New Mexico = my new love

I intentionally chose the middle spot on the row that had no other reservations around it when I booked online at Elephant Butte State Park. Wouldn’t you say I pretty much nailed that back in parking job? Did I mention it was pitch dark when I arrived? I missed the teeny tiny street sign and had to make a 10 point turn on the beach to backtrack. My luck ran out when I opened the trailer door to discover that a bunch of stuff had escaped the pantry, broken, spilled, and covered the floor as I drove around on that beach… so I spent most of the evening mopping up red wine and strawberry preserves and will be finding shards of glass for days to come I’m sure.

That being said, I did not get up at 6:30 to go swim at the municipal pool whose lap swim hours were only 7-9am (a 30 minute drive away to boot). I wasn’t too disappointed, it was a short workout anyways, and there were hiking trails to explore. The park ranger struggled to find a map for me and went on and on forever about which trailhead to start from. Despite his diatribe I still made a wrong turn and ended up driving around on yet another beach – it seems pretty commonplace here. I got to the right place eventually and the trail is pretty clearly marked as you can see.

it was either up…

Who doesn’t love running up steep hills on loose gravel at 4500′ of elevation?

or it was down…

 

a lot of brown, and then there’s me

At least the rangers won’t have a hard time finding me if there’s a flash flood or rattlesnake encounter. (Important to note: the only wildlife I saw was the backside of a jackrabbit).

strategically located picnic spots

After the run I stopped at the visitor center to buy a second night and the gal started chatting me up about helping with her taxes. No thank you! Time for the hot springs baby! I hooked the now unfrozen hose back up for a quick shower (micro-managing my gray water accumulation this week) and headed into town.: Truth or Consequences. I’ve been dying to check out this town. (As though Elephant Butte wasn’t interesting enough.) TripAdvisor said Riverbend Hot Springs was the #1 thing to do so by all means…

The office was tiny and chaotic as 4 employees tried to manage checking in 4 sets of guests at once. I don’t think any of us had reservations to soak which didn’t help, but still. I opted for a private soak for only $3 more than the communal variety. It was heaven. 50 minutes in a 103* personal hot spring with a waterfall and mountain views. My phone conveniently died the moment after I took the pic so I just luxuriated in the solitude.

I still had a decent amount of daylight after my soak and shower so I headed out towards the big dam. They don’t allow pedestrians on it anymore but there are a couple pullouts with historical markers.

The views were fantastic. Mountains all around, and the lake is just so interesting.

Seems a bit chilly for houseboats but I know nothing about them. There were signs for another EB rec area so I drove on down and saw signs for another RV campground. It was a super sketchy curvy narrow road with cliff edges and deer jumping out at me (one waaaay too close call) – I would never try to take the Airstream down there. But sure enough there were some big fifth wheels back in there. Talk about remote.

I wanted to explore the rest of the park where I was camped before the sun set – I’d seen some Airstreams glistening across the way, and trucks down on the rocky beaches. What’s the point of having a giant truck and 4 wheel drive if you don’t try and get in some tricky situations right? I should really be getting paid by Dodge and Airstream for some of these shots…

My nosy adventure in the truck confirmed that I needed to run around some more in the morning. I knew I had a long day planned so I tried to get to sleep early but let’s be honest, I’m a night owl. My fun-filled Friday night consisted of a trip to Wal-mart after watching the sun set, and working on this blog. Yep, I’m a party animal.

sunset from my campground

Even though I didn’t get up very early, I still went for the run. Actually, as I was brushing my teeth, the camp host Judy stopped by to make sure I’d paid a second night (because I didn’t display the appropriate car tag) and we killed some time chatting (still in my pajamas). We remarked how the wind had really died down, so I must go for a run. I left from the campground and ran down one of the sand roads to the beach. You can really just wander around wherever you want here apparently. But getting off the “road” meant super soft sinking sand and quite a workout. Ouch.

I was super reluctant to leave and hope there will be a time to return – maybe when it’s warm enough to swim in the lake?! I know the pictures don’t do the scenery justice, the scale is off somehow. The landscape is just fascinating. Definitely have to bring a fat tire bike for that sand though!

backtracking to Alabama (figuratively)

As you may have realized, there was a big gap between Thanksgiving when we arrived in Memphis, and when we left mid-January. No we weren’t there the whole time (egads!) but there was a lot of family and friends time and not much adventuring. So I’m trying to fill in a few of the holes with some short stops of interest. Completely out of order then, Oak Mountain state park, just south of Birmingham, Alabama, the day before the day before Christmas Eve.

A running buddy of mine in Charlotte is from the area so when I saw him at the Fillnow holiday kickball barbecue I asked for suggestions on where to camp. [I had originally wanted to camp near Talladega, just because, but turns out most of the camps near there are only open for race weeks. Not being super familiar with Nascar, I guess most people just camp at the race track so they don’t need a lot of overflow space.] So anywho, Chad suggested Oak Mountain and he nailed it. I just wish we had more time. It was a long day of driving from Concord (north of Charlotte) where we had left the Airstream to get the new toilet installed, all the way through Atlanta, to Birmingham. Even gaining an hour with the time change didn’t help.

just in case you need cash for your park entrance fees…

The attendant at the park entrance was very enthusiastic (new I think) and chatted with us forEVER and I just wanted to get out of the truck! The overly detailed directions did help though because it was pitch dark and the signs were rather tiny. It was a parallel parking spot that I did a decent job with and finally we could stretch out.

We were supposed to do a trail run that day at Crowder’s Mountain or somewhere on the way but it didn’t happen. So we got up and ran separately in the morning – exploring some of the many park hiking trails. They were rather tough but it was a nice sunny day and I was procrastinating getting back on the road so had fun playing in the woods – sometimes having to walk up the steepness… the strava elevation profile speaks for itself. I’d love to have ridden bikes through the park on the nice curvy roads and was super jealous as we saw some folks cruising by as we made our exit. Plus there were many more miles of hiking trails to run. Maybe we’ll be back some time.

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…

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morning coffee views

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.