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ART OF THE PIVOT

Where to begin? It’s been 7 months (crazy!) since we returned from our Colorado trip and so much has happened…including a trip to Nova Scotia! Turns out we enjoy our van travels so much that when we return, I find myself distracted with thoughts of where our next journey might take us. That and life…so I have some catching up to do.

First, thank you for the interest that you have in our journeys.  When you are on the road for 3 weeks, there is great comfort in knowing that there is a community of folks who travel with us in spirit and support us in countless ways. Thank you.

So…one question that we have been asked often is: “How many miles did you travel?” The answer: 4,564 MILES!  That’s a lot of territory, a lot of beautiful country, a lot of interesting people, a lot of time to reflect and a lot of time to figure more things out about life in a campervan…life in general, too.

So…seven months out, these are the things I still remember and I’m recording it as much for us as anything. (By the way…I don’t remember what I had for breakfast today!) 

Day 1 (June 25, 2021) up with the sun and 400 miles to Lexington, KY. We had a Harvest Host reservation at Wildside Winery. Highlights: no cooking (bottle of wine and charcuterie board), relaxing stroll through the vineyards, visiting with the Kentucky Thoroughbreds in the pasture next to our van. 

Day 2 up before the sun and 580 miles to Kansas City, MO to another Harvest Host (HH) location, at a downtown brewery.  Things we learned: KC BBQ Burnt Ends are worth the drive and there’s a lot of freedom when you travel with your bed.  The downtown brewery was great…but not for an overnight stay.  Live music in a hot, crowded parking lot was not going to work for a good night sleep. We are learning the art of the pivot.  With full bellies, we headed to the Riverfront Park for a walk before continuing down the road in search of a better overnight spot. Little did we know we would encounter our first big scare of the trip here. (There were two.) One minute Saka is playing fetch with another Golden and the next minute she catches sight of the Missouri River and is swimming after a stick in a very big and fast moving river. Scared us really bad…she had a great time. Definitely time to exit KC and look for somewhere to park for the night.  We ended up at another HH winery about 1 hour west of KC…best we can say is the people were nice and it was quiet.

Day 3 up before the sun and 590 miles to Colorado Springs. Crossed a part of the country we had never seen. Our sightseeing was mostly limited to rest areas…interesting how different they are from one state to another…we will spare you those photos. With our long travel days behind us, we enjoyed a hotel stay with a/c and hot showers.

Day 4 we are up early to explore Garden of the Gods before the crowds. Pikes Peak hid from us this visit so we just might have to return…

The drive to Buena Vista was less than 2 hours. Explored downtown and then headed in search of a dispersed campsite outside in the Four Mile Recreation Area. I love this part of van life…the possibility finding of a camping spot that is epic. After Flay carefully navigated a few miles up a pothole-riddled, sandy road…we nailed it. (Lots of pivoting required…and swearing!!)

Day 5 began with the views, a little work and some mountain biking before we drove up to Cottonwood Pass for hiking.  Saka is a great campervan dog and quickly mastered the art of finding shade.  We found another nice spot to camp near Cottonwood Lake.

Day 6 we were up early and back in Buena Vista in search of coffeeshop and a good wifi signal for Flay to crank out some work.  I did some “housekeeping” and some trail/camp site research before doing some exploring with Saka. Plan and be ready to pivot…

After Flay caught up on work and we drove north less than 1 hour to the Twin Lakes area. Time didn’t allow us to summit Mt Ebert but still enjoyed a beautiful 5 mile hike…including one creek crossing failure. Spotted a perfect camp spot near the end of our hike. Epic…even.

Day 7 begins with the view…a good wifi signal…and work.

Our plan for the day was to take Route 82 over Independence Pass, get in a hike and enter Maroon Bells at 6pm (reservation required) for a short walk and photos and then find a spot to camp. The day unfolded with a steep drive up to Independence Pass and heavy rain.  So on with the rain gear. As we started the 6 mile hike to Lost Man Lake at Independence Pass, the trails had become gushing streams…then there was distant lightning and hail…then there was sunshine.  Saka loved splashing through streams, running zoomies in snow banks and swimming in alpine lakes.  I might have wished for nothing but sunshine but we would have missed out on the full glory of this day. Wouldn’t change a thing.

Route 82 into Aspen was something of a white knuckle drive…lots of cars and plenty of blind curves only one lane wide. Once in Aspen, it became obvious that options for dispersed camping were pretty much non-existent. As we entered Maroon Bells, we snagged a cancellation at the park campground.  After Independence Pass, it was pretty tame…and crowded.  We headed to the campground with plans to come back at sunrise before hitting the road. Plan and pivot…

Sunrise

Day 8 was a hotel night in Glenwood Springs.  We had been unable to get a reservation to hike Hanging Lake so this stop was for showers, laundry, restocking groceries and eating. Interesting encounter: We ended up sharing a table at a brewery with a couple that were doing a campervan trial run.  They had flown in that morning, rented an empty cargo van and “equipped” it as a campervan in less than an hour. This completely blew Flay’s mind after our multi-year build!

We had planned to explore the Grand Junction area for Days 9 and 10 and had already identified some great dispersed camping spots.  Well…it was HOT! We didn’t last 5 minutes on a trail before the need to PIVOT was very clear.

Drove through CO National Monument Park and then down the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway towards Telluride. 

A 30 minute drive up the Last Dollar Road led to an amazing view that we shared with about a dozen other campervans. It was a surprisingly quiet night. While we don’t see many campervans on the east coast, they are everywhere out west.

We started Day 10 with a drive down Last Dollar that ended at a trailhead and decided to give it a try.  The determining factor in some of our decisions is whether or not Flay feels like backing down a narrow mountain dirt road. Anyway, the 6 miles sounded okay and we were ready to hit the trail.  If we were smarter, we would have given more consideration to the trail name. About 15 minutes down the trail, we were traversing a steep slope with a creek somewhere below us when a very big, very fast bear crossed the path about 15 feet in front of us.  Thankfully he was heading to the creek and not down the trail towards us!  Almost as scary as Saka in the Missouri River!  A quick Google search ensued as to what to do if you encounter a black bear. So as we continued our hike on Bear Creek Trail…yes, that’s right…we made a lot more noise.  Between the sign above and the name of the trail, obviously our pivot still needs some work!

Somehow the trail expanded to 9 miles instead of 6 and Saka walked from one shaded area to the next.  She does wonder about us sometimes. Too tired to do much more than back about 500 feet back down the road to a wide space overlooking Telluride, Saka and I took naps while Flay punished himself with a little mountain biking. Dinner overlooking Telluride…

Day 11 we actually went into Telluride.  Filled up with gas and water and planned to do the Jud Weibe trail that starts in town. The first part of the trail was sunny, exposed and hot. Saka quickly did a pivot and staged a sitdown strike after about 15 minutes.  So we all pivoted and returned to splash in the creek at the trailhead. The look of satisfaction on Saka’s face when we ascended to Mountain Village on the gondola…priceless. It was a good rest day and we were all thankful for Saka’s wisdom and pivot.

With input from a local, we headed towards Ridgway to hike Blue Lakes Trail the next day. I had identified a scenic overlook at the Dallas Divide to camp for the night.  Little did I know how epic the view would be or strong the wifi signal.  We shared the huge overlook with a skoolie that night, watched a bear from a very safe distance, learned about bear magic and scored an invitation to a clothing optional ranch. Interesting night…

Pretty nice coffee spot to start Day 12.

Blue Lakes Trail was a beautiful hike.  Saka especially like swimming in the lake that had been frozen over just the week before. It was a sunny day except for the hail and lightening that rolled in at the top.  The access road to the trailhead goes through the Double RL Ranch and we had a Ralph Lauren sighting on the way back to the highway.

Decided we couldn’t beat Dallas Divide for a place to park for the night. We had the million dollar view all to ourselves and were enjoying a peaceful and quiet evening until Cowboy John pulled in blaring Hank Williams for all the world to hear. He came over bearing cold beer and a lot of stories.  His truck was hauling a trailer full of Costco merch (8 hours roundtrip) that he resells to Telluride residents. He had overheated on the climb out of Ridgway. An entertaininng hour later he pulled back onto the road heading home to his sons, North, South, East and West. Another interesting night…

Day 13 has us heading to New Mexico via the Million Dollar Highway. Beautiful views until the traffic jam caused by a RV that went off the side of the mountain.  Pretty sobering. 

The geography changed dramatically when we reached Durango.

After over an hour of barren high desert plains we arrived at our Harvest Host destination. The Wines of San Juan winery was truly an oasis…the wine was really good…we discovered that Saka loves to swing…and there was shore power for us to run the a/c.  A very good night… 

Day 14 had us traveling about 225 miles to get to Santa Fe.  Showers, a/c, wifi, good food, great art everywhere. The name of Flay’s beer says it all: “Happy Camper IPA”

Day 15 was a long 650 miles to get to Dallas and our friends, Mark, Michele and Clay. What a welcome sight!

Day 16 and 17. Great friends. Thoughtful discussions. Belly laughs. TexMex. BBQ. Kolaches. Guacamole. Margaritas. Sangria. Church. Big money mansions. Not enough time. Grateful.

Day 18 and 19, (July 12 & 13). Homeward bound…only 1130 miles to go.  Buc-ee’s to gas up. Texas…go big or go home!! Only 120 pumps.

Overnight at a HH Winery outside of Nashville. Job site visit in Asheville. Lunch at Hillman’s in Old Fort. Home to unpack. All good until Alice flooded the downstairs bathroom.  Pivot…that’s another story.

Thank you if you traveled all the way to the end of this blog post. 

Our big takeaways from this trip:

  1. Embrace the pivot.
  2. Be like Saka…trust your instincts…pivot.
  3. You will meet lots of interesting people…but reconnecting with friends can’t be beat. No pivot needed.

Oh…better learn to carry and use bear spray too.

TIMING IS AN ART

Well if our summer trip was about the “art of the pivot”, our fall trip was about the art of timing.  We planned this trip in hope of catching some beautiful New England and Canadian Fall color.  With the Cape Breton Highlands being our most northern destination, we timed our trip hoping to hit peak color there and then follow it south to Acadia National Park.  I’ll let you know right now that we didn’t see peak color until we were back home about a month. Timing is an art…especially when it comes to Fall color.

Traveling across the Canadian border in the time of Covid and border restrictions, makes timing acutely important. We needed negative PCR tests within 72 hours of crossing the border.  With 1200 miles of road to cover to the border and ever-changing lab processing times, we hit the road the day after our tests with the hope that our results return on time and be negative…definitely aware that we might have to pivot.

Day 1 (Friday, September 24, 2021) had us driving 650 miles(through 6 states) to a Harvest Host location, Blackhead Mountain Lodge and Country Club in the Catskill Mountains of NY.  We arrived in time to walk around the golf course and enjoy dinner on the patio of their pub.

Day 2 was another 550 miles to St Andrews by the Sea in New Brunswick. We were about 1.5 hours from the border when we received our negative test results.  With spotty cell service, I finally was able to complete our ArriveCan registration for entry to Canada…with very little time to spare.  We had a 2 hour window in which we could cross the border. Whew!  Border crossings in the time of Covid is all about the art of timing. Whew…again.

St Andrews-by-the-Sea is a historic resort town on Passamaquoddy Bay which is an inlet of the Bay of Fundy at the mouth of the St. Croix River. Never heard of it before this trip but enjoyed ending our day here exploring the shore, strolling the waterfront and historic downtown…even in the rain.  Île-Sainte-Croix viewing park was our overnight wild camping site (complete with bathrooms!!).

Day 3 had us driving through stormy weather for 70 miles to Fundy National Park. The weather had us pivoting multiple times today.

These are the first red chairs we encountered.  What is this you say? The concept is this: plop pairs of red Adirondack chairs throughout Canada’s most beautiful places and encourage people to enjoy the view and SHARE. #sharethechair  They are comfortable and they do make a pretty photo…

First hike lasted about 10 minutes.

Second hike lasted about 10 seconds…

White trailhead sign is as far as we made it…Flay thought we pivoted entirely too late.

Third try…30 minutes

Continued exploring by car as we made our way north toward Hopewell Rocks.

We arrived at Hopewell Rocks in the rain at high tide around 4pm and paid for our park admission which is valid for two consecutive days to ensure you can see both high and low tides.

I will say that Bay of Fundy and, specifically, Hopewell Rocks, has been a bucket list destination for a long time. The Bay of Fundy is home to the world’s highest tides …sometimes over 50 feet. The tide rises 4-6 feet per hour. It is referred to as a Chocolate River because of the heavy sedimentation. The park has stairs to the ocean floor that are accessible for 3 hours before and 2 hours after low tide.

We parked just a few miles away behind Albert County Historical Museum, a 6 acre site overlooking the Bay of Fundy. We had it to ourselves for the night.

Over dinner we plotted our return at low tide and at sunrise. The park doesn’t open until 9am which makes catching the sunrise from the ocean floor a bit of a challenge…but not impossible.  Timing is everything…sometimes. A Google search revealed that it is okay to enter outside of operating hours. You visit at your own risk, however, the cables, signs and safety measures are all in place. We also wanted to let Saka run and swim and avoid the crowds that are normally present at low tide.

STOCK PHOTO…AVOID THE CROWDS!!

Day 4. September 27…my 65th birthday started with an adventure.  We had no problem entering Hopewell Park and we enjoyed exploring the beach for 3 hours until the gates officially opened.

“Time and Tide wait for no man.

Geoffrey Chaucer

After leaving the beach we hosed ourselves off and drove to Cape Breton Island with a reservation for the Iona Heights Inn overlooking Bras d’Or Lake…Canada’s only inland sea. Hot showers were the first order of business…then we wandered up the hill behind our motel to Highland Village Museum. We had the 43-acre site to ourselves…capping off the day’s adventures perfectly.

Frolic’n Folk Pub & Grill for dinner had views and great seafood chowder.  Unfortunately, the signs said “No Frolic’n” due to Covid.  While we were at dinner, Jacquelyn and Luke had a birthday surprise delivered to our room.  Saka was there to accept it.

Day 5 started with another walk up the hill for the sunrise view.

As we left Bras d’Or Lake for Cape Breton’s Highlands National Park, we discovered that roads are a little different in this area.

Crossing in less than 10 minutes, we were on the Cabot Trail to the Highlands and hopefully some Fall color.  We arrived in the park midday and with rain in the forecast. Middle Head Trail ended up being our one and only hike in the Cape Breton Highlands.

It started to rain as we finished up this hike and we headed back outside the park to a site we spotted earlier.  This qualified as epic. The pictures speak for themselves.

Day 6 involved a pivot. We had planned to explore and hike the Cape Breton Highlands for the next 3 days and catch some Fall color.  Remember how we timed this trip??? Well our timing not only sucked…so did the weather. If there was Fall color, it wasn’t visible through the clouds and rain.  Unfortunately, the forecast didn’t look to improve for at least 4-5 days in the Highlands.  We continued counterclockwise on the Cabot Trail and started to make our way south. 

We enjoyed a great lunch (more seafood chowder for me) and an afternoon ceilidh (live Cape Breton fiddle music) at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. We parked just down the road at a quiet, peaceful fishermen’s cove next to the beach for a good night’s sleep.

Except for this alarm on our electrical system that kept going off every 30 minutes. I could try to give you Flay’s explanation but I’ll just say that it was a related to not having a sufficient internet signal to connect with the “mother ship”…Flay being the “mother ship”. All is fixed now.

Day 7 had us departing Cape Breton and heading south of Halifax to explore the Nova Scotia Lighthouse Route.

Saka Ready to Go

It was wonderful to finally see some sunshine…thankful that the van makes the pivot so easy.

Peggy’s Cove was certainly busy with tourists but it was quite beautiful. It is still an active fishing community and a great rock hopping site.

Old Town Lunenburg is one of only two urban communities in North America designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Seventy percent of the original colonial buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries are restored and make for a colorful visit.

Mahone Bay was a much quieter and tranquil town. Three churches sit at the water’s edge and form the iconic backdrop for this picturesque town. We wandered hours around this pretty town.

In addition to being beautiful…albeit without much fall color…the town was decorated for their annual Scarecrow Festival. Most creative scarecrows ever…

The Harvest Host brewery where we stayed was closed  but still welcomed us.  It was a great spot for a quiet night right in town.

Day 8 starts with a quick walk to watch day break over the water.

First things first. Flay needs a really strong wifi signal to get some work done.  The Barn Coffee & Social House had been very highly recommended to us by the musicians we enjoyed meeting in Cape Breton.  It was one of the best coffee shops (and wifi signals) we’ve encountered.

At this point, we are one day ahead of our planned itinerary due to our weather pivot. We moved up our hotel reservation in downtown Halifax and headed to hot showers. Halifax is a fun walkable town. It would be even more fun not in the middle of a pandemic…what wouldn’t?  We were thankful Canadian businesses required masks and restaurants required proof of vaccination and contact tracing info.  Do you think they served Flay’s beer in this glass for any specific reason???

Day 9 is time to head back across the border.  Thankfully, no additional testing was required and the border crossing was again uneventful.

Since we were ahead of schedule we detoured to the Schoodic Peninsula section of Acadia and even scored a last minute cancellation at the campground.  Timing is luck sometimes…not art…maybe it’s really about the pivot. This part of Acadia is much less developed and much less crowded.  We were able to drive the ring road that evening and enjoy a picnic dinner on the water.

Day 10 we were up early to catch the sunrise and get in a morning hike.

We drove over to Mount Desert Island and Bar Harbor and were shocked at the crowds.  The line out of the park headquarters at the entrance was over 100 people long.  Thankfully we could bypass this with our Lifetime Senior Pass…age has its perks.  We had “the best” lobster rolls in Bar Harbor.  Cold lobster on a hotdog roll was shockingly expensive…what do we know??

Storefronts…not where we ate “the best” lobster rolls.

We enjoyed a sunset boat tour cruising the shoreline, spotting wildlife and learning a lot about the lobster industry.  Saka was very popular with the guides and other passengers.

We camped outside the park at a trailhead pull off.

Day 11 began with a quick morning walk to the water.

Surprise! We started out in a coffee shop for the first few hours…for Flay to work.  By the time we go to the trailhead that we hoped to hike there was no parking in sight.  Luckily we found a different and less popular trailhead that connected to the Sargent Mountain Ridge Trail that we wanted to hike. (Many hikes in Acadia have ladders and ropes with are a bit challenging with Saka…she is a very convenient excuse sometimes!!) Note the kairns that served as trail markers on the ridge.

We had a campground reservation at Seawall Campground.  We timed an early dinner at little fishing village so we could get to the lighthouse at Bass Harbor for sunset. (Last expensive lobster roll for us.) About a mile from the lighthouse we hit a traffic jam…lots of people with the same idea as us.  Not knowing exactly how far we were from the lighthouse, I hopped out to access the situation. A half mile down the road I called Flay to start his 15-point turnaround because there was no way he would make it to the lighthouse by sunset…and he needed to be out of there before everyone else was trying to leave too.  I made it to the lighthouse and it was totally not worth it and the sun set in clouds.

Day 12 was again back at a coffee shop for a few hours.  We definitely have to improve our internet situation because starting everyday with Flay stressed is not good. Enough said.

After a few hours working, we drove the 27-mile Park Loop Road and fought traffic.  We’ve gotten pretty spoiled and really don’t like crowds.

Someone told us about Little Long Pond Nature Preserve. This is just outside of the park boundaries and is very dog friendly .  John D. Rockefeller, Jr. purchased this land in 1910 and the family donated it to the Land & Garden Preserve in 2015. The gift included Little Long Pond and the surrounding meadows, woods, trails, and carriage roads on 1,022 acres. There were few people on the trails and it was a wonderful afternoon.

We had a reservation at the Blackwoods Campground that night. Saka doesn’t really care for campgrounds…us either.

We started Day 13 early to catch the sunrise on the Park Loop Road and hopefully miss the traffic.  Timing is everything. Got the sunrise…missed the traffic.

Then back to a coffee shop for some work and a pivot.  Enough with the crowds and campgrounds and time to turn home.

Wanting to avoid NYC and the I-95 corridor we headed southwest to the Green Mountains in Vermont and a little Fall color.  Not peak but certainly color.  We stayed overnight in the parking lot of a distillery. No one else on the mountain that night except an 18-wheeler on the other side of the parking lot.

Day 14 and we are still a day ahead of schedule.  We certainly could have pushed through home but decided to stop at a Harvest Host winery in the Shenandoah Valley for the night. Interesting campervan people to visit with over a bottle of wine and a relaxing night.

Day 15, October, 7. Home sweet home.

For someone like me who LOVES a good timeline, I’m thinking with vanlife it’s best to let go of timing as an art and go with the flow. It’s the art of the pivot that’s gives us the ability to live more in the moment. When you are behind the wheel…with your own bedroom, kitchen, bathroom…the pivot rules.  It’s the adventure, the embrace of the unknown and the things we stumble upon in pursuit of something else that have been the best.

For those thinking: Who is this person?  No worries…I have a general timeline with general daily destinations for our 28 day trip planned for this summer!!

Who What When Where WHY

So…the thing about van life and being fully self-supported is you can make decisions from behind the wheel as to Who, What, When, Where. This was more a “life on the road” trip than vacation travel.

This trip was planned as a pre-retirement research trip and a pandemic escape from the 4 walls of our house.  Destination Oak Island.  Why?  Very dog friendly.  Yes, you know we are THOSE people.  We had driveway arrangements for Thursday and Friday with friends of a friend.  Now our friends!  We also had time with a realtor scheduled for Friday afternoon.  The original plan was to leave after work on Thursday and return Sunday.

Okay…before I go further.  We aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.  Just data collecting at this time. And you know us…that could take 20 years!! There are mountains, lakes, cities and towns and Greensboro to explore!!

The weekend prior to our departure had us shivering when freezing rain downed trees and our power.  When the forecast for Wednesday night called for a half inch of freezing rain, we started thinking an early escape was in order.  After a full day of work, we threw a couple of things in van and headed out about 8pm thinking an hour south would let us miss the freezing rain. It was easy traveling and as we headed out of town and checked the forecast we realized we were exchanging the ice for flash flooding.  What to do? Cranked up the radio and kept heading south. (One of Flay’s first installs on the van was a rockin’ sound system.)

At around 1130pm we pulled into the Southport Walmart.  Never say never!!

Actually, it wasn’t bad at all.  No checking into a motel during a pandemic, no hauling bags, free! Threw the shades into the windows, lowered the bed, brushed our teeth and 10 minutes later….ZZZZZZZ!

Up early with the truckers sharing the parking lot.  Quick trip to the Walmart bathroom (us)…around the Walmart parking lot (Saka) and we are off.

Today’s objective is an office with a view…it’s a workday for both us.  (Yes, both of us! Mostly Flay, though.)

The historic village of Southport is perched on the Cape Fear River and is charming. We got a prime spot and set up for the day. Worked, drank lots of coffee and walked when there were breaks in the rain.  Not a bad way to spend a rainy day. 

The one thing we learned about the van is the tinted back windows are the bomb.  With the shades in the windshield and front windows it was like we were behind a one-way mirror.  Very entertaining and lots of people are very curious about the van.

After work, we headed across to Oak Island to meet our most gracious driveway hosts, Nancy and Fred.  Thank you for your warm welcome. Thank you, Sara and Carolyn, for connecting us.  Friends of friends is a very good thing.

A short tour around the island. Quick dinner in the van and more work for Flay. Bedtime for me and Saka.

We continue to have coffee issues! Friday morning began with a kettle accident (thankfully after the first pot of coffee was brewed), me standing barefoot holding an 80 pound dog with a million shards of glass on the floor, a little scalding water and Flay giving me instructions from the bed.  After the crisis abated Flay said it would make a funny story in the blog.  I’m still not quite there. No photos!!

Friday morning was more work and a new office with a view. My view included a short nap.

Looked at real estate that afternoon and enjoyed a break from the rain at the end of the day.  We caught the only 3 minutes of sun on Friday as the sun set over the ocean.

Saturday began with a big improvement with the weather and a walk on the beach for Saka and me.  We just missed the sunrise.  Love that you can catch the sunrise and sunset on the ocean at Oak Island this time of year.

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We were saved by the big thermos of coffee Nancy delivered.  Is coffee always going to be a thing?? We had decided to head to Carolina Beach State Park for the next night.  Nancy suggested that we take the ferry from Southport.  Great tip…thank you! It was wonderful to be on the water…cold, but sunny!!

I don’t believe that I’ve ever visited Fort Fisher, a civil war battlefield.  It is a beautiful and peaceful place. It evoked a sense of timelessness and a recollection of events that happened so long ago but still carry relevance for today. Reverence. And awe. Appreciation for opportunities taken and lost. Sadness and grief for the suffering and carnage.

Driving on to Carolina Beach State Park, we selected a campsite and enjoyed hiking in the park that afternoon.  We ended late in the afternoon and moved the van to watch the sun set over the Cape Fear River and enjoy a happy hour Zoom call with friends.

After a good night’s sleep…

We arose early in search of a cup of coffee. Parked the van overlooking the Atlantic and eased into the day…with our coffee.

We visited the NC Aquarium.  All these interesting places in NC that we haven’t seen!  We were first in the door and beat the crowds. Good thing in these covid times…actually a good thing anytime.

We were on the road heading home by 10am. Grateful for new friends and new experiences.

So I’m thinking the What and Where and When of “life on the road” aren’t nearly as important as the Who. Who you travel with and Who you meet.  And the WHY…because I look out the window and it’s a beautiful world. Grateful.

VAN OF THE RISING SUN

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!!

New plan!

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!