begging for a campfire for over a month and finally I got it. Life is good.

Tuesday morning we headed back into Arcata (all highway all the way thank you very much) and hit up the community pool for a lovely swim workout followed by a creepy fitness center experience then sped down the highway to Pepperwood for our much anticipated Avenue of the Giants bike ride.img_0099 It was another Jay’s essential rides ride and it was nice, but we felt a bit let down. I’m not sure exactly what we were expecting, I mean the trees are huge and the forest is spectacular with the ferns and the pine needles and the towering giants, and the road is very low traffic since it parallels the highway, but I don’t know, it left me wanting. There were stretches of just regular forest and some river views and some creepy dumpy campgrounds and the cheesy tourist stops (pressed pennies anyone?). I almost got run off the road over a very steep cliff by a FedEx truck. So really how did this differ from any other bike ride?? Le Sigh.

The Immortal Tree - supposedly 1000 years old, currently 250ft tall after lightning took off the top 50 ft a few years ago
The Immortal Tree – supposedly 1000 years old, currently 250ft tall after lightning took off the top 50 ft a few years ago

We turned around a little early in part because of sunset, but also because we had arrived at the section of road that Jay warned was some of the worst he’d ever come across, and indeed it was pretty nasty. Plus, we never ate lunch. I assumed we’d come across some cute little places to stop either on the drive to the ride or on the actual ride but we never did. And I didn’t really want gels which was all I had with me. So I was cranky and frustrated. We did break down and buy some nuts and candy bars at a little tourist trap store because I was just about to pass out from hunger pains, but I wanted something funner. Boo.

At least I got to take these silly photos inside a gigantic burned out hollow tree at the finish.img_0101 To try and rectify the culinary disappointment we stopped at Lost Coast Brew pub back in Eureka and binged on fried food as we watched the election results rolling in on the bar TVs. It was past 5 on the west coast so all the east coast polls were closing and the ensuing Facebook panic posts and stunned speechless media were just getting going on their long baffled night of shock and excuse-making. We did have cable at the campground but spent most of the evening sitting by the campfire enjoying the stars and ignoring the reality of the culmination of the last 18 months of ground-breaking bad behavior and political rants. We did know the official results before tucking into bed and said a sleepy prayer for the 50% of the population that would wake up to their very worst nightmare.

That’s about it for the Northern California coast, we were happy to head south to our first Harvest Host in the morning and made sure to dump the black tank and fill up the potable water tank for some dry camping among the grapevines.

Ireland’s RV Park (Gold Beach, OR)

I had really wanted to spend some time on the Oregon coast, but the northern part – the beaches and rock formations you see in all the movies and pictures. I’d spent time researching RV parks and state campgrounds even back when I was still working. But it’s a rather long drive from Seattle for a weekend and plus the sites were still super booked up in October and a lot close by November. Then when we decided to do Hood River and Bend it was the completely wrong direction logistically and would have added a ton of driving and the weather was turning… so it got nixed. But I needed SOME Oregon coastline before we left the state for a while.

roadside scenic viewpoint
roadside scenic viewpoint

There was a century ride on Jay’s website that formed a figure 8 with Gold Beach as it’s center so that’s how we ended up at Ireland’s in Gold Beach on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

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The rain just kept getting worse and worse but we had to walk a few blocks to the Inn to check-in so I put on my thermal running tights, “waterproof” boots, and raincoat and trudged up the street. Then Tom figured we were already pretty wet so why not wander around and see if there was anything interesting nearby? There was not. We walked a big loop through a shabby mobile home park trying to find a cut through to the beach as puddles formed in our shoes. img_2480I did at least walk out to the beach and up the tiny lighthouse but it was a stay in kind of night.

Sunday was an improvement so we went for a long walk on the beach, getting chased down by the incoming tide and mounds of fluffy sea foam blowing in the wind. img_2495 img_2485Then we jumped on our bikes and headed north for the easier half of the century ride since the weather didn’t give us much hope that the sweeping views from the hard hilly half would even be possible. I can break it down into thirds – the chip seal section, the hillbilly img_2488section, and the windy section. The hillbilly section was actually quite beautiful and had nice road surfaces so it made for good riding. Back on the waterfront was fairly miserable though and the views were mostly of sheep. Crossing the bridge back into Gold Beach wasn’t as scary as I anticipated and we were done. The campground was still pretty quiet but a big fifth wheel had been replaced by a little pop-up and we eyed the couple curiously as they secured multiple tarps over the mesh sides and washed their dishes next to the spigot. That is pretty hardcore, by comparison we merely pretend to camp while we enjoy the luxuriousness of our modern Airstream.

I got in a “quick” challenging beach run Monday morning before we hit the road for a beautiful drive down Highway 101 where we averaged about 35mph for the rest of the day…

Bend/Sisters Garden RV Resort

Bend/Sisters Garden RV Resort was the perfect location for a week of adventuring in Central Oregon. I never made it to Bend this summer and Tom has been adamant that I will love it – and even sent me real estate listings in the area! I do hate to be a foregone conclusion but in this case he nailed it. The drive from Hood River was gorgeous and I was like a kid walking down Main Street, Disney World, just in awe of the scenery around every corner. The park is closer to Sisters than Bend but the 15 mile drive into Bend didn’t affect our plans – and I don’t think I could ever tire of the amazing mountain views along highway 20. Check-in was easy and we had an escort to our site. We had a nice end spot (ie. grass on both sides of the trailer), right next to the little lake and the nice, clean, hot showers. There was hardly anyone on our side of the park but the other half was pretty full – presumably long term residents. We did find it slightly annoying that despite all the vacant space, we had a different trailer right next door to us every night. No need to be on top of one another with hardly any reservations… le sigh. Oh, and the wifi was horrible – again, with no one there, what a shame, it must be completely worthless in the summer when they’re booked up.

Monday, our arrival day, was a schedule day off on our training plan, but since our Sunday ride got rained out we decided to go exploring on 2 wheels. So we drove into downtown Bend, parked, and hit the bike lanes. Even though Tom has been here several times, he didn’t really know where we were going so we just followed the scenic bikeway signs out to Sheridan Park, climbed the little hill, then turned around and headed back before sunset. img_2307We cruised around the Old Mill area, which is under a lot of construction and development, before chaining up at the Deschutes Brewery for some beers. Such tourists!

 

 

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building decorated in denim?

Tuesday we wandered into Sisters and explored the town, chatting up the fellas at a few different bike shops about where to ride on this glorious sunny day. img_2314It’s a quirky little town and we stumbled into a bodega for a pre-ride snack from a very pushy but sweet eastern European woman. One parking lot wardrobe change later and we were headed out towards Black Butte on a scenic bikeway. The views were nothing short of amazing even if the wind and chip seal was frustrating. img_2318We rode past horse pastures and out into National Forest land with next to no traffic. img_2334Back in town we wandered through some residential neighborhoods and daydreamed about taking up residency. After a quick load of laundry and hot showers we headed back in to Bend for beer, food, wifi, and baseball at 10 Barrell. We really needed to plan our next few destinations and I felt much less stressed out by the end of the evening.

Wednesday we met Tom’s friend Jamie at the Juniper Pool & Fitness Center for a great swim in their Olympic pool. She took us to her favorite lunch spot Chow where we enjoyed a delicious meal and caught up. Then Tom and I headed north to Smith Rock for a trail run (but not before picking up some apple cider donuts for a post-run treat!). img_2336This place was unbelievable. We had no idea what it was really and didn’t understand how we missed it on the drive in, but everyone raved about how cool it was so expectations were high. As we got closer we could see it kind of sprout up out of the landscape and driving in through farmland I was just giddy as this incredible rock formation beckoned us.

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Is this for real?

I had researched the trail run options and determined we must tackle the Summit Trail for the challenge and the views. img_2444Running along the river we encountered some hikers and saw a few rock climbers and I just felt like I was running in a photo shoot – the scenery was just too good to be true. The trail was open – unlike a lot of the heavily wooded trails I’m used to – so you could just see down the river and up the canyon and marvel at the rock faces and towered overhead. img_2389Once we got to the switchbacks the battle began. Between my hamstrings and lungs, I was struggling. But we pressed on – running the stretches between the rocky hairpin turns – and ogling the steep ridgeline trail looming above us.  img_2400A quick check of the map assured me that was not the way back to the parking lot but I thought we might have to go up there to get the best view. But we kept climbing higher and higher above the rocks and with a blast of wind to the face we were at the “summit” and had a panoramic view of the Cascades. img_2398 From Bachelor to the south all the way to Jefferson at the north end (we did actually see Hood even further north but not at this spot). The gloomy rain of Seattle was a distant memory as we stood on the dry rock with nothing but blue skies and sunshine and clear views for miles and miles. img_2397  I couldn’t take my eyes off the views as the setting sun was changing the landscape by the minute but the trail down was steep and rocky. img_2402Runner’s high was in full effect the rest of the run and I chased the sun around the park not wanting to get back in the truck and leave. The promise of those doughnuts and game 7 of the World Series motivated us though and we went directly to Hop & Brew in Sisters for beers and baseball. I do love me some people watching too 😉

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Thursday was the big ride day I’d been getting anxious about all week. I don’t know why but sometimes I get very nervous about cycling. Worried that I can’t do it mostly. That the route is too challenging and I’m not physically up to the task. But I’m learning that really it’s a mental problem and at least so far, I haven’t encountered any terrain I can’t handle. It might hurt, I might have to stop, and sometimes I might even have to walk, but I’ll get there. Training my attitude is more difficult than training my legs. I am so grateful for friends (and a coach) who tolerate my bitching. So I kind of gave myself an upset stomach before the ride. img_2418Meghan had told me to go to Back Porch Coffee so we got me a little jolt of courage then suited up in entirely too much clothing. The forecast said it was 38 at the summit station (6000′) and we were worried about freezing on the descent so I went with thermal tights. Dumb dumb dumb. The whole ride is in the brilliant sun and the 20 miles up are just that, up. If I’d had a pocket knife I probably would have cut them off at the knee half way up the mountain. The grade was super reasonable and we just kept spinning and spinning and spinning. img_2423About 90 minutes in the snow capped peak of Mt. Bachelor finally came into view – thank God! I was tiring of the quiet upward trudge with nothing but asphalt and trees. Lots of big construction trucks and passenger vehicles came by but the shoulder was wide (just often full of gravel and dirt). When I didn’t think I could take it anymore, there was a short but joyous descent. Then we passed the junction with the road to Sun River and were nearly to the ski lodges. Approaching the main lodge there is a gorgeous view of South Sister and Broken Top – so close I didn’t even realize that’s what they were at first. The area is still closed but we saw some kids sledding and there were definitely some folks skiing. Sweet Tom had ridden up with a small backpack so we stripped off our sweaty top layers and put on nice dry shirts and an extra layer of gloves for the windy descent. img_2434We didn’t do a very good job with summit photos but frankly we were kind of tired and there weren’t any obvious good spots for photo ops. I even made a point to pull over at a scenic viewpoint on the descent and it was nothing but a log in the woods, so bizarre. We made quick work of the return trip and it was the perfect grade for a not scary descent – no hand cramps from excessive braking (unlike Klickitat)! I was really pleased with the ride and hope that in the future I’ll be less intimidated when tackling challenging rides like this. img_2442We headed over to Crux for yet another local brew (and the most amazing pretzel I’ve ever had in my life!) and stupidly left 5 minutes before sunset because it looked too clouded over to be any good. Then as we rolled into the Fred Meyers parking lot I was taken aback by the most glorious pink and orange sky! img_2450wahhh. Don’t be like me – Crux has a perfect sunset over Sisters view – we are idiots.

Friday morning we had to get going early to meet Jamie for another swim before check-out at the campground. Coach put us to the test with some band work and we rewarded ourselves with a stint in the hot tub which felt like a scene from Cocoon. I keep wondering what Bend residents do and our mornings at the Juniper pool make me think a lot of them are retirees and don’t do much at all 🙂

So hard to leave… we will be back for sure!

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