Kenai Peninsula

We are back in Anchorage again doing our usual chores. This time I’m writing from our favorite coffee shop, Black Cup, where we came our first day in Anchorage. I am sitting a couple tables over from where we sat our first time here and I can so clearly remember that visit. Then I was researching what to do in Denali and we were mapping out a rough trajectory for our time in Alaska. I was excited but a bit overwhelmed trying to shape the summer and make sure we had the best time possible. The weather was overcast and cool, just like today, and I was worried that we’d have a tough time planning around Alaska’s fickle summer weather. Today I am in a much different place mentally, reflecting back on the summer here and planning our last few weeks in Alaska and Canada before heading home. I am feeling content and not struggling with thoughts of ‘Did we make the most of our time? Could we have done more amazing things? Did we miss out on epic adventures?’ It has taken me a long time to get to this place, to stop worrying about missing out and relax a little. I’ll probably feel differently tomorrow or next week, and return to wishing we had done more backpacking trips, bigger hikes, more remote destinations. For now I’m enjoying feeling satisfied and thinking of home.

The last week felt like we were back to being exclusively tourists after a couple weeks of having guests and adopting the role of tour guide (which we also very much enjoyed). We visited lots of museums and ventured into new territory on the Kenai Peninsula, finally making it all the way to Homer. We both enjoyed the Alaska Native Heritage Center a lot, and I surprisingly enjoyed the Alaska Aviation Museum (of course David did). I like museums so much more than I used to. I now have to read everything in the museum and seek out informational signs outside historic buildings and on trails. Having so much time and mental space not occupied by work or life obligations helps a lot!

Looking back at our photographs from the last few days and seeing all the food photographs also makes me appreciate how well we’ve been eating on this trip. We upgraded our batteries to lithium earlier this summer and the extra energy has dramatically changed how we cook. We used to closely monitor how much we used the stove, stopping stir fry’s earlier than we’d like or eating things not quite hot. Now we make pancakes in the morning, tea throughout the day, jam in the evening, all without even checking the battery levels. We grilled and pan-fried salmon that we were gifted (again). While in Soldotna we planned to visit the local museum and decided to make lunch in the parking lot first. We were the only vehicle there besides a large camper that looked to be relatively permanent and belong to a summer host for the museum. A woman was walking around with her dog and eventually approached our van and knocked on the window. When we opened the door she asked if we were just hanging out or what we were up to, and we explained we were going to head into the museum soon after something to eat. The woman informed us the museum had closed early for the season due to Covid and a reduced number of visitors, but said we were welcome to finish our lunch and still walk around to see the historic buildings from the outside. Somehow we got to chatting and half an hour later she was offering us three salmon fillets! Around this time another car pulled up and a woman and a very friendly golden retriever joined us. This woman is on the board for the museum and had stopped by to check-up on things. She apologized for the early closure and offered to open the buildings for us and show us around, which turned into lots more chatting and a private visit to the museum. How kind and generous people can be!

While on the Kenai Peninsula, we stopped at several beaches and small towns. Highlights include finding lots of great rocks, camping on a sandy beach for the first time, seeing several eagles, and visiting a couple of the Russian Orthodox churches in the area. Best of all was stopping at Clam Gulch Lodge to visit a former co-worker, Gary, and his wife Pam. We were too busy chatting to take any photos but the lodge is located right on the coast with views of several volcanoes that are part of the Ring of Fire. Gary was an integral part of my initial desire to spend the summer in Alaska, as he gave me a tour of Anchorage on my first visit back in 2013 on a work trip. He generously picked me up from the airport and took me to several parks and viewpoints, where I saw many moose and was overcome by the mountain views right in town.

First moose seen in Alaska back in 2013 at Potter Marsh.

We ended our time on the peninsula with a couple days in Homer. We took a ferry to Seldovia, a fascinating spot you can read more about here. We camped at two different campgrounds on the Homer Spit, which is a narrow piece of land that sticks out 4.5 miles into the Kachemak Bay. Homer is a big destination for fishing and starts to shut down after the season is over. Most businesses on the Spit seem to close just after Labor Day, so were were glad to sneak in our visit just in time. Fall comes early here and we are already starting to feel like winter isn’t that far away, as evidenced by all the layers I had to wear on the Spit in the evening to try and stay warm! Our next stop is Denali (again) to see the fall foliage on the tundra and hopefully some Northern Lights, our last big bucket list item for Alaska.

Visitors, More Berries, Backpacking

We are back in Anchorage and at the library, in the middle of our loop of usual Anchorage stops (Chevron for water fill/dump, Fred Meyers for groceries, rec center for a workout and shower, Cabela’s to sleep, WooHoo! for ice cream, airport to watch planes). Since my last post we’ve primarily been busy with guests, including my parents and our good friends from Portland, Abe and Alison. Given the healthy mix of rain in the weather we’ve had this summer, I’ll admit I was nervous for both their visits, concerned we’d be scrambling to find activities to do in a downpour. Fortunately, we got incredibly lucky, with plenty of good weather sprinkled into both their visits, and only a little rain. We took them both on our ‘highlights’ trip, primarily repeating our favorite hikes, restaurant stops, and scenic stops. We also did a few new activities with each of them, the Alaska State Fair with my parents and Russian River Falls hike with Abe and Alison. David especially likes playing tour guide and we preferred to go to places we knew our guests would enjoy instead of risk a new spot. Years ago we brainstormed a tour guide business where we’d tow guests in an RV behind our van, and our visitors this summer have made me revisit the idea! We love seeing others get excited by a view on a hike or new experience and ‘entertaining’ in the van (we wouldn’t have thought we could have a pancake breakfast for four so comfortably inside!). Here are a bunch of photos from our time with visitors.

The main other activities from the last couple weeks include a quick trip up to Talkeetna, an amazing backpacking trip to Rabbit Lakes with a hike up South Suicide Peak, and LOTS of berry picking and jam making. I’ll admit I’ve gotten a little obsessed with finding berries, especially given the small size of our fridge and freezer.

We are planning our next move and sadly starting to think about our route home, as we start our last month on the road. We still plan to go to Homer and would like to return to Denali to see the fall colors. We haven’t decided whether to fly, drive, or ferry home, but plan to be back in Oregon in early October. As a final note, the article we wrote for The Adventure Portal on our time in Kennicott and McCarthy was published and is available to read here.

A Visit to Valdez

I’m back at our usual table in the library, and have even adopted a usual side I sit on now. It is interesting to have so much redundancy to our travels in Alaska, compared to the 15 months we spent traveling in 2019/2020 where we rarely even spent two nights in the same place. Now we’ve racked up ten nights at the Cabela’s in Anchorage and are repeat customers at a couple coffee shops, frozen yogurt place, ice cream shop, several parks, the rec center, gas station, and of course the library. We know the hours of the rec center and library, where to watch the planes take-off and land, the three locations of Fred Meyer, and several of the campers at Cabela’s. I can’t decide if it makes it feel like the trip is going faster or slower because we keep coming back to the same spots. In some ways it feels like we have been here a lot longer than five weeks, given how well we know Anchorage. However, each time we leave for a trip and come back it seems like we were just here.

This update will be a quick one, as I spent most of my time at the library writing an article for a site called The Adventure Portal. We’ll be doing three articles about our travel in Alaska this summer, each in the storytelling format. I wrote about our time in Kennicott and McCarthy, so will skip over that here and include a link to the article when it is published next week.

Before heading to Kennicott and McCarthy, we spent a few days in Anchorage hoping for a break in the rainy weather and catching up on laundry, grocery shopping, working out, etc. We also treated ourselves to a movie at a bargain theater here (Cruella – it was pretty good!). I love going to the movies and went all the time growing up, as we had a discount theater that was only about a dollar for a movie. David hardly ever watches movies but ends up enjoying them when we do. When a break in the rain finally arrived we took off towards Valdez, with a stop on the way to climb Gunsight Mountain. We lucked out on a relatively clear day with some sun, a welcome sight after several days of heavy rain.

We spent several days in Valdez, mostly focused on museums and shorter walks given the return to rainy weather. Luckily Valdez has an incredibly interesting history, and we enjoyed learning about the 1898 gold rush, Old Valdez, the 1964 earthquake, and the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. I most enjoyed reading and listening to first hand accounts from residents of Old Valdez about the earthquake and decision to move the town about four miles away. There is lots of great information on the museum’s website here. The 1964 earthquake was rated a 9.2 on the Richter, making it the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America. It killed 33 people in Old Valdez who were standing on the dock while a visiting ship unloaded, and caused lots of flooding from the resulting tsunami. The site of the town was deemed unstable and a new site was identified, with residents required to relocate or sell their property over a three-year period. One of the museum guides recommended the book Valdez Rises, as I want to learn more about the town’s relocation.

Other highlights of our trip to Valdez include:

  • Watching the clouds clear to reveal the mountains at Kelsey Dock
  • Seeing lots of rabbits (as the City’s website explains, “These are not wild rabbits, but rather feral descendants of domesticated rabbits which were turned loose some years ago”)
  • Picking salmonberries and making jam (unfortunately a lot of the berries weren’t super tasty, but with a little lemon and sugar made a great jam!)
  • Eating David’s delicious cauliflower tikka masala, made by substituting in cauliflower for chicken in the recipe here
  • Touching icebergs in Valdez’s Glacier Lake
  • Watching salmon climb the fish ladder at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery
  • Making a return visit to Northern Treats for the soft serve and shakes
  • Enjoying our secluded camp spot near the water

After Valdez we made our way to Kennicott and McCarthy, and then back to Anchorage. My parents arrive tonight and will be here for four nights, with our itinerary focused on Seward and the Alaska State Fair. Luckily slightly better weather is in the forecast!

First Visitor, First Berries, and other Firsts

We are back in Anchorage and at our usual spot, the library. We now even have a usual table we sit at in the library. It is comforting to have bits of routine when traveling to balance out all the uncertainties. Last night we went back to watch the airplanes again, and on the way to Cabela’s to park for the night I asked David if we should stop at Wendy’s for a Frosty on the way back to “our place.” David remarked that he liked that it was now “our place,” even if it is really just a parking lot filled with other campers and loud seagulls. We have our usual dump station, grocery store, rec center with hot showers, lunch spots. Anchorage is conveniently in the middle of most places we want to go, so it has become a sort of basecamp for us. I like routine and redundancy, and the van lets us travel and explore without abandoning too much of it. David and I have adopted lots of routines, revolving around meals, bed time, and van chores. When we stop at a dump station, he empties the gray tank and toilet and fills the water tank while I clean the kitchen area, drop a new deodorizer tablet in the toilet, and fill our water bottles. At lunch I make salads and toast an english muffin for me and bagel for him while he makes eggs. At night I usually put down the bed and floss and brush my teeth first. Some of the routines are necessary in a small space so we aren’t constantly trying to move around the other person. This past week, we mixed up our usual routines a bit with our first visitor in Alaska – our old friend from Portland, Lucas. Lucas rented a small trailer we towed behind the van, providing endless joy for David and opportunities for lots of tricky parking maneuvers (his favorite). We lucked out with incredible weather, with Lucas’s trip sandwiched between lots of clouds and rain. Looking back at the photos from the week, a few key themes from the visit emerge.

Glaciers

We made our way down to Seward, Alaska during the first few days of Lucas’s visit, stopping for lots of hikes and sightseeing along the way. I didn’t realize it when planning our hikes, but most of them revolved around seeing or hiking to glaciers. We touched our first glacier in Alaska, Raven Glacier on Crow Pass Trail just outside Girdwood. We continued on to Portage Glacier outside Whittier and Harding Icefield in the Kenai Fjords.

Fireweed

The wildflower Fireweed is all over here, especially in areas that have burned in the past. We’ve also seen Fireweed ice cream (Lucas tried and it said the flavor was very subtle) and read that you can eat all parts of the plant. I tried the flowers and didn’t taste much. We did a couple hikes near the Kenai River, hoping for wildlife spotting (unsuccessful), where there were huge fields of Fireweed.

Salmon!

We stopped at lots of fish spotting locations, but stumbled upon our best fish viewing unintentionally at a park we stopped at for lunch. The salmon lifecycle is pretty fascinating, which you can read more about here. It is hard to believe that some salmon travel over 2,000 miles to spawn, as most of the salmon we watched struggling up rivers made little to no progress while we watched them. Sometimes I’d watch a fish struggle for several minutes and make a few feet of progress, only to then be swept back downstream even farther from where it started.

Camp Spots by the Water

We found some pretty incredible camp spots during Lucas’s visit. One of the benefits of having a visitor is we are forced to spend more time outside the van. If it is just the two of us, we eat almost all our meals inside the van and rarely sit outside in the evenings, simply because this is comfortable and convenient. With Lucas, we made a couple fires and cooked outside for the first time (this is shameful to admit!).

We have a couple weeks before our next visitors come (my parents), and are planning to head towards the Wrangells and down to Valdez. Right now it is very rainy in Anchorage with a discouraging forecast for the next week, so motivation to get outside is a bit low. I’m forecasting lots of indoor meals and evening time!

To close, here are pictures of a few other recent firsts!

Playing the Weather Game

I’ve been doing a lot of weather searches on my phone recently, so now the majority of my Google News Feed is dominated by articles about the unpredictable weather in Alaska and need to be flexible when visiting. The nice thing about having three months in Alaska is the ability to make last minute changes to our plans and take a day off if the weather is poor. However, this also means that it is easy to spend too much time analyzing the weather and trying to make the best choices about where to go when. So sometimes we throw all forecasts and worries about threatening clouds aside and go for it. We got lucky this time at Hatchers Pass, where we managed two hikes with only a few drops of rain.

After our luck at Hatchers Pass, we made a somewhat spontaneous decision to hightail it to Denali, hoping to capitalize on a break in the rainy weather. Again, we got very lucky, squeezing our three-day backpacking trip on K’esugi Ridge between two large rainstorms. While Denali stayed relatively hidden in the clouds, we got a few breaks our second day on the ridge. Fortunately we managed to make it out with only a few mosquito bites, but this backpacking trip was pretty trying for a few other reasons:

  • Caterpillars: the first day of the trip we noticed a few caterpillars on the ground while hiking. We tried to avoid them and a couple times noted how cute they looked inching along over rocks and leaves. Early on the second day of the hike, we noticed a sharp increase in the number of caterpillars, especially on the top of piles of rocks or small trees. At this time, our feelings towards the caterpillars was still relatively positive. However, as the caterpillar numbers dramatically increased and their aggressiveness in attaching to our clothing became hard to keep up with, we started to go a bit crazy. David became especially focused on monitoring the caterpillars on his shoes and pants and periodically removing them. When we stopped for dinner, our bags were covered in caterpillars within minutes of putting them on the ground. The trees on this part of the trail were encased in dead caterpillars and a goo substance hung from the trees, which was often hard to avoid on the trail. Thanks to our tireless efforts, I think we managed to only transfer a few caterpillars to the van. I had to force David to take these photos (my phone was buried in my bag) as David thought they were too gross to capture.
  • Brush: the middle section of this hike was extremely overgrown. None of the trail reviews mentioned this, so we think it might just be par for the course in Alaska. My coworker from Alaska warned us that some overgrown trails might include plants that can give you a rash, but unfortunately we didn’t note the type of plant or heed his warning. We now know that cow parsnip will give you a nasty rash, especially if you get it on your neck (David) and ankles (Kelly). The photo below doesn’t capture the worst part of the trial, during which we were too frustrated to take any pictures.
  • Steep trails: switchbacks don’t seem to really be a thing in Alaska, with most trails going straight up or down. While I like to get an uphill over with fast, it is extremely hard to manage a big pack on a steep downhill, especially without rocks or roots to step on. I took at least a few slides down areas of loose dirt or mud.

After completing a particularly steep, brushy section, David declared this backpacking trip no more than 3 out of 5 stars. However, he upped his rating to 4.5 stars the second evening as we enjoyed a prime camp spot on the ridge with partial views of Denali. On the upside, we didn’t get rained on (as we expected to), the mosquitos were mostly absent, and it only took about 20 minutes to get a ride back to our van at the end of the trip (this was a point to point hike). The couple that picked us up were on their honeymoon in Alaska and coincidentally are interested in getting a van, so we had lots to chat about. Now that I sit in a comfortable chair in the Anchorage library a week later, I’d say this was a great trip!

Our weather luck was a bit fleeting, as our first night in Denali National Park it rained over an inch! Given the cloud cover, we kept our time in the park pretty brief. We plan to return in August to see the fall colors and hope for some better weather. We did do a couple shorter hikes and paid a visit to the Denali Sled Dog Kennels. You can pet the dogs, although you have to stay behind a rope that encircles all the dogs. You are encouraged to use all the slack in the rope to get closer to the dogs, which I took full advantage of!

We ended our time in the Denali area with a two-day drive on the Denali Highway. The Denali Highway was the original route for accessing Denali National Park, before the Parks Highway was completed in the 1970s. The majority of the 135 miles is unpaved, although in relatively good condition. While we hoped to see some wildlife, our only encounter was with a squirrel on the road. However, the views didn’t disappoint and we enjoyed a great camp spot for the night.

After finishing the Denali Highway, we made our way back to Anchorage, where we are now awaiting the arrival of our friend Lucas who will be traveling with us for the next week. Library or coffee shop visits are the main time I can get good enough internet to update the blog, so blog entries are likely going to be a bit sporadic and when they do come a huge jumble of the things we’ve done. The last thing I’ll mention is the hike we did on the way back to Anchorage, as it really goes with the weather theme of this entry. We camped for the night near Glacier View, which, as the name implies, provides views of the Matanuska Glacier. The only way to walk on the glacier is through a guided tour, so we opted to do a few mile hike that would (ideally) give us a better view of the glacier. It rained steadily the night before and was cloudy and misty in the morning, but I was undeterred, hoping for some miraculous break in the clouds. Such a break did not come and instead we ended the hike wet and muddy. Sometimes the weather doesn’t work out and I end up frustrated about the views we miss out on, but I try my best to enjoy it regardless. After all, years of rainy hikes in Portland have taught me a hike in the rain is better than no hike!

Anchorage Accounting

We are planning to leave Anchorage tomorrow and start heading north towards Denali, with lots of stops along the way. An accounting of what we have done here:

  • 1 museum visited. The Anchorage Museum was very impressive and I especially appreciated the exhibit on Extra Tough Women of the North and large bubble makers.
  • 4 grocery store trips made (including two different Fred Meyers). Grocery shopping and couponing was one of my primary quarantine hobbies, and I still haven’t let it go. I haven’t relearned the limits of the fridge so we run out of vegetables on a near daily basis. We’ll need to make some adjustments to our habits as we leave such a dense grocery store region of the state.
  • 2 breweries visited. The Panty Peeler at Midnight Sun Brewing was my favorite. Luckily I consulted with David before making my order or I would have asked for the Pantry Peeler.
  • 1 shower taken (each), in the van. On a scale of 1-10 the need for this shower ranked at about an 8.
  • 2 summits summitted. We lucked out with a clear day for our hike of Wolverine Peak.
  • 0 moose or bears encountered. Many noisy seagulls seen and heard.
  • Many airplanes seen at what has to be the best spot for plane viewing anywhere. Potentially David’s favorite activity?
  • 1 old friend visited, 2 new friends made. We stopped by a Kittelson coworker’s house and caught him just before he moves away. Our neighbors in Portland introduced us to some family up here we enjoyed dinner with. David ate his first fish and chips in Alaska. We’ll see if he beats his record setting chips and fish consumption from eastern Canada.
  • 100s of peonies viewed and photographed at the botanical gardens. An excellent Harvest Hosts spot.
  • Very few mosquito bites obtained, thanks to liberal use of bug spray and the zapper.

Summer in Alaska

After a long hiatus, David and I are back in the Gnar Wagon with the plan to spend the next three months in Alaska. The major to-dos to prepare for the trip are done: the house is cleaned and packed up, the renters are moved in, Scout is vacationing with a friend, Periwinkle (my car) is vacationing in Bend with my parents (Peri put up quite a fuss, with the interior and exterior driver’s door handle breaking just as I was preparing to leave Portland), the van is in Alaska thanks to many hours of driving by David, and I am here in Alaska thanks to a quick flight. While of course we intended to arrive with a detailed itinerary and clear map for the next three months, we have a jumbled map of places we’d like to go, recommendations from friends and blog articles, and lots of starred hikes on All Trails. We are spending our first few days in Anchorage, doing some coffee shop planning sessions and local hikes.

Here are all the locations we’d like to go to. We’ll see how many we get to. We’d love any additional recommendations.

One big exciting change in the van for this trip – we have new lithium batteries! After a couple years our AGM batteries just weren’t cutting it. On weekend trips we could barely make coffee in the morning and had to keep our cooking super limited. To celebrate all the additional battery life we have, we made a real meal in the van our first night – kale salad, sautΓ©ed mushrooms (for Kelly), chicken parmesan (for David), and pasta. With the upgraded batteries we can even run our air conditioner for short stretches of time, although if the last couple days are any indication we won’t need it this summer!

Since there is nothing like a good book to get you excited about a trip, I just read a book about a teacher who moved to Alaska in the 1920s, Tisha, which I’d highly recommend. One of my favorite quotes from the book is below. David just started a book about Alaska recommended by a friend, Coming into the Country. We’ll see if we can keep the Alaska theme going!

β€œThe sun was just coming up over the mountains–blood red and cold. I felt as if I was standing in the mightiest cathedral that had ever been built. There was no end to it, and no beginning. All I could do was look at it and worship.”

Robert Specht, Tisha: The Wonderful True Love Story of a Young Teacher in the Alaskan Wilderness

More updates to come soon!

It’s Been Awhile – Continued

It has again been awhile. I’ve been hesitant to write as I continue to feel uncertain about our travels and plans given all that is going on with Coronavirus. My feelings are mixed as we try to decide the right thing to do, whether it is okay to continue to travel and whether we are having adverse impacts on the communities we travel through. It is harder to find joy in our trip, although I certainly feel very fortunate to have so much access to the outdoors. We continue to seek to avoid crowds, only going inside for groceries or the occasional bathroom stop. We are struck by just how crowded small towns are, especially Jackson, which we drove through between hiking stops. I won’t focus too much on Coronavirus here, as I feel I already dwell on it too much. All we can do is be as safe as possible.

Colorado

We spent several weeks in Colorado, enjoying the much cooler weather, thick forest, and mountain views. Many places we’ve visited we enjoy for the novelty and unique views, but wouldn’t make them home. Colorado feels like a place that could be home, although we don’t plan to move anytime soon! While in Colorado, we:

  • Backpacked in the Indian Peaks Wilderness with my sister, Lauren. It was peaceful and the views stunning. Most of all the time with my sister was so welcome.
  • Climbed four 14ers, including La Plata Peak, Mount Columbia, Quandary Peak, and Mt. of the Holy Cross. Mt. of the Holy Cross was particularly special, as we had intended to climb it on a visit to Colorado about seven years ago. This was an early trip for David and me, when we were still living on different sides of the country. We were a bit ambitious for the weekend, especially given our lack of acclimation to the altitude. The trip was a rough one, with David experiencing severe altitude sickness day one. This hike has stayed on the to-do list since then, so it was a good feeling to finally accomplish it! We also really enjoyed La Plata Peak, in part because there were so few other people on the mountain.
  • Spent several days in Denver with Lauren and her boyfriend, enjoying some time in a comfy home and the opportunity to work on a few projects, including converting David’s bike tires to tubeless. The bike trails around Denver are quite impressive and we enjoyed being in an urban environment, despite lots of mask wearing.
  • Met up with several of my family members in Breckenridge for a family reunion, Coronavirus style. We made all our meals in our rental home and mostly ventured out just for outdoor recreation. Everyone masked up for their travel there and many of my relatives got tested just before the reunion. We debated a lot whether to hold the reunion, but we hadn’t gotten together for three years and we knew it was important for my grandmother to see everyone. It was an amazing time, especially after not being around more than a couple other people since Coronavirus started.
  • Found several great dispersed camping spots, one we returned to several times! We loved the area around Twin Lakes and enjoyed seeing a van friend we met during the winter, Jenny, and meeting a few of her friends. We miss the meeting people part of travel, which has been largely absent with our intent to minimize contact. Even when chatting with new people outdoors at a safe distance, it is hard to not be distracted by thoughts of Coronavirus.

Indian Peaks Wilderness Backpacking Trip

14er Summits

Family Reunion

Wyoming

After leaving Colorado, we headed to the Wind River Range in Wyoming, a couple hours south of Jackson. Multiple people told us we had to go to the Winds when we were in Jackson last summer, but we couldn’t fit it in. We did a two night trip to Seneca Lake/Titcomb Basin. I think this is the first backpacking trip where I almost turned around two hours in. If we hadn’t just spent several hours driving to the trailhead and packing our bags I might have. The mosquitoes were out of control. I don’t think I’ve ever been bitten so much while hiking and wearing bug spray with deet. We asked several backpackers coming down if the bugs got better higher up, and they warned us they got worse. One poor father said his two sons had stopped talking a couple hours ago because they were so covered in mosquito bites and just wanted to get to the car. We kept going, figuring we could take refuge in our tent once we got to a camp spot and leave the next morning if we needed to. I don’t think the bugs got worse farther into the hike, although I also don’t think they got better. Luckily after dark it got too chilly for the bugs and we were granted some peace, as well as a beautiful view of the NEOWISE comet. We did a day hike from our camp spot to the Titcomb basin the following day, and were wowed by the views. We kept comparing the area to one of our favorite spots in Washington, the Enchantments.

After the backpacking trip, we debated heavily whether to attend an adventure van expo in Targhee, held at a small ski resort. The event would be purely outside, with masks and social distancing encouraged. I was super hesitant to go, but David loves hardly anything more than talking to other people about vans. We decided to go, with some strict ground rules (such as wearing masks anytime we were talking to other people and letting absolutely no one else in the van). The weekend went smoothly, with David having the opportunity to talk to lots of other Revel owners and meet some followers of GNRWGN. I got to go on an amazing run at the ski resort and we both enjoyed the mountain bike trails, tame enough we could handle them on our gravel bikes. We enjoyed the trails so much we decided to stick around for a few extra days of riding, after taking a short side trip to hike up Table Mountain.

David getting rad (me struggling to catch my breath)

What’s Next?

We originally planned to be in Alaska this summer, the grand finale to our trip. The border is still closed, with it seeming more and more unlikely it will open this year. We’ve heard of other people getting across the border, on the condition they head straight to Alaska. However, technically this is only intended for those with an essential reason to travel to Alaska. Given the uncertainty of getting across, our rule-abiding tendencies, fact that much of what we wanted to see and do was on the way to Alaska, and Coronavirus situation in Alaska, we decided not to try and make the trip. We are currently planning to head back to Portland at the end of August, about a month early. If we can make it happen and the border reopens, we intend to head to Alaska next summer. We are still figuring things out and haven’t set any plans in stone yet. Despite everything going on in Portland, I think we are both starting to feel some excitement about being home. I have a huge list of house projects I want to tackle and there is something alluring about the comforts of home. In the meantime, we intend to enjoy a last month of outdoor adventures.

It’s Been Awhile

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.

Leaving Bend

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.

Nevada

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:

We found these babies in the van after taking a few day backpacking trip. Luckily the mom was also in the van and was convinced to relocate the babies to a new outdoor location.

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.

Utah

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.

A Quick Update

I’ve been intending to write an update for a few weeks now, but I’ve kept putting it off. I thought I’d write a long post full of my thoughts and reflections on the Corona virus and what it has meant for us. I don’t think I’ve really processed everything that is happening, and am choosing just to focus on now and not try and anticipate the future. So for now just a quick update on where we’ve been.

Maui

We spent a little over a week in Maui with my parents in early March. I’d looked forward to this trip all winter, especially when cold and longing for a hot shower. The trip was all I hoped and we’d later realize just how well timed it was, providing a last adventure before settling in to wait out the Corona virus at my parents house. Our days mostly consisted of snorkeling, hiking, walking on the beach, cooking, and playing lots of games.

Bend

Since returning from Hawaii three weeks ago, we have been at my parents’ house in Bend. We struggled with the decision, wanting to spend a few days in Portland first seeing friends. We’d fit in a few friend visits before leaving for Hawaii, but hadn’t seen everyone we wanted to. We decided it was most responsible to go straight to Bend after landing at the Portland airport. We are living the retired life with my parents and our cat Scout, and we really can’t complain. I think we both feel disappointed about missing out on an unknown amount of van travels, after saving, planning, and looking forward to the trip for so many years. I think we’ve both decided not to think about that and just enjoy our time in Bend and relish the unlimited showers, laundry facilities, comfy bed, time with family, and our health. We are really very lucky.

We had planned to head to California after returning from Hawaii and spend a few months in the southwest. Right now we aren’t making any plans, figuring it will only lead to disappointment. David is immersing himself in van projects and has already purchased another solar panel to put on the roof. I’m learning Spanish on Duolingo and absolutely love it. I’ve also started putting together a quilt and am doing lots of cooking. We haven’t discussed how we’ll decide when we can leave and for now are just focusing on each day.