If you read the first blog post, thank you. You might remember that the BIG takeaway was the van didn’t need a shake out as much as we did and the important things are patience, teamwork, attitude, gratitude and community.
That’s probably a good place to start will our latest van adventure…actually a good place to start every day.
We planned this trip around a job site visit in WV for Flay. With winter travel, Covid precautions and an ankle injury (Alice), we figured there would be a few more things to shake out. We were right…
Wednesday, January 18, 2021
Friends and family be warned, we really enjoyed our first driveway stopover and Flay’s cousin, Johnna, set a high bar.
Johnna lives in Blacksburg, VA and it was certainly worth a few extra miles to spend our first night in her driveway and visit with her. We were treated to a back yard for Saka and her new best friend, Daisy, to romp while we visited over a glass or two of wine. We enjoyed a short walk over the surrounding hills before settling into her kitchen (appropriately socially distanced) while Johnna cooked an amazing meal for us. Great conversation…much laughter…full bellies…happy and tired dogs and access to indoor plumbing.
The evening was capped off with a toasty, warm van. So thankful there were no issues with the heater or this trip would have ended with us in a hotel room and back home after business was concluded…and we would have missed some amazing sunrises.
Being polite driveway guests, we slept in past the sunrise before enjoying a cup of coffee and indoor bathroom and hitting the road.
Thank you, Johnna…we’ll be back! Friends and family, don’t be surprised when a white van shows up in your driveway.
Thursday, January 19
Two hours of mostly winding, up and down roads got us to Lewisburg only 25 minutes late. Between the need to drive slower in the van and crazy Google directions complicated by the town of Lewisburg renumbering a road for 911 purposes had Flay in a fine mood.
Not knowing how long Flay’s meeting would last, Saka and I drove to downtown Lewisburg and wandered around. The streets were pretty empty and with my painful ankle we decided to return to the van for a Covid-safe cup of hot tea and to review our travel plans more thoroughly. Side note: I am now competent to turn the inverter on and off by myself!! Just as I was set to turn the kettle on, Flay called and said come get me.
The George Washington and Jefferson National Forest is one of the largest areas of public land in the Eastern United States and covers 1.8 million acres of land. We thought this would significantly up our odds for finding sites for dispersed camping.
Just so you know, I really did do my homework. I had studied a Virginia atlas, Google maps and a multitude of NF maps. These included:
- The Interactive Visitor’s Map provides an online view of Forest Service roads, trails, recreation sites, wilderness areas, and wild & scenic rivers.
- Forest Service Topography Maps overlay Forest Service roads, trails, and campgrounds on USGS topographic maps. They are available for download by quadrangle, and are geo-referenced PDFs. This means they have latitude and longitude information embedded in them, and can be used with an app like PDF Maps from Avenza which uses your mobile device’s built-in GPS to show your location on the map.
- Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM) indicate which roads in the National Forests are open to motor vehicle use, and which roads have been decommissioned or changed to other uses (PDF). These maps can be downloaded and printed by quadrangle from your computer.
- The Travel Access map is an interactive travel map that displays National Forest System (NFS) roads, NFS trails, and areas on NFS lands that are designated for motor vehicle use, as well as nearby points of interest. The interactive travel map does not replace the MVUM, which makes legal designations of roads, trails, and areas pursuant 36 CFR 212.56 and 261.13.
There is definitely something called information overload. Oh, on top of this I looked to Alltrails and Gaia for appropriate, ankle-friendly hikes. So let’s just say that there is still room for needed improvement here.
We planned to exit at Covington and go north into the National Forest. We are a little past hungry and in need of lunch and Alltrails highly rated the JacksonRiver Trail just outside of Covington. Our plan was to stop at the trailhead for a quick and scenic lunch, a short walk and then into the NF to finally find our FIRST boondock site.
So…when you google Covington all the nice tourist things to do in the area show up. If you scroll further (which I didn’t do since we were really just passing through), you can’t miss this headline:
Covington Ranks #1 Among Most Toxic Zip Codes in VA
Driving into town it is obvious why. Lovely…
We quickly pass through and a few miles north of town, we stop at the Jackson River for a quick bit to eat. Lunch was scenic and tasty and easy. I’ve gotten better at simplifying meals, if only I had returned some silverware back to the van. Still need to improve the checklist. Thankfully, tomato soup is easy to sip from the bowl.
Since we really do need silverware for most meals, we head back into Covington for a cellular signal and a Dollar General. At this point, I really wanted to put Covington behind us. I send Flay into the store and I delve back into the maps for a different plan. It is now around 330 and the soon setting sun is a bit of a concern.
Side note: Flay returns from the Dollar General in amazement that the silverware he purchased was only a dollar. His first time in a Dollar General and I’m afraid this will set unrealistic expectations for any future purchases we need.
New plan includes a contingency option. We are going about 15 miles further down the interstate to Clifton Forge and enter the National Forest from a different road. There is a state park with a campground as a backup if we are again unsuccessful for locating a NF road they where we can boondock. I really didn’t think it would be this hard.
We travel about 15 miles to the NF and the Duothat State Park. All of the NF roads that I’ve identified on my multiple map sources are gated closed. The road continues through the state park and in 5 miles or so, be still my soul, there is a beautiful, ungated, gravel NF road. Up we drive for a few miles and there is not a sign of civilization. At the crest of a hill, there is the most beautiful, level pull out for our first of what I hope will be many boondocking nights.
Beautiful forest…deep silence…easy dinner… starry night…peaceful night. I did double check that our taser (not that I have any idea how to use it) was in its place at the end of the bed, all the window shades were in place and we locked all the doors. Would hate for this first boondock night to become a “Deliverance” experience. It wasn’t.
Friday, January 18, 2021
I continue to be first up in our van travels. I’m working at being as quiet as possible but Flay would probably say I still have some room for improvement. I am proud to report that I have mastered the art of a fresh ground, French Press cup of coffee. No alarms (making coffee, at least) were activated this trip!
We were rewarded with a sunrise that I will always remember.
We decided to head back into Douthat State Park in search of a hike. We did the Buck Hollow trail that ascended gradually along a mountain stream to a lookout over Douthat Lake. Winter hikes have a unique, quiet beauty to them and we had the trail (almost the entire park) to ourselves. Well the quiet was disturbed a bit with Saka splashing in and out of the creek that whole way.
Reality check: It is Friday and Flay needs to work.
Reminder: This whole van thing started with the awareness that there is a lot of this world to explore and if we want to see it (with our dog) we needed to figure out how to take the show on the road, so to speak. Covid has definitely proven Flay’s ability to work and manage his engineering company remotely. However, wifi is challenging (even with the booster) in the mountains.
We decided to return to Clifton Forge…known as an Alleghany Highlands Treasure (no toxic waste)…in search of a strong wifi signal. A visit to a coffee shop can tell you a lot about a place and our stop at Caffe Museo gave us a few minutes of friendly conversation and use of a nice bathroom. (Never take either of these things for granted.) Clifton Forge has a historic feel to it and a downtown library with a strong wifi signal. We parked in front of the library for a couple of hours for Flay to work and me to study maps!!
There are numerous NF roads to be accessed from the Blue Ridge Parkway. I checked the Parkway’s website to confirm the section we would be traveling would be open. No problem. We head about an hour east toward Afton to get on the parkway at its northern terminus. Exit interstate onto the parkway…closed. Check map. Recheck parkway website. Reroute to the next access point. Closed. The skies are darkening and rain is on the way.
New plan. Let Saka drive!
When everything you need rides on 4 wheels with you, plans can change. This is a very good thing since we seem to be revising plans every hour. After a while serenpendity wears on you.
We abandon our quest for a boondock site for the night and check Harvest Hosts for somewhere nearby to stay overnight. Our Harvest Host membership gives us free access to stay at over 1500 wineries, breweries, farms, etc. nationwide. Great deal!!
Barren Ridge Winery is the closest property. Reviews are good. Call and their 1 RV spot is open for the night. YAY! A 15 minute drive later and we are being warmly welcomed by our hosts. We park in the back. Level with a beautiful view of the vineyards. With threatening skies, the 3 of us scamper back to sit by a warm fire in a large tasting room. (Everyone is socially distanced and masked…we feel very safe.) Oh…in case I didn’t mention…they have very nice bathrooms! 2 flights, 1 charcuterie board later and it is pouring outside. Since we are walking (not driving), another bottle of wine for until the rain lets up.
Back in the van, I heat some soup and we settle in for the night and remember…
Patience. Teamwork. Attitude. Gratitude. Community.
Saturday, January 18, 2021
Another sunrise to remember.
We will definitely plan to return to Barren Ridge Winery to explore the area in a more predictable season. The family that owns and operates the winery are delighful and we hear their sunsets are pretty spectacular, too.
I had identified 2 hikes that I thought I could manage with my ankle. I’ll spare you all the ways that those 2 hikes did not happen. Let’s just say the possibility of closures on the parkway and navigating curvy mountain back roads seemed ill advised when it started snowing shortly after we hit the road.
The snow was beautiful. We detoured to Sherando Lake. We started a hike that was too steep for my aching ankle. As much as I love walking in the snow, I had to send Flay and Saka ahead without me. I returned to walk along a stream a bit and then back to the van and my maps!
We decided with the weather, to return to main roads and make our way to Lynchburg where we had a spot with another HH, Apocalyptic Ale House. As we went south, the snow faded. Hating to call it and early day, we identified a flat, river walk trail in Lynchburg. We ate a quick lunch in the van by the river and headed out for our walk. About 15 minutes in it started raining. (Most likely, because back in the van we decided to ditch our rain gear.) Enough serandipity. About 20 minutes in we decided that this was not fun and decided to head back to the van. About 21 minutes in it started pouring. About 5 seconds after we got back to the van the rain stopped and the sun came out.
We headed on to our Harvest Host location. Settled in early, enjoyed sampling their beer, made use of their lovely restrooms and called it good. Saka even had her personal toilet to drink from!
Back to the van for a quick dinner. All was good until…I set off another alarm.
So there’s this thing when the inverter thinks you are overdoing it. Apparently heating water in the kettle and heating meatballs in the microwave is unacceptable. Who knew??
I wonder what how many other alarms there are?
A bit of Netflix and it was lights out.
Sunday, January 18, 2021
We rose early. I think Flay is going to have to give up on sleeping in when we are traveling in the van. At least, I make a great cup of coffee now! We have gotten more proficient in transitioning from camp mode to travel mode and we were on the road heading home as the sun rose.
By all important measures, our trip was a success.
Patience. Teamwork. Attitude. Gratitude. Community.
Winter travel has its own set of challenges and rewards and it was wonderful to have a change of scenery in these Covid times. Flay keeps talking about a ski trip with the van. I hope he has fun. I’m thinking a warm sunny beach would be good. Not sure where the road will lead next.