Throwing our itinerary out the window.

We spent two great days hanging out with my sister and her husband, and by the time we pulled away we had a batch of fresh reservations waiting for us at campgrounds along the California coast. Jeff was feeling much better now that we were at a lower elevation, so we repacked the car and headed for our first camp site – Harris Beach State Park in Brookings, Oregon.

Jeff and I had never been to Oregon, so this was going to be a first for both of us.  But before we could get there, we needed to cover 1,000 miles and get through what turned out to be the most tedious, creepy portion of the entire trip.  We had decided to break the drive into two days and spend the night in Sparks, Nevada.  Driving north from the Vegas area, Route 95 basically consists of hundreds of miles of desolate desert interspersed with teeny-tiny towns every 100 miles or so that time has clearly forgotten.  A good chunk of it was only two lanes, and between the desolation, zero cell service, dearth of other cars, and smoke from the California wildfires hanging in the air, it felt like a weird Mad Max post-apocalyptic world.  I found this picture on Google Images, from an article titled, “U.S. 95 is the worst highway in Nevada.”  We haven’t been on many Nevada highways, but the author is likely correct.  Picture hundreds of miles of this:

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Good times.

We were more than happy to put Route 95 in our rear-view mirror as we approached Sparks.

The drive from Sparks, NV to Brookings, Oregon, however, was filled with beautiful, scenic byways – pine trees, mountains, and lovely views.

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Mount Shasta.
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Great view from the rest stop in Oregon.

It couldn’t have been more different than the previous day.  And after another 500 miles we were gazing upon the Pacific Ocean.  Ahhh.  This had been our longest stretch without seeing an ocean since we began cruising, and it was most definitely a sight for sore eyes.

Harris Beach State Park was a great campground.  The campsite had nice privacy and you could hear the ocean at night.  It was a five minute walk to a bench that looked out onto the ocean, and we took our tea and coffee down there every morning after breakfast.

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Our morning view from our coffee and tea bench.

We enjoyed a scenic drive along the Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor and generally reveled in the green foliage and the ocean after spending so many weeks in the desert and mountains.

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This freshwater stream (I tasted it) was running right into the ocean, which I thought was cool to see.
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The rocky coastline was reminiscent of Maine.
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Jeff enjoyed metal detecting on this beach.

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They say you’re either an ocean person or a mountain person.  When we were in Colorado I started wondering if I might be a mountain person.  But when we got to the ocean there was no doubt in my mind: I’m an ocean person through and through.

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Hello, ocean. Oh, how I’ve missed you.

Wow!

“Wow!”  That’s all we could say when we rounded the bend after entering the Colorado National Monument.  We pulled over and I got out of the car to take some pictures, and as I was kneeling down I literally lost my balance because I was so disoriented from the gigantic scale of the walls surrounding us.

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The picture after I regained my balance. You can see the road on the bottom right corner of the photo.  There was a wall equally large on the opposite side.

We hadn’t really known what to expect as we were driving there.  We knew it wasn’t a National Park but had read plenty of good things about it, which is how it made the list.  Well, I’m not sure how the decision is made as to whether something should be a National Park vs. a National Monument, but all I can say is if you’re on a National Parks trip, don’t pass up Colorado National Monument just because it isn’t technically a National Park.

As we arrived at our campsite, the volunteer ranger drove up in his golf cart to say hello.  He asked us how long we were staying and when he heard it would be just under a week, he offered to show us to a different site which was first-come, first-serve.  According to the ranger, it was the best campsite in the park and as soon as we saw it we could see why.  It. Was. Amazing.  Extremely private with incredible views, it felt like you had the whole park to yourself.  As an added bonus, this particular loop in the campground prohibited generators, so it was incredibly peaceful.  It was a no-brainer.  We thanked him profusely for showing us the space, he wrote our name on the reserved card, and it was ours.

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The view just steps from our campsite.
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The campsite itself was huge.

What followed was several days of amazing hiking, a great scenic drive, excellent Mexican food in Fruita (the town closest to the campground), and star-filled nights.

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Unfortunately, however, we weren’t able to stay for the entire six nights.  After two consecutive days of six-mile hikes, Jeff woke up pre-dawn with afib – the first time this had happened since his ablation in March, 2018.  We called his electrocardiologist’s office and the on-call doctor called us back and suggested we head down to a lower elevation (at this point we were about 7,000 feet up).  Fortunately, by the time the doctor called us back the episode had already passed, but it scared the crap out of both of us.  Frankly, I think we both have some PTSD from that awful Christmas Eve in 2017.

We briefly considered driving back to the security blanket of Connecticut where, should it happen again, we would be close to the  doctors that we know and trust.  But after taking a deep breath, we decided against it.  We were already two-thirds of the way across the country, and there are cardiologists everywhere.  It seems like a little thing, but deciding to continue west was actually a pretty big step for me  – truly cutting the cord when we had the option of scurrying back.

Anyway, clearly it was time to throw the itinerary out the window – camping at sea level was now the new plan.  My sister and her husband live in Henderson, NV which was halfway between where we were and the California coast.  We were welcome to stay there while we regrouped, so after breaking down the camp it was time to hit the road.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP

Although we were disappointed not to be spending more time in Rocky Mountain National Park, we were not going to miss the cold overnight temperatures in the forecast!  Several thousand feet lower in elevation, Montrose was forecast to drop “only” into the low 40’s.    

Since we hadn’t been able to secure a camping reservation at the Black Canyon NP, we booked a stay at the KOA in Montrose.  It had electric hookups and we had brought an extension cord and our little space heater with us, so we were nice and cozy during our three night stay.  But honestly, that — and the clean bathrooms — are about the only thing it had going for it.  We wouldn’t stay there again.  The bathrooms were clean and the campground itself was tidy, but the tent campsites were on the edge of a dusty parking lot and the whole thing just felt sketchy.  I even suggested to Jeff in the middle of the first night that we just leave in the morning.  But as sometimes happens, things felt better when the sun came up.  While we still didn’t care for the campground, we decided to stick around so we could go to the National Park – and we’re glad we did. Continue reading “Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP”

From the prairies to the mountains.

One of the things I distinctly remember when I drove East across the U.S. for the first time (back in 1989) was how surprised I was to discover that eastern Colorado is extremely flat once you leave the Rockies.  Basically you go from these gorgeous mountains to what are essentially prairies, foreshadowing tedious scenery through Nebraska.  So this time I was looking forward to the reward of the Rockies after making it through Nebraska.  We weren’t disappointed.

Fellow Bristol 29.9 owner Phil, who has lived for several years in Estes Park, had suggested that we try to stay on the east side of Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP).  We weren’t able to snag a campground reservation until the last minute, and oh!  We were so glad that we did.

The east side of RMNP was drop-dead gorgeous.  Absolutely stunning.  I had fantasies about moving to Estes Park and working in an outdoor shop until I saw how long their winter season lasts (and the average temperature.)  Instead, we soaked in everything that we could until we visit again some day.

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The view from our campsite.

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Hammock time!

At 7,500 feet of elevation and with only a two night reservation, we weren’t going to be there long enough to adapt to the heights and do some real hiking.  Instead, we enjoyed scenic drives and had a lovely walk around Sprague Lake.

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You can see where the wildfire stopped.

We were also able to spend a great evening with 29.9 owner Phil and his partner Margery, talking boats and future cruising plans.  Hopefully we can share an anchorage with them in the future.

Phil and Margery told us it was rut season for the elk and warned us that the males would be calling for mates in the middle of the night. We were very glad for the warning when we were woken up at 2:00 a.m. to that otherworldly noise!

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This guy wandered through the campsite next to us after breakfast.
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And this one was at the end of our loop around Sprague Lake.
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And this guy was the biggest of the three. Look at those horns!

After a much-too-short stay, it was time to move along and continue west.  Although we were disappointed to be leaving, we were excited to be heading out via Trail Ridge Road.  Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous paved highway in the United States at a maximum elevation of 12,183 feet, and eleven miles are above the treeline.  We made a ton of stops along the way for pictures.  It seemed with every curve of the road there was new jaw-dropping scenery that demanded a picture.  The hard part was narrowing it down to just a handful of photos for this post:

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Above the treeline.

Our original plan after taking Trail Ridge Road was to camp on the outskirts of the west side of RMNP to explore that area.  A quick check of the forecast showed that we were going to get nighttime temperatures in the mid-20’s which was a definite no for us, so we shuffled our itinerary around and headed off to Montrose, Colorado so we could explore the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

To be continued.

No waterfowl shooting from highway.

After leaving Indiana Dunes, we really started to make our way into the heartland.  I had an earworm of the U2 song by the same name as we drove through Iowa and Nebraska – and it was originally going to be the title of this post –  but then we saw a sign on the side of the the Lincoln Highway and I had my blog title!

We had gratefully accepted a generous offer from cruising friends to stay in their townhouse while we were in the Chicago area (they’re currently cruising), so our next stop after Indiana Dunes was in an actual dwelling vs. our tent. Our plan was to use it as a base to explore Chicago for a few days, but we were both a bit tired so we decided instead to relax and take advantage of a rare opportunity to watch the Buffalo Bills on an actual television.  Despite the fact that they lost, it was a great stop before hitting the road to Iowa.

When I drove across the U.S. 32 years ago, the stretch in Iowa and Nebraska was something that you just had to get through.  But now that I’m older and (arguably) wiser, and after spending almost three years going at the speed of five knots, slower is more to our liking.  So we decided to get off the freeway and take the Lincoln Highway instead, which parallels I-80.  It wasn’t really much slower, but it was SUBSTANTIALLY more scenic with a lot fewer tractor trailers.   In fact, Jeff and I feel that Iowa gets a bad reputation for being nothing but flat cornfields.  If you opt to leave the freeway, you find rolling hills.  Yes, there are cornfields, but it’s still a lot prettier than I-80.

Continue reading “No waterfowl shooting from highway.”

Go West.

After we returned from Vermont we had a sleepless night thanks to high wind and heavy rain from Tropical Storm Ida.  This makes for the third tropical storm in the past two months with Elsa, Henri, and Ida.  What the hell?  If we wanted this, we’d be living farther south.  Sigh.  Anyway, fortunately Ida had blown through by the time we were scheduled to officially haul out, so after a VERY busy few days securing Pegu Club for the winter and packing and re-packing the VDub, it was time to finally start our road trip and head west.

Our first stop was in Rochester, NY to visit Jeff’s family and wait for a slightly-delayed package that we had ordered while we we in Vermont.  After spending way too much time charging our electronics in the campground’s bathroom, some research led us to ordering a Jackery 240 portable power bank and solar panel.  It truly feels like a want vs. a need, but we’ve come to the realization that electronics – and the need to charge them – are simply a way of life for us now.  They provide information and entertainment, and trying to figure out how to charge them as we drive across the country is not appealing in the slightest.  An added bonus is that it’s small enough that we can use it on the boat after we get back.

While in Rochester we decided to take a day trip up to Buffalo to check out some Airstreams at an RV dealer that claimed to have them some in stock.  An Airstream is far-off in the future, and we’ll definitely be buying used, but we wanted to see if our thoughts on the trailer’s length were on track.  Well, we should have called because when we got there we were told that they didn’t have them on the lot.  “But your website says you have them in inventory.”  “Those are on order.”  “Well, then they aren’t in your inventory.”  Not that we needed confirmation that we would be buying used in the future, but this experience gave it to us anyway.  It appears RV salespeople and dealers are as bad as most car salespeople and dealers.

The trip was not an entire waste, however, because we decided to regroup and head to Niagara Falls.  When we lived in Rochester we went several times, and I even went there with a law school classmate after the first day of the bar exam to give us some much needed perspective.  Seeing the falls never grows old though, and it had been awhile since we’d been, so off we went to be wowed once again by nature. Continue reading “Go West.”

Escape to Vermont.

Our original plan was to haul out Pegu Club for the season on September 3rd and then head west on our cross-country camping trip.  Hurricane/Tropical Storm Henri had other plans for us, however.

We had been tracking Henri ever since Chris Parker started mentioning him in his tropical weather e-mails. He showed up as a blob just south of Bermuda, and when we were first made aware of him I remember saying to Jeff that I hate it when storms develop in that area.  Instead of following a fairly predictable path, they just wobble and wander around with the potential to cause trouble. 

Sure enough, several days later Shenny had initiated its hurricane operations procedure and we were debating whether to haul out or not.  After deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, we found ourselves out of the water a full two weeks earlier than we intended.

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Pegu Club, hauled out for Henri. We were SO glad Henri didn’t damage any Shenny boats.

Fortunately, in literally he final hours of his approach Henri veered a bit east of us so all of the boats at Shenny, including Pegu Club, were unharmed.  Less fortunate (I’ll never call it unfortunate because we avoided a direct hit), as one of the first of over 85 boats to be hauled out it was going to be awhile before the boats in front of Pegu would be put back in the water.  Hurricane haul outs don’t include unstepping the mast, so leaving early to head west wasn’t an option.  But living on the hard for several days wasn’t appealing in the slightest.  What to do, what to do?  It didn’t take long before we decided to go camping in Vermont for a week as a shake-down of sorts for the big camping trip. Continue reading “Escape to Vermont.”

Mission accomplished!

A big goal that I set for myself this summer was to take Pegu Club out by myself.  For some time now I’ve been confident that I had the knowledge to single-hand, and after cruising I also feel comfortable that if I was out by myself and something went wrong, I’d have a good foundation to try and figure out how to fix it.

In the nine years we’ve been sailing, Jeff and I have always traded responsibilities, so we both know all aspects of the boat from steering to working the lines, anchoring and docking.  That’s always been important to both of us because we didn’t want to be in a position where if one person was in some way incapacitated (or one of us got annoyed and decided to toss the other one overboard – kidding, kidding!), the other person would be able to get the boat into port.  We’ve heard of situations where something happened to (usually) the husband, and the wife didn’t know anything about how to handle the boat, requiring a rescue of some sort.  That definitely won’t be us.

But feeling confident in theory and translating that confidence into action are two completely different things for me.  I was still pretty nervous about actually doing it for one reason: docking.  I’m at the helm 99% of the time when we bring her in and out of the dock (Jeff’s longer arms make it easier for him to quickly tie us off), so I wasn’t worried about that so much.  It was the part where I would have to leave the helm and attach the spring line.  Once she was attached, the rest of the lines could be done in a relatively leisurely fashion.  I just didn’t want to break the dock or the boat in those seconds between entering the slip and attaching the spring line!

As an interim step, my Shenny friend, Sandy, offered to come along for moral support.  She wouldn’t do anything unless I asked her – she’d just be there.  So that’s how I found myself one day with the engine running, nervously casting the docklines off and backing out of the slip. Continue reading “Mission accomplished!”

Two weeks, two vacations.

So how has it been to be boaters again rather than cruisers?  In a word, great!  We are so glad that we decided to come back to Shenny and Connecticut for a home base.  We’ve been having a wonderful time hanging out with friends, re-visiting favorite places, going for daysails and the occasional weekend getaway, and we’ve been thoroughly enjoying the freedom of hopping into a car whenever we need groceries or want to go somewhere.  

Yep, one of our first orders of business when we got back was to buy a used car.  It took three days and a few near-misses, but we ended up with a FANTASTIC car – a 2014 VW Passat with only 36,000 miles on it, two owners, and zero accidents.  It’s the fanciest car we’ve ever owned – it even has a sunroof! – and it’s going to be SO comfortable to drive across country next month.

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Oooh, fancy!

But before we turn our sights to our trip west, first we had a long-planned two week vacation with fellow friends from Shenny.  I’ll readily admit that up until the week before our departure we weren’t super-enthused about heading out for two weeks.  We were still feeling a bit burned out and were searching for our mojo, but as the departure date drew closer we found ourselves getting more and more excited about it, and by the time vacation arrived we were raring to go! Continue reading “Two weeks, two vacations.”

Cruising by the numbers – wrap up.

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was going to do one more Cruising by the Numbers for the month of May, but we didn’t spend the whole month cruising.  As a result, the cruising vs. non-cruising expenses started getting muddled together, so I figured I’d just post some random facts and figures instead.  But first, here are May’s non-financial statistics from May 1 until May 21 when we pulled into our slip at Shenny:

Days under way: 12

Nautical miles covered: 644.07

Nights at anchor: 5

Nights on a mooring: 2

Nights in a slip:  12 (this included 4 nights at a free docks)

Nights underway: 1

Number of states: 5 (North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut)

 

As for cruising overall, we cast off the dock lines on September 3, 2018 and tied them again on May 21, 2021, totaling 993 days.  Two things struck me as I went through the notes I’ve kept.  

First:  We were able to spend over nine months in the Bahamas.  Many people never get to go at all, or, if they do, they spend a few days or a week.  But getting to spend nine months there?  How cool is that??  And, it’s entirely possible we will go down again in a few years.  But if we don’t?  What an adventure we’ve had!

Second: We acquired so much experience over the past three years.  If you’re reading this and thinking, “I could never go cruising.  I don’t have nearly enough experience,” just know that even though we had been sailing for several years before cutting the dock lines, our farthest trip had been 40 nautical miles, we had anchored less than a dozen times, and we had never sailed at night.  Now?  Well, you can see for yourself below.  You can do it.  At its core, each day is just more sailing.  

Nautical miles traveled: 10,415

Days in the Bahamas: 288 (29% of the time)

Nights at anchor: 565 (57% of the time)

Nights on the hard: 45 (4% of the time).  Most of that was 30 days at Shenny during the summer of 2019 when we traveled via automobile and airplane to visit family.

Overnights: 11

Three longest non-stop trips: 299 nautical miles, 294 nautical miles, and 250 nautical miles

Number of trips over 100 nautical miles: 12

Non-Bahamian squalls while underway: 2 – one in the Gulf Stream in Florida, and one off the coast of Virginia.

Number of tows needed: 1 – when we picked up bad fuel in the Abacos our first year, sailed to the St. John’s inlet by Jacksonville, and had a tow from TowBoat U.S. to Beach Marine in Jacksonville Beach.

Number of times the engine stopped unexpectedly: 4 – 2 times due to the above-referenced dirty fuel, 1 time from a dirty filter in the Exumas resulting in our anchoring under sail for the first time, and 1 time just outside the Ft. Pierce inlet when we were rolling around, lower on fuel than we realized, and the engine sucked in some air.  

Number of times we felt unsafe: 2 – both in anchorages in Florida due to the actions of occupants of derelict boats (Cocoa Beach and Daytona Beach)

Number of Coast Guard boardings for a safety check: 1

Number of REALLY bad weather decisions: 1 – going south down the Jersey Coast in October, 2018.

Number of underwater dike collisions: 1 – that damn Reedy Island Dike in the Delaware Bay

Number of times we’ve been within 1 mile of the Reedy Island Dike since the collision: 0.