It is hard to believe it has been almost three months since I last visited this site or wrote a post. It is like calling an old friend or cleaning out your closet. The longer you put it off, the higher the activation energy required. I decided to at least write a short post, although likely this will end up being pretty lengthy. I won’t include everything we’ve done or all the feelings we are having. We just hit our one year anniversary of leaving Portland and three weeks back on the road. This also means we hit three months until we return to Portland. I’ve tried to sum up what we’ve been up to and what life on the road in the time of Coronavirus is like for us.
On May 19th we left Bend for a “trial week” of travel to Steens Mountain. We wanted to see how we felt being back in the world and if we thought we could travel with reasonable safety and enjoyment. The trial was a success and so we returned to Bend to wrap up some van projects and pack up. Of course this took longer than expected, but on June 6th we left Bend to fully return to life on the road. This decision was hard and the departure was certainly bitter sweet. We loved the time with my parents and had fully acclimated to retired life with them. This was the longest amount of time I’ve spent with my parents since I left for college and I was pleased to find we all cohabited very nicely. It was hard to pull out of the driveway and I immediately missed the bike rides with my dad, family TV time, dinners, and game playing. We are so lucky to have had this time. We had a lot of things we were weighing when deciding to start traveling again, including:
- Can we strategize our groceries to keep stops to a minimum, ideally no more often than a week?
- Will we find enough places that are open so we can fill our water and dump our grey tank? We usually fill up water bottles at stores, libraries, museums etc. so will need to plan to make sure we have adequate drinking water.
- Will we enjoy traveling when we don’t stop at any restaurants, breweries, coffee shops, museums, libraries, or other non-essential indoor spaces?
- Can we find places to hike and bike where we’ll avoid crowds? Lots of our previously planned stops in Utah and Nevada were popular National Parks, so we’d need to find new places.
- Is it irresponsible of us to travel during this time? Are we putting ourselves and others at greater risk? What is an acceptable amount of risk?
We ultimately decided to resume our travels and focus on the outdoors. David has always enjoyed our city stops more than me, and making all our own food and camping exclusively in nature are ideal for me. Our trip won’t be what we wanted or expected before Coronavirus, but we are determined to make the best of things.
We spent about a week in Nevada enroute to Utah. We started off on a very high note, with a couple days at a little known campground on the west side of the Ruby Mountains. We had the campground to ourselves and didn’t see a soul on a day hike we did from our camp spot to the base of Ruby Dome. The solitude was welcome. I love hiking when you know you won’t see anyone else on the trail and can totally focus on the nature around you. The Coronavirus precautions have only amplified my desire to avoid crowds. We next spent a few days backpacking in the Ruby Mountains where we continued to largely have the area to ourselves. We passed other hikers at the start of our trip, but quickly came to a point where there were no tracks in the snow and we knew we were the first this season to go this far on the trail. We set up camp on the edge of Liberty Lake where the snow was patchy and we were able to find a large dry area. We did a day hike the next day and returned to our camp spot for another night before hiking out. Most backpacking trips have their ups and downs and a decent amount of struggle, whether it is bad weather, bugs, blisters, soreness, or just exhaustion. However, this trip was near perfect and our favorite of our van year so far. After a long time away from nature, we’ve lost some of the snobbery we experienced earlier on in the trip and were completely wowed by the scenery around us. We had good sunsets, ideal weather, and most of all couldn’t get over having the place to ourselves.
We got back from our backpacking trip feeling content and looking forward to a relaxing afternoon. However, this is what we returned to:
Thus began a multi-day mouse adventure. Long story as short as possible, we found that a mouse had given birth to 7-8 babies in a basket in the back of our van while we were gone. The mom quickly took off into the crevices of our van, resulting in a whole afternoon of emptying the van and conducting a thorough search. When we couldn’t find her, we left out a piece of cheese and placed the basket of baby mice back in the van. She came back more quickly than we expected, and before we could remove the basket of baby mice plus momma, she relocated one baby mouse and the cheese to an unknown location on the passenger side of the van. Luckily when we put the basket outside, the momma mouse proceeded to move each baby one at a time to a new location in the woods. However, she wouldn’t enter the van to retrieve the missing baby. We searched and search but couldn’t find either the cheese or helpless baby mouse. The worst part was listening to the pitiful squeaks of the mouse later that night. We even took apart the van door in case we could find the mouse. I’ll admit I shed a few tears over that baby mouse, left behind and separated from his family. This wasn’t our only late night up looking for mice, as we had a couple more mice break into the van over the next few days. We’d locate them and wait patiently for them to get in a spot where we could usher them out. I say we, but it was largely David. We have some no-kill mouse traps we can deploy now when needed and have also put out several scented pouches that are supposed to keep rodents away.
We finished our time in Nevada at Great Basin National Park, which my parents had highly recommended from a trip they took a few years ago. This was our first National Park visit since Coronavirus, and we were a bit hesitant. Two of the parks campgrounds were open and most trails, although the visitor centers and caves were closed. We got one of the last spots in the campground, even though we arrived early afternoon on a weekday. Some of the more popular trails were more crowded than we would have liked, but overall it felt manageable. The sites at the campground were spread out enough and the trails wide enough we could pass other hikes relatively comfortably. We hiked up Wheeler Peak, which I think is a must-do in Great Basin National Park. The drive up to the base of the hike climbs several thousand feet from the flat plains below, and the view is like looking out from an airplane window.
In Utah we visited Bryce Canyon, Zion, several slot canyons, and Arches National Park. There were a lot of highs and lows of our time in Utah, including:
- High: minimal crowds at Bryce Canyon during our evening visit.
- Low: insane crowds at Zion. We had heard stories about cars lining up at 2 a.m. to get into the park. Since the shuttle wasn’t running when we visited and parking is limited, car access was super limited. We realized bicycles were allowed in the park, and thought we had found a secret option to avoid the crowds and early wake-up. We were wrong. Biking on the road was great and not too busy, but the trails were still swamped and the bathrooms packed. I couldn’t handle it and didn’t even take a single picture. I saw minimal masks and no social distancing and couldn’t enjoy myself.
- High: backcountry camping spot we had to ourselves for two nights, overlooking the canyons and rock formations around Zion. This was a huge relief after Zion.
- Low: heat. Utah was super hot, especially Moab where it was still in the 90s until 9 p.m. David especially struggled hiking in the heat and we both felt drained after even a short hike. This led us to spend our first (and maybe only) night in an RV park so we could plug in and run the A/C.
- High: we hiked through several slot canyons, recommended by one of our good Portland friends. Neither of us had ever seen a slot canyon, and we couldn’t get over the crazy rock shapes and colors.
- Low: we spent over 50 miles on washboard gravel roads in Utah, which at our pace was several hours. Luckily I had a good audiobook and David is a patient driver.
- High: we got an early start on Cassidy Arch in Capitol Reef National Park, which is one of Utah’s lesser visited parks. We didn’t see more than a few other groups on the hike and were super excited to be able to walk on top of the arch. David particularly enjoyed pretending to walk off the edge of the arch.
- Low: crowds in Arches National Park. Even though we woke up early (4 a.m.) to go to Arches, it was still crowded and quickly hot. We were still impressed by the Delicate Arch, although for some reason I kept thinking of it as Despicable Arch in my mind (and even started to type it wrong in the photo below).
To be continued…
I keep pausing and continuing this post, and realized it will just continue to be more outdated if I don’t go ahead and post it. This is still a couple weeks behind, so to be continued.