Absolutely one of the coolest places I’ve ever been. Not that sand dunes in and of themselves are so remarkable – I grew up playing on them at the Jersey Shore, Cape Cod, and Lake Michigan. But these dunes aren’t near a body of water. They are in the middle of the desert. Sandwiched between some mountain ranges actually. At 4500′ of elevation. Next to Hollman airforce base and the NASA Missile testing facility. The park website has a bunch of warnings about possible road closures due to missile testing (and specific dates you won’t be able to access the park). Luckily today was not one of those days. I did get to hear and see some pretty sweet jets doing some fly overs from the base though.
There’s a 16 mile round trip road you drive on through the park. It passes all the trails and picnic sites and had a bunch of big pull outs to just go run around (or sled down) the dunes. I wanted to hike the Backcountry Trail and didn’t realize until I parked that they have campsites on it. I was under the impression that you can’t camp there, but I was wrong. Now, you can’t have fires, and the sites are literally just a stake in the desert, so I’m not exactly sure what the point of it is, but I did see (and hear) one couple that had set up a tent at one of the “sites.”
First I recorded some of the drive through the park. You can see some of the restrooms they have set up. There is zero water in the park but they do have some [presumably] dry bathrooms. Fortunately I tote my own personal bathroom around with me so I never have to worry about these inconveniences. And I have a nice full tank of potable water as well. #airstreamlife
I had fun playing with the GoPro in the dunes. I hiked for about 90 minutes excluding a few stops. I could have gone all day – it was heavenly, especially off the main trail. I wore my GoreTex Salomon backpacking shoes to keep as much sand out as possible and they worked like a charm. Five minutes in my Saucony running shoes and I was full of sand so smart move to switch before the main hike.
Such a magical afternoon making footprints in the sand.
In my last post I was trying to make the best of a waiting game. I pretty much failed miserably. So after a full week in a very remote and uninteresting RV park 30 minutes from anywhere (including downtown Fayetteville where the “action” is), I cut my losses. The house sitting gig was postponed at least a month and I was already bored out of my mind and going stir-crazy in the trailer, cooped up because of the nasty weather. I tried to see what was out there – spent an afternoon exploring the cute old downtown
area with its quirky shops and plethora of food/drink establishments. I even popped in the art center and perused the free gallery. I drug Tom to the Crystal Bridges museum up in Bentonville, which is very well done (and free!) but the outdoor spaces were hard to enjoy in the constant gray drizzle. Aside from checking out a local bakery for lunch after a bike ride my last day, we ate at home, so that’s boring. I ran around the golf course where we were staying 3 times and the neighborhood across the shoulder-less street once. We used our free 3 (or if you’re lucky 4) day pass at the Fayetteville Athletic Club then ventured to the rather strange Jones Center in Springdale. The sun finally came out so I rode the famed Razorback Greenway which was fine but is probably better the opposite direction.
But by the time I even rode the greenway and found the great bakery, I was leaving. I’d paid for my last night at the RV park and Tom had moved all his stuff out of the Airstream. He wanted to stay, had a little part time job lined up even. Not I. I’d spent the week emailing people about house sits, looking for camp hosting gigs, and checking out campgrounds on the Texas Gulf coast for a temporary distraction. In the end I decided to head back to Tucson and interview for the CPA job and see what happened. Of course I wanted to take my time along the way, no 9 hour drive days, no creepy parks by the interstate. Naturally that means a slightly more circuitous route.
First stop: Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, a whopping 100 mile drive for day 1. An old marathon maniac friend of mine promised plenty of curb space and a spare bedroom. She even agreed to go for a bike ride with me and color my hair! Full on girls weekend complete with lazy wine filled movie nights and puppy snuggles on the sofa. I did go for a run around a park in Tulsa and managed to swing a free lap swim at a super nice new YMCA. The plan was to run at Turkey Mountain on my way out of town but a nasty cold windy rainstorm called for Plan B. My friend scouted a trail at Lake Texoma (obviously on the state border) while I headed south towards Dallas.
It was a SUPER windy waterfront locale but at least the woods offered some shelter. I was scared just to leave the truck/trailer in the parking lot (at the boat ramp) while I ran and envisioned returning to find it twisted on its side.
Thankfully it survived. My run did not go as well. Maybe it was being cooped up in the car or just not used to steep rocky trails, but I struggled and when I ran into a huge brush pile blocking the trail I wasn’t too disappointed to turn around early.
I finally made it to the house of another old running friend (and coworker) who relocated to a suburb of Dallas 5 years ago from Charlotte. She and her husband were enthusiastic to host an Airstream and I just baaaarely fit between their driveway and the neighbor’s, fully blocking the mailbox. We had a girls’ catch up dinner out and she set me up in the office/makeshift guest room – girl has 3 kids, so full house! I would have slept in the trailer but it probably would have required blocks so I just went with the air mattress and central heat.
The Base Performance guys were in town for a conference and suggested meeting up the next day which meant I definitely would not make the 300 mile drive west to Big Spring. My friend graciously offered to let me crash a second night and I promised to get out of their hair for family activities after school. She did my strength workout with me, then I ran in the glorious sunshine. Afterwards I set up my trainer in the driveway so her 19 month old got the bike ride bug and they all went for a family cruiser ride. So happy to inspire people to be active – she confessed she hadn’t found a group to train with and hadn’t run in years.
I reluctantly unhitched the trailer and drove into the city to meet the guys at the triathlon conference. I crashed the session Matt was speaking at then we all crashed the cocktail party and dinner. It was quite an entertaining evening – from the feisty table mates arguing the merits of retail stores, to the humorous awards, to my new friend who educated me about commercial bee farming. I tried not to be offended when the Active representative informed me my upcoming “ironman” is not an Ironman and I should not refer to it as such. Hashtag no M dot tattoo for me. Bozo.
It was a fun night, however late (mostly due to a zealous Canadian guy trying to teach me how to swim, at the bar in the Fairmont lobby), but I was up and on the road by 8:15 when the family left for work and school. LA Fitness Arlington didn’t know what was in store for them. In order to swim, I needed a pool, obviously, so I parked in like an entire row, which seemed like no big deal at 9am. Of course there was a blue hair water aerobics class til 10am though so I did an hour of HIIT first and didn’t end up leaving til noon by the time it was all said and done (ie. shower and smoothie). The parking lot had filled up a bit but I managed to get out okay, phew! Off to West Texas, finally.
Nothing very interesting about driving I-20 west for a couple hundred miles. I got creative at a very busy Love’s truck stop and even bought my first box of DEF. The West Texas Friendly RV Park I had picked, based on reviews, was pretty far south of Big Spring and nothing remarkable about it. No reservation, no problem. Sweet host couple got me situated and I headed into town for a grocery – praying for better than a Wal-mart, since I’d lost almost all my food due to the fridge not staying cool by using propane like I was told it was set to do… Google Maps directed me through some very dodgy neighborhoods to an amazing new store called Porter’s where I found all kinds of organic and vegan (and overpriced) goodies. A young man even walked my 2 bags of groceries to my car and called me ma’am. Oh my.
The evening passed watching cable and booking campgrounds in New Mexico (and airing out the trailer from the stinky food situation). So much to see, so little time. But why rush it? Maybe I won’t rush it. We’ll see. At $14/night the state campgrounds with hookups are pretty appealing.
Before leaving town I towed the trailer through Big Spring State Park to check out the view. The drive was a bit sketchy – rocky cliffs to one side, boulders and cacti to the other… wind was still pretty insane with no plans to let up. The day would entail long stretches on state highways with nothing to see but cotton fields and oil derricks. It was beautiful.
I had never heard of the phenomenon of Blue Monday until today. I guess I’m a little oblivious to the date, day of the week, and bank holidays since I’m not currently participating in the working world. Pulling up to the gym at 9:30am it was crystal clear that today was not a regular Monday. Everyone with the day off was spending the morning working out – kudos to them! I was irritated that I was late for the 9:30 B5 class I wanted to try but resolved to attend the 10am Hot Yoga Sculpt instead. Who doesn’t love a good sweaty yoga sesh? Well, yoga it was not. I can only begin to describe the torture chamber that was the tiny HOT “yoga” studio they crammed 20 sweaty bodies into for what was essentially a cardio sculpt class. Overachievers-R-Us left me lightheaded and 10lbs lighter. Then I went to swim. Duh. Because bouncing around in a room with wall to wall mirrors for an hour didn’t do enough for my self-esteem, I should definitely follow it up with an hour in the pool slowly pacing back and forth wondering why I do this whole triathlon thing in the first place.
I really do wonder why I do sports versus fitness. All those moms in the torture chamber class look way better than I do – are definitely bouncier than I am – prob have more energy than I do – and feel a lot more confident. This is a legitimate posturing. I mean, yay me, I can finish an Ironman in 12 hours on 3 months of serious training, but I am still in double digit clothing sizes and am appalled at 99% of pictures and videos of myself. I guess I’m just not motivated by what I see in the mirror. I mean, to a degree I am, like I want to see a strong, healthy body. But I have some genetic limitations that [minus surgery] aren’t going to change at this point in my life. Moreover, this gets at a deeper issue. Why do I do triathlon? Running was more obvious. I love running. I saw progress in running. Triathlon feels like a consolation prize. How can I ever be good at something that I don’t even appreciate that much? What is my hang up? Hmm, food for thought.
Back to Blue Monday. Maybe I got out most of my moodiness over the weekend so today wasn’t particularly glum. We are in a weird holding pattern that doesn’t make me happy. The weather hasn’t helped. I was so looking forward to sunny Florida after the holidays but we’ve ended up in northwest Arkansas instead. And it may not even be working out. So I’m confused and frustrated and exploring alternatives and trying not to get bogged down in the what-ifs or second guess doors I closed for this house-sitting gig that may or may not pan out.
Today the sun came out. Today I finished that horrendous class I accidentally took at the gym. Today we checked out a local brewery for lunch. Today I vacuumed under the bed and every cushion and in all the storage spaces in the trailer. Today I had a good hair day.
Hey, sometimes it’s the little things right?
One foot in front of the other.
(Sweet new collapsable travel chairs make me happy)
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.
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. I 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: 50 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. I’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. 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.
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. 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.
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. We 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!
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. It’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. We rode past horse pastures and out into National Forest land with next to no traffic. Back 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!). This 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.
I had researched the trail run options and determined we must tackle the Summit Trail for the challenge and the views. Running 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. Once 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. A 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. 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. 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. Runner’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 😉
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. Meghan 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. About 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. We 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. We 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! wahhh. 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 🙂