Let’s Begin Again

Last summer I pulled into a campsite along the Pecos River in New Mexico. Driving into the Santa Fe National Forest I was welcomed by green mountains and clouded blue skies, a site I hadn’t seen in some time. The air was cool that night, and the sound of the river gave me some peace. I sat at the picnic table, ate some dinner, and began to write. That night I wrote a letter to myself covering what I had learned so far and it included a few promises. I promised myself that this year I would find a new job in a new location, I would honor my own happiness, and I would move toward adventure. When I was done I did a little yoga on that picnic table. It’s always nice to stretch after a long car ride. Then I laid on my back and watched the stars appear one by one while feeling a little sad that my trip was ending but also a little hopeful for the future.

As the summer came to a close I started getting my portfolio in order and updated my resume. I started telling my bosses and requesting letters of recommendations. For those who do not hold positions in education, this choice can be baffling. In the education world, it helps to have your bosses on your side. If they don’t know you’re leaving then the people looking to hire you won’t give your application a second glance. Not to mention that blindsiding the people you work for can burn bridges. And truly the people you work for should want the best for you. They all understood my motivations and were supportive even if they didn’t want me to go.

Once the year rolled over I began looking into having my certifications recognized in different states. It turned out to be a costly process so I chose 2 states on which to focus my job search. After a couple months of putting in applications and hearing nothing in return, I ran across an application for an overseas recruiter. I filled it out thinking I wouldn’t hear from them either. It turned out that they were very interested in me. Who would have thought? In a short amount of time with multiple Skype interviews and lots of research, I found a job in Beijing teaching Art and I couldn’t be more excited.

I have spent the last twelve years teaching in Warren County. During 9 of those years, I had a principal who began each school year by providing us with inspiration to start with a fresh perspective. Her annual catchphrase, “Let’s begin again” has become an important one for me. Each year it reminded me that I can make changes to improve, and it gave me the little boost I needed to kick off the new year with enthusiasm. This summer she retired and will begin again in a whole new way. I know her new beginning will be wonderful. And, I can’t wait to see what this beginning holds in store for me. I’ve started a new blog to showcase all of the wonderful things Beijing and beyond will teach me. You can find it here at Feed Me, Beijing.


While I get my visa in order, pack, and do all of the things that need to be done when moving to a new country I continue to hike. I’m embracing the clean air, wilderness, blue skies, and my dogs as much as possible. Oh, if you’re still keeping track so am I. As of July 14, 2017, I have hiked 668.93 miles for the year with 116713 ft of vertical gain. I hope to pass 700  miles before I board the plane. I know my mileage will taper while I’m away, but I will find my way to some trails as often as possible.


2016 – Year Accomplished

I started 2016 with a goal to accomplish 52 different hikes. I also decided to track my mileage and vertical gain using the Map My Hike app. I contemplated for a few hours on January 3, 2016, whether or not I should try to cover 1000 miles in a year. After some contemplation, I decided against it and chose rather to just see how far I could go. I didn’t want to set an impossible goal, and I didn’t want to give up my life to try to accomplish it. I figured 52 hikes was a good goal, and it was best to just stick to that one.

Well, I did my normal end of the month tally at the end of October, and to my surprise, I was at 750 miles. I just finished my biggest month at a little over 100 miles. That’s when I decided I should go for it. They would be the two biggest months with the least daylight and unpredictable weather, so I didn’t tell but one person. I figured it was like quitting smoking, you don’t tell more than that one trusted person until it’s a sure thing.

I’m happy to report that I hit the 1000 mile mark several days before the end of the year. Obviously, my dogs were not going to let me stop hiking just because we met our goal, so I have actually gone beyond 1000 miles, and I couldn’t be more proud. I wish I could say that Lilly and Turner had covered each mile with me, but they weren’t able to make it along for every trek. I estimate they did at least 800.

I have to make it clear that not all of the miles I covered this year were done on hiking trails. Some were on beaches, some were on streets, some were running and some were in my rural mountain neighborhood. As a matter of fact, I have tallied 262 miles that were not done on a hiking trail. The other 750 were legit hiking miles. In the long run, I chose to make each of the 52 hikes on trails that I had never done. All miles logged toward the 1000 were simply miles that I accomplished by going out of my way. Aka, they were not miles tracked at work or home doing my normal daily routine. Those miles will happen no matter what. This was a challenge to keep myself moving, to meditate, to think, to heal in the healthiest way I knew how.

I also have to make it clear that although I hike, walk or run a lot, I am not able to eat whatever I want whenever I want to stay slender. Like anyone else, I have to watch what I consume. And, sometimes poor decisions get the best of me, and I add 3 to 10 pounds just like everybody else. Weight is a struggle because I love food. My health is a struggle because my body does not like to absorb everything it needs. I work closely with my doctor to make sure I’m doing what I need to maintain my health, and sometimes I slip. I am now the healthiest I’ve been since my pre-smoker early teens, and I don’t want to lose that. I’m also thrilled that I didn’t have to pay a fortune to a pyramid scheme to reap these rewards. I did it all by myself with a little help from the docs that I already see once a year. It made sense to me to utilize their expertise while I was already paying them for my annual physical…

Now, what will next year look like? New goals are on the horizon. At this point, I plan to keep tracking mileage, and rather than putting on the high stress from day one, figure it out as I go along. I’m hoping to work in more yoga since all of this biped movement has made me rather stiff. Time will tell… If you are looking for a place to start, begin with the 52 Hike Challenge. It’s as tough as you want it to be. Health should not add stress to your life, rather it should take the stress out of your life.

Happy New Year everyone!


The hike that put me over 1000 miles was the Veach Gap hike in the George Washington National Forest. Here are some of the photos I got along the way.




Hike 52 – The Journey Will Continue

My final hike was actually 2 hikes separated by one holiday. To be honest, if I counted every hike I have done since the beginning of 2016 I would have completed this challenge in late February. Instead, I chose to only count the hikes that inspired me to go outside of my comfort zone. Sometimes that involved consolidating multiple hikes, like on my birthday. And because this was my final hike, I chose to make it a two-for.

Part 1 was a tiny portion of the AT in Daleville, VA. It starts just off Interstate 81, goes up to a ridgeline and past many beautiful views of Carvin Cove Reservoir, continues to Hay Rock and on to Tinker Cliffs or even Georgia if you want to go the distance. I had to get back on the road before it got too late, so I was only able to get in several of the Carvin Cove overlooks before turning around.

Part 2 was supposed to be a 2-day epic adventure in Grayson Highlands beginning on Black Friday, but an unfortunate series of events caused the death of my phone early into the hike. My educated guess based on maps and markers is that we did somewhere between 5 and 6 miles, but my phone was always my distance and elevation keeper. It also gave me a false sense of security, which I fully recognize but hold onto none the less. Between the loss of my good pal/favorite device and Turner’s recent behavior, I chose to make this a one-day hiking event. Let me explain, Turner is my red heeler hiking companion. Ever since our 10 mile hike a week ago, he has been very stiff and sleeping a lot. I may be pushing him too hard. Poor little Buddy. He needs a break. Here are some highlights from Grayson Highlands where we saw lots of people opting outside for Black Friday.

Here are some highlights from Grayson Highlands where we saw lots of wild ponies, lots of dramatic clouds, and lots of people opting outside for Black Friday.

So what does this mean? My 52 hikes are over. Will I stop hiking? No way! I have a goal to hit 1000 miles before the end of 2016. If I count my Grayson Highlands hike as 5 miles that puts my current total for the year at … dang! I even depended on my phone for the calculator function. The next few days will be painful… 861.01 miles!!! I have 5 weeks to polish off the remaining 138.99 miles. I’ve so got this. BTWs, I will continue to hike still after completing 1000 miles. I wonder what new goals I’ll think up for next year…

What did I learn on my 52 hikes you might ask? Well, for one I learned that the more often I put myself outside of my comfort zone the further I have to go to get outside of my comfort zone. For instance, when I first began this journey if I came across a bear or a snake along the trail my pulse would race, I would jump and yelp and react in a frightened fashion. Now I calmly pause, pull myself and the dogs out of harm’s way, grab my camera and take a photo. I’d probably have to see a mountain lion to get worked up now. The idea of being alone once left me unsettled. I now prefer it. I have learned a trust and respect for nature that I may never find with humans urban, rural or otherwise. I can now tally each mile as it passes without wonder simply based on how many thoughts have passed through my head, pulling on leashes, the movement of the sun, the intensity of the blood pulsing through my legs, or the feeling of my own weight pounding on my feet. I prefer directions that include rock faces and fallen trees instead of turn right at the second fast food joint and left at the bank. Whether it’s wooded or desert, rocks or sand, everything slows down when I’m following a trail. I have learned that in the midst of classes, internships, working full time, chasing the sun during the cold seasons, driving 7000 miles for adventure, the occasional volunteer work, and a date here and there, I can make it outside almost every day and it will be a fulfilling experience. I’ve also learned that an annual national parks season pass holds way more value to me than a gym membership.

52 may be over, but for me the hike continues…


I Break For Art

Bright and early this morning I took the dogs for a two mile walk in the neighborhood. I wanted to get them taken care of so I could run off for a day trip to Richmond, VA. As a former art teacher and still practicing artist, I have a strong passion for the arts, and when something good comes through I have to see it.

Several years ago I took a summer educators class through the National Portrait Gallery called Learning to Look. The class was excellent. It taught us different methods of getting our students to look at and understand works of art. It was one of the rare courses that can be useful for all subjects and grade levels. Each educator walked away with a stipend, and a behind the scenes experience you can’t get any other way. I fell in love with a Kehinde Wiley portrait of LL Cool J while I was their. I had never seen his art before, and I was blown away. Since then I have been looking for his pieces. A few months ago his work came to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and because I spent so much time touring the country, I hadn’t had an opportunity to see it. It leaves September 5th, so I had to get there soon or totally miss out. My art teacher friend and I made a day out of it, and even with traffic and 5.5 hours of driving, it was totally worth it. Check out my favorites.

Known for his larger than life portraits, ornately detailed wallpaper like backgrounds, and saturated color schemes, his works can capture your attention from across a busy street. Wiley began as a portrait artist, inviting african american men into his studio to strike a pose from famous classical paintings. He would photograph them, then turn the photos into large scale portraits. He continues to be the portrait painter, but now employs apprentices to create the ultra detailed backgrounds. The backgrounds add to the symbolic meaning of the composition. If you look closely you may find gold sperm, or notice that the tapestry shown is a specific cloth that is important to a certain culture, or a pattern often found in a country’s ceramics. Each piece has meaning in its posture, color, culture, gaze, etc. Each one could be explored for a lifetime.

And who knew he did sculpture too?

Hike 37, It’s the Humidity, Not the Heat

Shewee! Do you see that sheen on my shoulders and forehead? This is some serious sweat’n weather. It probably isn’t even over 90 degrees, but the humidity is out of control. I took this last dog free day to get in one more hike on a path that doesn’t allow dogs. Today I hiked the Fox Hollow Trail in the Shenandoah National Park.

I have repeatedly glanced at this trail on the map wondering what its appeal is, and why dogs aren’t allowed. It’s a short short at just a little over a mile. I picked it up from the Dickey Ridge parking lot at mile marker 5. It turns out that this was once someone’s home. There is an old well and a family cemetery. My guess is dogs are not welcome because they want to minimize the disruption to the property and the land.

As I said, this trail is short, so I continued walking to the Signal Knob Overlook on the Snead Farm Loop to increase the mileage. If you love traversing lands that were once worked by man, discovering all of the little relics left behind, you will love the Fox Hollow Loop. And if you want to make it a challenge, throw in the Snead Farm Loop for a great overlook and an old foundation and farm. You can’t go wrong here, but you might sweat like you’ve never sweat before.  The humid Virginia summers can be even more brutal when you hike at a moderate pace in what feels like a humidor. I’m certainly not in the desert anymore.


Back Home; Hike 36

Well I’m home. Back from the cross country adventure time. Back from the Jamaica destination wedding. But not quite back to reality. I still a few days before my dogs return, so I might as well make the best of it. There are some hikes around that do not allow dogs. I chose to do the 2.8 mile Wildcat Mountain Trail in Marshall, VA with a 665 ft. elevation gain for my first hike back.

This is a cool little trail that I found on Hiking Upward. If you like to hike in VA, MD, WV, or NC, but haven’t been to Hiking Upward, I suggest you go there immediately to check it out. This site has helped me find all sorts of gems. Run by the Nature Conservancy, this trail is marked with yellow diamonds. It has a great map at the parking lot with handouts you can take with you if for nothing more than to fan the sweat from your dripping skin as you become with the mid summer humidity. But seriously, it’s helpful to carry a map. The trail is well maintained, and offers educational markers on particular trees. I love learning more about the trees that surround me, so this was fun for me.

The parking lot was empty when I arrived. Clouds had been gathering out to the west, rumbles of thunder were threatening, and the humidity, did I mention, it was thick. I walked along remembering the hikes I did out west, and how fearful I had been in regards to the mountain lions and snakes. Now that I’ve returned those things seem to stay on my mind with the addition of more snakes, spiders, and bears. I’m happy to report that, even though I heard some strange sneezing coming from behind me when I first started, I only encountered spiders along this walk. I became a human web wrecker, but these webs were not as annoying as the early morning monstrosities I saw in Missouri. These were dainty, and stopped when I arrived at the Smith Family House and passed a young woman, the sneezer from earlier no doubt, who had knocked her fair share down along the portion of the loop I was about to travel. She should be happy to see that I did the same for her.

Wow, I haven’t seen another loan female hiker in quite some time. I wonder if she gets a lot of flack for hiking alone or if anyone even knows where she is. It was exciting to see her out on the trail. I realized that at the end of the lariat where I had stood and pondered which direction to turn, she had chosen to go left while I had chosen to go right. I made my choice based on what appeared to have the most gradual ascent. Had I chosen to go left we would have never crossed paths, and I would have destroyed all of the spider webs on my own. I would have returned to the parking lot to see her car, only to wonder who it belonged to and how far behind me they were. Only a few more days before I get my pups back. I’ll have to get at least one more dog unfriendly hike in before then.



Cross Country: The Final Chapter

Here it is, my final day on the road. Knowing that I would be home tonight, I once again skipped the shared campground shower. Just in case you were wondering, I have brushed my teeth every day, and did again today because that’s one thing I can’t go without. I made some coffee on my borrowed camp stove, just like most mornings. Unfortunately today I was too eager to get going and didn’t take the time to find my grabbing-hot-things-rag. I tried using a paper towel to remove the scolding cup from the stove and could feel the interior of my hand taking on the burn mark of the bent metal handle. It was all I could do to gently place the coffee cup down without shouting expletives at the top of my lungs waking the entire campground. I didn’t have any burn ointment, but I did have some arnica gel, so I applied some and breathed on it. Not a bad substitution. I knew the pain was going to go on for some time, so I threw a band aid on it, and got moving.

I took a look at the trail map for the Carter Cave Park while sipping my still hot coffee and cursing my stupidity. This place offers hiking, climbing, repelling, and cave tours. After some contemplation about whether or not I should bring my climbing shoes, I settled on a short hike past some caves. I figured if the climbing looked amazing, I would get my shoes after the hike, and go back for a climb. It was early and the sun had yet to come up over the ridge, so most of my hike was in the shadows. I had mentally prepared myself for more spider combat, but was pleasantly surprised to only find a few. Most of the caves I passed were blocked with logs and rocks and included signage steering hikers away because of the sick bats. I had no intention of spelunking this morning so that was fine with me.

Back at the car I made the choice to start driving rather than go back for a climb. The hike was only a mile and a half, so I decided I would find something else along the way, and piece the two together to be hike 34 of my 52 Hike Challenge. I drove to the main road where I again had a signal, and was able to see how far the final leg of my journey would be. Only 5 and a half hours today. Nice. I would definitely have time for adventure.

I stopped in West Huntington, WV for more coffee. Don’t judge. Those Starbucks instant coffees only go so far. First, let me say that Huntington is adorable. I had never been through here before and had no idea what it would be like. It definitely has industrial roots, and seems to be going through a rejuvenation. Yelp took me to an old rail depot that has been turned into a shopping center. I followed the signs for coffee, and found myself in a place called Butter It Up. This place is all about grass fed natural dairy products, and will make you any version of their butter mixed coffee drinks. With a physical coming up I chose not to adventure into the buttered coffee craze. I’ll take mine black, thanks. I also got one of their homemade power bars. It had pumpkin seeds and dates and a lot of the other things you might find in trail mix. Looking like all the ingredients had been chewed up, spit out and formed into a bar shape, I like to call this baby bird food. It was healthy and delicious. No joke.

Now I had a choice to make. Would I continue on 64 West, and connect to 81 North (I hate 81) or would I snake up the backside of West Virginia and cut across through Davis and Wardensville, a trip I’ve done before. With only a 6 minute difference this was a tough choice. Starring at the names on the map, I decided to take 64. I had never been across the bottom of WV and it was already proving to be fun. What a beautiful drive! Charleston is beautiful. Online photos can’t even come close to showing what this place really looks and feels like to drive through. That’s another must return destination.

There were a few tolls along this drive, but nothing like what I paid in Pennsylvania or Ohio. As I approached the need to fill my tank, I started seeing signs for Tamarack. What could that be? I decided to investigate. Envisioning the roadside lean-to craft stands of the Navajo people, I was not prepared for this huge modern structure filled with works of West Virginia fine artists and craftspersons. I wasn’t yet hungry, so no food was purchased, though since having been I have heard many good things about the food. I did however purchase a mug made by Lambros Pottery based in Short Creek, WV, and I took lots of photos.

I was getting some looks. Something tells me I either wasn’t smelling pretty or just wasn’t dressed appropriately. Whatever it was, I could tell I needed to get back to my journey and leave the poor noses of West Virginia alone to shop. So back in the car I went to continue my drive. My next stop was the New River Gorge Grandview. Having so idea what I was about to see, I got out of the car, walked to the overlook and was instantly impressed. Wow! After snapping some photos I decided that this would be my second hike. I walked the rim, then climbed down a bit to see what there was to see. If there were no trees, this would resemble a gray rock Grand Canyon. What a beautiful place. With a little over a mile here and a mile and half in Kentucky this morning, I have now completed Hike 34 (or is it 35?) of the 52 hike challenge.

I had decided this morning that I was going to to try to go see Natural Bridge outside of Lexington, so that would be my next stop. I drove and drove while listening to a Radiolab about Utzi, another ancient human, and life. If you go to this link you can download a 3d scan of the Taung child skull and print your own version! Yes, I am still obsessed with 3d printing, and this episode of Radiolab is outstanding.

I eventually arrived in Lexington feeling a little peckish. I stopped at a 7/11 for a snack pack of nuts. The young man behind the counter complimented my dress. Did I forget to mention that I had yet another costume change. In the parking lot of the New River Gorge I put on my pink hiking dress. I figured if I didn’t smell good, at least I could try to look good. It must have been working. I told him it was my hiking dress from TJ Maxx. He asked if I had hiked the Appalachian Trail. I said I lived close and hiked sections of if all the time, but hadn’t done the whole thing. I asked if he had he. He said yes, and he had also done the nearby suicide trail and had been the only person to ever hear the voices going in and coming out AND live to tell about it. OMG, this was the guy I had to worry about my entire trip, and I am just now meeting him on my last day in my home state? I gave a polite chuckle, congratulated him on his successful hike and scooted out of there as quickly as possible. Yikes!

Hoping that somehow the Natural Bridge would be affiliated with a state or national park, I drove the 30 minutes over there. Unfortunately it is privately owned, and it is $20 to enter.  I stepped into their historic building turned souvenir shop to research their discounts. They offer all kinds of discounts, like AAA and student prices, but I just couldn’t fathom supporting a project that was disguising history for profit? I got back in my car, and texted a friend to ask what her favorite Lexington restaurant was. My appetite was ready for a meal. She offered a couple suggestions, but warned that she wasn’t really sure, and gave a big thumbs up to something in Staunton about 40 minutes away. Because two of the places she suggested looked like places I was way underdressed for, I chose The Palms in Lexington. The hostess sat me immediately. I ordered the sea bass, and was pretty excited about my choice. When it arrived, it looked great. I dug in. The fish and avocado were great, but the rice underneath was still cold. I am not one to send back food, mostly because I don’t want to know what will be done to it while it’s out of my line of site. So I ate what I could while texting my friend about my dining experience.

She told me that they were grilling and had made way too much food. Her home was on my route home, and she was doing her best to convince me to stop by for my last hurrah. I warned her that they may have to throw me in the river because I hadn’t bathed in a while. She assured me they would. So Woodstock became my last stop. Even though I wasn’t hungry, I couldn’t help but indulge in the chicken, corn on the cob, string beans and fruit salad. Dang! That was good. The perfect end to my trip.

Full and happy, I got into Ethel the Element one more time to finish the 45 minutes home. It was dark when I pulled into my driveway. Everything looked to be in order. No trees were resting on my roof. The lawn looked to be freshly trimmed, and the porch swept thanks to my friendly house and yard caretakers. 24 days, 17 states, 4 hotels, 10 campsites, and several friend visits later, I was home. I turned the water heater back to normal from vacation mode, peeled the bandaid off the only injury I suffered while gone (the burn from this morning), and took a shower. Tomorrow I will attempt to unpack while simultaneously packing for my next adventure, my brother’s Jamaican destination wedding.



There’s a Hair in There!

No more cat calling, and no loud neighbors. It was a peaceful night, and morning has arrived. I chose not to take advantage of the showers today. With just a couple days to go, I figured I could wait. I drove over to the Mark Twain National Forest trailhead that I passed yesterday for Hike 33 of the 52 Hike Challenge before turning up to the scary campground, and took a look at the map. This map had seen better days, faded and missing markers, I had no idea where I was on it. Alright, I’ll just start walking.


Now back in the land of clouds, humidity, rain, and mosquitoes meant I was also back in the land of canopies that form a green tunnel and morning spider webs. * This is where I will place my disclaimer. If spiders bother you, you might want to skip down about three paragraphs. * It was clear I was the first to walk this path today. There must have been a web every 5 feet, and not the waste high kind, but the webs that bring you face to face with its engineer. I’d rather deal with a spider before a snake any day of the week, but this was ridiculous. Blogger Girl Gone Hiking knows what I’m talking about. She recently did some backpacking in Indiana and had a very similar experience. At first I thought, “I’ll just wave my arm in front of me.” Then I picked up a stick and started waving it in front of me. I kept this up for a while, discarding my stick at the stream crossing so I could use my free hand to carry my shoes. The other hand had my camera of course.


On the other side of the stream, I was again getting all caught up in them. Just as I was about to give up and turn around I thought to try spinning the stick in large circles. This technique was almost 100% effective. Thank goodness! Unfortunately it results in a stick that looks like this.MarkTwain_05

When you wind a bunch of webs around a stick, the spiders have to go somewhere. So, creeped out by the crawling spider factor, I would bang my stick on a tree every so often to knock off any stragglers. It seemed to work. I think spiders were the only living creature I passed during my hike. Either that or I was so wrapped up in them that I didn’t notice anything else. Seriously a large predatory animal could have snuck up on me very easily because I was so distracted. Spinning a stick gets tiresome, so I turned around after just over a mile. On my return trip I could be heard yelling things like, “Didn’t I knock you down already?!?!” and “How are you still here?!?!” Yes, I had had enough of the spiders.

Back in the car I drove over to Steelville (remember the floating capitol of Missouri?) to get a cup of coffee. I found a storefront with a coffee sign out, and went in to grab a cup. The owner was making his breakfast on a skillet on his range stove behind the counter. This place felt more like his home than a coffee shop. I paid the owner for a cup of coffee. He handed me a cup, and pointed me in the direction thermos with the one and only flavor of the day. I filled it up, then walked back through the country breakfast nook style shop to the exit. It was adorable, friendly, and had that small town comfort to it. I still have no idea what it was called.


Back on the road, I headed toward St. Louis. I got close, then pulled over at a Starbucks to get my internetting in for the day. I posted on the Art Teacher Facebook group to see if any of them knew of things I should stop and see in St. Louis that would take less than an hour. The responses included the art museum, the arch, a bbq place, and a park that has some great water features. Unfortunately I spent so much time on the internet I ran out of time to visit St. Louis. Hmmm, I guess I have to come back. And I should also devise a way to not have to spend so much time in Starbucks. Nuts! I drove past St. Louis listening to a Zydeco radio station followed by a Blue Grass radio station. Nice! It looks like a cool little city with lots of color. If anyone can tell me about the street art, especially the bees, I’d love to know more.

Next I found myself (for the second time this trip) in Illinois for a short bit, followed by Indiana. Damnit Indiana! What is it with you, crappy roads, and constant construction zones? Get it together. I must have crossed time zones 5 times, forward an hour and back again, until I hit Kentucky and the eastern time zone stuck. I drove past Louisville and Lexington. I listened to a Blues station and started day dreaming about bbq.

I took the exit toward my campground and pulled over for a minute to check Yelp for a local bbq place. Sure enough there was one along my route, Pops, and it had four and a half stars.

As per usual, I put my bag of food in the seat next to me and headed toward the campground. Tonight I was headed into the Daniel Boone National Forest to Twin Knobs. This place looked great! It was set on a large lake. The sunset was sure to be beautiful. This would be the perfect setting for my last night of solo camping. But wait! The campground was full. Aw come on! The ranger told me of a couple places within 30 minutes to an hour from here, but said I should call ahead. One was a walk in site. Since I can’t walk my element in and don’t have a mosquitto net for my hammock, that wouldn’t work. The other was way out of my way. With no cell signal I made the choice to drive back to the highway and search for something in route. I found a state park, Carter Caves, 45 minutes in the right direction with one spot left. I reserved it over the phone, and, now starving, headed over. I checked in and asked the clerks if I needed to be aware of any bear or critter issues. They told me that the ‘coons have been known to open a tent and climb into bed with the campers, but that was it really. Um, okay, that’s pretty funny. I would probably feel a little different if I were tent camping though.

I pulled into my site, jammed in between quite a few others. See the feature photo above. I didn’t get the people to the left and right of me in the photo. I didn’t want to invade their privacy. There were kids zooming around the parking lot on bikes and scooters. One little guy kept stopping in front of my site to conduct traffic, not realizing I, a stranger, had moved in until his friend pointed out that they probably shouldn’t be there. Okay, that was all kind of adorable. (This is one of those end of the summer things that signals that I’m ready to head back to work.) Then, out of nowhere, a guy comes galloping through on a horse. What? I wonder if that happens all night. I sat on the tailgate and opened up my bbq dinner. I opted for turkey, because cholesterol and stuff. As I was devouring my food I found a hair, and it wasn’t mine. Oh dear. You may wonder how I know it wasn’t mine. Well, you know when you’re pulling a hair out of your mouth, and you just know?  Yeah, it was like that. I thought back to ordering my food. I could see straight into the kitchen. I know it wasn’t malicious. It was a complete accident. But I don’t recall seeing anyone with a hairnet. My parents require their employees wear hairnets AND beardnets. It’s common courtesy for your customers I think. Well, I had had enough to eat, so I threw out the rest and headed to my mobile bed for one last night.



From Red Rocks to the Ozarks

Today will be a better day! I looked outside to see that the rain had stopped. I showered, and quickly posted a blog entry. Then I got headed in the direction of Red Rocks Canyon State Park. I was bound and determined to do some sort of physical activity this morning. I found the park down a tiny winding steep road. At first I thought no one was there. As I drove I found more and more people. This seems to be the place to be on hot summer mornings. There was a swimming pool and all sorts of locals. There were quite a few rv campers, and there were lots and lots of red rock walls. I pulled into a parking lot, got out, strapped on my climbing shoes and gave traversing and some short climbs a go. I promise I never went high enough to be a danger to myself. Remember, I’m not crazy. Just a little courageous or something like that.

That was super fun. I walked away with chalk under my nails, and a burn in my forearms that always leaves me feeling like I accomplished something. The rocks even left their red mark on my shoes. I got back onto I40. Today I would be switching to I44 so I could head into Missouri. I had driven through Missouri, but never stayed the night, and this trip was all about experiencing new places so Missouri and Kentucky would end my camping experiences. Today I only stopped when totally necessary. During one of these long stretches I realized I was losing track of time. I wonder if that’s what it like for truck drivers. Do they drive so often that they just zone out and lose track of time? One of the fears I had before leaving was that I would go crazy sitting still all day long, looking repeatedly from the clock to the gps to the odometer and begging for time to go by faster, but that wasn’t happening. I had also worried that my hips would stiffen up from sitting still all day every day. That had stopped when I reached the drier climates of Utah and points west. Seriously, I’ve got to find out if I have lyme disease! I wondered when the stiff joints would return.

I pulled into Cuba, MO in the early evening. For such a tiny town there sure was a lot of traffic. I pulled over just before the train tracks into the parking lot of a restaurant called The FourWay. I looked it up on Yelp and it had every star. How lucky did I just get? I was a filthy mess, but went in anyway. I was pleasantly greeted, and given a menu to order some take out. I chose the kabob, and other than not getting to devour it right away, I was not disappointed. The chicken was perfectly cooked. The salad was yummy. The cucumber sauce was perfect.The pita and rice provided way more delicious carbs then I had been eating. And the price was decent.


As I said, I didn’t get to devour it right away. I had a nibble, then continued driving to my destination. I was headed to the Berryman Campground in the Mark Twain National Forest. I passed through another cute town along the way that reminded me of Front Royal, VA. There were decorated canoe halves strategically placed throughout the town. It appears that I have entered the floating capital of Missouri. I will explore this further tomorrow. I lost my signal along the main road while passing large signs for resorts where most of the traffic was turning off. I turned into the park, and snaked up a hill into the campground passing only an overfilled dumpster and a mobile home surrounded with vehicles and furniture. The campground had definitely experienced the storms last night. There was tree debris everywhere. There was also not a soul in site. I considered that I had lost my signal a while back, and how I had suffered a dead battery yesterday. If I woke up in the morning to another dead battery I would have to hike out to the main road and hitch a ride into town to get help. I was getting a really strong The Hills Have Eyes feeling from this place, so I decided this was not where I would be staying for the night. Nope, not gonna happen. I got back in the car, drove a bit back toward town, and turned onto the first road I passed with one of those resort signs. I followed the cars into an entrance where I was greeted by a young man who took my license plate number, handed me a slip of paper, instructed me to park and take the paper into the large building in front of me. I asked how much it was for a tent site. He responded with “Hm, fifteen dollars or something?” Okay, not bad. I followed his directions and headed inside where I was met with the largest crowd of people trying to be helped. What was this place? I looked around. There were camping and floating supplies to my right. There were food supplies to my left. There was a deli counter in one corner, beverages in the refrigerated section, and flyers for campsite pizza delivery on the counter. I grabbed a resort map. Bass River Resort. I looked at my phone and had no signal, but suddenly was picking up free wifi. Hello! I sent my folks a text to tell them about my change of plans. When it was my turn in line I explained that I only wanted a tent site for the night. It turns out I could have also purchased one of their floating packages. No time for that. The representative asked if I wanted a family site or a loud site. WHAT!?!?! How is there a difference? I got my family site for $12 and headed over. As I was setting up I was repeatedly cat called from a passing pick up truck. This was beginning to feel a bit like “Hey Tracy! Show us your tits!” Nebraska. I hope it calms down soon. I sat on my picnic table and finally got to eat my dinner while checking out the scene around me. Lots of campsites, rvs, cabins, a pool, a river, campfires, and mosquitos. Yeah, they’re back. I suppose it was bound to happen, but I don’t have to be happy about it. The sun fell and I climbed into my bedroom, pulled all the curtains closed, turned on my battery powered fan to drown out the noise, and fell asleep with the plan to wake early and hike in the Ozarks.


It was an okay, not too bad, but kind of awful day

I was the first to stir in the campground. That was not a surprise to me. Hopefully I didn’t wake everyone up. I made coffee, packed up, and went on my way to find a hike. I drove back to Pecos to see if I could find a trail map. I wound up at the National Forest Headquarters, and surprised them. It was 7:00am and they weren’t open yet, but the back door was ajar so I poked my head in. They showed me where the closest trailhead was, then scolded me for hiking alone. Is that what I get for interrupting their morning? This is becoming a theme, and was driving my desire to drive completely out of my way to do this hike. Ultimately, because I had a rather long drive ahead of me, and didn’t want to be the kind of person that would waste time out of spite, I chose to get in the car and start driving toward my Oklahoma destination. If I passed something along the way, I would stop. So long Pecos! Maybe we will meet again.


Once I was back on 40, I found the Santa Rosa Lake State Park, and decided to check it out. It’s very pretty. I pulled into the campground looking for the nature trail, but it was gated closed. Hmm. I walked around the campground. The drought was bad enough that all of the fire pits were roped off with caution tape. I drove over to the damn and did the scenic walk. I was trying desperately to piece walks along their little trails together to be considered a hike, but in the long run I accomplished maybe a mile. There just wasn’t enough trail. This place is more for boating and water sports. It also seemed like a good place to meet a snake, but I just met a rabbit who is pictured below in the photo in the lower lefthand corner.

I got back in the cool air conditioned car and kept going. Running low on gas, I stopped in Tuccumcari, NM at a Flying J’s/Denny’s combo along I40. I gassed up, pulled the car over to the parking lot, made a salad for lunch and ate it in the car. The car wasn’t all the way on, the key was just turned in the ignition to run the fan while I ate. I think my phone was also charging. I didn’t think anything else was on, but maybe my lights were on. It was the middle of the super bright day so I don’t know why they would have been on, but … what I’m getting at is when I went to start my car it wouldn’t start. Things were coming on though, so I thought the battery was fine. I called AAA, went inside Denny’s to get the address, and asked AAA to send out a tow. I honestly didn’t think it was just the battery, and really was almost in the middle of nowhere. I had no idea where they would tow it to, but figured I needed to do something. I had a plane to catch in several days, and couldn’t stand to lose more than one day to a break down. While inside I grabbed someone who appeared to be the store manager and asked him where the closest garage was. He asked if he could take a look. I said heck yes. He came out to the car, and I tried to start it up for him secretly hoping it would be a fluke and start. No fluke. He said he really thought it was the battery, and that it had drained just enough to not completely start. He brought his gigantic truck over, and attached our batteries. I turned the key in the ignition, and it started!!! Hurray! I let it run for a bit. He cautioned that it might be my alternator, and said if I let it run for a bit, then turned it off and it didn’t start again to come and find him. I let it run while chatting with my friend in San Diego. Remember him? He had told me about a motel I should always be able to find if I needed one and it would always be reasonably priced. I had completely forgotten which one it was. Turns out it was Motel 6, and I made sure to commit that to memory. While chatting about that all of this battery debacle happened. He told me to turn on all of my accessories and rev the gas. If lights dimmed, there was an alternator issue. No lights dimmed, but I was still cautious. I called AAA back to cancel the tow while he called the local NAPA to find out if they test car batteries. (Special thanks to my friend for helping me out that day.) They did, so I drove less then a mile over to Old Route 66 and had my battery tested. It tested fine, hallelujah! I left NAPA and stopped at this super trendy looking coffee shop/Historic Motel for a much deserved cappuccino. What a cool place, great service, good prices, clean, and so friendly. I kind of want to see inside of those motel rooms. I wonder what the rest of Tuccumcari is like. I drove back to the Flying J parking lot, and left a thank you note on the windshield of the guy that saved my day. If you’re ever in the Flying J/Denny’s in Tuccumcari, NM and you see a bald man with blue eyes, dressed business casual with a blue tooth headset, shake his hand for me, give him a high five, or something. That guy deserves a raise.

Crisis averted, I got back on the road with a large chunk of time lost. I must have had the lights on while I sat there. What else could have drained the battery that much? Okay, not going to dwell… My next stop was Amarillo. I popped into a Starbucks to get their wifi. I found a local NAPA and had my battery tested once more, just to be sure the alternator had fully charged it. It had. I was good to go. Then I was told to stop at the most ridiculous place I’ve seen so far, The Big Texan Steak Ranch. What was this place? I particularly like the 1980s faded limos with the steer horns on the front. Nice touch. The inside was like a Chuckie Cheese combined forces with a truck stop. It’s one of those places where if you eat a super huge steak, your meal is free. I used the atm to make sure I had cash for the campsite, then hopped back in the car before this place swallowed me whole.


My destination for the evening was Red Rock Canyon Oklahoma State Park. I was excited to get to this place. It looked like I might actually get in some climbing. It had been forever since I climbed, and I was itching to do it. I had my shoes and chalk bag stored in the back and was ready to go. Not long after I entered Oklahoma one of those emergency broadcasts came onto the radio. This is another reason I like to indulge in local stations. This would be the first rain I had seen since leaving Nebraska on June 26th! I pulled over and looked at the weather for where I would be camping. Sure enough it was under a severe weather alert too, until the weee hours of the morning. Damaging hail and heavy winds were in the forecast. I had a flashback to the storm that blew through Linden, VA just before I left, knocking two trees down in my yard, flooding my kitchen, and destroying all of those windshields and moon-roofs in Middleburg. I didn’t want to take any chances. I had camped in a horrible wind storm before, and it had kept me up most of the night worrying that a tree was going to come down on my tent. I didn’t need to be driving drowsy tomorrow, right? Or worse. I had some thinking to do because there’s always the chance that it might pass by as nothing. While sitting there contemplating I read a text from a friend I had seen in Los Angeles. His friend, someone I met on the 4th of July, passed away yesterday. He had suffered from seizures, and had just finished physical therapy following a car accident. He collapsed in his home, and his roommate tried to revive him. I can’t believe it. He was so young, and it seemed like things were turning around for him. I promised to send some of the photos I took that night that included him as soon as I got to wifi. Contemplatively, I continued driving east.

To give you some perspective of when this day was taking place, and just how off I have gotten with my posts, all of this happened on Bastille Day. Not long after I started driving again I heard about the attack in Nice. I listened to the radio waiting for more updates. I was getting close to the park, and a Motel 6 was in my sites. I guess my choice was made. I would sit in a clean, dry $40 room, sheltered from the storms, watching the news on cable while blogging and eating tacos from a really good place I found on Yelp, Taqueria Fresnillo. It was true Mexican food, the kind with tongue on the menu, in the tiny town of Clinton, OK. If you’re ever in Clinton, stop in for a bite to eat. You won’t be disappointed. I didn’t get a picture of the food or the room, which was updated minus the towels. (They should really replace those towels.) My mind was elsewhere. I no longer wanted to do anything but dig a hole, and sit in it until all of the craziness came to a stop. When will it stop? How will it stop? The answer is bigger then me, but I’ll help any way I can. It rained a big, heavy, lightening and thunder filled rain most of the night. Thankful for good friends, for that guy that got me back on the road in Tuccumcari, for all the experiences I had been afforded this summer, and for my life, I fell asleep wondering what I could do to help.