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.

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.

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.”