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!

the 3rd best U.S. city to live in, really?

or how I survived, then escaped Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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

tandem tacos

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.

Then I arrived in the desert.

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.

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

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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