Friday, September 28, 2007

No more living out of our car

We checked out Savannah and Charleston, which were both cool (we liked Charleston a bit better) but we think we were jaded from spending so many nights in the woods, that being in city traffic and trying to park annoyed us so much that we didn’t stay very long. We continued up the coast and then cut over to JMU in Harrisonburg, VA where Sara and I went to school. We spent a day walking around campus, wishing we were students again, and peeking in classrooms at our same old boring computer science professors still talking to the whiteboard while no one paid attention behind them. We had a nice dinner in town and then hit a favorite local bar for cheap beer and the company of many JMU students who apparently had finished all of their Wednesday night homework. We awoke Thursday morning and reluctantly drove the short two hours back to our house. About 5 miles from our house we were greeted with stop and go traffic on 66, both ways, at noon on a Wednesday… welcome back to Northern Virginia. Amazingly enough there were no disasters awaiting us upon our return. The grass is dead and there are lots of spider webs everywhere, but otherwise the house is in good shape. Thanks to Kelly Tracy for watching our house this summer!

So you might ask, “how come they are home a bit early given that they don’t go back to work for another few weeks?” We just wanted some time to decompress, do laundry, clean the house, finish some house projects and get back into a normal life again. We are planning to do some mountain biking, go sailing, and enjoy having some time off around town. Sara and I are rested, refreshed and may actually be looking forward to going back to work on 10/15, but getting home early was not a reflection on the enjoyment of our trip. We had an awesome time on the road, and will probably continue posting for a few weeks since we consider ourselves still on the trip, just not living out of our car anymore (which looks quite different now that you can actually see the back seats again). On that subject, we believe the SUV was the correct decision and are glad we didn’t buy an RV of some type. We traveled much faster, more flexibly, and were able to get into some places that RV travelers could not. Camping in the tent for over 60 nights wasn’t bad either; we actually enjoyed it quite a bit. We attribute the tent comfort to the terrific weather out West (cool, low humidity every day) and the fact that our aero-bed fit quite nicely in the tent. If we had been traveling east of the Mississippi, camping in a tent would have been impossible. The heat and humidity would have been unbearable… our last few days in Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia were miserably hot.

Pics- Sara hugging the house, Chris braving the crawl space to turn the water on.

Somewhere in Kansas we discovered a book-on-tape of George Orwell’s 1984 within our massive MP3 library donated by Dylan, so we listened to that while the miles ticked away (“Big Brother is always watching”). In between chapters, we compiled the following list of metrics, measures and observations. Some of them might be interesting to you, some might not be… things like “# of bags of ice” might sound uninteresting but we got a lot of ice this summer and at some point we started to keep track… give us a break will ya, we didn’t have anything else to do sometimes.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Return to the East Coast

Well, we left the West side of Rocky Mountain National Park on Saturday afternoon at about 1PM and decided to drive for a while. It is now Monday evening, 1900 miles further along and we are just about in Savannah, Georgia. There just wasn’t much we wanted to see in the Great Plains of Kansas and Missouri, or Illinois and Kentucky. We stopped in Nashville last night but resisted the urge to do touristy things in Music City and decided to head further East this morning. We stopped in Great Smoky Mountains National Park for lunch and continued Southeast this afternoon. It is nice to be back in the Eastern Time Zone and among the familiar types of trees and rolling hills of the Eastern Seaboard. We are not as pleased with the 95 degrees and high humidity that smacks us in the face each time we stop for gas (many, many times in the last 48 hours). We are going to spend the next couple of days visiting a few coastal towns. Above: the St. Louis Arch passes by at 80MPH. Below: our favorite "custom RV" of the trip… actually it was a ticket booth on wheels that a family was using as an RV… if you are interested, it was for sale… “if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.”

Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Rocky Mountain High"

We arrived Thursday evening and stayed in a campground just outside of the West entrance to the park so we could get showers and organized for our backcountry trip (National Parks rarely have showers and it is quite annoying). That night in our campground we were treated to the mating calls (technically referred to as a “buggle call”) of the bull elks. Apparently September is high-season for elk to pair up, so the males walk around day and night making this high-pitched shreaking very strange sound that sounds nothing like a buggle. They were loud and buggled all night in the forest, but we actually enjoyed it… some of the guys have great calls, some guys will definitely be lonely this fall. The next morning we were treated to our tent being frosted and frozen solid, welcome to Colorado in September!

After defrosting the tent, we headed out to the trail head, strapped on the backpacks and walked into the wilderness for a night. We hiked about 6.5 miles and up about 1800 feet along the East Inlet Trail to Lake Verna which is nestled in a valley at about 10,000 feet. The hike scenery was spectacular as it winded along a river up the canyon, but the climb was steep and we were quite tired by the time we got there. The altitude takes your breath away when you hike here, there just isn’t as much oxygen available at 10,000 feet. We made camp, hung our food between some trees to keep it from the bears (yes we are back in bear country), and enjoyed the afternoon. The Rockies in the fall are great, warm sunny days, the pine trees are fragrant, the aspens are turning and the evenings are brisk. We didn’t have any bear encounters, but a large moose or elk or elephant walked through our camp. We couldn’t tell what it was, but it was large and made these snorting sounds as it trumped along up the path. The next morning we were relieved to find that no animals had foiled our complicated food hanging system, so we had breakfast, packed up and headed out. We got showers at our campground from the night before and drove the main park road which takes you above the treeline and to the East side of the park. This road is the tallest road in North America, topping out at 12,100 feet. It provides sweeping views of the peaks and tree-less alpine tundra. It rivals the Glacier National Park “Going to the Sun” road, but we still give Glacier the edge. We are now headed back east to see a few things before heading home, goodbye “Wild West”, we enjoyed you for the past 2 months. Check out the pics:

Hello Colorado

After packing up and heading out of dry and dusty Utah, we entered Colorado. We made a quick stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. A relatively new park (thanks Clinton) which protects a dark, deep granite canyon that only sees sun for a few hours a day. It is deeper than the Grand Canyon, but very narrow, probably only a few hundred feet across (versus 12 miles for the GC). The walls are almost at a perfect 90 degree angle… looking over the edge certainly makes your stomach drop.

After getting multiple recommendations for a small town nestled in the Rockies South of Vail, we marched forward to the town of Crested Butte, Colorado. Crested Butte seems to be a perfect little family oriented mountain town with a nice school, downtown area, skiing, mountain biking and breath-taking scenery. The home prices are also perfectly astronomical so we stayed in a National Forest campground outside of town with the other gypsies. We had planned to mountain bike in the area the next morning, but it got so cold that night that our riding shorts (which we had rinsed out the night before) were frozen when we woke up. Slipping on frozen biking shorts and riding on a 30 degree morning didn’t sound fun, so we decided to skip biking and drive up Kebler Pass to check out some foliage on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park. The aspen trees here in Colorado are all orange and yellow indicating that fall is here and snow is just around the corner. The drive through Kebler pass was beautiful, massive groves of aspens draped the slopes for 25 miles of winding gravel road at about 8000 feet. We both agreed that while the aspens are beautiful when grouped in large numbers, Colorado can’t compete with the foliage of the East Coast, there just are not enough trees that turn their colors here. Check out the pics: